By their very nature, most cycling group rides are an exercise in chaos, hopefully a controlled chaos, but chaos nonetheless. Riders of different goals, backgrounds and fitness levels come together and are probably all looking for something different out of the experience. Often, there is no clear-cut outline of “what” the ride actually is, which is why factions can sometimes form in these groups. Under dire circumstances, splinter groups move away in different directions and the original group dissolves from lack of attendance or interest.
The way to avoid this is by establishing defined objectives for the designated audience. If you’ve been reading our newsletters for a while, you may remember Robbie talking about group rides a few years back and who really benefits from them. On the average group ride, the fastest riders don’t get much benefit because they’re never pushed hard enough to really experience any growth. The slowest riders likewise don’t get much out of the ride because they’re so busy just hanging on that they can’t actually participate in the group dynamics, which is the best part. Only the mid-level riders are truly able to benefit because they’re being stretched beyond their comfort zones, but not so far that they can’t participate in the paceline.
Large group rides have a place in the cycling world as a race simulation or something to aspire to, but they shouldn’t dominate an individual’s training routine. On an individual basis, it’s important for several rides a week to be focused at an intensity and duration that helps the rider achieve personal goals, rather than forcing the individual to adhere to someone else’s. Smaller groups make achieving this objective and maintaining harmony within the group much easier. Smaller groups are almost always better. Since the densest cycling populations tend to be found in urban areas, riders are always contending with larger vehicular traffic on the roads. Small groups take up less space and create fewer obstacles for cars, helping to reduce confrontations. Establishing a firm goal for the ride or group is crucial. If one rider shows up looking for a steady endurance ride and another wants to hammer until s/he’s cross-eyed, neither will be happy at the end of the day. Setting the expectation beforehand helps keep everyone on the same page. This also makes it easier to find the common ground within the group regarding appropriate speed. Cycling is great because the nature of drafting allows riders of different fitness levels to ride with each other. But this benefit only extends so far and, if the differences are too large, chaos will start to take control once again. So how do you actually do this? Think through what you want to accomplish in the group ride and set some parameters. The group may be open to anyone who fits the guidelines or you might prefer to hand-select some people you think would be a good fit.
Here are some things to consider and ensure all are clear on:
- What is the goal of the ride?
- What will the duration of the ride be?
- What will be the maximum allowable group size?
- How fast should the ride be?
- How will we approach hills: steady over the top or pushing the pace?
- How will we deal with traffic: single file, 2x2, staying behind cars at stops?
- What is the protocol for dealing with dropped riders or mechanical issues?
- Will there be stops for food and fluid refills?
- Will there be stops for bathroom breaks?
Cultivating the perfect group likely won’t happen on the first try. But by outlining your goals and making sure everyone understands the objectives, you’ll be off to a good start. Then, once you have something you like, hold onto it, because when all the inherent chaos is in order, you’ll be able to fully enjoy one of the greatest parts of cycling.