By Syd Schulz, CTS Athlete and MTB Pro
A recent Trainright blog about group ride etiquette for road cyclists got me thinking — do the same rules apply to mountain bikers? How about trail runners or triathletes? Most of my personal experience is with mountain bike group rides, and obviously the group dynamics are different than for road cycling group rides, and group runs have their own unique dynamics. Even though each sport is different, there are five personality types that can take the fun out of it for everyone in the group.
I’m going to lead with mountain biking because that’s my primary sport, but these personalities show up everywhere. To keep your next group shred session fun for everyone, try to avoid being any of these all-too-common serial offenders.
1. The Rude Dude
While it’s important to be respectful of other trail users whether you’re on a group ride or on your own, the effects of rude behavior are amplified in a group. Every negative encounter I’ve had with another trail user has been when I’m riding with more than three people. Even the most reasonable hikers get a little touchy when twelve mountain bikers fly past them, and only one of you has to be a jerk for problems to arise.
The Rude Dude is that guy or gal who seems to have no situational awareness, or maybe it’s just a lack of consideration, as they blast down trails and around blind corners with unwavering expectation everyone must get out of their way. Worst of all, it’s not the Rude Dude who feels the brunt of other trail users’ disdain; it’s the folks further back in the group who slow down or stop to be more considerate.
The best advice for groups – MTBers, runners, hikers – is to slow down, smile, and say hi to the people who come across. Tell them how many people are behind you so they know what to expect. If you’re the last person in the group, tell them you’re the last one, thank them, and wish them a good day.
2. The Leader of the Lost
The Leader of the Lost knows where he or she is going, but doesn’t wait at intersections to make sure the rest of the group knows where to go. I have been on more than few otherwise fun group rides that turned into “riding in circles looking for the rest of the group.” Most times it happens in tight and windy trail systems that feature a lot of ways to create loops; it’s easy to take a wrong turn, even if you’re only 100 meters behind the rest of the group.
I have been on both ends of this equation, and it’s always annoying. The best way to avoid it is to STOP AT ALL THE INTERSECTIONS. Even if you think everyone knows where they’re going. This can be tedious, but trust me, it’s way better than the alternative. My personal horror story: As a college senior, I led a group ride of freshman who were new to my collegiate team. I managed to lose one of them in a tiny, 5-acre trail system. After several hours of scouring the forest with one of the other senior members of the team, we panicked and called campus security, only to find out that the freshman in question (who will here go nameless) had accidentally taken a cut-out trail I had never noticed, found himself on the main road and ridden back to campus. He was later found by security, fast asleep and very confused by the interruption, in his dorm room. Despite that first impression, he thankfully stayed with the team.
3. The Constant Trainer
The Constant Trainer turns every group ride into a high-intensity workout, even when the group has a very different kind of ride in mind. If you have a crew of friends of similar speeds/fitness levels, who all want to go out and hammer up the climbs and get a solid workout in, that’s AWESOME. Go for it! But what I see more often is that one person who is antsy to burn 3000kcal, charging off the front, blowing through intersections (see above), getting impatient anytime there’s a pause, and generally just driving everyone else crazy. Chill out.
Sometimes the rider or runner who comes across as The Constant Trainer is actually a time-crunched athlete torn between using his or limited time for hard training, or spending time enjoying the social aspect of being an athlete. If that’s you, here are a couple of tips for getting the best of both worlds: If you can carve out the extra time, do your intervals BEFORE the group ride. If that’s not possible, at least communicate your needs to the rest of the group. That way they won’t think your trying to drop them when you ride or run a harder pace on a long climb.
4. The Show-Off
A close relative of The Constant Trainer, the Show-Off is not concerned with calories burned or fitness gained, but rather with proving that he (and it’s usually a he) can hold his own at the front of the pack. Or huck the biggest gap. Or take the dodgiest line through the rock garden. This is the person who is always pushing the pace, even when everyone else just wants a steady and social pace. He’s also the person who ups the ante when a local pro shows up, and typically the one most likely to bonk, flat or crash spectacularly while holding a pace he doesn’t have the fitness or skills to maintain. The Show-Off is a liability; ego gets them into trouble and then the rest of the group has to bail them out… or carry them out. You’re unlikely to change this person’s behavior, so just avoid whenever possible.
5. The Chronically Unprepared
There is one tried and true rule of mountain bike group rides: “Someone will get a mechanical, every damn time.” And if there is a second rule, it’s probably: “The person who gets the mechanical won’t have what they need to fix it.” It’s inevitable, and the number of mechanicals seems to increase exponentially when groups grow beyond three people. The most important thing to remember about The Chronically Unprepared is that you don’t want it to be you. Carry what you need to fix the more obvious mechanicals (flat tires, broken shifter cables, etc.). Someone should have an actual pump, and packing a spare jacket and some extra food can completely save the day. Oh, and at least one of you should probably carry a first-aid kit.
Ultimately, the rules for good group etiquette are pretty simple: Be prepared, respect your current levels of fitness and skill, look after each other, have fun, and (as with most things in life) just don’t be a jerk.
Have fun out there!
Syd Schulz is a professional mountain bike racer, focusing on enduro events. She is also a writer, blogger and lifestyle athlete. Currently based in Taos, NM, she grew up in Ohio and started riding bikes as a kid in the rolling foothills of the Appalachian mountains. Over the past three years, she has raced her bike on four different continents and traveled all over the United States in a dirt-bag van (see the van profiled in Outside Magazine here!). Her blog focuses on inspirational content and stories of her own personal development. Her goal is to inspire others to tackle their biggest hurdles in life (and on the bike).