Club Rides

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The topic is club rides.  I think that most of us learned many of the skills we have on club rides. That is the majority of the time we initially spent on our bikes, pedalling in circles and, hopefully, absorbing all the information around us so we could be better cyclists.

I didn’t really have a club ride when I started.  Well, maybe that isn’t true.  There were 3 or 4 of us that would meet after 5pm and ride until dark.  I don’t even remember if we rode 2 x 2, the roads were so barren back then that we never had issues with automobiles.

But, we did mimic races.  Sometimes we’d go to the VA hospital and ride criterium laps.  But that isn’t where I got good cornering.  I “practiced” cornering at Washburn University, on the sidewalks, at night.  We had about a quarter of a mile loop that had about 6 corners.  We’d time each other lap after lap on the sidewalk loop.  I went over there all the time on my own and rode hot laps.  Thinking back upon it now, it seems silly, but honestly, that is where I learned to lean my bicycle over.  I never fell on the sidewalk ride.  My brother, Kris did once. But he didn’t get hurt and it didn’t slow us down at all.

Anyway, back to club rides.  I think good club rides are hard to find.  They aren’t like the club rides of old.  Modern club rides tend to get out of control pretty quickly.  A good club ride is one that is good for all levels of the sport.  And by all levels, the bottom level starts with someone that has ridden a bike enough to understand the basics of drafting and riding in a group.

A good club ride is organized.  There needs to be someone, an enforcer you might say, that keeps everyone in line.  Usually, this is the best rider, a pro or ex-pro, or good Cat 1 that can control the craziness that tends to occur, which makes the ride unravel quickly if it isn’t taken control of quickly.

A good club ride isn’t huge.  When you start approaching over, say, 20 riders, then that is about the max.  There are exceptions to this, but in general, the guy watching out for all the riders, can’t keep track of more than about 20.  There are good rides with lots of more riders, but those rides tend to be more free-for-alls.

Our rides in Topeka have always been pretty good.  We tend to watch out for each other.  They aren’t no drop rides, they are – Let’s do our best to get everyone to the finish together, with everyone still getting a really good workout.  Riders of lots of different abilities can train together effectively.   That is one of the coolest things about the sport, that I can be sitting on the front, riding into a 20 mph headwind at 20mph, and a much weaker rider, a new guy, can still be riding with me by drafting correctly.

We normally try to ram it up towards the end of the ride.  Usually the last 5 miles, maybe further out sometimes, it just depends.  Our evening rides used to be 35-40 miles.  Now they are tending to be closer to 45-50.  We seem to be riding a little faster now.

It is sort of funny, but we used to sprint all stop ahead and city limit signs.  We tend not to do that anymore.  I’m not sure why that is.  Maybe it is because of the diversity of the group and that the regrouping would take up too much time?   “In the olden days”, stop ahead sprints were full-on race sprints.  I could for sure use some more sprint practice.

The first thing I tell a new guy that asks me about how to improve riding is to find a good group to ride with.  It is so important.  It is what lays the foundation for a successful, safe, cycling lifestyle.


Tucker has lost most of his baby teeth, so he doesn't rip me up so much playing.  He did chew the steering wheel of the van yesterday, though.

Tucker has lost most of his baby teeth, so he doesn’t rip me up so much playing. He did chew the steering wheel of the van yesterday, though.

30 thoughts on “Club Rides

  1. Mike

    Good read this morning ….I thought this article on CYCLINGTIPS hit the nail on the head:
    And my personal favorite “First, everyone is an expert these days. The internet and a power meter do not replace 50,000 miles of experience, but try telling that to a fit forty year-old, new to cycling, on a $5000 bike. Or, god forbid, a triathlete. No one wants to be told what to do”

    1. Larry T.

      Sadly, you’re spot on. As a friend used to say, these folks “are swimming in the sea of knowledge, but refuse to get wet” I was fortunate the South Bay Wheelmen let me join and ride with them back-in-the-day. I asked one old sage who taught me a lot if he still ran those rides, “Not any more!” he said and went on describe the same “everyone is an expert” situation you described. People don’t want to learn ANYTHING these days it seems – they’re all instant experts on pretty much everything.

