Rather than mess around with a big, long introduction (as I’m prone to do), I’m just going to get right into this.
A few points to keep in mind: I am not talking about a typical no-drop, 15 mph ride in this post. No-drop recreational rides are subject to different and varying rules, obligations and understandings. I am also not talking about riding with a couple of mates who are going to be willing to help someone out who’s having a rough day. I am talking about expanding one’s horizons to ride with the faster clubs. It’s a lot of work but the most proficient cyclists ride with the faster groups… Even though they’re A LOT faster, it has been my experience that the quality of cyclist makes the riding much more enjoyable. The excessive speed means the group remains pretty exclusive. That isn’t to say you won’t have to pay attention, but you’ll see what I’m talking about… Riding with a group of competent cyclists is something to be enjoyed. There are a few tips that can be helpful to one’s success though. The main point that I find offending people most often is that the advanced club rides do not, in any way, coddle the individual cyclist (at least not in my neck of the woods they don’t). Either you keep up or you do not. That’s a period at the end of the last sentence. If this is not your cup of tea, I recommend you find and stick with a group you’re comfortable with. If, on the other hand, you want to run with the big dogs, these will help:
- Show up early. On time is late. By the time you get your shoes and helmet on, the group will be down the road and unless you are very fast, you won’t catch up. I show up an hour early for ours, along with four or five of my friends, to get a seven mile warm-up in before the ride starts – we have 15 minutes leftover before the main ride starts.
- Try to get a few miles of a warm-up in… Nothing fast, but get your legs spinning before the ride. It’ll help immensely.
- Pay attention to what the group is doing and be ready when everyone leaves. Unlike your typical no-drop ride, the faster groups will expect you to stay with them. If you miss the train, you’ll be riding all the way back on your own. When the train stops (whether to refill the bottles, or to use a restroom) don’t dawdle around – the group won’t be checking around to make sure everyone is accounted for, they’ll just go and if you’re taking your time talking at the water cooler, your ass will be out. Oh, and that will be your fault, not theirs – just to clarify.
- Know who you can trust (and more importantly, who you can’t). Sadly, there are cyclists out there who won’t look out for those behind them. They’ll stick with the group till they’re spent and they’ll unceremoniously drop off the back without warning. If you’re behind one of them and you’re not paying attention you will be dropped too and when you get pissed, the offender look at you like you’re an alien. I know one or two of these myself and I ride in a very good group. Know who’s there for show and who’s wheel you can trust.
- Be prepared for surges at traffic lights/signs and sharp corners. The farther back in the group you are, the harder you will have to be on the gas when you round a corner or have to stop. Be ready for this. Riding at the back, the draft is usually pretty awesome unless it’s considerably windy but the rubber band effect is a price you pay for that draft.
- Know the route. If you make a mistake on any of those first five tips, it helps to know the way home.
- If you mess up number six, don’t be the first to be dropped. It’s simple, really. If you’re the first one off the back, you’ll have to either get lucky by having someone drop shortly after you do or you’ll have to keep in within sight of the main group so you can follow them around the course. You just got dropped so that’s not likely to happen. Within three miles, you won’t see them again till you hit the parking lot. On the other hand, if others drop before you, all you have to do is wait for them
- Leave your ego and your pull-ups in the car. Neither will get you invited back.