Rambling Different Trails: Sizing Up Your Riding Companions.

I did it again. The last time I dragged someone through the pain cave, it was “David,”who underestimated the requirements and effects of a 100(+) km ride. He was back for more the following week, but he’s young. This time it was “Peter.” Peter missed the dirt levee ride to the Beichangshediancun pagoda last week, which was a blast, so he cooked up a plan to ride to Huaiyang to visit a project at the foreign language experimental school there, and redeem himself in the saddle at the same time.

The view from the top of the pagoda at Beichangshediancun. There is an internal staircase/ladder hidden next to the shrine at the bottom, who knew?

Peter is a lovely, helpful person and he knew the only way to tempt me into this shorter ride on one of my long ride days was was with the promise of side attractions and that I could continue on with a longer ride afterwards. That was all true except the part about the longer ride after. I should have known that it was all going to end up a much bigger production than it was advertised. That always seems to be the case when foreigners are involved. I should have suspected as much when he showed up a half an hour early, as usual, dressed up a bit too much for cycling and an informal school visit. I was wearing a jersey and knickers. He rides periodically to the organic farm project, 18km, but as I subsequently learned, not much more. I was relieved when he bailed out on the trip to the pagoda last week because he is slow, but I thought maybe that was because he’s one of those very social riders who would rather chat than cruise along at speed.

So these are the things I should have thought more about beforehand or noticed in regard to my riding companion for the day:

1) He started out with his seat too low (we had him raise it), which means he a) doesn’t ride with power and is slow (I did know that) and b) doesn’t ride long distances. Low seat can also mean they brake with their feet, a bad habit which is rampant here but I’ve never seen Peter do it.

2) He was over dressed. He showed up in corduroys and a jacket even though the forecast said it would get over 80 degrees. People here don’t seem to ride hard enough commuting to get hot. It was obvious to me he was going to get overheated even after he took the jacket off (and had to carry it). The Chinese I’ve met seem to have an aversion to even the possibility of being cold. I’ve seen long underwear, sweaters and jackets when it’s 85 degrees out. As the ride progressed I should have

3) noticed if he was shifting. It’s flat around here, so people don’t need to shift on hills, but I didn’t notice he wasn’t shifting at all, or which chain ring he was using, though I did notice which gear of the cassette he was using. Peter bought a mountain bike last fall after always using a single speed commuter bike. He rides the new bike as if it were a single speed, he doesn’t shift. My clue was how fast his legs always seemed to be moving when ours were not, yet he was still slow.

4) He was not drinking while riding. He later confessed he could not ride and drink at the same time.

5) He needed more snack stops. This could have meant he was using more energy spinning in that fast cadence but as it turned out he also skipped breakfast and didn’t eat enough lunch. Our hosts at the school had treated us to a sumptuous feast but Peter was too busy talking to eat enough. Part of that was due to the fact that he was interpreting (a result I know well).

6) He wanted another rest even after the longer than anticipated school visit and lunch. People here like to take a siesta after lunch, which I am not accustomed to. I wanted to get the off-the-rails ride back on track. After a compromise we set out to view some added attractions; some 2000 year old tomb mounds, which were not easy to find out in the middle of a field, and the small but interesting archaeological site of Pingliangtai, a 4,500 year cradle of Chinese civilization.

Tomb of the poet- the emperors brother. A looters cave?

The exhibition hall was not open but as we were unlocking our bikes to leave, a delegation including the director came up to us and asked if we would like to see it. Foreigner privilege. By the time we left there many selfies later, it was starting to get late and I knew that the ride home was the only ride left that day. I took us back via road construction and the thin gray B roads rather than the highway we had taken there as darkness fell. I had not anticipated coming back so late and with only 49 miles to show for it but the day was a full one and with fascinating side trips, so I have no reason to complain. I had lights, but Peter and David, who was riding back with us after switching places with Steve, did not.



A tomb with the ongoing dig in front. The remains of an emperor’s chariot, horses, and ceramic drainage pipe has been excavated here in this site that dates back as far as the late neolithic period.

So what did I learn? If you’re riding with someone whose level of experience or biking habits are not well known to you, ask more questions and make sure your new riding companion can keep up and have a good experience so they want to ride with you again. I am more thorough checking out students when going out on a group ride than with other faculty members because I (mistakenly) think they know what they’re doing. We did not have any flats but could have and while I had extra patches and could have patched their tubes, they had no spare tubes or tools along.