It’s not always easy riding with a significant other when your paces differ, but these cyclists make it work. By Caitlin Giddings
Riding with a significant other: We all dream of how perfect it could be, but in my experience, it never ends well. No matter my plans going into the ride, what starts with fantasies of shared adventure and long conversations on quiet rural roads somehow devolves into an argument halfway up the first climb. After multiple attempts at biking with my less-experienced wife—several in which we finished the ride separately and one memorable example in which a helmet was lobbed angrily into the woods—I’ve grown to accept that, in some cases, the family that doesn’t play together stays together.
But judging by how many tandem bicycle-themed wedding invites I’ve RSVP’d to over the years, someone is apparently nailing the fantasy of couples-ride success. So what are the rest of us doing wrong? And how can we get it right when our riding paces are so mismatched?
I spoke to more than a dozen couples that have mastered the art of spending the day together on bikes without drama. Here are a few of their best solutions for closing the cycling speed gap.
1. Focus on the experience of being together
If you’re the faster partner, it’s easy to push the pace without even realising you’re doing it. But if you want to ensure future rides together, you need to work out a system so you’re not constantly frustrated and your partner isn’t being worn to shreds.
The best way to do this is to adjust your expectations of the ride and just focus on the fun of being out there.
Kira Schlesinger trains for triathlons, but her husband rides more occasionally for fun and fitness. It took them a while to figure out how to ride together without coming home angry, she says.
“I’ve adjusted my mindset to view it as time together, or extra easy kilometres rather, than a workout, which helps me not to get frustrated,” Schlesinger says. “If my husband falls behind, I slow down until he catches up, or if I drop him on a hill, I circle back to pick him up.
“Lately I’ve been trying to keep him on my wheel, and then if he falls off, I back off the pace until he can get back on,” she adds. “That way it’s better training for me and he doesn’t have to work as hard to keep the pace.”
For pro cyclocross racer Dan Chabanov, riding with his partner Krista Ciminera means not worrying about lost training time—and putting it all in perspective.
“Racing bikes and training are not so important when I think about the sheer enjoyment of going for a nice ride with my partner,” he says. “Honestly, happy cyclists also ride faster in general. In the more practical sense of making the ride work, it’s important to commit to the ride. To me, this applies to rides with anyone. If I agree to go for a ride with someone then I ride with them. I’m not hunting Strava segments or doing intervals. It’s just simple group-ride etiquette.”
2. Put the other person’s needs and interests ahead of yours
The best way to do this is to ‘be present’, says Bicycling Deputy Editor Emily Furia, in the US. She rides with her husband a couple times a month and says it can be tempting to focus too much on what’s next and your own hopes for your partner’s cycling.
“It’s really easy when you’re excited about someone close to you taking up cycling to start planning their riding future—saying well-intentioned things like, ‘After you’ve been riding a little more, we’ll go all the way to that restaurant X-kilometres away!’” Furia says. “It’s intended to be motivating, of course, but still implies that the current ride isn’t enough. And for new or inconsistent riders, simply getting out is huge.
“I think it’s more helpful to plan a destination that you know is reachable that day—if you both want to add on when you get there, great—and focus on enjoying the things you do get to see and experience, not the ones you haven’t yet,” she says. “If someone really loves to ride, the idea of going further will occur to them eventually, I promise.”
Racer Joel Maisenhelder says he rides with his partner three to four times a month, but the pace is so different that it’s a challenge to ride behind her. His trick is to continuously remind himself that he’s there to ride with her—not to race.
“Pick a route you will both enjoy, and have a conversation to keep yourself attached and engaged,” Maisenhelder says. “Tell yourself, ‘This isn’t a race, this isn’t a workout—this is a date that happens to be while riding bikes.’”
3. Don’t put all the pressure on the slower rider
When you’re the faster person in the couple, it’s tough to remember what you felt like at a lower fitness level—and how much emotional energy you expended trying to keep up with stronger riders. That’s what your partner is experiencing now, and that’s why anger or frustration is so quick to burst to the surface when those feelings aren’t taken into account.
It puts too much reining-in responsibility on one rider, says Ciminera, and can lead to feelings of defeat, failure, or loss of cycling confidence. As a cyclist with a chronic illness, communicating and negotiating her limits with her pro-racing partner has been crucial, she says.
“I’ve definitely been on those 90-kilometre rides with acquaintances who, even though I expressed my limits, left me feeling like I was chasing after the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland—except in spandex and gasping for breath the whole time,” she says.
Even when these acquaintances wait for slower riders at the tops of hills, she says, they don’t often leave enough time for the slower riders to catch their breath. So it can be helpful to ‘rig’ the pace with the guest list.
“Adding other like-minded, adventure-seeking friends to the ride as well can help temper the pace of the ride. More buddies makes it feel like a party on bikes, which is my ultimate goal on the bike.”
However, Ciminera says her disease sometimes actually helps people understand her needs, because there’s a clear physical limit to what she can do—it’s not a preference, but a requirement.
“Perhaps this is how other couples need to view each other’s abilities, as concrete and nonnegotiable,” she says. “A relationship needs to have trust to work, and that goes for out on the road as well.”
4. Clear communication is key
Selene Yeager, a pro cyclist, and Bicycling’s Fit Chick in the US, met her husband Dave through cycling more than two decades ago. He helped her pick out her first mountain bike, and she immediately fell in love with the sport. But over time, as she improved while training for and racing off-road endurance events, the disparity in their paces grew.
“At some point, Dave was like, ‘I want to be able to ride with you again,’” Yeager says. “I told him, ‘I’m not ready to slow down and I will resent you if I can’t train.’ So we talked through it and just generally started figuring out how we could ride together.
“It’s all about communication. If he hadn’t said anything because he was concerned about upsetting me it could have created a rift—with me riding the same way and him feeling bad about it and me not knowing how bad he felt about it,” she says. “But I like riding with him; it’s nice. We get to talk about stuff.”
These days, the pair commit to riding together twice a week on days when Yeager doesn’t have specific training goals.
“And if I’m at the top of the hill first, who cares?” Yeager says. “But that requires that his ego is okay with it, and it is. We just work with each other. Like anything you do, whether it’s the dishes or the laundry or whatever, you just have to work it out and talk to each other.”
5. And if all else fails, get a tandem
That’s the route I’ve taken with my wife, and it’s done a lot to even out our paces and ensure we can maintain a conversation while riding. We’ve had some of our best rides on that tandem.
Of course, a tandem requires more patience and communication than other bikes—but those are the key ingredients in any successful ride with a partner. We’re still working out how to start—and finish—a ride together on separate bikes.