9 Best Practices for Group Rides
Training Tips

9 Best Practices for Group Rides

By: Jim Rutberg  January 04, 2022

Group rides are the heart and soul of the local cycling scene in communities around the country and around the world. With so many new cyclists coming into the sport over the past few years, and so many people moving around the country for work or to be closer to family, there may be a lot of new faces at the local group ride. The following recommendations can help you fit right in if you are new to group rides or joining one in your new hometown. They are also important for making sure new people feel welcome at your long-standing ride.

Be on time and prepared

Do your best to be ready to roll out at the planned start time, with the food, fluids, tools, and extra layers you might need for the day. Be sure you have your own tube and inflation device, preferably a pump in case you run out of CO2. Group rides are a collaborative and supportive environment, so people will help you out with a tube or a gel or a couple of dollars if you forget, but it’s better to give than to need. No one is perfect and people might be late or forget something occasionally, but do your best to be self-sufficient and on time.

Introduce yourself

Introductions work both ways. If you’re a regular at the group ride and someone new pulls up, introduce yourself and welcome them to the group. If you are the new person pulling up to start area, break the ice and introduce yourself. Communication is key to making people feel welcome and to making sure everyone understands the route, the expected pace and/or technical difficulty of the ride.

Point out turns and road hazards

Once you are out on the road or trail, make sure the riders behind you know about upcoming turns, potholes, glass, or road debris. You can use hand signals – point to the hole or hazard – or audible cues, just make sure the information keeps moving to the riders further behind you. Flat tires and crashes disrupt the ride for everyone and avoiding them is a team effort.

Act in the group’s best interest

When you ride in a group you have to think and act like a group. If you are at or near the front when the group approaches a traffic light or a turn, consider whether the whole group can safely get through the intersection before you commit to stopping or going. You don’t want to put riders in the middle or back of the group in an unsafe situation.

Adjust your time at the front, not the pace of the group

Group rides can move faster or go longer than you will on your own because riders share the work of setting pace at the front. Maintaining a steady pace is the key to a cohesive and smooth group ride. If you are feeling super strong, spend more time on the front rather than increasing the pace of the group. If your fitness level means you can only hold the group’s pace for a short time, take a shorter pull at the front and rotate off while you still have enough energy to get back in the draft at the back of the group.

Stay off the brakes

Obviously, you can and should use your brakes whenever necessary, but when you are in a group you want to minimize abrupt changes in speed. Grabbing a handful of brakes in the middle of a pace line or pack has a ripple effect for the riders behind you. To adjust your speed and the distance to the rider ahead of you less abruptly, move a little bit in and out of the draft so the change in wind resistance helps you maintain your position with little or no braking.

Shift up as you stand up

Shifting into a harder gear as you stand up to pedal out of the saddle is another behavior riders around you will greatly appreciate. If you stand up without shifting into a harder gear, your bike will likely “kick back”. To the person close behind you, your rear wheel suddenly slows or appears to kick back toward their front wheel. This can lead to crashes due to overlapping wheels, or at least an annoying and unsettling experience for the people behind you. By shifting into a harder gear as you rise out of the saddle and put your bodyweight over the pedal, you can maintain your forward momentum and avoid the kick back.

Don’t half wheel your partner

“Half wheeling” is a scenario where two cyclists intend to ride side-by-side but one rider accelerates to keep his or her front wheel just ahead of their partner’s. The partner then speeds up to draw even, but the first rider pulls ahead again, and again, as the speed gradually ratchets up. Half wheeling is a bad habit, annoys or even angers people in the group, and messes up the spacing for the riders behind you.

Don’t run stop signs and traffic lights

Not only is running stop signs and traffic lights unsafe and illegal, but it is also harmful to the overall reputation of your cycling community. There are people in every community working hard to advocate for improved cycling infrastructure and you don’t want your behavior to make their efforts more difficult.

The best group rides are safe, fun, challenging, and supportive. They are essential for developing the lifelong friendships and the skills for riding and racing in a pack. Whether you are new to the group ride scene or you have been a fixture at the group ride for decades, you have a role to play in creating and maintaining a welcoming environment at your local ride.