Group Rides. Love Them? Hate Them?

In cycling, like many other endeavors, there is safety in numbers. There is also the social aspect of cycling which is often over looked.

So, you get Group Rides. Today, I would like to discuss the different types of group rides, and the pluses and minuses of each.

Groups come in all sizes and all varieties. Spontaneous, structured, “Fondos”, charity rides, century rides, club rides, etc.

Solo (Group of ONE)

Well yeah, a group of one is still a group, especially a “gravitationally challenged” person like me. I often ride alone. This is because in my semi-retired life, I have the option of riding during the day on weekdays, or later on in the day on weekends. I wish more people could ride with me at these times, I really do.

Plus:

  • Well obviously, you’re not going to get dropped riding alone. You pick your pace, you pick your route and if anyone argues with you, perhaps you should seek some counseling.
  • Structured training is easier to maintain in a solo ride.
  • Flexibility in route, bike type, clothing, etc.

Minus

  • No social aspect really, unless you bother people on the road.
  • Safety issues. One cyclist is much more likely to be hit by a distracted driver than a group.
  • Maintenance issues. You have to carry everything with you. No “mates” to lend you a tube or a CO2 cartridge.
  • No draft, but this is really only important if you’re one of those people that count achievements in miles.

When I do ride solo, I tend to pick well traveled, “safer” routes, such as roads with bike lanes, bike trails, shared lanes or even sidewalks. Since I commute to various meetings by bike as well, I tend to be careful about picking my routes.

Duo

Twice as good as solo, no surprise.

Plus:

  • You probably won’t get dropped riding with one other person. They tend to want to stay with you.
  • If you have a destination, the draft can help reduce the workload, if that’s important.
  • 50% chance of going the route you want to go.
  • A very social ride, as I often ride side by side with someone and solve ALL the world’s problems.
  • Slightly safer. Two cyclists are more likely to be seen by a distracted driver.

Minus

  • Maintenance issues are down but wait, is he carrying a tube or is it all on you???

In my neighborhood we have a 3.7 mile loop that about 5 of us ride regularly. We often end up in duos. Usually a conversation as well as a ride.

Three to Six Riders

Put together as there is usually very little difference between these numbers.

Plus:

  • You probably won’t get dropped riding in this group either, as the lower numbers are easier to keep track of.
  • You can draft each other and reasonably well, as 3-6 riders is not so many that you aren’t familiar with each other’s styles very quickly.
  • Still tends to be very social, as not much chance of a “testosterone” group blowing it up.
  • Probably the safest number. Groups of cyclists are more visible, and with only 6 or so riders there is less chance if inter-cyclist mishaps.
  • Still A very social ride. Where conditions allow, you’ll probably be side by side in 2 or 3 rows.

Minus

  • Someone should lead it, and make the route decisions, unless you want some element of chaos.

Saturday Morning “Wolf Packs”

These groups run anywhere from 8 to 50 riders and are probably my least favorite type of group ride. They tend to be “organized chaos” if they are organized at all. I’ve led these groups before and it is the closest thing to cat herding I’ve ever done. By the way, road races and criteriums fall in to this category.

Plus:

  • The draft reduces the workload, if that’s important.
  • Certainly safer from distracted drivers, although you will anger some for taking up the road (sheesh).

Minus

  • Not usually a social ride, as people are trying to rid themselves of a week’s worth of office frustrations in one ride.
  • Not safe in terms of inter-cyclist mishaps.
  • An excellent chance of getting dropped if you miss a light or something, as it is extremely hard to keep track of large groups.

My least favorite ride type. For years, I tried to “improve myself” so I could stay with these packs, win the sprints, and not get wrecked by a crazy cyclist. It’s very hard to get to know the riders because the group changes from week to week.

I found myself gravitating towards certain riders, staying near them, as I got to know them and conversely avoiding certain riders as I got to know them. I pretty much avoid these rides now. I know people will tell you they are exciting, and they are, certainly, but is it worth the risk? To me? An emphatic no.

Weeknight Social Rides

I think immediately of the KBS ride every Thursday night and I think positive thoughts. This is usually a very large ride, with anywhere from 50 to 125 riders, but it is well planned and quite safe. The route involves a destination with a loop, such as Eagle Circle or Heintzelman Blvd (The Airport). On the way to the destination, the speed is set by the slowest rider. It is definitely no drop!

Once the destination is reached, one “loop” is done at any pace desired. Many will race it. Others will ride along easily at the back. Once the loop is done, the group splits in to two – a fast group doing 22-25mph all the way back to the shop, and a leisurely group doing 16-18mph, if the slowest rider can maintain that. Surprisingly, the fast group doesn’t really get there that much sooner, maybe 5 to 10 minutes.

Then a “party” begins with food, beverages, birthday celebrations and who knows what else.

Plus:

  • You will not get dropped riding in this group, as “bird dogs” are assigned to watch for stragglers.
  • You can draft each other and reasonably well, since the pace is leisurely for those that want it.
  • Very social, as not much chance of a “testosterone” group blowing it up.
  • Even though it’s at night, everyone has lights and helmets, and groups of cyclists of this size are kind of like a 500 lb gorilla, they ride wherever they want to.

Minus

  • The party keeps me up past my bed time!.

I’ll add in century rides and fondos later, but they can vary so much, depending on who is putting on, who is there, etc.