I had a few different ideas for the post today, but after the Schlegel ride today I'm inspired to write about group rides. Usually when somebody attends a group ride and is "inspired" to make a post about what a good group ride should look like, it's because they just had a really bad experience on a ride. The opposite is true here. The ride today was on of the best group rides I've done in a while. It was fast, but not too fast. Overall, the group seemed to stay pretty tight and tidy. There was very little surging, but yet everyone got a really good workout.
A few hours before I left the house I was teetering back and forth on whether or not I wanted to go. It's cold out. It's raining. I'm sick of cleaning my bike. I have a nice warm room in the house with a great trainer sitting there. In the end, I reminded myself about what I posted the other day. There's hardly ever been a time that I've ridden outside and wished that I was inside. I decided to take the chance and ride today.
When I say "well organized," I'm not talking about printing maps, hanging flyers, promoting on facebook, water stations, food afterward, etc. (all of that stuff is fine, it's just not what I'm getting at in this post). I'm talking about how the people who show up ride in a group setting.
Before I get too far, I'll admit that I've broken every unspoken group-ride rule. I've been the guy that attacks the group over and over. I've been the guy that tries to "win" the group ride. I've been the guy that tries to ride 3-wide. I've been the guy who surges up every climb and coasts down the other side. I've been the guy who pulls off the front when we are riding two-by-two and cuts back in 3rd or 4th wheel so i can take another pull, completely not realizing that the people behind me want their chance to pull also. I'm sure I've one all the things that get on my nerves now, and still probably do stuff that annoys others on the group rides, but here's a few things that makes a great January group ride better than a good January group ride. It's January, so on the group rides that consist of mostly racers, the pace is picking up a bit.
1. When you are on the front, pedal your bicycle. Pedal up the hills. Pedal down the hills. Pedal the flats. If you aren't pedaling, you aren't training. If you aren't pedaling on the front, nobody behind you can pedal. If you coast down hills, everyone behind you is jamming on their brakes. Just as they are braking, you are now on the hill, probably hammering up it. This creates an accordion effect. Accordions drop the weaker riders.
2. When you are on the front going downhill, pedal until you run out of gears... and don't give me a line about keeping it in your little ring during this period. If you can keep up with the group and keep your wattage up downhills, stay in your little ring all you want. If you are having to coast because you don't want to shift into your big ring, do that at the back of the pack. I don't really understand the philosophy anyway. I get trying to keep a high cadence, but if that's the case then worry about your cadence, not your gearing.
3. When you are on the front, pedal at a steady effort level. If you have a power meter, try and keep your wattage pretty constant. I'm not impressed that you are climbing a hill at 400 watts if you are coasting down the other side, or soft pedaling at 100 watts. Try to go downhill just as hard as you go uphill. This makes sure everyone behind you is getting a steady workout too. If you are pedaling hard down the hill, they are having to pedal too.
4. At this time of year, when you are on the front you should be riding pretty hard. Not hard as in trying to drop everyone behind you. Don't be a jerk about it. Just ride hard enough that the people behind you are getting a workout too. I think this is where the Schlegel ride really got it right today. I don't think we dropped anyone (I turned off early, so maybe it got crazy after) but it was pretty fast the whole time. When people were on the front, they weren't chatting. They were working. It was a pace where most people in the pack (we had cat1 through cat5 and masters in the group) could chit-chat in the back most of the time, but you were never cold because the intensity was high enough.
5. When you are on the front, figure out where the wind is coming from and ride accordingly. Don't just put it in the gutter an gun it, or the less strong riders will get dropped.
6. If you are a stronger rider, read the wind and try to ride on the more difficult side of the group. This ensures you are getting your workout, and gives the less strong riders a better chance of staying in the pack.
7. It's not hummus if there's no tahini in it. Oops, that's for my food blog.
8. Ride two by two
9. Don't cross the yellow line or the center of the road (when there's no yellow line).
10. Come prepared, and show up on time. Don't make the group have to wait in the parking lot for you. Have enough food and water. Have everything you need to change a flat.
11. The city limit (or any other marker) sprint - There's nothing wrong with sprinting to a known point on the ride. It's great practice. Don't feel weird about doing it. We all realize there's no prize at the end, but there's no reason not to go for it. DON'T COUNTER-ATTACK THE CITY LIMIT SPRINT. It happens so often. Don't do it. Let the guy who won the sprint have his glory. Slow the pace down until everyone in the group is back on, and then continue.
12. Don't attack through yellow lights, stop signs, etc.
13. If you come up to a stop sign around the same time as a car, announce to the group that you are stopping and wave the car through the intersection. Enough drivers hate us already. Instead of making the car wait for 40 riders to go through an intersection, just wave the car through.
14. Eliminate gaps in the field. Try and ride somewhat close to the guy in front of you, and somewhat close to the guy next to you. Try no to overlap wheels, but also don't leave 3, 4, or 10 feet between you and the next guy.
15. Lube your chain. I'll probably talk about this more at some point within the next week. Chains should be lubricated every couple hundred miles. If you don't lube your chain frequently, it will make a lot of noise. It's definitely not the most annoying thing in the world, but nobody wants to hear your chain sing all ride.
Most of all, I think the ride needs to stay true to what it was intended to be. If it's supposed to be a no-drop ride, then it should be a no drop ride. If it is a team ride with a certain plan, stick to it. If it's a ride that was put together where everyone is supposed to attack each other, then by all means ignore the suggestions above (except #15).