The Challenge of Inclusivity.

One of our central goals is to create a culture that is inclusive to riders of all abilities, and all interests.  We have Axletree / North Central Cyclery group rides several days a week, and we publicize those (see the Axletree home page) and encourage new riders to show up.  This whole club aspect of Axletree is a new experience for those of us behind the scenes, and it creates issues we hadn’t anticipated, such as the prospect of having new riders show up.

Let me explain.

We have a regular cadre of riders who show up for the group rides.  You know what you’re getting into.  You know who is fast, and where they are fast.  You know you can trust lines, you can draft, you can have fun.  You can roll a tight paceline with confidence.  You can follow someone in the dark and know that they’ll call out obstacles.

But we want to open up the riding culture in the area to new riders, beyond just the regular crew.  So on a recent gravel night ride, when we had a new rider show up, I was briefly excited about the prospect of a new rider…and then briefly concerned about what it meant.

With the normal crew, I know the speed and distance we would ride.  I was worried that a new rider, who was inexperienced on gravel, would be uninterested or unable to hang.  I was worried that the group would be frustrated with a straggler.  I was worried that the ride dynamic wouldn’t lend itself to new riders.

I was wrong.

For the most part, I can hang on the group rides today.  Roll back 2 years, and it was a different scene.  The first time I showed up for a group ride, I was sporting a lame-o bike, a lame-o helmet and kit, and some lame-o legs.  On the first road ride I did, I was worried that I would be promptly shuttled out the back of the group.  And ya know what?  I was.  Being shuttled out the back as the group accelerated away wasn’t the surprising part of that first ride, though.  The surprising part is what happened next.

The group let me get back on, and we rode again.  I tried a little harder, and hung on a little longer, before getting dropped.  And the group let me back on again.

For the past 2 years, I’ve been working at hanging with the group.  I’m getting there now–there is no substitute for sweat, miles and hard work.  But the challenge of inclusivity–the challenge of getting new riders into a group isn’t the group’s acceptance of the new riders.  The challenge is the new riders’ acceptance of the group.  Riders either try and succeed, as I have done, or they drop off and don’t return.  We are working, in earnest, to ensure that new riders try and succeed.  And that’s a central part of this post.

Come ride with us.

You need to be self-sufficient.  Bring your own helmet and lights, your own tube and CO2, your own cellphone.  You need a mechanically functional, safe bike that is appropriate for the nature of the ride.  (Don’t show up on a mountain bike and expect to go out on the skinny tire road ride.  Don’t show up on your road bike and expect the gravel ride to suit you).  And you need the will to ride, and to try.  That’s all you need.  You don’t need to be fast–you just have to try.  And when you try, if you keep trying and keep showing up, you’ll get fast.  It just happens, and it is magical when it does.

The new rider who showed up for the gravel ride came in on a mountain bike, sporting platform pedals and tennis shoes.  He had lights, a phone, and a toolkit, and we lent him a helmet.  Rolling out of town, we chatted about where we worked, what we did, where we lived, and what kind of riding we were in to.  His longest ride before that date had been 15 miles…and he went out and did 20 on gravel.  It was a successful ride for him, and we encouraged him to come back.  His presence didn’t involuntarily slow the group–the group wanted to share the ride with a new rider.

As it turns out, the challenge of inclusivity isn’t a challenge for Axletree, but rather a challenge for new riders.  They have to be willing to show up and ride.  I remember precisely what it was like to show up for a group ride and see a bunch of guys on nicer equipment, who looked like they knew what they were doing when I was all knees and elbows.  I remember worrying about clipping in and out at stop signs.  I remember wondering what I looked like in lycra, the first time I wore bike shorts without something over them.  And of course I remember getting dropped–it still happens.  But when you show up, and keep showing up, every ride gets better.  In a very short time, you become one of the regular cadre.  In a very short time, you become a trusted member of the cycling community.

The challenge of inclusivity is a challenge that we are laying down to you: We challenge you to come ride with us.  Not just once, but repeatedly.  Be prepared to work hard, and have fun.  Be prepared to get dropped and get back on.  Be prepared to grow, both in your cycling prowess and in other, immeasurable ways.  Come ride with us.  Be challenged.

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