Overcoming the fear of group rides


By Suzanne Slack
Michigan State University PhD student, member and secretary of MSU Cycling Club

I have been cycling my whole life, but the thought of group rides scared me.

I have enjoyed various types of riding, including mountain biking, commuting, and riding to the nearest hill, which is far in Lansing. As I started to develop my interest, I wanted to grow and build friendships through cycling, which led me to joining the MSU cycling club. However, trepidation built in me when I saw a large group riding. What if I crash, or worse, cause someone else to crash?

To get over my fear, I started riding with a couple people at a time on slower pace rides over the summer. In these first group rides, I typically stayed towards the back of the line, thinking if I crashed at least no one would run over me. However, my fellow riders noticed and pushed me to be the leader, or to even stay in the middle of pack, even for just a little while. Though it was an experience that filled me with anxiety, the practice of riding in the middle of riders or at the front was needed to get over my fear. As summer progressed, I became more confident that I wouldn’t crash out the person behind me through practice.

In the fall, I began seriously riding with the MSU cycling club. This experience was more nerve-wracking, as there were more riders in the group than I was used to. I still had the habit of staying towards the back of the pack and watching the more experienced riders.

Once it got too cold outside, the MSU cycling club practiced ‘skills and drills’, which involve pacing, balance, riding with others, and avoiding obstacles in an indoor arena. These exercises really helped me to get a handle on my bike and learn how to maneuver more effortlessly.

I finally felt comfortable enough to participate in a large organized ride. I could comfortably ride in the pack and was not worried about crashing the riders around me. To get to the point where I was comfortable in group rides involved many small groups, watching other riders to see how they handled sudden situations, and practicing more control over my bicycle.

To further my goals this year I am participating in the MSU Gran Fondo to ride 80 miles. It has taken time and mentoring from other riders to overcome my reluctance to participate in large group rides, but riding for a charity and for my own goals is worth it and I would ask you to do the same.

I look forward to seeing others like me on the course and riding whenever you can!

Six tips for your first Gran Fondo


By Elaine Sheikh
MSU College of Veterinary Medicine student, member of the MSU Cycling Team and Athletic Mentors / Greenware USA Women’s Cycling Team

The meaning of the phrase “Gran Fondo” is “big ride.” This is an easily accessible “non-competitive” (don’t say that in front of the guys in the front pack!) cycling event that is fun to participate in for new cyclists and veterans alike.

If you’re brand new to the sport of cycling, here are some tips to help you enjoy your first gran fondo!

Pick your route distance appropriately.

If your longest ride to date has been 15 miles, you probably won’t enjoy your day if you sign up for the 80-miler.

Choose from 80, 40, 25 or the Family Ride (10-12 miles) at this year’s MSU Gran Fondo.

Choose your outfit for the day wisely.

The MSU Gran Fondo typically occurs on a pretty warm day. Even if it’s cool in the morning, remember that you will likely strip off your arm warmers or jacket, exposing your arms, so wear sunscreen!

Remember to wear wicking clothes. And bicycle specific shorts are a good investment! Whatever you do wear, make sure you have ridden in that outfit before so you know if there will be any uncomfortable chaffing.

Bring snacks!

Even though the MSU Gran Fondo offers food at the rest stops, you never know when you might need to eat or drink along the way so bring something with you. I like to have a water bottle with some sports drink to replace my electrolytes as I sweat, and some commercial energy gels or bars that are easy to eat and digest on the go. Since it will be warm, make sure you are drinking regularly and staying hydrated!

Prep your bike.

Make sure your bike is in good working order. Stop by one of the many wonderful local bike shops in the area this spring and get a tune-up. Nothing is more disappointing than training for an event and then having your bike malfunction during it!

Make sure you’re prepared for tire repair. Things you will need include: a spare inner tube, tire levers, and either a hand pump or a CO2 set. Your local bike shop can help you decide what is the best option for you. Your inner tube size is found on the inner tube itself, and can be estimated by your tire size. This is printed on the side wall of your tire.

