One year on our women’s ride, a friend shared a story with us about her brother- and sister-in-law who were doing a cycling event together. They had trained together in preparation for the event, so on event day, they were going at a decent speed. Then, unexpectedly, he turned right in front of her. She went over the handlebars and crashed hard. While she was lying on the ground, blood pooling around her, waiting for the ambulance that would carry her away in a stretcher, her husband said, “I feel like it may have been my fault,” to which she responded, “Well, technically, it was your fault.”
While we girls had a great laugh over this (the injured party was okay, after all), one lady asked, “How many times has a wife almost been killed by her husband while riding together?”
Now, I happen to trust no one more than my husband when riding. In fact, I learned and practiced many group ride rules from and with him. He’s as steady of a pacer as you can ever imagine with instincts as quick as a race car driver. His cycling skills make him one of the few triathletes allowed to ride a TT bike in a group ride. (If anything, I may, perhaps, be to blame for knocking him off his bike once or twice when I started out riding.) But, that is my experience. The discussion I had with the ladies last summer had me wondering how other couples fare while riding together. So, I set off to find out our Higher Gear customers‘ experience.
When Cycling Is Part of the Prenuptial
When Gina Rice told friends about taking a “romantic” trip with her husband to do a cycling event for their anniversary, people would be confused. Her babysitter asked, “What are you doing? Riding sixty miles up and down a hill and you actually call that fun?”
We cyclists are a different breed. Joy and pain are all sides of the same coin. For some of our customers, the joys and pains of cycling together were part of their relationship from the beginning:
“Gina is responsible for me falling in love with the bike. She had to push me initially to join her while she trained for her triathlon series. I figured if I was going to get her to say ‘yes’ to marriage (we were dating at the time), I would have to go out and buy a damn bike! I did and I’ve never looked back. We’ve been riding together for over 15 years.” – Chuck Rice
“Scott and I first started riding together before we were married. It was a great way for us to learn more about each other. Now that we have been married, we love to do our long rides together. It gives us a time to hang out together, talk about the kids, work and yet still train. On days that one of us is dragging, the other one usually helps pull the other one. If a person or group passes us that looks like they shouldn’t – You know what I mean! – we only need to look at each to know that we are going after them.” – Patricia Kaufman
“One tradition Joe and I have is to celebrate our Anniversary each year with a bike ride. We did really well the first 5 years of marriage. At that time, we lived in Quincy, Illinois and would ride from Quincy to Ft. Madison, Iowa and stay at the hotel where we spent our wedding night, then would ride back home the next morning. Since three children, our Anniversary rides have been varied based on available time – some rides longer than others, some only for a day. But, we always try to do some type of ride, whatever the distance, around our special date. Some people think we are a little crazy, but it is a special way to celebrate our Anniversary by doing something we love, with the person we love.” – Kelly Kowzan
In 2012, Glenna Lampner rode 11,366 miles, 1500 of those with her husband, Matt Schwach. As Glenna puts it, “If you want to hang out with me in the summertime, you’ve gotta be on the bike.” Such is life when married to an avid cyclist!
“Are We Riding Together?”
Just because couples enjoy riding together doesn’t mean that they’re at the same ability level. Often times, one person is stronger than the other. This can cause problems from time to time – sometimes stressful, sometimes funny, but always an opportunity for learning more about each other and riding together!
After being dropped by her husband on a small group ride, where two others stayed behind with her, Gina Rice asked her husband, “Are we not riding together? Just tell me.”
“After the ride [a small group ride where she got dropped], he said, ‘That was a nice little casual ride.’ That was not a casual ride for me.” – Gina Rice
“The first Wrigley Ride, I ended up riding alone – for 70 miles of it. Craig decided that if he wanted to remain married to me, he would ride with me the next time.” – Alexis del Campo Eyler
“One day, he basically took off on me. The next exchange went something like: “I thought we were riding ‘together,” to which he responded, ‘I thought you were right behind me.’” – Glenna Lampner
“I’m not much of a talker while riding, because I actually don’t have all that much experience/confidence riding, and need to concentrate on what I’m doing. A couple years ago, we stopped near Green Bay Rd. I couldn’t unclip and tipped over onto Kris, causing her to fall with me on top of her. Embarrassing. – Fran Morel
To deal with discrepancies in ability, couples work out systems that work for them.
