Learning to ride as a couple can be a challenge, especially when one cyclist is just starting out. Riding with a significant other is almost like being part of a professional cycling team: You need to figure out each other's strengths and weaknesses in order to succeed. But with a little guidance from you and even more patience—um, also from you—your significant other can become a cyclist too.
RECALL YOUR MISTAKES
Think of the things you didn't know when you started cycling, and the mistakes you made. Most likely, you're still learning, too.
GET INSIDE THEIR HEADS
When you are working with new riders, try to understand where they're coming from. Are they intimidated by traffic or by riding close to others? Do they have fitness from another sport that might transfer to the bike? Have they used shifters before? Do their bikes have the correct gearing to pedal up most climbs? Ask these questions and listen to the responses. Your partner will usually tell you if he or she is ready to try something new, or has had enough learning for the day. Sometimes, it's good just to ride easy and enjoy the scenery.
HAVE A PLAN
Do a series of rides that will slowly increase the new cyclist's confidence, skill and fitness. When introducing clipless pedals, for instance, do 30-minute practice sessions in a parking lot or field, focusing on clipping in and out before you hit the road.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Avoid the temptation to correct every mistake your partner makes. Pick a specific theme for each ride—for example, drafting—so that you can focus on one skill at a time, and build confidence by providing positive reinforcement.
AGREE TO DISAGREE
You and your spouse may have different levels of aerobic power. One way to deal with this is to let the weaker rider draft behind the stronger one. On long climbs, the faster rider can ride ahead and wait at the top—or double back down the hill to pace the other rider.
TAKE IT SLOW
If you're the stronger cyclist, these rides should feel easy to you; don't expect to get a workout. Take more breaks than you think your partner needs. One of my coaches always talked about TTT, which stands for team time trial. But he meant it as an acronym for "things take time"—something I appreciate much more now than when I was a neo-pro.
Alex Stieda, the first North American to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, with 7-Eleven in 1986, leads tours and skills camps (stiedacycling.com).