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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