Friday Group Ride #178


Group riding is one of the cornerstones of our sport, two people, two-hundred people, single-file or in a long lumpen mass strung out down the road. I know of many local rides that have been together and going off like clockwork for decades, groups with their own custom jerseys, and others who organize and sponsor organized events for themselves and outsiders alike.

Equally, there are a million ephemeral little groups, folks pooling in parking lots, shaking hands perfunctorily before rolling out, temporary alliances that pass Saturdays and centuries together.

All of these rides operate under their own guidelines, some rigid, some quite loose, and I find it eternally interesting which rules folks think are universal, often things they’ve brought from another group or were taught when they first started out.

I will confess that I don’t like to ride in groups larger than five. That seems to be the tipping point for human organization, though I am sure your results vary. None of the groups I ride with are so regular or so long-established that order has had time to impose itself on a larger scale.

Some of the things that will push me away from a group ride include: guys “soloing” off the front to prove they’re stronger when the tacit purpose of the ride is to log some miles, talk some shit and generally escape responsibilities; big messy groups that block traffic, put people in danger and exhibit a general lack of concern about same; groups who drop weaker riders on non-training efforts.

I’m a pretty easy going guy, willing to go along and get along with almost any bunch of riders at least once. I have this idea that, once you show up to a group, you stay with that group unless there is an agreement to split up that makes sense for the safety and goals of all involved. There is a social contract involved. Isn’t there?

I have a tendency, as do most, to ride with the same people over and over again, but I also feel inclined to engage new routes and new experiences, so I end up saying yes to ride invites as much as I can. It’s a good way to keep it fresh and meet like-minded souls, even if you only ever roll with them the one time.

This week’s Group Ride asks about your group rides. Are they big? Are they small? Are there a lot of rules or only a few? What should the universal rules be? What do you like about the groups you ride with and what sets your teeth on edge?

Image: Matt O’Keefe

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  1. Souleur

    lone wolf rides mostly, as there is much fewer midwestern riders scattered here

    For Rules: see, Frank and Gianni have it down pat, some funny, some are righteous

  2. Bryan Lewis

    We think alike. I quit riding with a couple of the bigger group rides near me because of the “big messy groups that block traffic and exhibit a general lack of concern about it”. Riding four abreast on busy roads during rush hour, even chasing down cars to yell at them… geesh. I kept thinking we were pissing off drivers who would be still fuming the rest of the week when they passed me on my solitary commutes.

    That, plus the fact that I could no longer keep up with those groups.

  3. TomC

    The best group rides are club rides, they are the staple of my sunday morning. There is always a sense of order to them and people in a position of responsibility to ensure the safety of the group and that the rules of the ride are followed. There aren’t too many rules, no more than two abreast, single file in town, keep together until a few miles from town and most importantly hold you line and don’t half wheel (the last two are universal, right?)!

    We are lucky that the groups that turn up are large enough that we can split into groups based on speed but small enough that they aren’t unwieldy. Just how i like it. It’s always satisfying to catch up on the weeks banter and get some friendly competition going over the last few miles. I also appreciate that i know i can trust the wheels that i follow.

  4. Aar

    From solo to gigantic, I ride them all. My preference is for a three to seven person group of people who know each other’s riding skill and tendencies very well.

    We tend to have very few rules but my preference is for efficient single to double rotating pacelines in which the longest pull is 60 seconds – something that our culture seems to have lost in the last 15-20 years.

    As far as universal rules are concerned, I would like to see all cyclists obey the law and for evening training rides to be limited to 13 riders – any paceline longer than a tractor/trailer is too long for an automobile to safely pass on a two lane road.

    I like the camaraderie, training effect, banter and safety in numbers of the groups I ride with. The things that set me on edge are riders who pull so long that they yo-yo the pack, those who rotate off all the way out to the yellow line, don’t rotate all the way to the back of the group, try to let you into the middle of the group, roll red traffic signals and pass stopped cars without a bike lane.

  5. Berongus

    Club rides work the best. They are usually competitive and, therefore, a good workout. A way to see how one stacks up after a week of solo riding. BUT, the pack mentality can frequently be a problem. The larger the group, the more they think it is okay to block the road.

    Most clubs have planned routes posted online should it be convenient to join the group further on down the road or otherwise plan (ie., tailor the week’s rides for the “big hill climb” on Saturday) for the ride. So changing the route the morning of the ride is definitely uncool. Especially if it has been posted all week long.

  6. ScottyCycles

    My “group” rides this past year pretty much consist of two people. My girlfriend (coincidentally met a year ago) and I. We have our Sunday rides that are sometimes long miles and a stop a Java Depot or Starbucks for brunch to slow meandering rides that are primarily for finding our latest instagram inspirations.

