Group Riding Culture

Group Riding Culture -- group of cyclists with a rocky desert plateau in the background
Group Rides need leadership

Please read Pete Wilborn’s article at The Lost Art Of The Group Ride.

Pete’s points do not apply to group rides in the NE Wisconsin region. I find group riding culture in the Fox Valley of Wisconsin to be a vibrant, alive, safe, and a great way to learn the sport of cycling.

Group Riding Culture — My Experience

Group Cycling  Culture-- Four Diablo Cyclists on a Ride
My Mentors photograph courtesy of Andy Webb.
I have roughly 10,000 total miles (521 picoparsecs) of riding over about 4-5 years. I started group riding about three years ago. Obviously, those 10,000 miles are not all in a group. I rode 1500-2000 solo miles on a hybrid bike and built a road bike. When I started group riding, I hung on at the back of the groups. Now I take my pulls, but there are still groups I struggle to stay on the back with.

Group Ride Culture — Points from The Article

I bristle when I read the article. A good group ride comes down to ride age and leadership. So now onto Pete’s points.

  1. First, everyone is an expert these days.
  2. Often others preface their advice to me with I don’t know if you are open to advice…. That tells me others have barked at them in the past. It is tempting to say that is sad, but adults should understand that goes with the territory. Others often get indignant on being given advice unless that advice is coming from their coach (and most do not have coaches).

    Most group participants are not concerned about becoming a better cyclists, they are just riding their bikes.

  3. Second, the more experienced riders just want to drop the others and not be bothered.
  4. I find the group rides around here are very cohesive. Prior starting, large groups often split into sub-groups based on ride preference and speed abilities.

    Plus the people who are the strong cyclists do not always go out with the lead group. In fact, one fellow I know rides with the slow group just to stay with, assist, and teach less experienced cyclists. I will also do this, stay with a group for the purpose of assisting the group. I owe it to the sport and others because I am also the beneficiary of cycling wisdom from others.

    Even impromptu group rides I notice are also cohesive and stick together.

    Most rides I am on have hero segments (aka moments of glory a MOG or the “townline sign sprint”) where those who choose to do so attack. The MOGs are often near the end of the rides and come with regroup points or instructions. The ride leader usually announces any MOGs and MOG instructions to the group prior leaving. If I am in a position to do so I warn newbies as we approach a MOG.

    Also, I have been on group rides with people who are the best cyclists in my region and they stick to the plan. If a ride bills itself as an off-season pace the groups do a good job of sticking to the pace and together.

    Yes, sometimes rides blow apart especially when a less experienced or assertive person is leading the ride.

  5. Third, different rides are advertised by average speed, but speed is only one part of the equation.
  6. The larger point here is there is more too cycling than raw speed. Group Ride provides ride organizers with an easy/medium/hard rating to give a bit more insight into a ride’s difficulty.

    Yes, cycling is more than speed, but for people new to the sport speed is the first and most obvious gauge of a ride’s difficulty. My first group rides held a pace 19 mph on gentle terrain, and that group rode in a double-wide paceline with no formal guidance on pull duration. I increased the difficulty by joining another group riding at the same pace but in a rotating paceline. Now, I increase challenge by pace and ride topography. Also, the rides are more challenging because my fellow cyclists expect smoother riding.

  7. Fourth, riding a bike well requires technique training.
  8. This point is not so much about the fine points of cycling technique, but more about how one expects to progress through the ranks of cycling:

    Learning to ride was an apprenticeship. The goal was to become a member of the peloton, not merely a guy who is sort of fast on a bike. Membership was the point, not to be the local Cat. 5 champ. You were invited to go on group ride if you showed a interest [sic] and a willingness to learn. You were uninvited if you did not.

    Why the author believes the practice of cycling apprenticeship is dead, I do not know? I started out on easy and open rides. I showed up on a variety of rides, I considered advice, and often put that advice into practice. Eventually, a local race team sent me an invite to sign up with them. This is not the end of my progress as a cyclist, but the invite affirms my progress and gives me a route to more progress.

    My fellow Diablos are very helpful. Not just in terms of fitness, but in terms of overall cycling. I get advice on cadence, I get advice on bike posture, I get advice on training; and yes I do hand that cycling wisdom onto others.

    Pete’s gripe here is not so much about the sport of cycling but about people. Again, most people showing up on group rides have no interest in cycling skills beyond what they need to keep up with their favorite group rides or friends.

Group Riding Culture — A Good Leader Makes a Good Ride

Group Riding Culture -- Three Cyclists racing around a corner
Good leadership makes for a good ride!
Good group rides start with a good group leader! One person knows the route, sets ride expectations, pace, paceline methodology, etc. A good leader greets new faces and gauges the new rider’s skills and abilities, a good leader coaches the group, and a good leader lets others know what they are doing wrong.

On my group rides I have seen cyclists come and go. Two (it was in my first full season of group riding) in particular stand out in my memory and they were on the same ride. One fellow just purchased a road bike and he retired from the ride early on because it was too hard for him. Unfortunately, I was not able to bid him farewell and to advise him to book more solo miles, build up, and try the ride again.

However, the second rider kept with us the whole time. That rider was a scary rider and I had to monitor him the whole way because he was constantly overlapping wheels. So, my eyes were more often hunting him out to make sure he was not overlapping my wheel. The group leader chatted with him afterwards and we never saw that guy again.

Group Riding Culture — Based on my Experience

Group Cycling -- Stone Cellar ride
I enjoy riding with the racers and recreationalists — Photo Courtesy of Adam Koenig.
Group riding culture around my area is alive and vibrant, with most cyclists looking to get out to be socially active. The group rides I have been on here are cohesive with strong leadership. Many of the people I ride with are eager to teach others and will give up “their ride” to hang back to help others. Quite frankly, I do not see what Pete sees.

Group Riding Culture —Step up Pete!

The ironic thing about Pete’s points is — he is guilty of his second criticism!

I would suggest Pete you start taking the lead on such rides or start a new one. Instil your vision of what a good group ride is. Become that mentor young cyclists need and can apprentice under. Leaving the group to ride with a few of your select buddies is dropping the group, only you do it before the ride begins.

Good Stuff!

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