7 tips on training with a slower partner (or significant other)

Don't let mountain biking ruin your relationship. Instead heed this advice

How To
No matter where you sit on the speed-and-skill hierarchy, focus on the good, not the negative.

No matter where you sit on the speed-and-skill hierarchy, focus on the good, not the negative (click to enlarge).

4. The Ride Isn’t Always About You

If you are riding with someone who isn’t as strong as you, consider riding with them on your easy training day. And don’t talk about how easy it is for you or how good you feel. Don’t show off (unless they actually enjoy that). Put yourself in their shoes. You can also offer to carry extra weight on the ride so it’s easier for them to get up the hills. And remember to always offer sincere encouragement and compliments. Believe me, it helps.

5. Don’t Compare

This one gets me sometimes. I try to ride with people better than me as much as possible so I can learn. However, I find myself comparing when I am not as good as them and getting mad at myself that I can’t ride something or ride the same speed. Instead of this negative thinking, focus on what you are good at and vow to continue building your skills. Don’t judge yourself. If there’s something you can’t ride, look at the challenge as an opportunity for future growth and a goal to work towards. Skilled riders get to where they are by putting in time and hard work. Try to be inspired by your partner’s skills.

6. Focus on the Good

It’s important to focus on the fun and the reason you are there on your bike. Try to unwind and break the cycle of negative thoughts. Think of the reasons you are there, and think of the things you enjoy about riding your bike. Think of what it would be like to be the other person, and acknowledge that they aren’t intentionally trying to make you feel bad. Also be sure to communicate constructively and in a calm manner. Both of you have the same goal – to have a good ride together. That means you need to be patient with yourself and the other rider. Try to focus on a growth mindset. Psychologist Carol Dweck recommends that you consider the process and measure your improvement toward the goal you are trying achieve rather than judging the results.

Sonya and her husband Matt have found the happy place when riding together.

Sonya and her husband Matt have found the happy place when riding together (click to enlarge).

7. Dealing with Complaints

If your riding partner can’t find their happy place, and instead complains non-stop, gently ask them what you can do to help make the ride more fun. Here are some examples:

  • I’m tired, my legs hurt. That’s good! It means you are challenging yourself enough to get stronger. Would you like to slow down or take a break?
  • I’m hungry. Let’s take a snack break. Do you need some food?
  • I don’t really know what’s wrong. Make sure they have eaten enough food. Low blood sugar = grumpiness.
  • I suck. No, you are learning and growing. It can be painful sometimes, but you are doing great! Think about the improvements you have made already.
  • You always do this when we ride. I’m sorry, how can I get better starting right now? I want to make sure you’re having fun.
  • I’m afraid to try. It’s normal to be afraid. Let’s find something that is challenging, but that you are comfortable with. We can practice it over and over until you feel good, then you’ll work up to the thing you’re afraid of.
  • This isn’t fun. Okay, let’s go back.

If there is something that has helped you improve your riding experience with a riding partner, let us know in the comments. Happy Trails!

About the author: Sonya Looney

It’s energy and attitude that have propelled World Champion Sonya Looney on a mountain bike across the rugged Himalayas, through sweltering sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, and through the clammy jungles of Sri Lanka. Sonya Looney is an adventure traveler on a bike seeking out the hardest races in the most remote, beautiful, and interesting places in the world. She believes in pushing limits because that’s when you realize you are far more capable than ever imagined. Sonya is also a professional speaker, keynoting at large conferences and has spoken at TEDx. Don't let her accolades fool you though, she loves craft beer and joking around. Follow her on social media!

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  • Jake Schaefer says:

    This can be tough regardless of which side you’re on. Here’s a couple things I try to keep in mind when I’m the more experienced rider (especially when taking my kids or other newbies out)…

    1) It’s really fun to introduce people to the sport we love but, if you crush them on their first ride, it may well be their last. It may be fun for me to show off a bit but to them, it’s just frustrating. Keep it chill and don’t leave them behind.

    2) These rides are really about spending time with others and won’t be my typical workout. I try to go into the ride with the proper expectations for myself so I don’t get frustrated. I’ll often bring a single speed or rigid bike to keep it a bit more interesting and/or I’ll just schedule some extra time before or after the group ride to do my thing.

    I love riding with my kids and by keeping it their level, they’ll continue to love riding with me. I’m sure it won’t be too long before they’re the one’s waiting on me.

  • Christy Kunkle says:

    I like to let the slower person go first (some times that is me) so they can set the pace, for biking, running and hiking. It seems to really help!

    • Denis says:

      Tried that. Didn’t work for me. They feel “hunted” when they know someone who could be faster is behind them.

  • GiGolfer says:

    This is great advice for riding with kids. I’ve started to get my 5,6 and 8 y/o out on the trails this year and I ride intentionally slow and let them tell me to go faster. I believe success breeds success and if you newer riders can gain a little more confidence on every ride, they are likely to want to ride more. Great article!

