Dr. Spalm - Rider Three mentioned a rider "proving his manhood" by charging off and that the group he started with dumped him. I always thought rides were basically a survival-of-the-fittest deal and that's the way it goes, but he sounded like someone should have waited. What's the deal? I don't think Quicksilver would have made the same comment.
Me Strong, You Weak.
Dear Mr. Strong/Weak - You are correct to notice this dichotomy that is often present in sports activities. I am paid to produce these responses on a per-word basis, but I am not compensated for reading the other drivel on this page, so I am not familiar with the specific situation, but here are my comments on this topic generally.
Whenever males congregate to engage in an activity, there is a process whereby the members of the group determine the pecking order between the participants. Sometimes this is an explicit process, for instance the challenge ladder for most racket sports or the Silver Back Gorilla killing weaker troop members to take their mates. Other times this is more subtle and less clearly delineated, whether in a group of migratory birds that have characteristics of both team and dominant behavior or among over-the-hill drinking buddies each sure that he is the one most attractive to the college-age server. In every instance, however, this is present to some degree.
In cycling, there are also delineations among different activities. For instance, mountain bikers have more of a start/stop approach to rides, so that the group congregates occasionally to discuss the ride or route. In part this is because communication forward and back is more difficult and a group tends to spread out to give each rider a view of the trail. The distance between stops will vary significantly depending on the skill and fitness level, degree of familiarity with the trails and whether one member brought along his cousin who bought a department store mountain bike the week before. But I digress.
For road riders, there appears to be a delineation between those who race with a number pinned on their jersey and those who only race without a number pinned on their jersey. Those who line up for sanctioned races tend to recognize the clear cut signs that they are in a "race", while they tend to think of other bike activities as "training" or "riding". Categorizing their time on the bike in such groups enables them to understand which times they should be competing directly with the other riders around them and which times they should not.
There are many riders, however, who have no interest in attending sanctioned races. There are many legitimate reasons for declining to participate in races and the vast majority of cyclists don't ever compete with a race number on their bike and jersey. The subset of the most interest, however, to those of us who study human behavior, are those who do not pin on a number and yet still "race" their group of riders. The benefit of this style of racing is that it most suits the individual's proclivity not only for the ride, but even within portions of a ride or even moment by moment. Said riders can travel along for miles and miles "not racing" and then as the group goes up or down a hill, this individual can instantly self-proclaim the time for a "non-race race", preferably by sprinting away from the group. The benefit of this non-race race is that in addition to the starting line being a mystery to all except the rider declaring it so, the finish line is equally arbitrary and can appear literally anywhere, although usually its appearance is foretold by another rider being in a position to pass the declaring non-racer.
The internal conversation would go something like this:
First 45 minutes - "I'm feeling good today, so I better sit in a protected spot out of the wind the way the professional team leaders do."
As climb approaches - "This ride has been too easy. I don't know why those guys in the front are complaining about the wind so much. I haven't noticed it back here."
At the base of the climb - "I think I'll show those guys who is the strongest today. I'm the best and everyone should know it. . . Here I go!"
90 seconds later - "Damn I'm good. LOOK AT ME!"
90 seconds later as another cyclist closes in - "Well, that's enough for today. I sure showed them! I guess I should slow down so I don't get too far out front."
This process can be repeated multiple times in one ride or there may be just one glory portion, it depends on the rider situation. This situation can also be replayed by different riders at different portions of the ride, so that many non-racing racers can enjoy the victories throughout an extended group ride. While this may muddy the establish of dominance among the competing group, there in no question in the internal dialogue of the non-racing racer.
So, Mr. Strong/Weak, there is clearly not a simple answer to your question, nor is Dr. Spalm capable of offering a simple statement when a longer and more convoluted one will do. So, please remember these basic rules of the group ride.
1 - Races, as defined by a commonly known start and finish line, are survival of the fittest gatherings. The first one across the finish line (regardless of the work done by or worth to humanity of the individual) is the one who wins.
2 - Smaller Group rides among friends are also survival of the fittest gatherings, but only to the extent that someone has to buy the pitcher of beer or round of espressos after the ride.
3 - Larger Group rides among riding acquaintances are also survival of the fittest gatherings, but only to the extent that you adhere to the mores of the particular group. Failure to adhere to such mores can mean that you are "accidentally" left out when news of the ride is going around.
4 - Group rides that are specifically called "No Drop" rides are not simply survival of the fittest rides as one or more members of the group will take responsibility to help out riders who are dropping behind or having difficulty.
5 - Group rides that are not specifically called "No Drop", but which some people want to be "No Drop" will cause feelings of anger or hostility by those being dropped. And no, Rider 3, I am not specifically referring to you, so you and your pack of lawyers can call off the libel accusations before you even start.
6 - In all group rides, look for the strongest riders to not be the ones showboating off the front because they are confident in their strength and they don't need the Pretty Pony moment to prove it.
I trust that this answers your question, except to say, you are right, Quicksilver wouldn't make such a comment as Quicksilver is a man of few blogging words and would instead ride his bike.
If you have a question for Dr. Spalm, please leave it in the comment box or e-mail it to one of the members of Team Two Wheel. Not because of the volume of mail, but only because of the appropriateness for further commentary, some questions may not receive personal attention. Dr. Spalm is not available for private consultation, but will accept additional writing engagements at his traditional per-word compensation.