by Kristin Butcher
Breaking into smaller groups can help make the ride more enjoyable for all.
One of the best parts of bicycling is stumbling upon a community of people who enjoy the simple pleasure of throwing a leg over a bike — and then doing that together. That’s right, I’m talking about group rides. Whether you’re riding the road in a peloton of your friends or storming the single track with a small army, group rides can easily be the best part of your week.
Or they can be the most challenging.
Getting a group of people together with varying skills and fitness levels creates a prime environment for good intentions to get in the way of good times. To avoid that fate, follow these tips to ensure everyone — whether they’re newbies or have been riding since the days of Biopace — has a great time on the next group ride.
1. Break into groups.
Wanting to ride together in the name of inclusiveness is so nice and well-meaning, but it’s also the easiest way to screw up a group ride. When riders of varying skill and fitness stay together, no one ends up with the experience they were hoping for. Faster riders spend most of the ride waiting on slower folk, and then they often bolt before new riders can catch their breath.
Slower riders hate feeling like they’re making people wait. Even when the fast riders insist they don’t mind, they will never be able to convince novice riders. By breaking into groups, riders get to ride with (and learn from) their peers without pressure to wait, or more importantly, the pressure to keep up.
2. Create a “No One Gets Left Behind” group.
By promising not to ditch any of the riders on a group ride, you create a welcoming and engaging space. This brings an influx of new riders, which delivers a constant stream of fresh faces and new energy.
Try to make new riders in the group feel comfortable by telling them stories of when you first started riding and how far you’ve come.
3. Learn by teaching.
The ideal person to lead the “No One Gets Left Behind” group isn’t the most skilled rider. It’s someone who recently joined the group. When ride leaders can relate stories of how far they’ve come in the past year and talk about when they, too, had trouble remembering which brake was which, it makes new riders feel comfortable and demonstrates how far a little practice can go. It gives new riders the opportunity to say, “If I keep practicing, in a year I can be where they are.”
4. Choose your route wisely.
The best tool in your tool bag is the power to adapt (well, that and a patch kit). Choosing rides that are easy to navigate, have bail-out points, and can accommodate an unexpectedly large turnout will give you plenty of options if a wrench is thrown into your plans.
5. Bring extra everything.
It only takes one experience to realize that one person bonking, running out of water, or getting a flat tire can affect the entire group. While it’s every person’s responsibility to come prepared, having a bonus snack or tube can mean the difference between a short ride with a quick break or a long after-dark adventure home.
6. Build in a buffer.
If you say the ride starts at 9:00 a.m, you’ll get two groups of riders — those who are chomping at the bit to ride at 9:00 a.m. and those who are just rolling into the parking lot at 9:00 a.m. Instead, advertise that the ride meets at 8:45 AM and leaves promptly at 9:00AM.
7. Go beyond the simple group ride.
Bikes are fun. Themes are fun. Themed bike rides are definitely fun. Don’t be afraid to create a single-speed ride or a ride for families with kids. You can throw together early morning weekend jaunts for parents who have limited time or let the hammerheads have a ride of their own where if you can’t keep up, you’re getting dropped. There are grey-haired rides, singles rides and rides where the pace starts slow and tapers back from there.
What is your best group ride tip?