Group Ride 101 – The basics of group cycling and why you should do it
Group Ride Definition – As a group, you either ride single file or side by side in order to share the work. The rider(s) at the front set(s) the pace and take most of the wind. The riders behind are drafting.
Why include group rides in your training program
- As a triathlete learning to ride in a group improves your skill as a cyclist.
- You also get the benefit of riding longer with less effort if you are drafting so you can increase your time in the saddle in a fun group ride setting.
- Stronger cyclists can also benefit from pushing harder and going faster in a group setting and getting rest as they take turns at the front.
It’s important to know what type of group ride you are joining as there can be different goals for the group effort.
Communication is essential as mentioned above, discuss the purpose of the ride before you leave. What is the speed you will aim to maintain and how long are you riding. Will it be an aerobic group ride where everyone plans to stay together and no one gets dropped or, a speed fest where the group will be going fast and if you get dropped you are S.O.L., (sh*t out of luck)!
It is also essential to communicate if you will be making any sudden movements as it affects everyone behind you. The goal is to stay in 1 or 2 lines and either rotate thru to the front or keep the same group leaders. If you are going to coast, brake, or get out of the saddle to stretch, give a hand signal to the rider behind you to let them know so they can adjust and so on.
Being vocal about what is coming up like potholes, water, turns and stops as well as if a vehicle is passing is essential common vocalizations are:
- Rider, walker, runner up
- Right turn
- Left turn
Don’t be afraid to be very vocal to again keep everyone safe.
Avoid erratic movements
Always keep your hands on the hoods or the drops of your handlebars so you have quick access to the brakes, and if you do need to brake do so gently feathering them to avoid the jerky movements.
Before joining group ride, you must have a certain level of bike handling skills.
- Ride with one hand and keep a steady pace so you can eat and drink and hold a straight line wiht your bike
- Be comfortable drafting within 1 foot of the cyclist wheel in front of you so the group can stay together
- Be able to brake quickly and effectively in an emergency situation, like a car pulling out in front of you, or another cyclist cutting you off.
- Eat real food before you go on a group ride like eggs, avocado and maybe some complex carbohydrates like sweet potato as opposed to sports nutrition.
- Plan on having carbohydrates in your water bottle as well as electrolytes as needed based on hot or cold conditions. Always bring extra sports nutrition that is easy to access while you are pedaling to prevent running our of energy or “Bonking.” Some suggestions are Bloks, Bars, Gels, but please check ingredients and time the intake for about 100 calories/ 1/2 hour if you are riding over an hour and 30 minutes.
- Bonking is a term used for exercising to the point where you run out of energy in the body and you feel terrible and have to stop. Not a good thing to have happen in any instance but especially if an entire group is waiting for you.
Just keep pedaling- avoid the pedal/ coasting yoyo- when you are on the bike you should be constantly pedaling and adjusting your gears appropriately to slow down and speed up as needed. When you coast it forces everyone behind you to brake and then have to accelerate creating a yoyo effect which is very tiring, aim to pedal all the time at an rpm of 85-95 to keep the group smooth and consistent
After turns be considerate of all the cyclists behind you and accelerate back to the given speed gradually so everyone catches up and stays together in the draft.
A cyclist in front of you starts to fall back and there is a gap in the line. A considerate thing to do is to pass that cyclist slowly and get in front of them and ask them to get on your wheel to pull them back up and or ask the group leader to slow the pace slightly to get back together as opposed to blowing by the tired cyclist and dropping them- NOT COOL!
Parameters to keep track of Heart rate, RPMS, Speed
- If your Heart rate gets too high especially in the first half of the ride there is a good chance you will set yourself up to blow up- remember even on group rides the goal is to negative split or just be consistent the whole ride with regard to effort, heart rate and speed. Most groups start way too fast with no warm up and blow up on the way home.
- RPMS– Revolutions Per Minute- 80+ is a good average rpm to aim for.
- Speed- Group rides are the only time I ask my athletes to pay attention to their speed. It’s necessary for the group to stay together to know what average speed to hold.
Rotating pace lines– Rotating pace lines are a great way to let everyone have an opportunity to take turns pulling the group at the front and also resting in the draft when they rotate to the back of the group.
- Single rotating pace line All cyclists pedaling in a straight line within one foot of each other at the desired speed- say 18 MPH. Decide how long each pull will be- lets say 30 seconds. After 30 seconds at the front, the lead cyclist looks over his shoulder to make sure it is safe to move left and soft pedal to drop to the back of the line as the next cyclist MAINTAINS the same speed and takes their turn pulling. Be sure not to accelerate as you take the lead. Repeat as long as possible.
- Double pace line Same as the single pace line, except 2 lines side by side. Decide which direction the rotation will occur- right to left or left to right. This is much more difficult but again a skill worth learning if you want to become a great cyclist.
Light it up– It’s been proven in studies that using bike lights even during the day can help cyclists avoid being hit by other motor vehicles.
Newbies– Should start at the back of the group but understand they will have to work harder as they slow down and accelerate more at the back of the pack. The best draft is in the front to middle of the group.
You need more than a group ride.
Remember you don’t become a great triathlete only riding in a group. This is just one component of your cycling training. Just because you can draft at 25 MPH does not mean you can hold this speed on your own. Your solo training still has to be included in your training program. Hills, Intervals, Strength, Speed work, Etc.
Aero bars– Riding in your aero bars can be very dangerous because you do not have access to your brakes in this position. Only VERY skilled cyclists should attempt this in a group setting.
But it doesn’t mean you can’t ride your triathlon bike in a group ride, just need to stay up more often then when you are riding solo and be sure to ask permission to ride in your aero bars before doing so.
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Erinne Guthrie is a USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach since 1999 and Chief Motivating Officer at Full Circle Coaching, LLC since 2010. Creator of Triathlon Transformation. She has been training, racing and coaching triathletes since 1997. She is also a CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coach Level 3, USMS Master’s Swim Coach, Motivational Speaker, Metabolic Efficiency Specialist, Mom, Mermaid and much much more.