Cyclists – at least many of them – like to prove, measure, rank, and judge themselves in relation to other cyclists.
See Strava, Instagram, and talking-people-through-the-biggest-bike-ride-you’ve-ever-done-within-three-minutes-of-meeting-them, for examples of this.
Occasionally, a newcomer joins your group. Maybe a friend, a friend of a friend, or a particularly bold hanger-on who has invited themselves along for the ride.
How they got there is not important. How quick they are, is. Until you’ve got the measure of them they are every cyclist’s greatest fear – the unknown quantity.
For 99% of us there are those fellow cyclists who are quicker than us, those who are slower, and those who are about the same (give or take recent levels of alcohol intake and sleeping patterns of any young children currently being parented).
We don’t pass judgement solely for status affirmation but for practical, pragmatic reasons.
If someone attacks the first climb of the day like a rat out of a drainpipe should you accept the challenge and jump on their wheel, knowing that they always go too hard too soon and will surely fade?
Or should you refuse the bait, knowing that they are the superior cyclist and any attempt to prove otherwise will end in kudos (to them), tears (yours), and general hilarity (everyone else) at your naïve attempts to circumnavigate the laws of physics.
Knowing what, and who, you are up against, is critical when trying to maintain your self-respect as a cyclist.
The unknown quantity occupies, at least initially, a position of power.
You quiz them gently, for clues. You asses their bike, their kit, and the hairiness of their legs for further information. You watch them as the road heads upwards; are they really expending no effort, or are they hiding it well?
Eventually, someone blinks.
The coherence of the group ride is broken as some trigger-fingered young buck jumps on the attack. The rest of us watch our mysterious new team-mate for their response. If he jumps too, follows, and leaves our eager friend for dead mid-effort, we can all relax.
As long as our unknown quantity becomes a known quantity, we’re happy.
Quicker, slower, about the same – we’re not bothered.
We just want to know where we are in the pecking order.