Getting dropped from cycling group rides is a probability all riders face. Sometimes it’s caused by inadequate fitness, but even fit riders get dropped when they have poor skills and habits. So, for the beginners and those we are welcoming back to group rides, here’s a guide to stop getting dropped.
No duh, right? Nonetheless, it has to be said. Fitness fixes most ills, or at least allows you to overcome a lot of mistakes. The ideal combination is great fitness and superior group riding skills, but if you’re fit you can at least stay in the group long enough to work on the skills.
Fitness is drawing riders back out onto the road (paved and gravel). It’s an unintended consequence of making indoor cycling more appealing. Cyclists who stopped going to the group ride or participating in events are riding more. As they get fit, they gain confidence and return to cycling group rides because they have the fitness to have fun. As membership numbers increase for virtual cycling platforms, indoor and outdoor cycling compliment each other more than ever.
Unfortunately, elevated fitness and rusty skills result in getting dropped. So, in addition to building fitness, remember the following strategies and skills.
Don’t Start Like a Bat Out Of Hell
In the real world it’s not wise to go full gas right from the first pedal stroke. In a race you may need to start hard, but that should be after a long warmup. When you pull out of the parking lot for the Sunday group ride, keep your ego in check. Don’t let adrenaline or too much coffee lead you to burn all your matches in the first 30 minutes. Be patient. There will be much better places to expend that energy.
Stop Trying To Be A Hero
In a weird replay of high school gym class, some cyclists returning to the group ride feel the need to prove themselves to the regulars. They take longer pulls, accelerate around people to close gaps that are already closing, and push the pace on climbs. First of all, you don’t have anything to prove. Anyone who makes you feel that way is saying more about themselves than about you. Nonetheless, the best way to make a positive contribution to the group is to still be there in the final miles. That’s when your ability to share the workload will be greatly appreciated.
Stay out of the wind
I don’t think people who regularly ride cycling group rides fully appreciate how much we take drafting skills for granted. It takes practice to get comfortable with sitting inches off someone’s back wheel, but it’s worth it.
If you’re out of practice, make a concerted effort to notice the wind direction and your position in the group. If you’re a beginner, find an experienced rider who is steady and predictable and stay on their wheel. For all riders, remember to get back into a draft quickly after taking a pull. Stop hanging yourself out in the wind!
To learn more about drafting and group ride etiquette, read Group Ride Etiquette and Skills Every Cyclist Needs to Know and Top 3 Advanced Cycling Skills for Group Rides and Races.
Learn to fuel on the go
You can’t wait to eat until the group stops for a rest, a coffee shop, or even a stop light. Many cyclists are uncomfortable retrieving, unwrapping, and consuming food from their pockets while moving, but it’s an important skill.
To make fueling while cycling easier, pre-open the wrappers on bars and chews a little bit. Gels can be a simple solution because they’re easy to open with your teeth and eat one-handed. If you don’t feel confident eating in the middle of the group, wait until you’re at the back – just don’t get dropped!
Don’t Waste Efforts
One final effort might cause you to get dropped, but hundreds of small behaviors set you up for that moment. Riders who are comfortable and confident in the pack stay off the brakes, maintain their momentum through corners, and avoid having to accelerate to close a gap by not letting it open in the first place. Drifting off the back on descents means you have to surge at the bottom to get back on a wheel. These small efforts add up until that one hard acceleration pops you off the back for good.
Group riding skills come back like, well… riding a bike. I think it’s helpful for riders returning to the pack to go in understanding the consequences of being aerobically fit and technically rusty. It’s also important for experienced group riders to welcome these riders back, which means exhibiting patience and humor instead of getting crabby.
By Chris Carmichael,
Founder and Head Coach of CTS