    2. chiefhiawatha

      I don’t see this attitude at all Mike. Everyone I know, especially new guys, seems eager to learn.

  2. jinglenuts

    I started my riding in a group mtbing… then branched off because I really liked long 150km rides. Hard to find people who want to do 150km mtb rides. I spent years like that then started racing. Got into group rides and learnt a lot about drafting and getting the mechanics down and etiquette of group riding. Especially while racing road races. I wasn’t a big fan of crits nor time trials, but really enjoyed road rides. We have endless miles of country roads here and parkways that traverse the hills for many miles. So, there are group rides that go on pretty much every night of the week if yah want them. But, races, not so much… there is so much bureaucracy around liability and road closure etc… that not many races take place here. Sure, we have our tuesday night road races in the park (45km loop) and crits and time trials. But, we are really lacking good home grown races (80k, 100k or 100 milers).
    And, the cycling groups get clicky as well… mostly because its a political town though.

    1. barb

      What city/town/area is that where you have “endless miles of country roads here and parkways that traverse the hills for many miles” ? I’m heading out on a 4 month road trip hitting many states from Colorado west this summer to find a new place to live. Been living in SoCal for years, and there is just too much (crazy) traffic here, people get hit all the time as previously mentioned, it is VERY clique-y here, not to mention if I’m off on some deserted road, riding by myself (which I have to do a lot during the week especially), I feel vulnerable to psychos. Not that they aren’t everywhere, but (it seems like) a less populated area wouldn’t have as many.

  3. barb

    The basic, underlying characteristic of human nature is competition, not collaboration. That’s why everyone is an expert, why there are wars, why people race. Why people do almost everything. That expert thing–“I know more than you about whatever it is” just gets so old. I try not to be rude, but sometimes I just feel like telling them “if I want your advice, I’ll ask for it.” The reaction then is I’m the bad guy. It’s all so silly.

  4. tippycup

    Just don’t ever..and I mean EVER..get a flat and drop out of a club ride!! The wordsmith with amazing wit will tear ya to pieces! AND….make sure you wear every piece of glow in the dark cycling specific clothing you own.

    1. sillypuddy

      Just don’t ever, and I mean EVER drop in unexpected. Tinckle Cup might be wearing his glow in the dark cycling thong. (Ggregs favorite!)

  5. Dog

    I think aerobars was the beginning of the end. We used to get 50 or so people out for the weekend rides and a dozen on the am or pm weekday rides. Everyone pretty much had the same bike. There was always a bit of chatting then the hammer seemed to come down and two or three groups would form. There was always understood Wednesday Worlds sprints on all the courses. The rides seemed to have their own set of rules and didn’t change much year in year out. Then with triathlon starting, the tri folks had their main bike with aerobars. Groups became 2s and 3s or if there were a bunch of triathletes all spaced apart.
    I never minded riding alone or with 1 or 2 buddies, but I do miss the big old social rides of old where everyone rode on the tops and world politics, economics, and the latest bike stuff/problems were solved. I think that ride is extinct. I also miss the Code of the Spoke where everyone waved, said good morning, and damn sure asked any rider down if they needed help. Now people don’t seem to wave as much, yell ON YOUR LEFT when they pass, and just roll on by bikers down. That isn’t such a good thing IMHO.

  6. James

    The Strava segment is a huge problem in getting a steady hard pace on what should be a steady hard ride. Nobody will pull through for fear of the impending segment. Freaking joke!

    $5000 bike? How quaint. Let’s try $10k & up.

