Group Therapy: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Group Rides

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by Kevin E.

“I don’t know if I can keep up.”

“I’ll slow everybody down.”

“I need to ride by myself for a while to get in shape.”

I hesitate to call them excuses, but these are just a few of the “objections” I’ve heard when I invite a new road rider on a group ride. Frankly, they’re all baloney (Not to be confused with bologna, which is delicious). Before I explain why, let me recount to you my first group ride.

I purchased my first road bike from Cycle Craft when I was about 17. I’ve written about her previously on this blog, and you may have seen a photo of her on our Facebook page just this week.

I took her to college with me at American University in Washington D.C., and I joined the club cycling team. The Saturday morning group rides rolled at 10am, which is quite early for a college student on a Saturday (because of all that studying I was doing, of course). Between making sure I had all my gear and trying not to wake my two roommates in the process, I was pretty nervous by the time I arrived at the meeting place. I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep up. I didn’t want to slow them down. I figured I might have to ride by myself during the week to get in shape for these rides.

The first ride was probably the fastest and longest I’d ever ridden. The ride leaders were all experienced collegiate racers who were much more advanced than me and the other newbies that showed up that morning. But I was shocked at how the miles flew by with other riders around. Before I knew it, I found myself well outside the city (in a totally different state, mind you), having a great time and learning the tricks of the trade from my teammates. For example, I stopped wearing underwear under my bike shorts after that day.

Your humble blogger on a (stationary) group ride with my AU teammates.

Your humble blogger on a (stationary) group ride with my AU teammates.

I came to every ride I could get to after that, and I got faster and fitter with each passing week. Sadly, I never got to race with them in my time there, but I had caught the bug. That summer, I applied for a summer job at Cycle Craft. Three summers and three full years later, I’m now a full-time staff member and Road Ride Captain here at Cycle Craft, leading rides of my own. It is my greatest wish that as a ride leader, I can share my love for cycling and help others get fitter and faster just as my team captain at American University did for me. My mission begins here with you.

Now, let’s talk about those “objections”…

“I don’t know if I can keep up.”

Being able to keep up with a group is a simple matter of finding and choosing a ride that suits your abilities. And trust me, there are plenty of options in this area. Here at Cycle Craft we’ve expanded our group ride options to suit a wider variety of riders. From our Sunday morning “B” ride for beginners all the way up to our Thursday night “A” ride for advanced riders, we probably have a ride for you.

Also, local clubs like the Morris Area Freewheelers and the Bicycle Touring Club of New Jersey offer a truly staggering array of local rides for riders at any level.

“I’ll slow everybody down.”

As I mentioned above, there’s a ride out there for everyone, even if you make your own group with friends or family. If you’re so concerned with being a burden that you never go on that group ride, the only person you’re slowing down is yourself.

For my money, there’s no better way to get in shape on your bike than riding with a group. You’ll be surprised just how fast and/or far you can go when there are other riders around to push you beyond the limits you put on yourself when you go it alone.

My team captain in college used to ride behind me and physically push me in the back if I wasn’t going fast enough. I promise there won’t be any of that on my rides.

Also, a group ride is a social environment where you might meet new friends or training partners (or both) that you never would have met riding stag.

“I need to ride by myself for a while to get in shape.”

Before I get too high on my soapbox, there is nothing wrong with riding by yourself. As much as I would love to do a group ride every day of the week, there are certain times when flying solo is better. For example, if you’re a competitive athlete with very specific training goals to achieve on a given day, sometimes riding alone is the only way to ensure you accomplish them. However, for the non-competitive rider who wants to improve his/her cycling fitness and have fun doing it, nothing beats a group ride once or twice a week mixed with solo rides the rest of the week. Use the group rides as opportunities to notch up the pace and/or distance.

The only way to find out if you can hang with a group ride is to do it, and I promise that you will surprise yourself with how much faster you can go with the right group.

So since I’ve now convinced you to take the plunge, here are a few tips I can offer to make your experience as safe and enjoyable as possible:

Be considerate and alert: Riding with others means that you will have to look out for each other. Look beyond the rider in front of you and call out obstacles and hazards to the riders behind you. Keep an eye/ear out for cars coming from behind and call them out. Ride predictably and signal all turns/changes in direction. The better you communicate, the safer everyone will be!

Proximity Alert: If you’ve ever seen a pro cycling race on television, you’ll see that the riders in the main bunch are practically rubbing shoulders. Don’t let that intimidate you! Your average local group ride will be nothing like that. If you’re new to group riding, start by keeping a one-bike-length cushion between you and the rider in front. With practice, you’ll be able to move closer. Avoid overlapping or “half-wheeling” the wheel rider in front of you.

Front and Center: If you’re concerned about keeping up on harder sections like hills, stay near the front. If you slide back, you’re less likely to be totally dropped off the back by the time you reach the top.

Know Your Group: Introduce yourself to the ride leader and get to know the others in the group. For me, the best group rides are the chatty ones where everyone knows each other. Who knows, you might meet a new riding buddy, or just a buddy in general!

Now that I’ve dispelled your worries and armed you with information, now all that’s left is to ride! Check out our ride schedule here or check out our Facebook page on Fridays for ride updates. See you all this weekend!

2 Comments on Group Therapy: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Group Rides

  1. Yeah, used a few of those objections myself….. Now I just go and ride as best I can…. AND I am getting better with each ride!
    afatmansjournal.com

  2. Jeff McEntee // February 21, 2017 at 2:59 pm // Reply

    Great article. At present my “group ride” is with one other rider, but looking to branch out if schedule allows. My road bike is a basic Trek 2.0 – a bit heavy. My go to bike is a tri bike, much newer and faster but obviously a bit harder to control / brake. Both purchased at CC Parsippany btw. So the question is, is using a tri bike on group rides frowned upon?

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