“If you’re going out for a ride ‘together,’ then ride together and consider letting the slower rider lead – unless there’s a horrible headwind! Matt always lets me lead. I typically ride more miles than he would choose to, but at a slower speed. He would always ride faster than I can keep up with if he was leading. Getting on his wheel still feels like a stretch for me.” – Glenna Lampner
“To keep peace it is important to push but not necessarily compete with each other and to know when the other person doesn’t want to chit chat, ride hard or attack (other groups).” – Patricia Kaufman
“We have our spots, places we know we’re going to meet up – so he can ride ahead of me and get in extra loops. And we meet on a familiar corner.” – Alexis del Campo Eyler
“He’s gotten faster the last few years. Now he’s so much faster than me, I just send him on his way. Make a plan. Like, when hill climbing last year, we agreed: ‘I’ll meet you at the top. Don’t worry about me. Unless you hear an ambulance, then you can worry.’” – Gina Rice
“To address the speed differences between us, when we do our training rides, he usually rides his mountain bike and I ride my road bike. On overnight trips, he usually pulls a BOB with our things on it and even a small cooler. It makes our speed a little more equal, weighing him down some!” – Kelly Kowzan
“I love riding w Linda. It works out great for us because she is fearless when it comes to sitting on my wheel. I’m able to get a great workout pulling her and she’s able to get a great workout trying to stay on my wheel.” – Ruth Payne
“If you are six and a half miles into the ride and she needs to pull over to use the restroom at a Dairy Queen, you smile and pull off the road and let her go. The repercussions of saying no and fighting this bladder sensation are futile. My wife has delivered two children and equates that to having a snow plow driving over her bladder for 18 months straight. I hate that visual, but she always reminds me as we are pulling off the road. Besides, we have another 93 miles to go together!” – Chuck Rice
A bike ride with a spouse or partner can be a microcosm of a marriage. In the heat of an intense ride, built-up anxieties and differences can rear their ugly heads. But our couples have been able to find peace in their shared rides. Here are some of the rules that seem to work for them:
1. Don’t Ride a Tandem
“I would never ride a tandem. I rode on one ONCE with my husband, and felt like I was completely out of control; I could only see his shoulders in front of me, and it drove me crazy! When we do RAGBRAI, etc. we ride separate bikes. It gives me my own sense of control and sense of personal accomplishment at the end of the day!” – Kelly Kowzan
“I think biking is a great activity to do as a couple. But tandem biking would be awful–like a double kayak, which someone referred to a the ‘divorce vehicle.’” – Kris Koenig-Morel
“Tandems are for couples who are dating and in the early stages of romance – ONLY! Never accept your neighbor’s offer to borrow their tandem for the century ride. Notice how the bike is hanging up in the back of the garage and you never knew they owned a tandem until that moment (and they have lived next door for 17 years!)? Just say no and stay married; it’s that simple.” – Chuck Rice
…Or do! If both partners are honest with each other and there are no issues over who is in control, a tandem could be an ideal way to enjoy a bike ride together.
“I think we’d have a great time on a tandem – I have another male family member I use this technique on, an uncle who loves to ride – as we’d enjoy the ride together and ride at the same pace. Plus he could be “in control.” I don’t care if I’m in control or not, which is an issue for a lot of other couples with tandems.” – Sheila Wilson
2. Communicate Early and Often
As Gina Rice put it, “Set up a plan. ‘Are we biking together? Tell me now, so I have a plan.’” Verbalizing expectations is something that solid couples do both on and off the bike.