  • eb1888 says:

    I buzz ahead but stop before every ‘feature’ segment. When my friend pulls up I go over what’s coming next and how I will ride it. Then on to the next one.

  • Lars V says:

    8. Try a tandem. Seriously, it can be so much fun.

    Disclaimer: When tandeming with your significant other: A wise man once said: “Wherever your relationship is going, a tandem will get you there faster.” 😀

    • Dan says:

      This is true! Tandems are NOT divorce machines. They are relationship accelerators. It is actually a GREAT way to enjoy riding with your significant other. Just make sure you have a skilled pilot (aka captain) and a trusting stoker.

  • Marc Fleisher says:

    This article is kind of worthless. I ride with my SO all the time. I know she is going to be slower than me and I know how well she rides. Maybe it should be titled How to Ride with someone you have never ridden with before.

  • uncaged says:

    This is me and my fiance in a nutshell. I am always waiting for her but I am just glad we are doing something together and she is improving each time.

  • Ms. FoldsInHalf says:

    What a FANTASTIC article. #7 on dealing with complaints should be laminated and put on people’s handlebars.

    I am always the slower rider of of the two of us, and I lead almost all of the time. Even though my boyfriend is well trained to wait at all decision points, my being in the lead eliminates even the possibility of anxiety over getting lost and less anxiety = more fun. Not getting frustrated trying to keep up is also a fast track to fun.

    Yet I hate having someone right on my ass, so he stays back just a bit, and has a small cowbell that tells me he’s back there somewhere. As for the comment about a slow leader feeling “hunted” because someone who could be faster is behind me–it doesn’t apply to me because I know that someone who most definitely IS faster is behind me but he’s chosen not to do that today because he wants to ride with me.

    It’s taken us 10 years to get to this point, where we ride together quite nicely, and almost all of the issues we encountered to get here are in this article. So I didn’t “need” this article but it was nice to read something and think yes!…yes!… yes!… throughout.

  • Scotch Hennesy says:

    Personally, I have to work with humans, raise them (my son) and live with one (the wife) day in and day out. I’ve continued to ride mountain and road bikes solo for over 20 years now. I believe that’s my time to reflect on the day and challenge myself based on how I feel. Just me and my tunes (Big Wreck)! Sound article though!

  • Rob Perez says:

    I was just having this conversation with a dirt bike buddy of mine who just bought a mtn bike. Since we were strong desert motorcycle riders and have being in great condition for it, my advice to him was, “we’re not on dirt bikes, so don’t push yourself because you’ll kill yourself”. Take it slow and build up your cardio and have fun because the last thing I want is for him to hate it. This was coming from my personal experience when I got back into mtn biking. I would push my self so far that my heart rate was thru the roof and took me days to recover from the headaches and dizziness. All I wanted to do was ride fast. And as Grant M said” it’s not like I woke up one day and…” so true! Great article!

  • Chicken_Rider says:

    What if you are the slower rider? It often sucks trying to keep up with Speedy McSpeedface, such that by the time you catch up, they give you 2 min to rest and then head off….

  • maverick says:

    If you are the stronger rider, let the slower guy go first and get out of the saddle for long periods of time and don’t ride his ass. You will get a great, different workout and be more equal in stamina, works great for snowboarding too, except there… ride switch and learn and be a much better rider for it!!

  • Dave H. says:

    I ride with new/slower riders all the time. My philosophy is simple: Put their needs ahead of mine. If I want to bomb down the trails, I’ll do that on my own time. If I have invited someone else, then it is about them, not me.
    Usually, I let them lead to set the pace. I seldom get bored because I’m with someone who’s company I requested in the first place. If I find I have “extra energy” then I just mess around. Sometimes I will:
    -Pedal in a gear that is to high or too low,
    -Pedal standing for extended periods,
    -Pedalwith my suspension in “downhill” mode the whole time, so it soaks up a bunch of my energy.
    -Concentrate on trying an unusual line on the trail.
    -Take my old rigid Ross for something different.

    The bottom line is that if I agree to ride with a rider who is slower than me (a newbie, my teenage kids, my buddy who can’t quite keep up), then it is my responsibility to figure out how to enjoy my ride while ensuring they enjoy theirs.

  • Yalerider says:

    Nice post! I am a 57 year old newb and anxious to try single track by myself but worried about getting run over. Maybe it will be better to start with experienced friends.

  • Karina says:

    I like this article. I’ve been riding bikes my whole life but only got into MTB a few months ago and I dragged my husband into it with me.

    He’s basically never ridden a bike before in his life so it was an eye opener for both of us. After I realised how much he was still learning I decided it would be best for both of us, especially at the beginning when he couldn’t even get out of his saddle properly, for me to stay behind him. He still manages to drop me on the shorter sprints between the descents though, I guess just being really strong helps there regardless of experience.

    I think we work pretty well together but I need to remind myself to cool my heels as sometimes I do get frustrated being held up sometimes but I know that in the coming months and years we’ll get up to the same level and in the meantime I’m just trying to help him get there. Once he gets there I’m sure his height and strength will turn the tables on me.

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