Thursday, September 23, 2010

His and Hers Bicycles: Matching Looks vs Matching Performance

I love the idea of "His and Hers" bicycles: an elegant pair of lady's and gentleman's bikes from the same manufacturer. When we first decided to ride bicycles, the Co-Habitant and I envisioned ourselves exclusively on such matched pairs. We acquired a Pashley Princess and Roadster as our transport bikes. We acquired a Motobecane Super Mirage and Mirage Mixte as our roadbikes. And we acquired a Raleigh DL-1 Tourist and Lady Tourist as our vintage 3-speeds.

It was all so perfect!... except that it wasn't.  I could never keep up when we were both on the Pashleys, which was a constant source of discontent (I am now convinced that the female model is just inherently different from the male one). With the Motobecanes things were even worse, as my semi-upright mixte was no match for his racy Super Mirage roadbike. Despite being perfectly matched in looks, our beautiful velo couples were plagued by a disparity in performance. 

Having finally decided that the illusion of perfection was not the same as perfection itself, I shattered the symmetry - first by replacing my Pashley Princess with a vintage Gazelle, and then by selling my Motobecane mixte.  Interestingly, the Gazelle is a better match for the Pashley Roadster performance-wise, and we no longer experience the same problem with discrepancies in speed when cycling together on our commuter bikes.

As for roadbikes, it is difficult to keep up with somebody on drop bars, while yourself riding with upright bars - especially if you are a weaker cyclist to begin with. My Rivendell and Trek roadbikes may not look as sexy next to the Co-Habitant's Motobecane as my vintage mixte did, but they are a better match when it comes to actually cycling together.

This particular discrepancy in "his and hers" bikes is something I wonder about when I see a man and a woman cycling together, where he is on an aggressive roadbike and she is on an upright hybrid from the same manufacturer (usually Trek, Cannondale or Specialized). While I understand that the idea is for the woman (who is presumably less skilled) to ride an "easier bike," surely it must make the difference in their skill levels all the more acutely felt?

Of the three "His and Hers" pairs we started with, only our vintage Raleigh DL-1s remain. These are actually matched pretty nicely in terms of performance, so apparently "back in the day" Raleigh got it right whereas today's Pashley did not. Although we do not ride these as often as we ride our main transport bikes, it is nice to have at least one pair of bicycles that matches both in looks and performance. Who knows, maybe in the future there will be more - but the performance aspect is a must. After all, a couple's chemistry is about more than just looks.

40 comments:

  1. meh, i've never been one for aesthetically matched his and hers bikes (i know, i know, my wife and i both had dutch bikes from the same manufacturer, but it was strictly by coincidence, not by design... and i no longer have mine!).

    no offense to anyone who likes matched bikes, but to me, it conjures images of couples who wear matching jackets or other attire (seeing couples clad in matching crocks makes me want to puke). i dunno, maybe it's just that the "cutesy" factor of anything intended to be a his/hers matched set is outside the realm of my aesthetic sensibilities.

    i do agree completely about matched performance, and the apparent disparity between couples' bikes' performance capabilities. i too tend to see the male riding a higher performance bike, while the female is on a hybrid or "lesser" performance bike. not always, but i see the trend, and i think there could be several plausible explanations for it. i also don't see it as necessarily problematic.

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  2. Both the girl and I tend to be wary about being too 'matchy-matchy' where we even go so far as consulting each other while packing on trips ("if I pack this red tie is it too close in shade to the dress that you're planning on bringing?") but when we first started dating, we both owned and rode Trek hybrids (roughly same model but different years of manufacture) and were very evenly matched when riding around town together. Since then I started migrating towards drop bar bikes after I started a 13 mile commute and then began randonneuring, and she stuck to her hybrids because she's preferred the upright posture. So, naturally, she tends to trail me on the less aerodynamic bike and I might drop her if I'm not paying attention. Still, it's handy for us to know that, given the same equipment, we've been exactly on par with each other.

    Nowadays, when riding together, I let her ride ahead and just keep my pace moderated to whatever it should be so that I don't pass her. That generally works out. Also on tours and long trips, I'll tend to pack more of the heavier gear to use as a natural handicap.

    I was talking about the logistics of balancing this sort of thing with a friend, and they, without hesitation advised -- "you know -- if you get a tandem, a lot of those issues go away."

    yaargh, like one needs excuses to get more bikes.

