Group Cycling

Group Cycling -- Stone Cellar ride
I enjoy riding with the racers and recreationalists -- Photo Courtesy of Adam Koenig.
Group Cycling -- Stone Cellar ride -- Photo courtesy of Adam Koenig
Stone Cellar Group Cyclists — Photo Courtesy of Adam Koenig.

Group Cycling — A Great Activity!

Do you like to ride a bicycle? Many people engage in cycling as a solitary sport, they go off on their own and enjoy some solitude and exercise. That is fine and in fact it is necessary but not all rides need to be solo affairs. Group cycling is a great way to meet people, become even more fit, and to become a better cyclist.

Group Cycling —The Pros and the Cons

Pros

Drafting!

Group cycling comes with certain benefits. One big benefit is the fact a group of cyclists can go further and faster than a solo rider. The people in the back of the group benefit from drafting and travel at the same speed as the leaders with significantly less effort. Obviously, everyone gets a turn to sit in the back so everyone can get some rest and be strong and ready to lead again. If you are not strong or fit enough to lead the group yourself, no worries. The stronger riders do not mind working harder as they are out for a workout too!

Safety in Numbers

Another benefit of group riding is safety in numbers. A group of cyclists is much easier for other users of the road to spot. Also, if you have mechanical problems or get a flat tire, there are plenty of people to help you out!

Coaching!

One of the biggest benefits of group riding is having access to experienced cyclists who can coach and advise you. LISTEN to such advice with an open mind! You do not have to follow it (well, if it’s safety related do follow it) but they offer the advice so you can become a better and stronger rider!

Social

Group Cycling -- Cyclists Out for a Group Ride.
Stone Cellar Group Ride — photo courtesy of Adam Koenig.
Obviously, the social factor is a big benefit too. Cyclists are a diverse lot and your ride-mates will have interesting stories to hear and are interested in yours too! Your rides mates will range the gamut from the young to the old, to the laborer to the CEO, from the rich to the poor. No matter our differences outside of cycling we are all just cyclists.

Some rides aim to be more social in nature, usually they are easy rides or are billed as “recovery rides”. Of course, many groups do not dissolve the instant they return to their starting point but often times there will be arrangements made afterwards for some off-bike socializing!

Cons

Group riding does have some associated cons.

Group Decisions

The starting location and times is a decision typically made in group fashion. So start times and locations may not be favorable to your particular situation. Be ready to roll at the specified starting time!

Generally the group decides the pace. This may be too slow for the strongest riders or perhaps too fast for the weakest riders. Also, if your training plan (if you have one) calls for a specific regimen you will probably not be able to execute that plan when group-riding.

Skill and Fitness Requirements

Group riding generally requires a certain level of skills to be able to ride in the pack safely. You need to have a fitness level that allows you to keep up (drafting may make it easier to keep up but you still have to work at it) with the pack. You need to be able to ride straight and predictably. You need to be able to corner reasonably well and you need to be calm.

Group Cycling — Group Riding Etiquette

Group riding has its own code of conduct. The biggest one is to MIND YOUR FRONT WHEEL! Do not let your front wheel overlap the wheel of the riders in front of you. If that rider has to move over to avoid a pothole or an obstacle and your front wheel is overlapping their wheel, disaster will likely ensue.

We all want to flaunt our strength and fitness when on the lead. However, resist the attempt to increase the pace when leading. Do so only when it makes sense and is easy, and then do so gradually and smoothly. When the road points downhill gradually increase the speed and when it goes uphill (Or into the wind) slow the pace down. Point and call out obstacles when it is safe, shout out when cars approach, use hand signals as well as shouted communication, and be steady.

When joining a group for the first time observe its customs and norms. I ride a number of different group rides and they all have their own quirks. For example, one ride I go out on never rotates, it simply rides a double-wide paceline and when the leaders drop off they move off to the left and fade to the back. The other group, the leaders go left and right and then fade back. I see differences in how the groups execute rotating pacelines. Some expect you to wait for a “clear-call” until moving over, some do not.

Group Cycling — Group Riding Finding a Group

Most bike shops have at least one group ride a week during the riding season (here in WI this runs from April through September, but some rides go all year around, yes even during the winter). Stop into the shop and ask or find a poster. Another great resource is the website groupride.com (disclosure, I know the owner of this site). Groups post their targeted pace, provide a difficulty rating, and note if they are a drop or a no-drop ride. Some rides will limit the type of rider to a certain group, the most common probably being the women’s only ride.

Bike shops are not he only organizers of rides, just the most obvious starting point to explore group rides. Cycling clubs, fitness studios, coffee shops, other businesses, or plain old people also organize and conduct group rides. Again, your local bike shop is your starting point.

Group Cycling — Drop or No-Drop?

Group Cycling -- Four Diablo Cyclists on a Ride
Keep up if you can! Diablo Cycling Group Ride, photo courtesy of Andy Webb.
Drop rides are those groups that go out and if a person or persons can not maintain the specified pace (or even faster) are left behind on their own. No-drop rides on the other hand are rides where if a person or persons can not cope with the advertised pace that at least one experienced rider will accompany and guide the slower riders back. Often times the group will adjust the pace downwards or at least wait up at stop signs or other key locations along the route.

I find in practice the drop ride does not always mean you are on your own after you separate. I find that other riders often drop and then you have another group that forms, of slower cyclists. Often times to I have noticed one person from the lead group also will often join you. They will guide you and set a pace that is challenging but not impossible for you, however, don’t count on it.

No-drop rides are gentler but again you need to be able to keep pace in at least ideal conditions. Most all groups will soft-pedal after turns allowing the group to reform.

Group Cycling — Are you Ready?

The only way to tell is to go out and join a ride. However, I do suggest you spend some time solo riding and measure your annual miles ridden by the hundreds. Seek out an easy ride for your first rides and when you arrive identify the leader and introduce yourself as being new to the group and to group riding. As a rule, I find cyclists to be an open and welcoming community and they will be glad to have you. The leader of every group ride I’ve joined has interviewed me to gauge my cycling skills.

If you join a ride and find you can not keep up, simply find easier rides or keep working on your fitness. My belief is if you can average 15-18 mph over a 25-30 mile solo bike ride, you will be able to keep up with at least easy to medium groups. Remember, when you are in the pack, 20 mph is not that hard.

Group Cycling — My Bike?

Make sure your bike is ride ready, that it will not fall apart. Do not worry if your bike is old or not the most advanced bike in the pack. The most important thing when group riding is bike’s control unit and engine – ie YOU! Yes, if your bike is a model current pros are riding it will get attention, but what matters most is your ability to ride. Do you want the attention on you or your bike? One of the strongest riders I ride with on a regular basis often rides his mountain bike on the group rides.

Group Cycling — Pay it Forward

You will be the beneficiary of much coaching and patience when new to group riding. Always keep that in mind as you advance in fitness and skill. To repay that debt do the same to others, when a new riders shows up coach them, advise them, and be patient with them. Not every group ride has to be a hammerpaloozafest, go on easy rides from time to time and share your skills with new riders. Be the rabbit instead of the hound once in a while.

Good Stuff!

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