Preparing for your first group ride

One of cycling’s greatest qualities is that it can be equally enjoyed alone or in groups. Group riding can add elements of camaraderie, competition or both, depending upon the dynamics of the riders involved. And there’s a group ride for everyone, from beginners and recreationalists simply looking for a social activity and perhaps a few new routes, to intensely competitive riders who want to be pushed to the edge of their abilities.

So, how do you find a group ride to match your skills and interests? Here are a few tips for finding the right ride and preparing yourself for a rewarding
experience.

Any collection of two or more cyclists constitutes a group, and riding with a friend or two is often the easiest way to start. Some of the most enjoyable group rides I’ve been on started with a friend (who brought a friend, who brought a friend).

If you can’t cajole someone you know into joining you, or if you’d like to meet some cool new people, there are a host of local cycling clubs and bike shops operating their own structured group rides (see sidebar).

By far the biggest is the Twin Cities Bicycling Club. TCBC rides are well organized and executed. They’re also very welcoming of new riders. And because the club is so large, they offer rides virtually every day of the week across all skill and pace levels. A TCBC ride is a great place to begin your foray into group riding.

There are many other cycling clubs scattered throughout the metro and outlying areas, and most local shops conduct at least one weekly group ride as well. Many clubs are affiliated with or sponsored by local bike shops.

Even if a shop posts ride information on their website, it’s best to call — or better yet stop in — to ask when they meet, how far they ride and at what pace. Some advertise rides for beginners or intermediate riders that are quite fast, and this kind of information can best be gleaned face to face, or at least by phone.

A number of clubs cater specifically to women riders, most notably Velo Bella. The “Bellas” began in California but have developed a strong and supportive presence in the Twin Cities.

Finally, while few group rides are restricted to “members only,” it’s good to join a club after a few rides rather than freeload for too long. None of them is out to make money, and they could use your support. Joining also increases the likelihood you’ll actually get out and ride.

And with that introduction, let’s get ready to ride!

Pace yourself

One of the most important criteria for choosing the right ride is pace, which is typically categorized using the ABC scale. Approximate speeds are: A — 18–20 mph, B — 15–17 mph, and C — 12–14 mph. Some rides are described as A/B or B/C. The bottom line: Know your pace (and how long you can hold it) before picking a ride, and start down a category initially. Make sure you know whether a ride has a “no drop” policy. If not, make sure you know the area.

Be prepared

The Boy Scout motto is a good one for cycling, too. Make sure your bike is in good, safe condition before every ride, and carry a spare tube, patch kit and pump. You’re likely to get help from an experienced rider, but it’s good to learn how to fix a flat. If the ride will last more than an hour bring food (granola or energy bars/gels, bananas, etc.). Plan on drinking a full bottle of water per hour of riding.

Be considerate

It’s good to show up 15–20 minutes early for your first ride with a new group and introduce yourself. Tell them you’re new to group riding. A good group leader will take you under his or her wing and look out for you. During the ride, it’s standard etiquette to point out obstacles, approaching vehicles and pedestrians, as well as turns, slowdowns or stops. Watch how others do this and follow suit.

Be safe

Obey all traffic laws. Drivers respect bikers less when they see them blasting through stop lights and signs. And don’t take more road than you need. Typically, groups ride no more than two abreast, and single file in heavy traffic. Road bikers often keep quite close because it’s much more efficient, but you should take cues from other riders and don’t ride closer than they are, particularly for your first few
outings.

Be predictable

If you’re new to group riding, practice riding in a steady, straight line. Then try it while reaching for your water bottle or food. Grab a friend or two and practice riding close together — in front, behind and side by side. Try to stay within a couple of feet, and practice bumping shoulders. Avoid sudden accelerations or slowdowns, and remember that hard braking is reserved for emergencies only!

All of these points merit significant elaboration, but they should get you off to a good start. For links to additional information, check out shiftyguy.blogspot.com.

Fred Mayer lives in Linden Hills.

A sampling of bike clubs

Birchwood Bike Club, Minneapolis
www.birchwoodbiketeam.com

Erik’s Riders Club (Erik’s Bike Shop), multiple locations
www.eriksbikeshop.com

Flat City Cycling Club (Penn Cycle), multiple locations
www.flatcity.org

Freewheel Bikes, Minneapolis
www.freewheelbike.com