I was lucky enough to have worked with a guy who introduced me to the river rides and who just so happened to know how to pedal a bike around pretty well: Kenny Kwong. Kenny was infamous in our building for winning the May is Bike Month award on several occasions so I was a little intimidated when he invited me to come check out a river ride.
When I came out to my first river ride, I immediately sought out Kenny as he was the only familiar face at the time. I chatted with him briefly and found out that there was an A and B group and he was the ride leader for the latter. As soon as his cycling computer rolled over to 5:30, he began the chain reaction of clipping in throughout the parking lot; the sound of a cyclist's journey beginning and the beginning of my very first river ride.
The rather large group of riders made their way out to Garden Highway at a leisurely pace, until we got down past Sand Cove and passed under the freeway. Suddenly, the blurred line between the A and B group became clear as riders moved up to the front of the group and quickly put distance on the group I was in. As I watched the group move away, a feeling came over me that I wanted to one day be an A group rider.
I had ridden in small pace lines before, and large packs in races, but the river ride dynamic was different- there was an efficiency to it and purpose: changing direction with the winds and riders jumping back in the line to keep the rotation going and maintain the pace. I survived my first river ride, even taking some pulls, but was not in contention for the sprints- for I still had a lot to learn.
When I got into work the next morning, I was shocked to see an email from Kenny! He had kind words to say to me and we made it somewhat of a weekly update where we would go over how the ride went and I was always eager to learn how to improve.
It was in these B group rides that I cut my teeth on real group riding skills like echeloning, positioning for sprints, moving up without extending too much energy and more than I had learned doing any races thus far. With each passing week I had become a stronger and smarter rider, even winning some sprints. I was always eager and willing to flog myself at the front, trying to squeeze that last bit of burn in my legs out in order to fulfill my ambitions of joining the A group.
By the end of the season with some peer pressure from other riders who I had raced and become friends with, I tried my first ride in the A group. As we passed under the freeway and I followed the wheels of the quick-moving line of A's, I almost felt as if I was leaving the nest for the first time. Time to test out these wings....
The A group was fast! I hadn't seen numbers that large on my cycling computer on flat land before. After passing by Swabbie's, Chuck had gone on the attack and a gap had formed. I decided to try to bridge and it took everything I had to catch up to Chuck. I checked under my shoulder briefly and was ecstatic that I hadn't drug the whole group along.
Then as I chewed my bars trying to hold his wheel to recover, I noticed the gear he was pushing and messed my chamois a little- simply massive! I then tried to pull through and quickly regretted my decision to try to bridge as it felt like the pedals were pushing back harder than I could! As I inevitably blew up, Chuck took off up the road and I was quickly devoured and spat out the back of a rabid chasing pack. I desperately turned my pedals over to catch back on after the brief respite after the first sprint point and I just tried to hang on for the remainder of the ride.
As much as it hurt, it just made me want to come back for more, and keep improving. That's part of what I love about river ride besides, the friends I have met, knowledge I have acquired, and fitness improved: every time I come out it makes me want to be a better rider.