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  3. When I ride together with either my wife, it is primarily for the pleasure of the company, so I purposely limit my speed to stay within chatting distance. I understand, if we needed to crank out the miles, the necessity of a higher performance bike for my partner, but that day hasn't arrived. I have upgraded her Ladies Sports to the practical limit with alloy components and modified gearing, and am pleased that she has noticed the difference. So instead of buying a different cycle (germane to your previous DIY article) I have adapted her existing bike for the purpose.

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  4. Hah! Matching his-her bikes are pet peeve. Like somervillian, I find it a lot like couples matching their sneakers and jackets when going somewhere.

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  5. Surprising but exciting to discover such violent reactions towards matching bicycles! Personally I think that when done right his and hers bikes can be extremely elegant, especially in the case of Roadsters.

    As for clothing, though literally matching your spouse looks ridiculous, coordinated attire is another thing entirely.

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  6. None of our bikes match, except perhaps philosophically. Our closest set, he has a mountain bike that is the "aunt" to mine, his being an Fat Cycles Yo Eddy! and mine being an IndyFab Deluxe. They are different colors and obviously different makes, and they sadly haven't been getting enough use but they're of the same lineage.

    It was always my husband's pet peeve to see men on sporty bikes and their angry, sad, panting companions gamely trying to keep up with them (and hating cycling) so we made it a point from the outset to have equivalent gear, not matching gear.

    I will say that I don't mind "matching" so much for short distance city bikes, and since I now have a ladies' and gents' set of Atlantic Blue handbuilt Dawes bikes perhaps we'll go out on those together, but right now they're both "mine" and we never set out to have his-n-hers...

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  7. Fascinating topic. Whenever I am at a cafe people watching, I notice how similarly dressed couples, especially those that look established are. Not that they are wearing matching clothes but that they are basically sporting the same aesthetic. Trendy hipsters go together, preppies, etc. Which naturally led me to wonder whether this was a case of: 1) assortative mating (you pick someone like yourself to begin with), or 2) convergent evolution. Both well described in the scientific literature. Or maybe one person just buys/chooses clothes for both. Personally, while harmonious appearance in bikes and clothes works for me, matching rather horrifies me.

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  8. I have to agree with Velouria. I think matching his and her bikes could be really elegant looking. (I wonder if it's a girl thing.) If both are on the same level then I really don't see an issue. Even though the couple shares the same foundation (as in the same kind of bike), each person still brings their own style and personality into the mix. Kinda like relationships themselves.

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  9. i consider "matching" and "coordinating" very different, at least in the realm of bikes. i think coordinated pairs of anything look good, but "matching", for me at least, connotes an attempt at overall visual sameness despite minor physical differences to accommodate function, like matching salt and pepper shakers (they look the same except for the size and number of holes), or dishware (same pattern but different shape/size for different types of food), or men's and women's bikes.

    on the other hand, there are a few, limited exceptions where i can sort of see the "romance" and even sophistication of his/hers matched bikes. for example, seeing an elderly couple on their way out of the theatre hobble on their old his and her 3-speeds is hopelessly cute, but somehow i wouldn't consider it cute to see a young couple doing the same. and of course, seeing young siblings with matching attire is downright adorable. but generally speaking, with bikes, no...

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  10. Matching bikes don't bother me quite so much as the clothes and please don't ever let me see both together! As for riding a hybrid with someone on a fast, drop bar bike, painful. I was recently comparing my hyrbid commuter/mutation with my drop bar road bike and what a difference. The hybrid is fairly comfortable, but handles horrendously. A wind will blow it all over, plus it hits harder than the super skinny tires on bumps and holes. It made me wonder why the lower end bike aimed more at a newbie rider would have the poorer handling, where the expensive road bike is a dream to ride and requires little handling of any kind. The hybrid needs an experienced rider and the road bike does it all by itself. I am not talking super cheap hybrid either, around $800 when new. My higher end MTB is a nice handling bike too, so what's the deal with bikes aimed at new riders?

    How much do you think wheel size has to do with the incompatibility of the Pashley's? I know I have to pedal like a hamster in a cage when I ride my folding bike (20 inch wheels) with someone riding 26 inch or 700C wheels. No coasting for me ever, even when they coast.
    Could just be my bike and gearing, I don't know.


    As for matching bikes, at least match the quality and type of bike for couples riding together, or let the stronger rider have the slower or less comfortable and poorer handling bike. Do not put the newer, weaker, slower rider, or the one you are trying to get to love cycling, on the crap bike!

