Navigating Group Rides: How to pick the perfect group ride
When I moved to Austin, Texas, I knew just one person in the cycling community. Fortunately, he ended up being one of the most charismatic and connected people in the bunch. He immediately invited me to join a Slack channel for cyclists in the area, and then dozens of invites to group rides started popping up. There was the Sunday Ramble, the Ultraviolet Women’s Ride, and the Tuesday Flat Track Coffee Night Ride, to name a few. For weeks I scrolled through the options and showed up apprehensively, unsure what a “ramble” was but willing to go along.
With this inundation of group ride options, I quickly learned that navigating group rides requires a bit more communication and preparation than I knew I needed. But once I learned a few tricks and what questions to ask beforehand, it made riding in these big groups much safer and, of course, a lot of fun.
If you're considering trying out a group ride or just want to brush up on some skills before your next group excursion, here are some tips for finding the right group, what to expect, and how to ride safely together with your new riding buddies.
Why Try A Group Ride?
While solo miles are a great way to settle into your own company, group rides offer an entirely different experience. Often, group rides are set at a faster pace than you may ride solo. This challenge can be a fun way to build strength and endurance in your riding, as long as you take some recovery days between these faster rides. Also, riding alongside other people may introduce you to new friends, new routes, or a new understanding of what you are capable of.
How to Find A Group Ride
The best way to find a group ride is to start by talking with people. Some communities, like Austin, utilize Slack to organize rides. Other communities work through Facebook groups, word-of-mouth, casual group texts, or stick with established rides and may not advertise at all. Bike shops are a great place to start these conversations. Chances are, someone in your local shop has information they happily share to help you find a group or connect you with someone who might have the information you need.
What to expect?
Group rides range from professional-road-peloton style events to casual bike path spins. Before you show up, ask some questions: What is the planned route? How long can we expect to be riding? Is it a no-drop ride, meaning the group will reconvene if people drop off the back? What type of bike is ideal? How does the group communicate about turning, stopping, or other potential hazards?
Also, before you show up, take a moment to plan for your own safety. If you lose the group, make sure you know where you are and how to get back home. If you feel the group's speed or technical expectations is unsustainable for you, start talking with the riders around you. Ask about the group's pace, the upcoming terrain, or if there is a good place to leave the group and head home early. Often, there will be another rider you can connect with who would also like to reorient and either ride more slowly or pick a new route to get home safely.
It might take time to find a group that feels like the perfect fit, but it's worth the effort. You may ride with several different groups before finding the sweet spot of the perfect speed, level of technical riding, and the personalities in the group. But once you find that group, you can enjoy the camaraderie and fun that comes with new riding buddies.