Riding in a Group 101

By Molly Hurford

Now that we’re allowed to ride together again, we wanted to bring newer riders—and riders who’ve previously only ridden solo or ridden indoors—a few tips for how to have fun and stay safe on group rides. A great group ride experience starts well before you leave the house, though: Preparation is everything!

Do a bike check

Before you head out the door (preferably the night before so you have plenty of time to check your bike and make any necessary adjustments), do a quick once-over on your bike. Make sure everything on your bike is working:

  • Tires are pumped up to the right pressure (around 20-27 PSI for mountain biking, 40-60 for gravel and 70-90 for road)
  • Shifting is working (and charged if electronic)
  • Brakes are working and not rubbing
  • Chain in clean and lubed
  • Headset, seatpost and any bags or accessories are all tightened onto bike
  • Wheels are properly attached
  • Cycling computer and bike lights are charged if needed
  • Pick your bike up a few inches and drop it back down so it gently bounces. Did anything jingle, fall off or scrape?

Ride outside solo or with a friend first

If you’re new to riding outside after a lot of time inside on the trainer, a big group ride might not be the best way to start your outdoor cycling career. Ride solo or enlist a friend or two to go for a ride in a park or an empty parking lot where you can practice things like shifting, starting, stopping, grabbing your water bottle and taking a drink, looking over your shoulder, cornering and—if you’re riding with someone—riding comfortably a foot or two behind them, following their wheel.

Start with a beginner-friendly, no-drop ride

Even if you’re a strong rider on your own thanks to a winter on Zwift indoors, you should still opt for the beginner ride for at least one day. You’ll learn the basics of drafting and make sure that you have the hang of it before heading into a faster group. Think of it as a chance to meet people in a non-stressful environment, rather than worrying if you’ll be able to keep up.

Check the ride type

Make sure you’ve read the description of the group ride carefully, so you’re aware of exactly what the time, distance and duration of the ride is going to be. You should also make sure you’re going on the right type of ride for your bike: It would be embarrassing to show up for a mountain bike ride on your road bike! Check club rules as well: For instance, most clubs won’t allow time trial/triathlon bikes on road rides, even though the tires and terrain they’re used on is similar. And if you don’t identify as a woman, please don’t show up on a women-only ride!

Bring the right stuff

Make sure you have your helmet, along with plenty of water and snacks, a multitool, a phone, a spare tube, a patch kit, a minipump and anything else you might need for the ride. You don’t want to be the person who needs to borrow gear on the first ride out. You also should know how to get home on your own. Many rides are “no drop,” meaning they’ll make sure you get back to the start, but it’s always reassuring to know that you could handle yourself if you wanted to drop back early.

Arrive early

Give yourself at least a 15 minute buffer to find parking, unload your bike, put on your bike shoes and your helmet, take a few sips of water, introduce yourself, etcetera. Time flies as you’re trying to get ready to ride, and it’s never fun to be the guy chasing down the group out of the parking lot because you took too long getting your helmet adjusted. And the time before the ride is a great chance to introduce yourself to other riders, voice any concerns, or ask any questions.

Drafting isn’t as scary as it seems

You might be picturing a Tour de France-level peloton of a hundred riders tightly packed together moving down the road as a perfect unit. In reality, beginner-friendly group rides are a lot calmer and a lot less intense. And once you’ve gone a few miles staying closely behind another rider’s wheel, you’ll start to feel more comfortable.

Keep your eyes up

In a group, it’s tempting to keep your head down and your eyes only focused on the wheel directly in front of you, but you also need to be keeping an eye out for things coming up the road. Stop signs, hills, potholes, and turns on the route can take you by surprise if you’re only looking at the small strip of black rubber that’s two feet in front of you. It will take a bit of practice for looking ahead while paying attention to the wheel in front of you to start feeling natural, but you’ll get there!

Announce your intentions

If the people ahead of you are slowing down, you should also be slowing down and yelling “Slowing!” so the person behind you knows what’s happening. Point out potholes and other obstacles on the road. Have a flat? Yell “flat!” and “stopping!” as you safely pull over to the side. If you need to leave the group for any reason, as you get out of the lineup, say that you’re “pulling off.” And don’t disappear from the ride without informing someone: Even if you didn’t sign up or sign in for the ride, it’s good manners to let someone know what you’re up to.

Avoid making sudden movements

In a group, the goal is to avoid making any sudden, jerky movements, because those movements can cause a pileup. You want to brake well in advance of a stop rather than slamming the brakes. Get a flat? Slow down, but pedal to a stop, don’t slam the brakes. Pothole? Gently steer around it rather than sharply pulling to the right into the path of the rider next to you. This might sound intimidating, but don’t worry: You’ll get used to it quickly!

Don’t try to be a breakaway hero

On group rides, especially beginner ones, rarely are people going to be impressed if you attack on a climb or sprint for every sign. In fact, you’re more likely to be invited back if you’re comfortably keeping up with the pack but not pushing the pace on the front. If you’re feeling great on the ride, that could mean you should move up to a more advanced group, but don’t force the beginner group to chase you.

Consider a clinic

If you’re truly new to cycling and feeling nervous, look for clubs in your area that are offering beginner clinics. Some groups have free clinics, others have paid options. It’s worth spending an afternoon or evening at one of these ‘learn to ride’ sessions to get some practice with stopping, starting and shifting.

Questions? Email the club

Most clubs provide an email contact or have a social media page where you can ask a question, so if you’re not sure about something, always feel free to shoot them a message and ask!

Looking to join a club: OCA Club Directory – CLICK HERE

About the writer:

Molly Hurford is a journalist in love with all things cycling, running, nutrition and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside and healthy habits of athletes and interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete podcast and website, and most recently launched the book ‘Becoming A Consummate Athlete.‘ She’s the author of multiple books including the Shred Girls, a young adult fiction series and online community focused on getting girls excited about bikes. Molly is a little obsessed with getting people psyched on adventure and being outside, and she regularly hosts talks and runs clinics for cyclists and teaches yoga online and IRL… And in her spare time, the former Ironman triathlete now spends time tackling long runs and rides on trails or can be found out hiking with her mini-dachshund DW and husband, cycling coach and kinesiologist Peter Glassford.