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Tackling a Group Ride

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If you’re looking for a great way to increase fitness and make new friends, try hooking up with a local group ride. Typically these rides meet at the same time and place each week, then head out on a pre-determined route. Depending on the group, the ride’s objective will range from socializing, to full-on race simulation, to a little of both.

Don’t be surprised if your first group ride is a little intimidating. It’s kind of like the first day at a new school: You don't know anyone and you don’t really know what to expect. The good news is that cyclists are generally a friendly bunch, so it shouldn’t be long before you’re making new friends and learning new ride routes.

Here are some basic tips to make your group ride experience more fun:

Do Some Research: Before showing up at the ride, do a little poking around to find out what the ride is all about. Good sources of information include employees at your local bike shop and our good friend Google. At the very least, you should be able to find out the meeting place, time and approximate distance. It’s likely you’ll also be clued in on the pace and seriousness of the ride.

Introduce Yourself: When you roll up to the starting point, don’t be afraid to say hi and introduce yourself. It’s a great way to break the ice, and it will help you get the scoop on the ride and riders. If you don’t know the area, let someone know you’re new. That way if you get dropped, they’ll know to wait for you, or at least point you in the right direction to get back home. Of course it’s also a smart idea to bring a map of GPS just in case you get separated from the bunch.

Recognize the Flow: Most group rides utilize either two-up or rotating pace lines. Figure out what’s protocol in your group and then follow along. Two-up pace lines are when the group rides double-file, with the front pair of riders sharing the workload for a few minutes, then pulling off and letting the next pair come forward. When it’s your turn to pull, keep the speed steady and don’t over accelerate. Also make sure not to ride with your front wheel ahead of your partner (a.k.a. half-wheeling). This can cause a subtle competition, or force your partner to ride harder than they want to. When your time at the front is over, alert your partner that you’re pulling off, then move to the outside of the line and slide to the back of the group.

Most group rides start with a two-up pace line, then transition to a rotating pace line when the speed picks up. In a rotating pace line, each rider takes a brief pull at the front, then drafts the rest of the time. This allows whole group to maintain a much faster pace. Check out the Tour de France and you’ll see this method employed almost any time there is a breakaway up the road. When it’s your turn to pull, keep the pace steady, and move over to the return line as soon as you clear the front wheel of the person who pulled off ahead of you. Once you’re back in the return line, ease up a little so the next person doesn’t have to accelerate to get around you.

Ask Questions and Listen: If you have questions, ask. Most cyclists love the opportunity to share their expertise and experience. Plus, the more you learn, the more confident you’ll become, and the more fun you’ll have working with the group.

Keep Your Powder Dry: Even if it’s clear that you’re the strongest rider in the group, go with the flow on your first couple rides. Established rides have set rhythms, and you’ll ruffle feathers if you start attacking during the social part of the ride. Remind yourself that you’re there to ride hard and make new friends. If you want to show off your fitness, save it until the rest of the group starts attacking.

Road Cycling