I love a great group ride. I was raised on them and they have been an integral part of my life as a cyclist for more than 40 years. The group ride is where you learn to draft, how to ride shoulder to shoulder so you can talk without yelling, how to gauge your efforts so no one has to wait up for you, and so many other skills. Many time-crunched athletes find themselves training alone because they have to fit a ride into their schedules wherever they can, which is not necessarily when the group ride starts. But if you want to be a better bike rider, become a regular at a local group ride. You don’t have to go every week, but go frequently enough that you don’t have to reintroduce yourself to everyone! To be one of the riders everyone looks forward to seeing, let’s take a look at some etiquette and skills so you don’t end up being “that guy”.
Work together to avoid flat tires
Flat tires suck for everyone, especially when you’re in a group that stops to wait for the affected rider. Minimize flats in the group by physically pointing to the holes, glass, and random car parts that litter the roadside. This hand signal needs to travel all the way back, so pass it on so the people behind you get the message. Reserve audible warnings for really dangerous situations.
If you run over debris, use your hand (preferably with gloves on) to brush the surface of your tire. On the front tire obviously do it in front of the fork. For the rear tire, hook your thumb on the seatstay and use your fingertips to brush the tire directly in front of the stays. Hooking your thumb prevents you from getting your hand jammed between your rear tire and the seat tube. Trust me, that’s an experience you don’t want to have.
Be proactive around safety and pacing
Nobody likes being barked at constantly, and certainly not during a nice group ride. But there are some times when it’s good to speak up. The riders at the back should let the group know when they need to single up to better share the road with cars, or when there is a particularly large vehicle coming around (like a dump truck).
The riders in about the 3rd row of a double paceline are in a good position to call for an adjustment to the pace. At this point in the group you can tell if the riders around you are struggling with the speed or the wind direction. Riders in the first and second rows can sometimes misjudge their pace and position relative to the rest of the group.
And of course, it’s everybody’s responsibility to watch out for potential bicycle-car collisions. If you see something, say something!
Stay off the brakes
You’re going to need to make minor speed adjustments in a group ride, and you want to do this with air resistance rather than braking whenever possible. That means sitting up a bit and/or moving out into the wind a little to slow down, or tucking into the draft and pedaling a bit more to speed up. When you tap the brakes, you slow more abruptly and that signals the rider behind you to tap his brakes, and so on. Obviously there are times when you need to and should use the brakes, but try to make minor speed adjustments without braking to avoid a herky-jerky riding experience for everyone around you.
Pull longer, not harder
If you’re feeling like superman or you’re the fast guy of the group, don’t ramp up the speed when you get to the front. It’s not nice and it makes the pace uncomfortably hard for your friends. Instead, ride the group’s pace and stay at the front longer. You’ll get the training you want and give the rest of the group some extra time in the draft.
Pull shorter, not slower
If you don’t have the fitness to take a long pull at the group’s pace, you should still rotate through like everyone else, but just pull off quickly. There’s no rule that says you have to take a pull equal to the guy before you. The rule is that you need to pull at the group’s pace. Don’t slow down, because then everyone stacks up behind you. For a smoother experience for everyone, keep it short and pull off.
Pace the climbs for the middle of the group
When the pack hits rolling hills it can be hard to keep the group together, especially when “that guy” drills it on the front. When drafting is less of a help to the riders in the middle and rear of the group ride, it’s important for the riders at the front to consider everyone when establishing the climbing pace. On social group rides it’s typical to wait at the top of longer climbs, but to minimize the frequency of these softpedal periods or stoppages, try to set a pace that’s comfortable for the middle of the group. This may mean it’s a bit easy for the fast guys at the front and pretty challenging for some folks at the back, but this pacing strategy is good for keeping the group together over the majority of hills.
… pull so hard you drop yourself
Social group rides tend to wait for dropped riders, which is great, but try not to make them wait for you because you were riding like an idiot. If you take monster pulls at the front and then get dropped, you’re not making any friends. Learn to gauge your efforts and keep something in the tank to make sure you can latch onto the back of the group and stay on a wheel.
… show up late and unprepared
We’ve all been late to a group ride at some point, and we’ve all forgotten something important (like food) before. It happens, but it shouldn’t happen often. Be on time and be self-sufficient. This includes tools and a pump. We’re all nice people and we’ll give you a tube or some food if you need it, but try not to need it.
… half-wheel your friends
The right way to ride in a double paceline is handlebar-to-handlebar, not half a wheel ahead of the rider next to you. Half-wheeling pisses people off, especially when you accelerate to maintain the half-wheel advantage despite your partner’s attempt to pull even with you. It also messes up the spacing for everyone in the paceline behind you.
… run red lights
Just don’t do it. Besides being unsafe, against the law, and damaging to our collective reputation, it’s also disrespectful to all the groups who are working hard to convince communities to improve cycling infrastructure and enhance cyclists’ safety. Unless you’re in Idaho, which has had the “Idaho Stop” since 1982: cyclists can legally treat red lights as stop signs and stop signs as yield signs. Go Idaho!
See you at the group ride!
CEO and Head Coach of CTS