When I first started riding about 12 years ago I would have loved to read a post that covered – Everything you need to know for your first group ride. There are a lot of ‘unwritten’ and ‘unspoken’ things that I’ve learnt from many years of group riding. I’m sure some of these are Australian specific, but most are fairly universal, so here are a few tips:
Make sure you have had a few rides on your bike and tried out accessories like clip-in shoes. Don’t use a group ride as the first time you ride a road bike. Instead have a few rides alone or with a trusted partner so you feel comfortable on the bike when you rock up to ride with a bunch of strangers.
Check the weather forecast
I’m a little obsessed with the weather forecast and have multiple weather apps on my phone. Most group rides are early in the morning so check the local weather forecast the night before and plan your gear accordingly. There’s nothing that screams newbie rider louder than summer kit in the middle of winter. More importantly, you’ll have an awful ride if you are too hot or cold.
Ask for advice
Don’t be afraid to ask other riders for advice. Women particularly love to help other women, and there’s no such thing as a stupid question. If you don’t ask questions, you may find that other riders provide advice about the basics anyway. I learnt so much from other riders when I joined my cycling club rides in the early days, and much of it was unsolicited, but nonetheless very helpful.
Start at the back
From the back, you’ll be able to observe the group and how they ride together. Sometimes you may feel like you’re attached with a huge rubber band as you concertina your way along the road with the group. Just make sure you don’t get left behind altogether.
Don’t make sudden moves or brake sporadically
The best group riders are those who ride consistently and don’t move left or right, or brake suddenly. There will always be times when you do need to move quickly but this should be accompanied by a call to alert other riders that you need to move. When other riders tell me they like to ride behind me because I ride at a consistent and predictable pace I take it as a great compliment.
Ride with hands on hoods
You’ll find that most people on road bikes in groups will ride with their hands on the hoods (that’s on top of the rubber hoods above your levers). This allows you to see in the near distance but also allows you to access your gears and brakes readily.
It also allows you to look ahead rather than focus entirely on the rear tyre of the rider in front. You should look through that person at hip height so you’re ready if something unexpected happens.
Leave plenty of room
When you first start group riding it’s best to leave plenty of room in front and at the sides. Once you get to know the group you may choose to ride closer but make sure you feel comfortable with the other rides first. I actually pick and choose who I ride closest to within a group. There will always be riders who are more consistent than others.
Call obstacles and other hazards
The riders at the front of the group have the best view of anything oncoming and need to call to other riders to alert them. Depending on the size of the group, that call should be repeated by others further along so that every rider hears it.
Typical calls are ‘pothole’ which could also be accompanied by pointing, ‘car up’, ‘car back’, ‘stick’, ‘stopping’, and more. These will vary from group to group so listen carefully to the calls that are typically made in your group. But don’t call every little twig on the road. Save vocal calls for obstacles that need to be seen or avoided by other riders.
Ask in advance about the pace
Ask the ride organiser prior to the day of the ride if it’s a beginner ride. Look for terms like beginner or no-drop ride in the ride description. They should also be able to suggest a typical average speed for the group which should give you an idea. But remember that you will probably go faster than your solo rides once you join a group because of the drafting effect.
Show up early
If the ride is advertised as a 6 am roll then turn up at 5.50 am particularly if you’ve never been to the location. That way you’ll have time to check that you’re in the right spot and ask any pre-ride questions of the ride leaders before everyone else turns up.
Carry your own spares
You need to be responsible for yourself even if you’re with a group. Make sure you carry a spare tube and the equipment to change a flat tyre on your bike. There’ll be other group members who’ll be happy to help change it but it’s your responsibility to carry the spares. You’ll also find that some group members or even the whole group will wait for you while you fix the problem.