The agitation starts to simmer. You watch your riding partner create more distance between the two of you every minute until the angry internal monologue starts running: "You never wait for me. I'm so slow. Why do I ride with you? This always happens. I'm tired. I'm not having fun. Screw this, I want to go home!"

Sound familiar? Almost all of us have had this experience riding with a stronger rider, and those heated thoughts intensify when it's a spouse or significant other. People joke that the ultimate test of a relationship is to ride with your partner. During my nine years racing at the pro level, I've been in both situations (slower and faster). Both have taught me a lot.

Here are some guidelines on how to train or ride with a partner, spouse, or friend to help make your rides together more fun. First off know that in most cases, your faster partner likely has no idea they're crushing your soul. Indeed, they're probably oblivious to the fact that you are frustrated.

Ladies, this applies to you, too! It's not always the men who are faster. But in my experience, men tend to deal with their frustration when they are falling behind in different ways. My husband Matt and I each have days where one person is riding faster than the other and both have had to figure out how to communicate.

A successful and fun ride with someone who is at a different fitness or ability level than you boils down to two key things: empathy and communication. Before you ride, it's important to have a conversation about expectations. Don't wait until you start riding when fatigue and emotions can make a mess of things. Here are seven more important tips to follow.

1. Assure Proper Bike Set-Up

This especially applies when riding with a beginner. Do not assume that they know about tire pressure or have mechanical skills. Ask them if they are comfortable on their bike and do a regular maintenance check just like you would with your own bike. Take note if they are on a hardtail and you are on a full suspension. Consider what the descents will be like for them with the equipment they have and choose the best option.

Before the ride starts, make sure your partner's bike is properly set-up and maintained.

Before the ride starts, make sure your partner's bike is properly set-up and maintained (click to enlarge).​

2. On-Trail Advice - Yes or No?

There's nothing worse than someone giving you unwelcome, unsolicited advice when you are struggling. I personally love pointers or constructive feedback, but it can be really difficult to receive feedback if you have a tendency to get frustrated easily. If you want your more skilled partner to give you advice, tell them your expectations in advance so you don't feel like you're getting picked on if they start chiming in about your cornering technique or bike/body positioning.

3. Plan the Pace

First, decide if you are going to actually ride together. When someone invites me to ride, I expect to ride with them, not 30 feet in front or behind. If you both don't care if one person is way ahead and one is behind, then communicate that. I have been guilty of telling someone to "go ahead" but ended up enraged on the inside because they either weren't stopping to wait soon enough or they were simply riding too far ahead.

If you're the slower rider, do not feel guilty for asking them to wait or ride with you. It's okay to change your mind mid-ride, too. Or, if you want to just start and end together, communicate that as well. Pacing can be one of the most frustrating issues when riding (and especially racing) with a partner. I know it's been my biggest hurdle.

One option is to have the slower rider go first on the trail, which allows them to set the pace so that they aren't struggling to keep up with the stronger rider. Also, it takes pressure off the stronger rider because now they know exactly what a comfortable pace is for their partner. In the event that the slower rider feels nervous or anxious with someone riding behind them, it's very important that the slower rider communicates to the rider in front regarding what pace to go. Ask them to slow the down if it is a little too hard.

Continue to page 2 for more tips on riding with a slower partner

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!