    I’m afraid the rotating paceline with a flick of the elbow is on the endangered species list…

    Try staying on the gas for 3 hrs newbs, but instead get home a stroke each other over your .32 second kom :-)))

  7. barb

    When I saw it all changing was during the Lance era. His TDF reign as an all-American hero inspired tens of thousands of people of all ages and genders to take up cycling. Correspondingly, the “cycling industry” recognized the profit potential and corporatized everything, also driving prices up to ridiculous heights and developing one new standard after another, forcing people to continually buy new products since none of the newer standards are backwards compatible. The recession of 2009 and on, saw an “adjustment” of corporate marketing directed no longer to the cash cow of the middle class, but to the luxury market segment. Which is what we still have now, but which seems to be adjusting back down, since companies like Shimano recently dropped pricing on component groups. After the fall of Lance, and for some years after, large numbers of the trend followers started falling off, leaving a “new generation” of “core” cyclists with a lot of discretionary income but who’ve been riding seriously maybe ten years or less. I predict more cyclists will quit the sport too in the next 5 years, as they get bored and tired of making the effort to stay committed, which is ok by me.

    1. channel_zero

      His TDF reign as an all-American hero inspired tens of thousands of people of all ages and genders to take up cycling.

      This is one of the more often told falsehoods.

      What was happening at the time? Bike brands were finally selling flat bar bikes that were pretty light, good brakes, enough gears, and easy to ride. Triathlon was growing steadily.

      The industry had been pushing hard for National funding for improved access. (bike paths, sharrows, etc.) and that was finally getting down to the local level.

      People were aging and maybe a little less time constrained or changing from golf to cycling.

      Nothing to do with Lance.

      1. barb

        Well I guess you shut me down. Except I’ve been riding road since the early 80s, and mountain bike for the past 15 years. After Lance’s first couple TDF wins, I noticed a significant increase in the number of new riders on the road, so my “opinion” is based on my own observation, as well as talking to “newbies”, not on telling unsupported “falsehoods.” So we’re back to that annoying issue of everyone being an expert. I stated my opinion based on my own personal experience, sorry if you (think you) know more, and disagree.

      2. barb

        By the way, most people who are aging transition from more demanding sports (like cycling or surfing) into Golf. Not the other way around.

      3. Larry T.

        Gotta side with Barb on this one. We saw plenty of clients who had discovered cycling via BigTex, but not all of ’em were a-holes with that “kick their ass, eat their cheese” mentality. I hope those clowns are cursing on the golf course these days.

  8. channel_zero

    Teaching members best practices for club rides would be a good use of USAC resources.

    If only USA Cycling had some interest in growing participation.

  9. Nathaniel Ward

    Thanks for this, Steve. So many people coming into the sport solo now, triathlon and Zwift and whatever else. Strong athletes, but a lot of poor cyclists. The rides in my area are mostly populated by riders who don’t know any better because they’ve never been taught, and some of the strongest riders are the worst on etiquette, and not receptive to guidance. Some of us are trying to change the culture, but it’s slow going. Thanks for putting this out there for folks to learn from.

    -Nathaniel Ward, Winston-Salem, NC

    1. Dan Lind

      Spot on, Nathaniel. We had a Minneapolis Gran Fondo last Sunday hosted by a local craft brewery. 1,500 people, 103 miles. After the neutral roll out, there were about 60 of us in the front group. Mostly local current or former racers who know each other well, but a few 30+YO guys who were strong on the bike, but with no technical skills and oblivious to group ride etiquette. However, since this event seemed to be their one “race” of the year, they were doing everything they could to stay near the front and keep from getting dropped, to the detriment of the other riders.

      I mentioned to one of my friends as we were riding into a 20mph crosswind and watching these guys violate every rule of effective echeloning that “just because they can be there does not mean they should; just because they think they know what they’re doing does not mean they do.” And of course, any gentle effort to offer the slightest bit of advice was met with an indignant scowl followed by “Yeah, yeah. I’ve got it.”

      In cycling, there’s ALWAYS going to be someone faster, someone stronger, someone smarter. Why people are so resistant to polite suggestions and constructive criticism from others who obviously have more relevant experience and can offer a little help baffles me. There’s nothing wrong with checking your ego at the door and listening once in a while. Who knows, you might actually learn something, right?