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  11. Anon 11:37,

    I think mismatched couples (e.g., prep and goth) are cute.

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  12. I think that there's an interesting socio-cultural background to matching bikes. A lot of bikes were sold in the 50's and 60's as "matching sets" just like barcaloungers. And people didn't much worry about the various performance features, they just went to the bike store and bought "a bike" . For my grandparents (who had a green set) at least it was very much a bike=vacuum cleaner situation. I think that was partly because bicycling was viewed as "recreation" less than sport.

    Furthermore there were certain presumptions of couples sharing leisure time in a way that people do less/ differently now.

    I must confess that the Scientist and I have matching black puffy down jackets. He has had his forever, and I was looking for a similarly cozy jacket, when I saw one for half price- the only caveat was that it was also black. I agonized about it enough to call him to see if it was OK if I was a copy cat. We agreed it was not ideal, but too good a deal to pass up. Every once in a while I feel sheepish about it, but as we mainly wear them for hiking or other outdoor athletic pursuits, I don't worry about it too much.

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  13. I see this wheel size thing mentioned over and over again.

    In terms of physics, a bike with larger wheels does not have an inherent speed advantage over a bike with smaller wheels. If they are geared so that each revolution of the (same size) cranks equals a certain number of inches of wheel travel, they will go at the same speed. The effort involved should be similar given similar weight, aerodynamics, position, etc.

    Some people suggest that larger wheels maintain momentum over smaller wheels. The moment of inertia of a thin disc (or a wheel with weight distributed at the edge) does depend on the radius, of course, but energy must always first be added to spin up such a wheel. And energy is always conserved.

    If anything, I've seen arguments that small wheels are capable of a higher overall bike velocity (i.e. Moltons) because they are lighter, smaller and easier to spin.

    On the other hand, there is the issue of rolling resistance of various wheel/tyre combinations.

    I think none of this matters. It's all about aerodynamics and seating/pedaling position of the cyclist. Different positions allow the use of different muscle groups with relative ease or difficulty. Even the bike's weight has far less bearing on speed than most people seem to believe, only being important when a bike climbs a hill.

    Off the soap box now, feel free to disagree. :)

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  14. Charlotte - Wow. Is there any hope for posts about these on Chic Cyclists?

    somervillain - I have the opposite point of view on children's clothing; it disturbs me to see siblings dressed alike, and when I was little, I absolutely hated when this was done to me and my sister.

    So, if you and your wife wanted vintage 3-speeds (and did not already have them), would you go out of your way to not get similar ones?

    Anon 11:37 - It really is pretty interesting. There is even research showing that posture, body language and facial expressiveness become congruent over time in residents of the same household. It is especially neat when adopted children are told that they resemble their non-biological parents by those who do not know they are adopted (happens to some of my friends a lot).

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  15. A great way to match our speeds is for me to add a 60 lbs kid on my rack... and to ride a bike 20 lbs heavier.
    Not that my wife is less skilled, mind you. She just doesn't care at all about performance.

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  16. Anon 12:41 - My theory is that the "crap" bikes aimed at the new rider are designed to feel comfortable and safe inside the store, so that the cyclist feels comfortable enough with the idea of riding it. Of course the problem is that the comfort goes away as soon as one actually rides that bike for more than 15 minutes... but maybe the manufacturers are hoping things won't get to that point!

    Re the Pashleys: the men's model has 28" wheels and the ladies' has 26" wheels, but I am not ready to believe that this is the essence of the problem. For example, I used to have a Raleigh Lady's Sport, which also had 26" wheels, and I had no trouble keeping up with his Pashley on that bike. I think there is something about the design of the Pashley Princess that is just a little off - including weight distribution, which makes it not very good as a hill climber, even compared to other bikes of its type. Also, my Rivendell has 650B wheels, which are a tad smaller than the Co-Habitant's 27" roadbike wheels - and there are no problems at all. Still, I do not know enough about these things to really form a hypothesis.

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  17. My wife and I need more compatible bikes. Before June 2010 I had been riding a redline ss mtb. My wife rides a Raleigh hybrid. After visiting Amsterdam, I decided to purchase a Workcycle Transport. We have been eyeing the pashly princess and the Italian bike Ibicci. We both want to have the same style bike. I ride mine as a commuter from queens to Brooklyn every day, but my wife just rides for recreation.
    Ryespy.ryan at gmail.com

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  18. Velouria, they are, to differing extents.