  7. Steve

    Frankly, I don’t mind it when one sprints ahead, attempts a KOM on strava, or pulls too short or long. I live in a small town in Pennsylvania and am happy to have good company to break up my solo rides. So for me, I only care about the things that maintain trust among the group: safe riding ettiquite such as hand gestures and audibles, and never leaving an impaired rider on their own. Too many rules suggest you should be doing more solo efforts.

  8. Savvycyclist

    I’m older. 65 to be exact and ride mostly with folks who are my age and have been riding for quite a while. We do recreational rides with a long stop in the middle for coffee and/or food. Group varies between 3 to 15. Most are there for the chance to get out for a little exercise and enjoy some fellowship. It’s fun, my major requirement for a ride with other folks.

  9. pmurf

    I’ll do rides of varying sizes as well, but I’ve become quite fond of a particular Saturday ride in my city for a couple of reasons. The group is med-large, 15-25 riders, many newbies, a recipe for a scattered disaster. But, before each ride, one person (usually the leader, or a close friend in his absence) reiterates ride etiquette, route warnings, and other useful info in a concise 2-minute speech. Every time. It’s the least seasoned collection of riders, but also by far the best behaved, tight-packed, traffic-pleasing group I ride with. It’s not fast – 18ish, but it’s so much more enjoyable than the s***show of Cavendish impersonators who can’t keep a double pace line to save their lives.

  10. Full Monte

    Amen, Padraig.

    Group rides are like bands. With each member added after five, complexity doubles. Personalities, conflicts, agendas, styles, intentions start to clash. Five is the tipping point. Where organization stubs its toe on chaos and then hops all over the road on one foot for the rest of the day. Flashes of anger, frustration, agitation, machismo and aggression start to creep in.

    My initiation to mass group riding came during the Ride the Rockies tour. Thousands of cyclists of all skill levels take part on the week-long ride through beautiful scenery – and kudos to the organizers and volunteers, always well done. To the riders – aaaaaarrrrrrgh!

    I harp constantly on being inclusive, accepting riders of all skill levels and styles. And Padraig reminds me there are Rules and a Code for a reason – so people don’t get hurt or die. He’s right. Throughout the tour, I began to drop off the back or ride off the front of any group, bringing one or two riders from my party with me. When 200 strangers mass (like a drunken school of fish), the pace ebbs and flows, riders engage in conversation and forget what they’re doing, half-wheeling and crossing wheels, running up the wheel ahead, hooking bars, and generally causing mayhem.

    One accordion crash on a flat piece of highway sent a young rider, age 16 (on the day of his birthday) out to his left, into the lane, to escape the pile-up, only to be struck from behind by a cement truck. Several riding doctors scooped him up, loaded him in a DOT sag pickup, and took him to the nearest medical facility (a veterinarian’s office). They worked on him for an hour while a life flight from Denver raced to retrieve the boy. But he died on an operating table meant for dogs.

    This event cast a pall over the rest of the tour, and for me, has kept me from riding huge group rides ever since. At all. Ever.

    That doesn’t mean I avoid new or inexperienced riders. I’ll ride with a new rider all day long, but only one, maybe two. That way, I can keep all the puppies in the box, so to speak. And I ride with riders better than me as well; it’s how I continue to learn and push my boundaries. But again, only when the number doesn’t exceed five. It’s the magic number.

  11. Wisco

    I finally found a group that suit me. For too long I tried to re-live my youthful racing dreams forgetting that I’m 40 lbs heavier than I was back then and that I wasn’t that fast anyway. So away I went riding and getting dropped on any decent sized hill. Invariably, the group would leave me and others like me for dead and it turned into a demoralizing solo ride.

    But now I found my happy place: A group of 5 – 10 other middle aged, 200lbs or so… or more riders who like to ride together, hammer the hills as best they can and then re-group at the top. We laugh, we push each other and we have fun, beers at the end of course. I only wish I had found this group earlier.

  12. slappy

    the tuesday no fear ride in dorset vt was an inspiration when i grew up, to not try and get a group to go mountain biking and come home after dark on a tuesday feels, to me, as though i’m letting down my ancestors. needless to say, mountain biking is about fun, someone’s always faster.

  13. Peter Kelley

    I consider myself fortunate to reside in a little town with a lot of cyclists. My mainstay is the weekday 5:30 am ride from Ace Hardware. On most mornings there are 3-8 riders – most of whom I’ve ridden with for years. It’s a mostly hard ride for 90 minutes – and it’s not uncommon for the ride to average 20+ mph. Some days I meet up with another 5:30 am group in town – also a revolving group of 3 -8 riders, but this ride is slightly more civilized (meaning I’m not drooling on myself quite as much).

    When I’m looking for recovery, I do a ‘coffee ride’ on the bike path that connects my town to Providence, RI and Bristol, RI – then sit outside at The Coffee Depot for a cup and some conversation.

    On the weekends I often do my own thing – which I also like, and when I’m lucky, my kids ride with me! I especially enjoy tandem rides with the kids now that they are old enough to reach the stoker pedals!

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