“We’ve been riding together for about 6 years now, and believe it or not, we think we have it figured out pretty well. Good communication is paramount: check in as often as possible on how the other is doing before, during and after rides.” – Tom Renaud
“Come up with the plan ahead of time to bike with your spouse who is faster & stronger. I may have been biking longer, but he’s into it more than me. And he’s faster. A lot faster.” – Gina Rice
“Something that helps is just being real with yourself about what you’re feeling and trying to be attentive to what your partner is feeling. Being able to keep the lines of communication open is vital as different things come up. I wouldn’t say it’s easy but I will say that riding together was much easier for us than running together!” – Ruth Payne
“Scott likes to know exactly the course, while I tend to change it up a bit once I get out. So discussing how far and where we are going usually helps set each others’ expectations.” – Patricia Kaufman
“We agree on the distance before we start.” – Glenna Lampner
3. Let Her Lead (or Not)
Most couples agree that letting the stronger cyclist lead is a bad idea, unless you’re heading into a headwind, when you want the stronger rider in front. That said, some prefer the stronger cyclist in the lead, letting the newer cyclist take advantage of the draft. Some of it is about cycling ability, but a lot is about personality. Refer to Rule #2 and discuss what works best for you both.
“I let her lead, which I’m comfortable with, and I just focus on safety and keeping up. I remain far behind her, especially on hills.” – Fran Morel
“We still ride a lot together, but I make sure I ride behind her – if you know what I mean! She is one mean mama and I’m afraid of sharp objects in her jersey pocket.” – Chuck Rice
“Always let the woman lead. It’s not gonna work out if he leads. Let her lead. If you want this to be a date, then let her pull.” – Glenna Lampner
4. Slow It Down
If competition or training is involved, it’s likely you’re at different paces. In that case, see Rule #3. If you’re choosing to ride together because you want to enjoy time together, let it be a leisurely ride.
“Forever, Sunday mornings were our run together. In that case, I slowed down for her. Now the table has turned. It’s not easy, because I feel like I’m holding her back if it’s supposed to be somewhat of a workout. But I’ll improve. And our casual rides are always fun.” – Fran Morel
“Fran could be a great rider, he just chooses to do other things. And he’s at a disadvantage when I’m on my road bike. But leisurely rides around town and to the beach are always good.” – Kris Koenig-Morel
“I think patience is the key when exercising with your spouse. It is almost always the case that one is stronger than the other and that both might be competitive and one may be more ‘daring’ in manipulating the bike through traffic.” – Ruth Payne
“Solution: ride farther, but slower.” – Glenna Lampner
5. Sometimes the Best Way to Ride Together Is to Not Ride Together
Love is sometimes knowing when to let go.
“I think we have fun riding together, but he’s a much better rider than I am. He acknowledges that his rides with me are going to be his easy rides; he’s going to have to go out again to get in a workout.” – Alexis del Campo Eyler
“Talk about riding together, and have the right understanding and expectations. And mix it up with different types of rides. You don’t always have to ride together, which allows different levels of speed and endurance at different times. When you do ride together as a couple, make it enjoyable and “want” to do it versus feeling forced to. Laughter, fun photo ops, and cool destinations make it easy.” – Tom Renaud
“If you’re going out to train for an event, then train. That might mean not riding together, but meeting up for coffee after.” – Glenna Lampner
“Doug has joined me for a couple of century rides and the Dairyland Dare. We just work it out by riding together for a while and then at our different paces. For the Dairyland Dare, we go together and enjoy the weekend together, but on the actual ride, we’re doing different distances. He’s very happy to do 50K to 100K, and then go read a book at the hotel, whereas I’m not happy doing less than 200K. (Last year, I did 250K.) Obviously, Doug is the saner soul in our relationship!” – Sheila Wilson
6. Take it On the Road
Chuck and Gina Rice enjoyed their anniversary last year with a “romantic” cycling weekend getaway. Glenna Lampner and Matt Schwach have taken several Trek Travel vacations together, including trips to Mallorca and Solvang. When cycling is part of who you are as a couple, incorporating cycling into your travel plans just makes sense.
“We also enjoy making cycling part of our travels and vacations – New Buffalo, Door County, Sonoma and Scottsdale, to amazing European biking trips in France (Bordeaux) and Italy (Umbria) – which definitely helps us “enjoy the ride together.” – Tom Renaud
7. Involve Food
When is adding food into the mix a bad idea? Everybody loves to be fed, especially when burning calories on the bike! Make a stop for calories a destination or a goal for the ride.