    The "Man's" bike is my main city ride, and the "Lady's" was originally intended for my mother, but she moved back to the cycling-unfriendly place, and I have a valid use for it basically now, so she gets it later...

    I guess we're lucky in that we're all close enough in size that we can sorta share bikes (at least for short distances).

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  19. velouria, could the difference in the pashleys' performance be due to different gearing? did they have the same IGHs?

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  20. Another really good way to match the speeds of two riders is a tandem. A couple riding a tandem with matching clothing can look rather good.

    Tandems have an aesthetic all there own, maybe we need a lovely tandem blog :)

    John I

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  21. I would just be happy if my husband knew how, and wanted to ride a bike! That would be match enough for me.

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  22. johni: agreed, a tandem has an aesthetic all its own... hmm... a tandem blog... it just so happens...

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  23. somervillain - No, I don't think so. My instinct tells me it is the geometry, and something about the weight distribution of the frame itself. I say this, because I've tried the Princess with different hubs at this point, and the feeling is the same. It is what made me like the bike very much when I was just re-learning how to ride a bike again after 13 years; it feels so stable in traffic, so comfortable and so safe. But on anything resembling sustained hills, it is killer, and it is somehow more effortful to ride at high speeds. That was not an issue until my cycling style changed.

    John - I agree with you that it looks nice, but the one time I tried it was enough for me! I am not skilled enough to be the captain, and it drives me crazy to be the stoker. Still, I enjoy seeing other couples cycling on tandems.

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  24. get a tandem, simple...no one feels bad being behind and no one else feels guilty being ahead

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  25. We have been through several iterations of bikes. In college, matching silver Schwinn Varsity's. Probably fortunately, they were both stolen, though we later recovered hers. I agree that it is awful to see the female struggling with inferior equipment, so when we bought new bikes, she got a light Trek 1200 and I a Bianchi Campione. Roughly equivalent and these worked well. Time for mountain bikes and a Trek 7000 aluminum for her and Trek 950 lugged steel for me. Again, hers slightly better in components. Serious road bikes for a couple of cross-country supported rides, a Softride Power-V for her (she loved the suspension beam) and my pride and joy, a 1994 Rivendell road. At this point we are referred to as Ms. Aero and Mr. Retro. Our most ridden bike however is a Santana Noventa tandem and yes, we do the matching jersey/shoe thing. Togetherness is wonderful! Bring on the Lovely Tandem blog.....

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  26. The idea of a "His or Hers" bike in general is rather interesting. Here in Beijing there really is not so much a distinction. You'll often see men riding step throughs, and women riding Diamond frames.

    Truth be known, a step through has a lot of advantages as a city bike because it allows you to mount large diameter wheels (28") and still maintain a comfortable stand-over height.

    JS

    Http://www.flyingpigeonproject.org

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  27. Match the degree of care for each other ; match your desire to be with each other and there shalt be no concern or talk about bikes and biking skills not matching.

    Good carpenters don't blame their tools. :D

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  28. Data point: In my marriage my husband has the crap bike and I have the rad one.

    I am not into a direct match of bikes or clothing, but I think riding the same basic style of bike makes sense if you're out together doing the same thing/riding in the same environment.

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  29. btw, I agree with you about the Princess geometry, V. It is an incredible mystery. The roadster really seems a totally different animal.

    (sorry for double posting!)

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  30. Count me as another female who thinks his and hers bikes is a weird idea (counter to Kara's hypothesis that it's a 'girl thing'). My husband and I each have a commuter bike and a road bike, but that's about where the similarities end. We each have different biking styles and want different things out of our bikes (especially the commuters).

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  31. . . . "the idea is for the woman (who is presumably less skilled) to ride an 'easier bike,'" . . .

    Err, I missed the rationale here. Why are we presuming the woman is the less skilled? (Apologies, involuntary feminist flash).

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  32. BB - That was part of my point that no one else has picked up on.

    Have you ever visited Bike Forums? Typical thread on the Classic and Vintage subforum goes something like this: "Picked up a nice bike for my wife at a yard sale today! Am planning to make such and such updates, and swap out the handlebars for some nice upright bars, so that she won't have an excuse not to ride it..."

