In the best of circumstances, group rides can be some of the most fun you have on your bike. In the worst, they can also be some of the most frustrating and embarrassing. A poorly organized or poorly managed ride is sure to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth and may even convince you to stop participating in group rides altogether. It’s not just about having fun — it’s about having fun while also respecting the needs and limitations of your fellow riders. After years of racing pro, instructing cycling classes, hosting rides, coaching teams and leading group rides, here are 10 tips on how to effectively manage a group ride as well as how to be a good riding partner when joining one.
Have a meeting before the ride.
The best way to avoid frustration on a group ride is to communicate. This can include discussing the ride route, pace, stop-together locations, as well as the order in which riders will be expected to lead the group. If you’re hosting a ride, be sure to collect contact information from all riders so you can communicate effectively with them. There are times when people just can’t take a ride, but this way, you can at least let them know and try to find a replacement rider. If you’re joining a ride that has been organized by someone else, be sure to arrive early and ask questions to ensure that you’re on the same page as the organizer. A few minutes of conversation before the ride gets going can save hours of frustration later in the day.
Communicate ride route, pace and stop-together locations.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Ride like you’re in a Tour de France breakaway.” In other words, keep it steady and at a constant effort. If the riders are working together at an even pace, they’re bound to reel in the group ahead of them. But you can’t do that unless you know what group you’re trying to reel in! This is where the details of the route come in. If the ride is being led by someone else, make sure to ask about the route. If you’re leading the ride, be sure to communicate the route to the rest of the riders. And don’t forget to discuss the expected pace. Riding with a group can be a good way to increase the distance you ride while also keeping your pace the same as when you ride alone. But you need to know what kind of pace the group is trying to maintain so you can adjust your effort accordingly without going too hard and blowing up.
Establish a rotation for who leads and who follows.
Group rides are never perfectly homogenous. There are always differences in ability and fitness between riders, which is why it’s important to rotate the lead position throughout the ride. The person leading the group should be the person who is currently the strongest and should have the best awareness of the other riders around them. The person in the back (or “wheel”) should be the person who is currently the weakest and the least aware of other riders around them. Ideally, you want a mix of all levels of riders in the group, but sometimes that’s not always possible. If there is a big difference between the strongest and weakest riders in the group, it is important to rotate positions so the “weaker” rider doesn’t always have to follow in the back.
Be vigilant about maintaining the rotation order.
This is really important! If the person in the front of the group is the weakest rider, they need to be followed by the strongest rider. It is not fair (and really dangerous) to put a stronger rider behind a weaker rider — especially on a descent. If a switch needs to be made, it should happen as quickly and seamlessly as possible. Any time you make a change in the order of the group, you should make sure to let the rest of the riders know why you made the switch and who is now leading and following. If you’re not sure who should be where, just ask. That’s one of the great things about group rides — there are lots of people to learn from and get advice from.
Don’t be afraid to ask someone to take a turn at the front.
The person leading the group is doing a good service for everyone else in the group by taking some air resistance off the back wheels. They are also setting the tempo for the rest of the ride. This isn’t a burden, it’s a privilege. But it’s a privilege that should be shared. If the person at the front is taking too long to rotate off the front, it is perfectly acceptable to ask them to move back to the back once they’ve completed the segment they were leading. It’s also acceptable to ask someone else to “take a turn” at the front if they are a stronger rider than the person currently leading.
Don’t force your own pace on others in the group.
Ride your own ride and don’t get caught up in being competitive with the other riders. If you’re the strongest person in the group, you can’t control the group and make everyone ride as hard as you. You might be able to stay with them, but the rest of the group will fall behind and be frustrated. And no one likes being behind the person who’s trying to set a tempo they can’t maintain. If you’re a strong rider, ride with the group, but don’t try to control the pace. No one likes a show-off. Be a good riding partner by riding with the group and letting them know you’re there to help if they need it.
Don’t drop people from the rotation unless you have a good reason.
If you drop the person behind you from the rotation and there is a large difference in your abilities, for example, you should have a good reason for doing so. Maybe that person is riding too fast for the group, or maybe they’re riding too slow for the group. Maybe they are not communicating with the rest of the group and are causing a disruption. Whatever the reason may be, it is important that you maintain a safe distance from the person you are dropping by and communicate with them to let them know what your reasons are so they can make adjustments in the future.
Don’t leave anyone behind unless they specifically tell you it’s okay.
And even then, you should probably try to stay with that person if they are riding a bike that is similar to yours. Riding in a group can be intimidating, especially if you’re a beginner or you’re riding with people who are more experienced than you. If you’re in the lead and you see someone who is struggling, try to help them out. Ask them if they need assistance or if they’re okay. If they say yes, then you can stay with them, but if they say no, then you should be prepared to drop them from the rotation. If you are in the back of the group and you see someone who is struggling, don’t hesitate to ask if they need help. Offer to stay with them if possible. Riding in a group can be intimidating for even the most experienced riders. Don’t leave anyone behind if you can help it.
Don’t be a jerk!
Remember that the people riding with you are your friends and riding partners. They are not your competition. You are all trying to improve your fitness and have fun together. It’s okay to push yourself, but don’t forget to push others too. Remember that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Don’t hesitate to help others improve, but do so in a constructive way. Don’t be afraid to offer advice or criticism, but don’t be rude or mean while doing it. Most importantly, remember that when riding with others, you are a part of a team. Be nice to your teammates and don’t forget that we are all human.