Rapha Manuals: The Shortcut

How long does it take to get to know someone? A week, a month, a year? Head out for a bike ride with someone and it’ll probably take less time than you think.

22 July 2018

Have you ever wondered how professional cyclists manage to sustain such high speeds as they race across the countryside? In a few notable cases, the answer may well be ill-gotten gains. But there is a simpler explanation that applies: riding in a group. They say nothing comes for free, but riding in a well-organised group proffers ‘free speed’ – in short, you’re able to go faster with no extra effort.

The truth is, none of us are likely to ever be riding at Grand Tour winning speeds. For us, the real benefit of riding together is the company. Whether you ride with a local club or just a group of friends, the best rides are always those shared with others. James Fairbank, Head of Brand at Rapha, sees group riding as a shortcut, not only in terms of speed but also the relationships you build.

“Riding together lets you see parts of a person’s personalities that might otherwise take a long time to come to the fore,” he says. “You can quickly spot the altruists when someone punctures – they’re the first to offer up a spare inner tube and some assistance. You’ll see some people are leaders, taking charge of the route and calling out directions, while others prefer to leave that sort of thing to someone else. Personal traits are easily discernible on the bike, which lets people really get to know one another.”

Unlike tennis or swimming, for instance, where you are kept apart by a net or confined to solitary laps, cycling provides endless opportunity for conversation. These discussions can be quite different from those you would have elsewhere.

“There’s a vague structure to a conversation in the pub, for example. You get a drink at the bar, take a seat and talk away with your friends,” Fairbank says. “Riding in a group you tend to drift around. Conversations ebb and flow, interrupted by twists in the road and turns at the front. Normally you ride two-up, so you end up having a one-on-one conversation with someone. Sat side by side, I feel unencumbered by the intensity that comes with talking to someone face to face.”

Over time, you’ll get to know the people you ride with most often extremely well. Your group of riding partners will become a little tribe, each member with their own characteristics and habits. Some of these behaviours will make you smile, others might raise a frown from time to time, but that’s all part of riding in a group. Fairbank’s regular riding partners are no different, each with their own quirks.

“Given the chance, one of my friends will always have you riding on the rougher part of the road where it’s slightly harder work. He races and never quite manages to switch that part of his brain off. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even realise he’s doing it. Another friend I often ride with is always late. That said, when he does arrive, he is always enthusiastic and has convinced me to head out on many a rainy day.

“You shouldn’t have favourites but I really enjoy riding with another friend of mine, Rhys. He’s a tall guy and supremely strong on the bike. Sitting in the group behind him, I can be doing a very reasonable speed without feeling anything at all.”

Ride with us

With more than 350 rides a week this July, there are plenty of chances to ride with friends old and new. For advice on how best to explore your city and the roads that surround it, Rapha Clubhouses around the world are filled with passionate cyclists happy to share the best and quietest routes.

Rapha Handbook 01 Getting Started in Road Cycling

A complete guide to the mystifying world of road cycling from Guy Andrews, with illustrations from Laura Quick.

Buy now