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  33. let's not discount that some of the "typical" discourse observed on the forums may in fact be reasonable and appropriate response to the spouses'/significant others' attitudes toward riding. my wife, as one example, when wanting to get back into riding after a 12 year hiatus, refused to ride the very bike that had been her pride and joy when she shelled out a big wad of cash for it back in 1992... (the irony here is that her bike, a near top of the line off-the-shelf mountain bike, could run circles around my sole bike at the time, so the performance advantage actually was hers, not mine). but she wouldn't ride it until it was modified with upright bars and a comfort saddle to make it more upright and friendly... and slower! so, my wife's attitude at the time was actually a perfect example of the attitude often behind the typical response you observe on the forums. it's not *all* presumption...

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  34. All I can offer is that gender-based preferences is a touchy subject, where realities and presumptions intertwine and both can cause frustration. Statistically, I understand that there is a paucity of females interested in "serious road cycling" in comparison to males. Most analysts attribute this to women being "more risk averse" whereas I attribute it to women requiring a different mode of learning and getting into the sport, which is not accommodated by the bicycle industry.

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  35. It's funny when you get married and the day arrives that you realize you are both wearing more or less the same thing! I have had a blue gortex jacket for years and then my husband went and got a similar blue gortex jacket. Without even being aware we will go out with the same coloured outfits. He hates it. I don't care. Matching bikes might be a bit much, but it would be nice to have bikes of the same purpose. I have alot of bikes, but none of my functioning bikes are road bikes so I cannot keep up with my husband. I just as many years of riding experience as he does, so it's not like I'm the wife that doesn't ride much. It would however, be nice to have bikes that do the same thing so we can ride together and keep pace. Often I'm trailing behind or he stays with me out of duty. I was recently given a trek 420 to rebuild and it looks fast. I have also found all the parts for my gitane mixte road bike rebuild-but alas fall has come early and the weather might get too nasty for them.
    I would love if we had matching raleigh DL-1's though!
    ~Heather

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  36. Handlebar position isn't all of it, some poorly designed/made step-through frames are just more whippy and eat up more pedalling energy. Some years ago, I stopped to help a clubmate who was dropping the chain on her cheap "10 speed" step-through. When I took it down the road to test my derailleur adjustment, I was horrified at how flexible it was - it took all my energy to keep it in a straight line. No wonder she had trouble keeping up, even though she was quite fit.
    "...I attribute it to women requiring a different mode of learning and getting into the sport, which is not accommodated by the bicycle industry" Well, a lot of manufacturers make womens specific design road bikes with shorter top tubes and handlebar stems, narrower handlebars, and smaller reach brake levers. The bikes are there. Many women do get into road cycling as triathletes, while some of us got into it as members of touring clubs. There were actually a lot more women doing road cycling back in the early 80s, before mountain bikes became so ubiquitous.

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  37. I never developed a taste for his 'n' hers anything, much less bikes. Maybe that's a reason why I never could stay in a relationship for more than a few years!

    Anyway...I have had only one partner who was an active cyclist before we became involved with each other. I had five bikes and she had three; each of us had two bikes that were similar to a bike the other had. However, we never had clones or male/female versons of the same bike; my road and mountain bikes had different proportions and somewhat different components because of our differences in anatomy and riding style. She could keep up with me for about two--or, on a good day, three--hours. I don't think it had to do with the bikes, as we were both riding high-quality performance bikes.

    So we worked out a compromise: I would ride with her one day and, another day, I would take a longer or more aggressive ride with the guys.

    One other partner rode with me. But she made it known that she had no interest in becoming as serious as I was about it. She also didn't want to ride the kinds of bikes I was riding. So I gave her a bike that was of high-quality (a Japanese-made Miyata) but was a step-through built for casual comfort.

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  38. just catching up...
    "It was all so perfect!... except that it wasn't. I could never keep up..."
    well, this is interesting! I am going through the same issue myself right now. likely a post will be coming. hmmm.....

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  39. I have had very, very limited experience with the Pashleys, but it seems to me like their diamond ("men's") frame is taken from the British light roadster heritage (a surprisingly fast about and out of town bike) while the stepthrough (women's) frame seems to copy a Dutch-style city bike (very upright and impractical for speed or distance).

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  40. I think one of the key solutions to a performance gap regardless of bikes is to let the weaker cyclist lead.

    They might not feel comfortable with the IDEA of this, but once they try it they'll realise that the ability to set their own pace, choose their own gaps in traffic and not feel "left behind" makes it a much more pleasant experience.

    Equally as the stronger cyclist, you can keep an eye on them and shield them from traffic, don't have to look over your shoulder all the time to avoid dropping them, have the performance to comfortably pull alongside should you need to and can just settle in to THEIR ride in a way that you can't when you are ahead.

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