Group rides can be a source of both great fun and also frustration. Rides that flow well depend on many factors, but people know when it is working well and when it is not intuitively. Great group rides leave you feeling energized and excited to come again, bad rides leave you never wanting to come back. Group rides can be one of the funniest ways to enjoy cycling. Everything from the social connection you get from riding together and hanging out to the motivation of people around you to keep pushing when you might otherwise slow down makes it so appealing. From here on out we will be talking about what you can do as the ride leader to create a great experience for as many as possible.
As a ride leader what you want to achieve are rides that flow well and are safe for everyone. If you have read past the opening few sentences than you might be thinking about how you could improve your own group rides. But first you should know one thing-as the leader of the ride you will have a new dynamic to contend with-instead of passively enjoying the ride you will now be actively engaging in have the ride go well. This will mean you will now be dealing with all of the complaints about how the ride went/is going etc instead of being one of the many people who do the complaining. You will need thick skin and the attitude that the people are trying to “help”. You need to acknowledge these complaints, determine if they have a basis and then take action when needed. Sorry no time to feel hurt!
Factors to look at when you want to improve the ride
1) Rider current abilities both physical and skill. With a wider range of abilities the ride will have more trouble staying together when the intensity of the ride changes. Riders with less skill will work harder in a pace line or when there are corners. Weaker riders will have more trouble when it is hilly or the speed is high. Riders who are of lower skill level need to be made aware of what skills they need to have prior to the ride. Weaker riders need to be encouraged to show up and improve. Tip-no ride will be perfect for every rider. Establish as ride pattern and skill level and encourage everyone to get to the same point.
2) Number of riders likely to show up. Larger groups tend to become disorganized and cause trouble with other road users. Consider breaking up into smaller groups. Split groups based on skill, physical ability teams etc. Tip-smaller rides of 2-6 riders are easily managed, break up a large group and have a key person in each group who knows the route and the overall plan.
3) Terrain, route selection and road conditions. The more corners and hills the harder it will be to keep the ride organized. Bigger groups need roads that are less traveled or have wider shoulders. Poor road conditions cause riders to move erratically as they maneuver around road hazards inviting crashes. Fewer turns allow the group to flow more naturally. Tip-state roads work better for larger groups and allow for easy route following, caution they can be “boring”.
4) Short and long term goals for the ride. Having a clear objective for the ride and expectations on what will happen turns the ride from a disorganized event to a structured one. Think spin class, who wants to show up and just pedal around when that may mean something different to each rider. Tip-establish a “language” to communicate intensity of the ride and any other relevant information to the group. Average speed if basically useless if someone hasn’t ridden with the group.
5) Social aspects of the ride. One core concept to understand is the sense of community that comes from group rides. Make sure to spend time communicating before, during, and after the ride. Having a clear expectation from a social standpoint is key to people making a habit out of showing up. Tip-post ride have a place where you can group together for a few minutes or more to recount the ride in a good way. Save the how to fix the ride for later.
6) Time available. Respect others time. Having laid out the ride plan, including start time, ride length in hours and what people have available to them. Make it so people can participate in what fits in their schedule. Offer options to get back for their own schedule. Showing up late can be disrespectful of others time, many people have limited time available to them. Tip-people who are chronically late or ill prepared can ruin a ride, feel free to leave without them.
7) Have a plan for dealing with common problems encountered on group rides. Such as
- Mechanical problems such as flats. Will the whole group wait, will the rider be left on their own, will the main group continue on and then turn back, will one rider stop to help while the rest of the group continues on to a specific location such as the next turn? Make certain riders have what it takes for tools to fix a flat and that the bike is in good working order before the ride starts. Tip-large groups of riders milling around on the side of the road waiting for one person to fix a flat is dangerous, have two riders get the flat fixed and the rest of the group should ride ahead and loop back in 5 to 10 minutes to pick them up.
- Crashes. Two main factors in crashes are skill and communication. Little or no warning when road hazards come up, these can be turns, potholes, sand etc. Skills, overlapping wheels, choosing to high a speed to take a turn etc. Set out expectations on how to ride safely before the ride. The ride should stop for a down rider to help. Tip-crashes are a rare occurance but can happen, be firm in letting people know what they are doing could cause a crash.
- People who fall rapidly behind due to tiredness. The ride is clearly beyond this person’s ability. Will someone lead this person home, will someone give them directions back and they will ride on their own or will they be left to fend for themselves? Tip-when a rider’s fitness is not up to what the ride is doing need to be directed back to the start point and encouraged to improve fitness and keep showing up.
- People not following the plan. This can be caused by people not knowing the plan or they simply want to ignore the plan. If they don’t know then communication is what needs attention. If they ignore the plan and cause the ride to break down ask them to either fall in line or not show up. Tip-want my best advice? These people are like a cancer for the ride they can kill a ride in just a few weeks with their actions whether they are on purpose or not, get rid of them.
- Lost riders. Will the whole group turn back or will just a few look for the person? Can they be called? Do they have GPS? Did they turn off and let someone or no one know? If a rider cuts off they should let someone know so the others do not have to look for them unnecessarily. Tip-as the leader you may feel more responsible in this situation due to your role. Establish that people need to be self sufficient prior to the ride start, including getting back on their own.
- Wrong turns. Here again look at communication and clear direction from someone who knows the loop. Tip-either be able to ride at or near the front or have multiple people who can lead the group on the route.
Now go out and lead a better ride!