    2. Wildcat


      Interesting hearing you views on strong athletes, but poor cyclists.

      The first thought that came to my mind was that I’ve always considered myself a strong cyclist, but poor athlete.

  10. Bernie Flanders

    my observation… There was a lull in the sport late nineties to early 00’s. Then new people coming into the sport had no mentors and “learned” from their fellow “Fred”. The result was no riding or racing skills, no proper group etiquette and no knowledge or respect for traditional ways.
    The club rides I see are about older dudes hopped up on at least testo and cock pills, 10k rigs with deep aero rims and aero helmets, schooling their mates and crushing the newbies.
    It’s a new generation and it will not get better. Sad.

    1. barb

      “a lull…to early 00s” Lance won his first three TDF races from 99′ – 2001 and Trek Madone became THE bike to own during those years. Tell me people didn’t see a huge increase in Trek bikes on the road during Lance’s era? This is another reason my opinion is that his wins inspired thousands to take up cycling. Direct observation, not “unsupported falsehoods.” The guy inspired a LOT of people during those seven wins of the Tour, and it wasn’t just all of the new people coming into the sport.

      1. Fausto

        Agreed. The majority of guys in my club started riding during the LA years, purchased a Litespeed or a Trek of that era. I am the old guy who started in the 70’s as a kid. I was brought up elders who showed us the ropes. Took us to a grass field and overlapped our wheels, flicked our elbows, pushed us until we fell at slow speed to teach us contact. Yelled at us to close the gap. We had all the romantic Euro hand me down knowledge (a lot of it wrong) but we had guidance and structure. Now, no juniors. Too many Masters Cat 4 guys who are pissed that they found the sport at 40 instead of 14 and are trying to make up for it. They will pay $900 to some tool with a bike fit lazer/machine and believe everything he says, but not listed to the guy who has ridden 75k miles in his life who is telling him not to surge. They are worse than the young guns with talent going for Cat 1 points. They are masters of the universe at work, family, etc; not willing to listen to someone who is trying to help them and the ride.

  11. Ti-Raleigh

    LA did bring tremendous attention to the sport. Trek became the bike to own …The Lance years had the TDF on the sports stations on a regular basis.
    I have hung around the sport since 73 and I have never witnessed the enthusiasm everyday people had for cycling. The bike trails helped and the flat bar comfort bike made cycling more appealing for sure .
    We know Lance turned out to be just another fraud that pro cycling promotes , but give him credit for selling a lot of bikes.

  12. Mickey McMook

    Started racing as a 15 year old junior rider and was incredibly fortunate to join a real, old-school cycling club, the Century Road Club of America. Not only did we have club rides, presided over by the likes of
    Dick Swann (, but we had a regular series of club races where we learned the basic skills and lessons of bicycle racing before we raced in “Open” ABL of A races.
    Got yelled at for opening gaps, learnd how to corner and descend and most of all, suffer.

    Those cycling and life lessons I learned from Swann and Fritz Kuhn of the CRC of A have stayed with me for the last 45 years. Today, it seems that most of the old-school cycling clubs in the US have died out and most of the culture revolves around bike shop teams. Glad to read Steve and the others perspective on this.

  13. The Cyclist

    It’s the helmets… and the goddamned helmet police out there. Nothing will ever be the same again.

  14. Jpete

    I grew up in the Lemond era, had great group rides back in the day. Shift started with MTB not because it was inherently bad, but the marketing that went along with it was all extreme this, mountain dew that, it was new. This American marketing style is the era that LA became LA, win at all costs, etc. 40 year old men buying way more bike than they needed, just because it was the lance model. Either they were doomed to fail when they realized that the sport was actually hard, or they had more horse power than learned abilities, and because they were fast, they were immune to coaching.

  15. chiefhiawatha

    This comments section is sad today! I don’t know where you guys are from, but it does not match my experiences at all where I am. If anyone wants a good Chicago group ride with a great culture, hit me up.


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