Cycling: The ultimate social sport

By Jeffrey Stern

Traveling at high, but comfortable speeds while watching the world move by in that absorb-it-all slow motion kind of feel, and holding a conversation with a group of your best friends sounds like a my daily cycling dream. It’s a dream that us enthusiasts live out everyday, or at least try too.

It doesn’t matter if it’s during smooth tarmac road rides, pot hole filled back roads on our loaded up touring bikes or just sunset cruising the bike path of our local communities with the whole family – cycling is a social activity.

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy my solo, life contemplating rides. As many questions I can answer and idea seeds I can plant during these rides, the ride stories and memories that are truly seared into my memory are ones spent with others.

Here’s four reasons why the next time you ride, you should bring along a friend (or two).

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Safety in Numbers

The more friends you have around you on a ride the more eyes you have on the sights, sounds and the unfortunate truth of sometimes dangerous traffic (cars or bears depending on your environment). Cycling has inherent dangers, so traveling in numbers decreases your chances of be stranded with no help or someone to lean on.

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Exponential Fun Factor 

You know what they say, laughing is contagious. In that light, I present the case that ten friends hooting and hollering down the road on an early Saturday morning sunrise ride is twice as fun as just five (five is still pretty good, but you get my point). Create a group of riders interested in going a similar pace as yourself, but collect a diverse group of opinions and personalities. The miles will fly by and the fun will keep piling on.

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No More Solo Selfies 

Beer in hand and group photos after an all-day ride always seals the deal. Those are the photos you share with your non-riding family, friends or cyclists you want to make jealous because they missed out. We all know selfies are kind of silly and asking another solo rider to take a picture of you and your bike is just plain weird. Introduce yourself to a stranger and ask them to take your friend’s picture on top of the mountain, then invite them into your group and back to town for a cold one!

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Skill Improvement 

Naturally, riders in every group will have varying cycling experiences and skill levels. What better way to pick up a few new tricks of the trade from someone you’ve only seen in passing or behind the counter at your local bike shop? You’ll likely be riding with all members from your group, so take the time to get to know them better. They might be a former world champion trials rider that knows a thing or two about balance and picking lines, or maybe an R&D engineer that knows how to make you more aero on the bike, if that’s your thing. We all have our strengths and weaknesses on the bike. Don’t be afraid to speak up, ask questions, learn a skill or two and pick up some tricks for your bike knowledge bag.

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If the most important thing is to just get out and pedal a bicycle, then coming in close at number two is to actually ride with other people. We evolved as social creatures for a reason after all, survival. So, don’t fight it, but it embrace and plan your ultimate group ride –  there is no right, or wrong way just get out there and have a blast.

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How to join a group ride

By Shanon Castle

Group rides are exhilarating. They’re a great way to push past your physical boundaries and to meet fellow bicycle lovers like yourself. You want to join one but haven’t because you’re not sure what to expect. It surprises many riders to find that they’re not the only ones with concerns. These are some of the most common questions cyclists have about riding in a group.

What can I expect on my first ride?
Group rides come in all shapes and sizes. They range from social rides that end at a local coffee shop to intense training rides that push the boundaries of speed and distance. Participants of all rides are expected to follow the rules of the road. You’ll ride in a line (known as a paceline) and will maintain a predetermined speed. Some training rides include interval sections and a ride leader will be present to keep everyone organized.

How can I find a local ride that matches my current abilities?
Are you looking for a social experience or a technical one? Once you know what you want, head over to your local bike shop. It’s a great resource for finding rides in your area. It’s a good idea to start with a ride that maintains a slow to moderate pace, say 17 mph. Even if you can ride faster, this will give you the opportunity to learn how to ride with a group and how to hold a consistent pace.

What questions should I ask the ride leader?
If you’re worried about being dropped or getting lost, find out what the route is and if there’s a policy for being left behind. Ride leaders expect questions from those new to the sport, so don’t be afraid to call ahead or arrive a few minutes early. You may want to ask about traffic patterns, average ride size or anticipated breaks.

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What gear do I need?
The absolute necessities for every ride are your bike, helmet, water bottle and flat repair kit. Some rides require other gear like lights for safety reasons. You’ll be told if you need to bring any extra equipment.

What should I wear? Should my outfit match my bike?
Most new riders have this question. They see Lycra-clad cyclists speeding by and immediately question their own choice of clothing. Let’s get this out of the way: Your outfit does not need to match your bike. You should feel comfortable in what you’re wearing. For rides longer than 10 miles, it’s a good idea to wear padded bike shorts. The pads are designed and placed to keep you comfortable in the saddle. Cycling jerseys, while not necessary, make storing your phone, ID, keys and snacks easier with their convenient pockets. They’re designed to pull sweat away from your body, keeping you cool and dry. Sunglasses protect your eyes from the both sun glare and kicked up road debris. And of course, wear a helmet.

What if I get a flat tire or crash?
Things happen on a group ride, and the ride leader is prepared for emergencies. Bring a flat kit, phone and ID, all of which are helpful in the event of a mishap. Before the ride check your bike to make sure it’s safe. Your brakes should work, your shifting should be smooth, and your tires should be inflated to the recommended pressure. Not sure what that is? Look for it on the sidewall of your tire. Road bikes tires generally use 90-110 psi.

How do riders communicate with each other?
Riding in a group can limit your field of vision so hand signals are essential for safety. Riders communicate with each other using the universal signals for turning and stopping, and will gesture toward obstacles in the road like potholes and debris. Verbal warnings are also common, so expect to hear an occasional “Stopping!” or “Hole!”

What will I gain from joining a group ride?
First and foremost you’ll become a better rider. You’ll learn how to ride with a group, you’ll gain better control over your bike, and you’ll ride with more confidence. The ride might take you to parts of your hometown you’ve never explored. Group rides are inspiring and motivating. Suddenly you’re riding faster and going farther than you thought you could, but most importantly, you’ll be riding your bike, and what better way to spend your day?

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What tips do you have for those who are new to group rides? Let us know in the comments!

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