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Long Live Group Rides!

March 20, 2013

It’s that time of year.

For many riders the warmer temps mean a return to regular riding. And for those many riders, nothing says Spring has sprung like the weekend group ride.

Personally I’m an all-weather rider. Short of active tornadoes, I’m riding. But it isn’t until we get weather like we’ve had recently that I get friends out on two wheels with me. And the nicer the weather, the more riders you see, whether we’re talking on the road, the trails, or around town. And lately, the weekend group rides have been increasing in size exponentially compared to even just a few weeks ago.

There are a few rules of the group ride that even seasoned veterans can brush up on as Spring gets under way and the shop rides, t-shirt rides, and races around town all start rolling.

A stop at the Andice General Store. Standard procedure on the Saturday Parmer store ride.

A stop at the Andice General Store. Standard procedure on the Saturday Parmer store ride.

Know The Ride

This seems fairly straightforward, but the devil is in the details. Many rides around town give a general idea of the route, the distance (i.e., about 35 miles), and the pace (i.e., 14-16 mph average). But you have to look at those things together. Averaging 16 mph through Westlake Hills? That’s a far cry from averaging 15 around Southeast Austin. When a ride describes itself as “tempo” or “endurance” try to get an idea from someone who has done the ride on what that means. A tempo ride for a group of local racers is likely to be different from a tempo ride of local enthusiast riders. With charity rides you can often find out the route in advance and get an idea of how it compares to your regular riding and make changes as needed to either your planned ride distance or your preparation.

Know The Group

This can be a bit tricky. How can you know the group without doing the ride? Ask! Odds are you have someone in your circle of friends that’s done a ride with the group you’re thinking of rolling out with. If not, it’s not a bad idea to buddy up. Take a trusted riding partner to the ride in question with the understanding that if either of you struggles, you’ll wait for each other. This is a good way to get to know a new group, without the risk of flying solo.

Similarly, ask the group in question what their standard etiquette is. I ride with a number of different groups and I always ask what the rules of the road are for that group. Is it a drop or no-drop ride? Do they wait for folks with mechanicals or punctures? Are there “hot spots” or points along the way where the pace picks up? Can I bring a buddy along? Are there any stops along the way? Anything you might like to know is worth asking about. After all, you don’t want to hammer up the hill, only to find out everyone is taking it easy, or vice versa.

Know Thy Self

We all want to ride well. And for most of us that means something a bit different. If you’ve been invited to a club’s Sunday hammerfest by your friend that races, and you’re not in hammerfest mode, politely decline and/or ask for an invite to the next recovery ride. Or, agree to roll out with them, but with the understanding you’ll turn off at a certain point, or drop back after a given time or milage. You get stronger riding with stronger riders, but you also don’t want to disrupt the expectations of other riders, particularly if you’re coming along as a guest. Ride within yourself to ensure a successful ride, but push yourself from time-to-time, maybe taking a pull towards the end of a ride, or trying to ride near the front on the last big hill, to see gains in ability and confidence.

The Sunday Lamar store ride, two abreast--aside from the photographer.

The Sunday Lamar store ride, two abreast–aside from the photographer.

And Always.

Of course regardless of the ride or group in question, there are some “always” rules when it comes to group rides of every distance or speed:

1. Leave the headphones at home. Riding in a group setting takes concentration and communication, things you miss out on if you’re listening to your latest SXSW find.

2. Ride predictably. Straight lines, call out (without shouting, which can be distracting and off putting to riders further back in the group) and point out obstacles, eat and drink on the back of the group with one hand always on the tops or drops for added stability, and of course follow all the rules of the road just as if you were driving.

3.  Ride two abreast. This makes you visible while minimally obstructing traffic, makes communication between riders easy, and helps keep riders together.

4. Take a turn.When you find yourself on the front of the group, don’t speed up or slow down, just ride a consistent effort. You dont’ want to disrupt the ride’s pace.

5. Or don’t take a turn. There’s no shame in knowing you’ve not got it. Rather than riding to the front only to slow the group, stay on the back and allow riders coming off the front to get back in the group in front of you. You might get a little good-natured ribbing, but you’ll also not be the person who took themselves over the limit on the front and then had the whole group waiting while you tried to recover.

6. Follow the leader. This was something I heard years ago and it’s generally worked for me: do what the more experienced riders do when they do it. It’s generally pretty easy to pick out one or two riders in a group who look like they know what the score is. Maybe you know who they are already. If you’re in a group and looking to make some marginal gains, follow that rider’s lead; shift when they do, eat or drink when they do, pedal, soft pedal, or coast when they do. There’s a reason they’re the group ride leader, the local hammer, or the local pro. Will you turn pro doing this? Probably not. But learning the group ride from more experienced riders is a lesson we all go through.

7. Be prepared. Even if you’re not quite sure how to change a flat, bring the materials and tools needed to do so. Someone along the way can help with the details (then get to Bicycle Sport Shop University for our various maintenance classes). Similarly, bring whatever drink and food you like along.

8. Communicate. Not just about obstacles and traffic, but any change in plans you’re making. Turning off early to ride home? Stopping for some reason? Going off the front for some reason? Let folks know what you’re up to so they either aren’t waiting for you when you’ve in fact elected to go a different way or chasing you down when all you’re doing is making an unplanned stop for whatever reason.

9. You’re your front wheel’s boss. Put another way, you’re in charge of your front wheel. When riding in a two-up paceline or a pack of any size it’s important not to overlap your front wheel with the wheel of the rider in front of you. Short of intimately knowing the ride and the rider up front, this could be a recipe for disaster if the rider up front changes paths even slightly. Moreover, this is doubly true when riding at the Driveway or other race settings where pack dynamics change on less than a moment’s notice.

10. Save the aero bars for races against the clock. Yes, triathletes and time trialists should be welcomed on group rides. Often times these are riders that are able and willing wiling to sit on the front from extended periods and pull the rest of us along in the comfort of their draft. But you’ll never see an experienced multisport rider in the aero position in the middle of a group. Why? It’s not safe as braking and steering are compromised in that position. If you’re on you’re aero bike save the aero position for later, or if you’re on the front of the group on an open stretch of road.

11.  Have fun! It’s a bike ride after all. Even races should have an element of fun, even when you have race goals that you’re shooting for. Smile and enjoy the view of the world from the saddle and the company of the group.

If you’re looking for group rides, Bicycle Sport Shop has a host of them on offer from each of our locations, for riders of all interests and abilities. And more are being added all the time. Check out our calendar and select your preferred riding discipline to see what’s coming up that sounds interesting.

See you this weekend!

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