By Kelly McPherson — Riding with a group is one of the best things you can do for your cycling. You can learn everything from where to find the best deals on gear, to what that thingy in the end of your handlebar is called, to how to ride in a group, where the best routes are and how to push yourself harder for longer. Riding in a group regularly is extremely useful, but finding that perfect group to ride with can be somewhat elusive.
Step one would probably be to join a local club of similarly bike minded riders. Below are some links to get you started. Also check with your local bike shop or fitness center. Oftentimes they have groups that ride.
Even if you have joined a club or a team, there is no guarantees that the group will be filled with people the same ability level as you. As a slower rider, I have been on many group rides. Some of them good. Some of them not. Below are some tips for facilitating group rides that include slower riders.
- Make expectations for the ride clear. Is this a drop ride? Will you be grouping up regularly? Will there be a lot of climbing? What is the average pace of the riders involved and how far and long will be planning on riding? I once joined a ride well above my skill level and got dropped within the first 30 seconds. Those riders went so fast that I don’t think that their wheels even touched the ground. Had I understood ahead of time, I might not have made the extra effort to drive across town to join them.
- If you post it as a ‘no-drop’ ride, it had better be a ‘no-drop’ ride. Don’t leave people in the dust unless it has been agreed upon beforehand that might happen. Agree ahead of time whether you are waiting at the top of climbs and at the other side of stop-lights. How long will you wait?
- Make sure everyone knows the route. There is nothing worse than getting dropped from a ride and having no idea where you are, where to find water and how to get back to where you started. If possible post a map that people can download onto their phones. Make sure to get peoples cell phone numbers so you can communicate unavoidable changes in plans.
- Tell us, nicely, when we are doing something stupid or dangerous. We don’t know until you tell us. We are usually keenly aware of the fact that we aren’t as good as you, but we don’t always know why. Please kindly educate us. None of us want to be “that girl/guy” that no one wants to ride with because they are dangerous.
- Talk to us. Get to know us. Include us in your conversations. We may not be able to contribute very much. Your conversational pace may be our threshold pace. We aren’t trying to be rude, we are just doing everything we can to stay with the group and not kill anyone. What comes naturally for you, may take a lot of concentration for us.
- Make sure we are included in pictures too. We want to post the cool pics on social media just as much as the next person, but if we can’t keep up, it makes it tough to be where the pictures are being taken to be in them. If you aren’t going to wait for slower riders at the turn around points, consider taking and posting pictures at the starting point when everyone is together. I recently rode with a massive group and got to the picture taking point just a minute after it was taken and the group was breaking up. Just because we are slow, doesn’t mean that we don’t want the memories.
- Ride with us on your recovery days. You know, those days when you don’t want to ride with your regular group because you know it will get too spicy to count as a recovery day? Those are perfect to ride with slower riders. You get the recovery you need and we get your company. We would love it! Let the slower riders set the pace on this one. Just don’t make too big of a deal that it is your recovery day. We have egos too!
Below are some tips for slower riders who are wanting to ride with faster, more experienced riders.
- Join the ride. You won’t get to be a better group rider unless you actually join a group. It takes bravery to join a group of people you may not know, but it is so worth it.
- Respect the ride parameters. If a fast, drop ride that is way above your ability level, don’t demand that other cyclist wait for you or accommodate you. I would find a different ride to jump in on. You will only frustrate people. You can start with them and let them know that they have no need to wait for you, but oftentimes cyclists may feel guilty dropping you anyway. Avoid doing that.
- Know where you are going. Ask! If you don’t know, you need to ask and find out. Make sure Google Maps is working on your phone in case you get lost.
- Be prepared. You may get dropped. You may spend a lot of time riding by yourself. Make sure you have enough repair supplies, food, water, cash and cell phone to get you safely home again. Know how to change a tire and make basic repairs. Don’t depend on others to take care of these things for you.
- Communicate your needs. If you want them to wait at certain points or if you are going to flip when you see them flying back down a big climb, let them know. If you would like company on the climb or want to climb alone, let people know. Do not just leave a ride and go home without telling anyone. This means you may need to get cell phone numbers so you can tell them. It is not fun to be waiting for a slower rider at the top of a climb only to find out that they flipped ages ago and went home without telling anyone.
- Be gracious about advice. Listen to the more experienced riders when they let you know that you should change something about the way you are riding. When riding in a group, everyone’s lives are in each other’s hands. They are trying to make sure everyone makes it back in one piece. If it is advice about nutrition, training, gear, etc., make sure to listen and ask questions and then make your own decisions about what is good for you. No two riders are alike.
- Have fun! Don’t be so concerned about being the slowest or least experienced rider that you forget to have fun and come back to the next group ride. It will get better. It will get easier. Though, likely, you will spend quite a bit of time riding on your own in the meantime. Don’t get frustrated. Look up and enjoy the places your healthy body and two wheels take you.