Here’s an informative video on changing a bike tire.

My advice is that if you aren’t riding a standard bike tire size (700c x 23-32), bring a spare tube. I have been on multiple rides with my 650c bike where the sag vehicle did not have a spare tube in my size!

Another very common mechanical suffered by new riders is a dropped chain. This is super easy to fix once you know how. Here’s a video!

Practice group riding.

If you plan to ride in a group, practice group riding before hand! Many local bike shops have weekly group rides, which are an excellent way to become accustomed to and comfortable with riding in a group.

The best way to navigate the MSU Gran Fondo’s mass-start is to know your abilities. A common mistake that I see often is people wanting to be too close to the front. Know that you can always move up in a group once you start rolling, but if you line up in the front you will undoubtedly be smashed into a pack that is 4-6 riders wide across the road for the first bit as it thins out. If you aren’t comfortable riding in a group, don’t put yourself in that position.


It may seem obvious, but it’s worth reminding that you’ll enjoy your day a lot more if you have trained for the ride. There are a few small hills on the route, so make sure you are comfortable shifting and pedaling smoothly up an incline.

Be sure to check out the MSU Gran Fondo routes ahead of time to familiarize yourself with the ride. Click here to see the routes on Strava or download the GPX files to use in another app.

I hope you enjoy your first gran fondo!


Three reasons to ride

By Mark Morris, cyclist, teacher and MSU alumnus

It’s 5° outside my home in SW Ohio. So I trudge to the basement, fire up my favorite Peleton instructor on my iPad, jump on the spinning bike, and begin a 45-minute workout. While I don’t like indoor cycling, these winter workouts have become an essential part of my love of cycling. The workouts also provide me with the gift of uninterrupted time when I can think. This morning I had time to think about why I ride in the MSU Gran Fondo every June (three of the first five so far and registered for Fondo 6). I think there are three basic, but not necessarily simple, reasons.

mhm-2016First, cycling is a form of psychotherapy for me. Despite my fondness for expensive carbon bikes and all the fun accoutrements that go with cycling (like my closet full of cycling jerseys), I tell my wife that I am saving us money that otherwise would have to go to a therapist. Cycling provides me with the time and space needed to unwind, decompress, and clear my mind as I roll mile after mile. As an introvert who stands before a classroom of college students every day, I really need this time away from the crowds. I have found this to be a shared commonality with other cyclists as well. As a rider in the Gran Fondo, I am as comfortable chatting with riders around me as I am simply turning my pedals in silence. That means you are welcome to ride with one of the many teams or as a solo rider as I do.

Second, I enjoy challenges. Sixteen years ago I signed up for a 525-mile bike ride across the state of Montana and didn’t even own a bike. All these years and two bikes later, I have now ridden over 11,000 miles. Cycling has taken me to places like Montana (where we rode up and over the continental divide), to France (to watch the Tour de France and ride up Alpe d’Huez…twice), to Italy (to watch the Giro d’Italia), and of course Grand Rapids. As a rider who loves climbing, the only downside to Grand Rapids is there are no upsides. I like mountains and there are none of those on the Gran Fondo route. That makes it great for riders of all sizes, shapes, and ages. I choose the 80-mile route, but there are also 40- and 25- and 12-mile routes if you prefer a shorter distance. Select your personal challenge and go for it.


Lastly, I have a deep sense of indebtedness to and fondness for Michigan State University. As a 1983 graduate, I owe much to my 4+ years at MSU. I entered MSU as an insecure, under-motivated, and very uncertain young man. I left with a great education, a slew of great memories, and my wife-to-be. Since graduating, I have had two careers and now hold two advanced degrees. It all started for me at MSU. So I ride to say thanks to my alma mater. Riding in the Gran Fondo is also about raising funds to support the College of Human Medicine and skin cancer research. Please do what you can to raise these vitally important funds.

Riding a bike, wearing green and white, and supporting an important cause…that’s a pretty good day in my book. No matter why you ride, I encourage you to join us on June 23 and go Green!