Riding in a group can be fun, increase your skill set making you a better and faster rider, and can be incredibly frustrating. I’ve been coordinating and leading group rides for years, and I’ve seen just about everything (both good, bad, interesting, and entertaining!). Here are some tips to ensure that you have a FUN, not a frustrating, group ride.
1 –Wear a helmet. This should be a given, but you’d be surprised how many people show up without a helmet. Especially if you’re participating in a shop supported ride, you won’t be allowed to join if you don’t have a helmet.
2 – Leave the ear buds/music in the car. When riding on the road, you need to be able to hear traffics around you. When riding in a group, you need to be even more cognizant of what’s going on around you. Your ears are KEY to this, and you need both of them. Leave the music for a personal workout off the road. Again, if you’re riding in an organized ride or racing, including large scale rides like centuries, MS 150, Tour de Cure, etc., ear buds are not allowed so please don’t bring them – it’s a liability.
3 – Bring all necessities. This includes a saddle bag with a spare tube, some way to pump the tube up (I prefer CO2), and a multi tool at a minimum. I also carry a patch kit, first aid kit, boot, and cash.
4 – Bring food and drink. You’ll also want liquids and a snack of some sort. While it’s rare that I eat on rides less than 30 miles, you never know what might happen. I’ve had incidents occur where I’ve had to wait for the ambulance, then the shop or spouse to come pick up a bike, and that short, 30 mile ride turns into an all day affair. This usually happens in a remote area where food and water is scarce – bring it with you just in case. Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.
Also, the group ride is not the time to try something new. Gu, bars, and specialty drinks, while effective, are known for causing gastro distress when first introduced. Try it at home when you’re near facilities to make sure your stomach can tolerate it, or on a short ride near home. And seriously, never try a new thing right before a race – TRUST ME!
5 – Let your group know who to contact in case of emergency. My group riders must all sign a waiver that includes emergency contact information. Have a Road ID or some other sort of emergency contact information on your body, and let your ride leader know where that is in case something happens. In my 5+ years of leading groups, let me tell you, crazy things can happen, and it’s never who you think it’s going to happen to. The BEST riders have incidents. And please, if you’re not feeling 100%, or you have a medical condition or injury, give your ride leader a heads up. On more than one occasion I’ve had to give paramedics the run down on a rider that can’t speak for themselves. We’re not going to turn you away; it’s simply in your best interest to let us know – just in case.
6 – Make sure your bike is in good working order. Pump up the tires, give it a once over, lube your chain, and make sure your wheels and saddle are tight. This takes all of 5 minutes max to do. If you’re riding out of a shop, they usually have a tire pump available for use, and you may be able to have the mechanics quickly check your bike for minor adjustments such as if your chain is slipping or your brakes are sticking. It’s better to do it before you get going to ensure your safety out on the road.
7 – Share the road goes both ways. When in a group, please ride as far right as safe in a singe file line. Allow room for vehicles to pass by not riding two abreast. Follow all traffic laws, ride with traffic off the sidewalks (did you know it’s illegal to ride bikes on the sidewalks in many cities? It is!), and make your intentions known by making eye contact with drivers and signalling using hand signals. There are a few bad apples out there frustrating non-cyclist drivers making it challenging for the rest of us to safely ride the roads. A well organized group that is properly sharing the road shows that we can coexist safely without impeding traffic, and that we aren’t all rude or reckless.
8 – Know your ability and whether or not you’ll be able to keep up with the group. I’ve led everything from 10 mile beginner rides where I’m teaching people how to shift to climb and descend hills, or with seniors in their 80s, to 50+ mile advanced gravel rides. Most rides are no-drop group rides, which means no rider left behind; the group goes at the pace of the slowest rider, and there is a “sweep” in the back (another ride leader pulling up the rear to make sure no one is lost). While group rides can be a great way to increase your distance and endurance, make sure you’re able to keep up and won’t substantially hold the group up, or that you want to ride further and faster than the posted ride.
While we do love sharing the joy of cycling, it gets tough when the group ride has to stop and wait for one person every 5 or 10 miles, or worry about that person who took off ahead of the group. Not such a big deal on a 15 mile ride, but when you get to an intermediate ride of 30 miles, it can become an issue. Routes are typically posted so attendees know the distance, directions, elevation gain, and average pace. If the advertised ride is a 35 mile intermediate ride averaging 18=20 mph, and you’ve barely ridden 18 miles total at 12 mph, you probably want to wait for a recreational ride to be posted. Likewise, if you’re training for a century and are looking to get 60+ miles in at 20-25mph, wait for an advanced ride or ride to/from the starting point to get those extra miles in, and don’t get frustrated if the group is going slower than you want to ride.
9 – Stay with the group. If you DO want to ride faster than the group, understand that you are on your own. The operative word of the event is “GROUP” ride, as in “together”. If you do want to go further/faster and you drop the group, make sure you know the route, and that you are equipped to take care of any mechanicals or incidents on your own. Without fail, whenever someone takes off ahead of the group, another person takes that as a hint that it’s okay and follows. On more than one occasion I’ve received a call from the shop that these two riders are at a location far off the posted route, and don’t know how to get back. Please stay with the group or know where you’re at and where you’re going.
10 – The posted route is the one that will be ridden. Riders will sometimes ask for a different route when they arrive at a group ride. As noted above, routes are posted so that attendees know what they’re getting themselves into. Changing the route throws off the timing of the ride as people plan for something specific and can gauge how long it should take, and adds distance or climbing to a route that a rider may not be expecting. Again, if you want to change the route for yourself to add miles or climbing, understand that you will be on your own, unassisted.
Finally, go with the intent to HAVE FUN! You’re there to make friends, enjoy the company of other riders, maybe see a new trail, or challenge someone on a Strava segment. Group rides are meant to be fun, and by following the tips above, you’ll help to ensure an uneventful, safe ride for all, and that leads to more fun.
Not sure how to find local group rides? Find out how to locate them here.
Jenn is a Moxie Cycling Ambassador and blog contributor. Check out her bio here!