cycling group rides

How to Stop Getting Dropped in Group Rides and Races


By Adam Pulford,
CTS Premier Coach,
Host of “The Time-Crunched Cyclist Podcast

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.

Improve Fitness

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 out to 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:

Find the right group rides

If you are fortunate enough to live in a community that supports multiple group rides, it’s important to select one that’s compatible with your goals, risk tolerance, and speed. Is it a no-drop ride that waits for riders at specific checkpoints or intersections, or is it a ‘devil-takes-the-hindmost’ ride where you’re on your own if you get dropped? Is the pace steady and and is the group orderly (like a 2×2 pace line) or is it a race-oriented group ride with attacks, breakaways, and an unstructured pack? Are the regulars in the group around your same age and do they share similar views on road/trail behaviors?

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 on the group ride feel the need to prove themselves. 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!

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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 in Group Rides

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.


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Comments 13

  1. I found the perfect solution to this possibility – moving to the Downeast coast of Maine from CA. I’ve not been dropped in eleven years as I rarely even see anyone on bicycle, much less find they are going in the same direction. At 74 I am the Tadej of our local hills, undefeated on all the climbs, albeit some of the times I occasionally clock on my favorite loops are a couple of minutes slower than a decade ago. That discrepancy I’m sure is entirely due to continued geological uplift since the glaciers receded from the last ice age. I have a couple of sponsorship opportunities available if any local lobstermen/women care to support my equipment and energy gel requirements…..

  2. The rubber band effect is always worst at the back. Trying to ride in mid pack will help keep the surging to a minimum.

  3. I am finding, regardless of group, there are riders who want to show. Inevitably, the closer we get to home, the harder they pick up the pace and dust those who came along for the ride. I don’t have the heart to leave them soloing, so I drop back, break, and burn those matches helping others get home. On many occasions, riders who start will see the writing on the wall 15-20 miles in and turn-around and choose another route back, usually alone. We always have stops for water and food, but the in-betweens just burn folks out. It’s not fun having to continually catch up. Many see that they need to increase their fitness and skills, but as pointed out, the right group will help. Albeit, every group has those riders that have something to prove.

  4. Pick the right group is key. The weekend warrior rider should ride with good company and in a group ride where the rules are clearly stated that it is a “no drop ride” then there is no problem with getting dropped.

  5. Riding alone is the best. For me, at least. My ride buddies are in my head. They keep up with me. I keep up with them. Nobody ever gets dropped. We have great conversations. We don’t dictate start times to each other. And we all agree when it is best to stay in bed when the weather is bad.

    1. I am my best cycling buddy. Always ready to go and like my planned route. Stop when I want for a photo of the beautiful terrain in CO.

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  7. AGE is an unavoidable factor. Rolling along in my 50s,and 60s with the group was pure enjoyment . As the 70s set in it became harder and harder and somewhat painful to hang in. Now in my 80s I can barely hang on for 20 minutes before getting dropped. As a youthful competitor it is difficult to come to the conclusion that those days are behind me. I realize that I’m fortunate to be able to even participate with the younger riders be it only for a short time but it’s still tough on the ego. The younger folks are extremely nice as we prepare to ride and then like animals in the wild they devour their aged , fortunately unaware that all too soon they will be in the back of the pack. What goes round comes around before one realizes it.
    Having settled into riding mostly by myself I cant but help smile remembering that I was once a leader of the pack and never sensed the agony going on in the rear.

    1. I’m the prototypical little old man. I ride indoors 3 times a week and two days out on the bike path. I’m just happy that my competition is me. Numbers. I have improved my speed by doing intervals training. Highly recommend for indoor riding. And of course it helps with endurance. I didn’t start road riding until I was 76, and living in mountainous terrain. At my size and age, I’ve never been the leader of the pack. But I rarely was way back in the distance.

      Good for you!!! Pat

  8. The NUMBER ONE tip for not getting dropped- FIND THE RIGHT GROUP. I ride 4-5k miles/yr and know my limits. A 20-21mph pack rider like me (inc. rotating pulls) is never going to keep up with the 25-30mph racer crowd no matter what I do. I can sometimes ride with local 23mph groups for 60-90min but it takes my near perfect attention to the tactics you mention.

    Another tip for not getting literally “Dropped”, as in dropped to the pavement, is to avoid sketchy riders in the group. Some physically strong riders ride quite erratically. Trying to stay safe while following the wheel of one of those guys can waste more effort than its worth. Find a STEADY wheel (or wheels) to draft.

  9. You forgot to mention “have your bladder surgically removed”….kidding aside, being dropped (either myself or someone else) is why I no longer do any group rides. It bothered me greatly to look around and find a buddy has fallen behind and we were all just eagerly pushing on. I’d drop off, ride back and stay with the dropped rider. These days, I just ride alone. No one drops me and I don’t drop anyone. I can stop anytime I feel like and don’t need to rush a repair or a bladder evacuation….

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