The group road ride. The idyllic environment for the seasoned roadie and a source of anxiety-inducing hell for many of the uninitiated. Am I good enough? Will I fit in? I hope I don’t crash! Are we going to stop? What if I puncture? Even the embarrassment and anxiety associated with getting dropped can deter many riders from even considering participation, which if you think about it, is really sad! Being fearful of joining a new club ride is normal. But fear not folks, we’re here to help you! Spoiler alert-there isn’t anything to worry about!
Is your bike working?
Before you even consider going on a group ride, make sure your bike is in good working order. I’ve seen this first-hand, a new cyclist goes on the group ride with a bike that hasn’t seen a spanner or Allen key since last summer. You should get your bike serviced annually and always carry out general checks in advance of any planned ride. Whilst you’re here, check out our blog we wrote on saddlebag essentials 😉
Find the right group for you
Opting for the right group of riders is an easy way to avoid being dropped during a group ride. Most cycling clubs offer various speed groups for weekend rides and it’s unlikely that they’re going to stick you in the fast group on your first appearance.…if the first group does seem a bit slow, you can always advance to a faster group when you feel ready. Check your club’s website or reach out to them via their Facebook group to learn about ride schedules and expected speeds – some clubs will just look at your Strava and will be able to tell which group might be best for you. Any group ride worth its salt will have a coffee stop factored in along the way, with many rides’ main objectives being the café! Saying that, I must caveat that in the depths of winter it’s actually sometimes better just to keep moving (boo!)
Unlock your hidden potential
If you’re new to group riding, you’ll be amazed by how much more efficient it is than riding solo. Drafting behind other cyclists can conserve 20% to 40% of your energy. Therefore, don’t be discouraged if the average speed of group rides seems a bit faster than your solo pace. Drafting in a group can help you maintain the pace more easily. It is always best to be conservative for the first few rides and then move up groups though as it’s miserable trying to hang onto someone’s wheel for hours on end!
Make sure you eat
One of the main reasons cyclists get dropped on longer rides is due to bonking, when your body runs out of energy. Make sure to eat and drink during the ride, especially if there’s no planned café stop. Research some effective fuelling strategies to keep your energy levels up, or do as I do, and just go on shorter rides.
Know the route
Getting acquainted with the route in advance is helpful. Knowing what lies ahead allows you to gauge your efforts accordingly. Save some energy for challenging sections and adapt your pace based on conditions like headwinds on the return leg. Most club runs will have pre-planned the route, so you should have a good idea of the terrain before you set off. Top tip: If there is a climb or exposed section coming up, drop to the back a few km before arrival. The energy saved riding on the wheels will give you that little edge that is often required.
Don’t throw the towel in
This is cycling. It does get hard, but at the end of the ride the pain will have subsided and you’ll be fine. As with most endurance sports, your mental strength surpasses your physical capabilities. When you’re struggling to keep up, focus on your breathing, make sure you’re in the optimal gear and follow the wheel ahead of you. It’s not unusual to have a mid-ride tear-up. Just remember, it’s likely everyone will be hurting!
Prepare for pace changes
Riding in a group involves adapting to the varying speeds of others. Speed fluctuations can be significant, and cyclists often test each other’s limits. Incorporating simple interval training efforts into your solo rides will help. Introduce randomness to your training sessions to simulate the unpredictability of group dynamics (this is called Fartlek training). Additionally, group rides on Zwift are very good at mimicking the real-world feeling of bunch riding, albeit without having to look where you’re going.
Steady away on the climbs
I’ve ridden with some of the world’s best riders and unless they’re doing efforts, it’s usually a solid tempo on the climbs as opposed to an all-out attack. Therefore, if you’re on the front, keep the pace up but don’t go full gas. Once you crest the climb, gently squeeze on over the top and flick your elbow to signal the next rider through to take some wind. This riding style is far more controlled and much easier for other riders in the group to interpret.
Conserve your energy
Avoid going all out at the start of a ride, even if you feel fresh. It’s better to preserve some energy for later in the ride, enabling you to enjoy the journey home rather than burning out prematurely.
Trust in cyclists’ etiquette
It’s generally accepted in cycling etiquette that groups should ride at the pace of the slowest rider. While this may not be universal, most groups prioritise keeping everyone together. Choose your group wisely, but outside of intended fast-paced rides, you’ll likely find cyclists to be understanding and accommodating.
Easy for a regular to say relax, but do your best to try and enjoy the ride. If you are a bit nervous, try and buddy up with someone you know to give you a bit of confidence. No one is going to expect you to be drilling it on the front and riding the perfect through and off during your first session. Look where you’re going, be aware of what’s going on around you and loosen up, you’ll be fine!