By: Brian Ecker
If you have been riding and/or racing for a while you can attest to how nice it is to have a great group of folks to ride with. The miles fly by, hard efforts are easier, and you get to catch up with a lot of friends you might not otherwise have time to see.
Why is it then that so many of the group rides that are available aren’t really any fun, you don’t really get what you hoped for, and often times you go home frustrated with the way the “other” folks ride. You continue to go each week hoping it will get better but it never really changes.
The fascinating thing is that, regardless of the community, there are often the same ride offerings. There is almost always a group that meets on early Sat or Sun, and then there are always small groups that you will see often but don’t really have an open “invite” to join, once spring rolls around there is almost always a “training race” type of ride. If you are really lucky 1 or 2 of these rides in your community will be fun and worth the effort to join in each week. Why is it though that, more often than not, many of the group rides that are available aren’t really that great.
What is it that makes a group ride great?
My opinions are that group rides work best when there is strong leadership present with a style that demonstrates a lot of flexibility. Not the type of flexibility that enables folks to take risks and ride unsafely but rather the ability to help guide the group in a way that meets the needs of most. Strong leadership is contagious and often leads to everyone holding each other accountable for riding safe and smart.
A great group ride typically starts on time or close to on time. There is nothing worse than a group ride that is set to leave at 9am but really never gets rolling until 9:20 or so.
A great group ride has pretty good agreement, before you leave on where you are going and how far. Folks know, if they want to cut it short, where to turn off.
A great group ride makes every rider a better rider by simply participating.
A great group ride rolls out at an easy pace. Folks ride 2 abreast, if traffic is agreeable, socialize and take the time to warm up. If someone pulls off the front they find their way to the back of the group quickly so that you minimize the impact on traffic, ie 3-4 abreast.
A great group ride always has hard sections and easy sections. Points on the ride where most know where the sprint line is and if you can’t keep the pace you know that everyone will eventually slow up and wait.
A great group ride has riders on it that know that this is a ride and not a race. They are able get their nose out in the wind a lot and rotate through quickly and often. They use the “saving myself” strategy for race day and not for the group ride.
A great group ride has riders that stay safe by keeping their heads up and looking forward (not down), don’t make sudden movements, and stay smooth. Riders point out pot holes and debris. Once a fast section is over, they slow down and recover allowing everyone to regroup.
A great group ride has “hard sections”. These can be anything from the ramp up and sprint for a city limit sign; it can be a good hill on the route, or maybe a fun windy section. It really shouldn’t be every single ¼ mi roller where folks are stomping the pedals to the top and then coasting down the other side. Remember, you are riding in a group and for those that may not have the same fitness cranking out huge watts going up every single tiny roller only causes them to struggle and doesn’t really increase anyone’s fitness. If it’s your modus operandi to stomp up every roller then it’s probably best to ride solo or at least join a group ride that’s not great. Additionally, a great group ride won’t have folks going across the center line just to win the sprint. Riders on a great group ride stay safe and know what type of actions are not only risky but just plain dumb.
A great group ride has good etiquette and folks hold each other accountable (gently). For instance, good etiquette is to stop when someone flats. Good etiquette is to have a bike in good working order including the appropriate tires so folks are not having to wait for a breakdown that was easily preventable. Good etiquette is riding smooth and not half wheeling the guy next to you every time you are on the front. Good etiquette is staying on the right side of the yellow line.
Group rides are great for the mind, body and soul. Riding fast with other folks makes you faster and a better rider. Be prepared, have good etiquette, and have a great group ride.