“[Glenna] has the Pavlovian thing down – by knowing to stop at a good coffee/pastry place at the turnaround to keep my sugar and energy up.” – Matt Schwach
“We go into our rides with mutual understanding and anticipation, and have a shared goal, which is often beers and turkey burgers at the end of ride.” – Tom Renaud
“It really is the laughter, the views, the fun of doing a ride with a group and a beer/burger reward at the end of a summer ride that makes all those miles worth it!” – Ruth-Anne Renaud
8. Don’t Give Unsolicited Advice – or Presents!
The editor-in-chief at Redbook was quoted as saying, “My best tip is to not give a tip unless you are directly, explicitly asked for one.” Here, Chuck is starting to comprehend this rule:
“Regardless of her cycling form or etiquette, be careful to never criticize her. Only encourage her. For example, “Honey, if you could keep your cadence above 70 rpm, it would really help your cardiovascular health improve dramatically!” – Chuck Rice
Sorry, Chuck, you’re almost there, but you need to work on your follow-through. Now, let’s hear from your wife:
“Only give me the advice if I ask you for it. Don’t tell me I need to get my cadence up when I’m going as fast as I can.” – Gina Rice
As for gifts, avid cyclists love getting bike parts and accessories. But, before making a purchase, ask yourself two important questions: 1) Is my spouse an avid cyclist, and 2) Does this occasion call for a “romantic” gift. (Note: If the answer to the first question is yes, the second question is moot. The occasion, romantic or otherwise, does not, in fact, matter.) Otherwise, learn from one customer’s mistake:
“Husbands should not give their wives trainers for their anniversaries.” – Craig Eyler
9. Have a Sense of Humor
You wouldn’t be married without a sense of humor; don’t try to go for a ride together without packing that up along with your other cycling essentials.
When Gina and Chuck Rice set off on their “grand” cycling adventure, “We joked about it being our anniversary trip and that our goal for the ride was to stay married.” Gina admits, “We had it all planned out so we could stay married.” She jokes that, if she ever thought she might be getting frustrated, she told herself: “Keep repeating in your head, ‘Stay married. Stay married. He means well. Stay married. It’s coming from a good place. Stay married. And don’t unintentially hit his back tire.’”
Speaking of sense of humor, here’s Gina’s husband’s advice:
“Alter behavior at least two weeks in advance – no fighting, no decision making of any kind, best behavior only. Over the six hours together, she will remember every stupid decision or comment you have made recently and discuss this illicit behavior because she realizes you have no where to run!” – Chuck Rice
Now, a serious note about keeping your humor:
“Enjoy the ride – and try not to take it too seriously.” – Tom Renaud
10. Remind Yourself Why You Are Out There Riding Together
There’s a reason you chose this person to be your mate. And there’s a reason you chose to set off on this bike ride together. Now what was it again?
“’One for all, all for one,’ is one of our shared mottos.” – Tom and Ruth-Anne Renaud
“Just have fun! Make it a goal to talk about things unrelated to your daily stresses and everyday life … cycling has kept our marriage fun for 15 years!” – Chuck Rice
“I was thinking that, unfortunately, there probably is no “secret” in that one has to enjoy being with the other person and not resent being taken away from another activity they like. For us, I still like hanging out with Glenna – and we first met in 1971! – and I like cycling.” – Matt Schwach
“Talk about riding together, and have the right understanding and expectations. And mix it up with different types of rides. You don’t always have to ride together, which allows different levels of speed and endurance at different times. When you do ride together as a couple, make it enjoyable and “want” to do it versus feeling forced to. Laughter, fun photo ops and cool destinations make it easy.” – Tom Renaud
If nothing else, know you have back-up:
“Usually one of us forgets food or enough bottles, so we have learned to share our food and even our tires when one gets a flat.” – Patricia Kaufman
Riding together can be a great expression of your relationship. Just keep in mind these rules and be glad it’s cycling, and not golf!
“You can’t learn to play golf with your spouse. You want to kill them.” – Gina Rice
Thank you to the Higher Gear couples who contributed to this piece. May you continue to ride together peacefully.
Happy Valentine’s Day, all!
Joy Sherrick is Higher Gear’s resident fitness guru. When Joy’s not riding with Higher Gear’s Women’s Group Ride, she can be found drafting behind her IronMan husband.