“The Herd is a welcoming, inclusive and supportive place for people within the virtual cycling universe. Virtual cycling is wonderful, and can be challenging, especially in the beginning. We are here to help you. Check out www.theherd.club for more information.” (copied from The Herd FB “about” page 1/11/21)
I have spent just over a month becoming thoroughly engrossed with a new-to-me community known as “The Herd” and the “Herd Racing League.” I wrote about the effect some members of this community had upon my enjoyment and engagement with my first foray into Zwift racing here: https://woundedwonders.com/2020/12/04/real-fake-riding/
Since then, as I’ve begun making friends within The Herd, I’ve been thinking about what a special group it is. The Herd began only two years ago amongst a very small cadre of cyclists. As I’m still very new to the group, I don’t know the extent to which the founding members knew one another “in real life.” From what I can tell it is a love for cycling that forms the foundation of the relationships. In the span of two years, The Herd has grown from what must have been an intimate collaboration amongst a handful of friends to over 10,000 members. As one of the new members of the group, I’m astounded by the fact it is 10,000 members strong yet somehow makes me feel seen and known in the otherwise anonymizing world of online interaction.
Anybody who has spent any time online at all over the past (weeks, months, years, decades) will be familiar with how toxic, caustic, and disturbing many people become once they feel shrouded in the anonymity and distance of online interaction. The thing is, this isn’t a quirk of the online world. From my first-hand experiences as a leader and as a follower, anytime the group size is larger than six or seven people, things start to get difficult. Even with small teams of a dozen people who are united in purpose in pursuit of a shared mission and vision, without careful and intentional work by all members of the team, the uglier sides of human nature threaten to overwhelm our more noble instincts.
So I am blissfully ignorant of what kind of work is going on behind the scenes with The Herd and The Herd Racing League. It’s very likely, given the sheer number of people involved in both groups, that each group has a small army of volunteers working feverishly to preserve the perceptions and experiences I am rapturously writing about. Such as:
- No False/Ugly Posts! I’m not aware of any group rules which explicitly prohibit the topics which seem to bring out the worst in many facebook users (such as politics and religion). Yet those posts just don’t seem to happen. If they do, they are quickly removed before I see them.
- No Multi-Level-Marketing Scams! I subscribe to a number of cycling-related FB groups, including one which is specifically intended for buying and selling: and each of the other groups I subscribe to gets routinely spammed by people trying to sell their essential oil/amway/snakeoil crap. Again, it may well be that The Herd has highly active moderation which I am blissfully unaware of, but I’d like to believe it might just be a group that is now 10,000+ strong of quality human beings.
- Kindness! The Herd doesn’t really have many rules that I can find. Just their first and most important rule of kindness. And you know what? It shows. I am certain I’ve asked the same question that has been answered countless times before and I’ve not yet been flamed for it, nor have I received a well-deserved but snarky response such as “HERE LET ME GOOGLE THAT FOR YOU.” Participants in The Herd seem to understand folks are asking questions in part because they’d like to know but also in part because they’d like to connect, interact, engage with others.
While these are by no means novel concepts, here are a few of the things I’ve noticed about The Herd that makes it a compelling, engaging, inclusive community. If you’re not interested in online bicycle riding and yet are still reading, perhaps you may find this part applicable to your book club, work group, fantasy football league, or church.
Regular Opportunities to Team: We have the chance to sign up to be a part of a Team Time Trial every week. Each week is a one-week-only commitment so it’s a highly attractive way to get involved and to get to know 5-8 other riders with similar fitness level. I have enjoyed racing the TTT with three different teams over the past month and, while it’s rewarding to team up with people I feel I already know a little bit, each new team assignment = new potential friends. The fact we are competing together in shared pursuit of a common goal seems to accelerate the icebreaking/get-to-know-you period.
Recognition by Name: One of the traditions after each TTT is the writing and publication of Ride Reports. It’s fun to see the captains of each team stretch their writing muscles, and I must say it’s tremendously rewarding and motivating to see your own name in print! This example covers both techniques as the members of the team are listed/tagged at the start of the report, and their exploits and shenanigans are also immortalized in the prose of the write up. While it’s as simple as calling people by their name and stating something unique that they contributed, these Ride Reports really build a sense of community and camaraderie.
Member Spotlights: A number of people involved with The Herd post livestreams of their rides and races. These are a fun way to learn about a course before you’ve ridden it and I imagine a fun way to develop one’s skills and confidence as a youtuber. Going several steps beyond livestreams of their own rides, The Herd has a group of amateur sports commentators who collaborate each week to stream their color commentary on the races of 3 different Herd riders. I’ve gotten a heck of a kick out of seeing my name and online avatar pedaling along beside one of the featured racers during one of these episodes. Taking the time to produce and share video content and commentary in which members of the community get to star really transforms the community experience.
BADGES? YES WE NEED SOME STINKIN’ BADGES! ok it’s actually matching kit. But I think the idea holds true. While I might roll my eyes and make a snarky comment when I see a family in matching t-shirts at Disneyland, I’m always a little envious. I love a good t-shirt which makes me feel extra enthusiastic about the chance to buy and wear jerseys/shorts/bibs/socks that match the group I’ve joined. I think I’m enthralled by the notion of running into another group member out in the wilds of a “real life” bike ride. I also really, really like the sense of belonging that comes with having and wearing a matching sport uniform. For those seeking application to other settings, I feel the need to emphasize that talent matters. The Herd has some supreme graphic design talent behind their matching gear. If your team doesn’t have talent like this, hire some!
Food Photos! Even though I’m super appreciative of how on-topic the Herd FB feed remains, I truly adore the off-topic tradition of Herd members posting photos of the delectables they’ve recently baked. While the team and community-building impact would certainly be greater if these pies and pastries were shared to taste together, there’s still a bonding effect that seems to take place when people share images of what they’ve created, and what they eat. I think it’s the willingness to share the product of one’s creativity (whether you feel it’s creative or not, it is!) creates a sense of vulnerability and thus community-building.
I firmly believe that all of us (introverts and extroverts alike) are meant for community, connection, relationship. I’m grateful to have found this online community of bicycle riders, racers, and bakers. I continue to contemplate how to apply my enjoyment as a participant in this group towards becoming a better friend and perhaps making a stronger community in my region once we’ve found our ways clear of the pandemic.