Group Training Rides

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One of the most unique aspects of the sport of cycling is that athletes of different abilities, like way different abilities, can train together.  Wind resistance and drafting make this possible.  I love it.

As long as there aren’t any huge climbs then the group can stay together and everyone can get a good workout.  And by that, I mean that the strong guys can be at the front, doing most of the work, while less strong riders enjoy the ride.

There is no place on group rides for individuals doing intervals, even though I’ve been on some group rides recently where pretty good riders, pros or Cat 1’s, do just that.  Maybe it’s an old school deal, but if you need to do intervals, then go do them on your on and skip the group ride.  Group rides are for a group of riders, not a bunch of individuals doing intervals.

I guess that last sentence should be the definition of a group ride.  Plus, the group, as a whole, needs to look out for the interests of the whole group.  This only works for a manageable sized group, probably under 15 riders.  Once it gets over 20 for sure, then it can really turn into a free-for-all, and that doesn’t do anyone any good.

My whole intention on an organized group ride is to try to get everyone to the end of the ride together, with everyone on the ride thinking they got the best workout from the ride. This is possible, once again, through drafting.

Our group rides, here in Topeka, have turned into a little of a free-for-all recently.  Not always, but maybe once every two weeks.  I’ve participated in one of those, which, after the fact, I regretted, but usually, I’m intent on restoring order to the ride.

I think a good evening ride needs a least one guy there, each day, that is responsible for sort of containing the personalities of the group.  Trying to keep everyone in check until it is near enough the end where there are no-holds-barred.

Our rides, here in Topeka, are usually pretty controlled.  They are not no drop rides, they are just look out for other rider rides.  We usually just ride two abreast most of the ride until we’re somewhere around 10 miles from the “finish”.  Nearly every way we come back into town, there is a “sprint”.  There aren’t really city limit signs around Topeka, so it’s a BP station, or a mailbox,  stop ahead sign, or something that everyone has historically agreed upon.

We someone gets antsy and takes off before what seems normal, then it throws a wrench into things.  Normally, we don’t start going hard before all the hills are done.  Hills kill weak rider’s chances of getting to the end of the ride.  So, “breaking away” for the group before what is the imaginary start line, is kind of a no-no.  But, it happens.

At this point, it’s up to the remaining guys to not get out of sorts and just keep the tempo high. High enough to not let the lone guy/or guys, to too far ahead, but slow enough to keep everyone together.  It’s a fine line.

Anyway, I used to only do group rides.  I’d probably ride maybe only a couple times a month on my own.  Now, after getting hurt the past couple years, I’ve been riding more on my own.  It is sort of surprising.  For years only riding with groups and realizing I actually just like riding my bike alone.  It is nice.

That being said, I think riding in a group is super important if you want to succeed at the sport. Group rides are where you get the necessary skills to be able to race bicycles.  There is too much emphasis on power training now and not enough emphasis on the skill aspect of the sport.

The skill aspect is very, very important too.   And you get those skills from organized group rides.

This is a ride I did out in North County, California, with Joseph Schmalz, Robin Carpenter and Adam Mills, plus a few others.  A nice organized group, no one trying to show off, just getting in the miles.

This is a ride I did out in North County, California, with Joseph Schmalz, Robin Carpenter and Adam Mills, plus a few others. A nice organized group, no one trying to show off, just getting in the miles.




21 thoughts on “Group Training Rides

  1. Bolas Azules

    Tilly – on group rides I was wondering what your opinion is on the new dynamic of rides where everyone flails their arms pointing out every turn in the road, pointing out every 1/2 inch crack in the road surface, this dangling of the arm to show the group is slowing,”car up / car back” when it is beyond obvious to the point where lesser riders are having a hard time controlling their bikes in-order to keep active with the hand signals and screaming.

    When did this happen? We never had a problem with this years ago. In fact one of the fun things to do on a hot summer day was to take the paceline right up to a steaming log of seasoned ‘road kill’ and swerve around it at the last second so the whole group, one at a time would run over the dead animal. With everyone shouting, flailing and scanning the horizon its too hard of a trick to pull off.

    Has it changed or as I got older am I now in the wanker / beginners group?

  2. Carlos F

    If no one is getting dropped then it’s not a ride. What’s the point otherwise?

  3. Clifford Allen

    Thanks, Steve. I owe you, Kris, Gilbert, Catherine and Keith a ton for getting me into the sport and helping me to have a lot of fun on those group rides back in the day when I was a squirrelly 19-year-old. I miss those days.

  4. Larry T.

    Glad to hear your rides are still group rides rather than half-assed races. I was lucky enough to learn all that stuff with the South Bay Wheelmen in SoCal back-in-the-day. Sadly I spoke to one of the old timers there recently who told me he’s no longer involved with those rides – too many “instant experts” show up who refuse to follow the rules and turn the rides into races for those without the cojones to pin on numbers and really RACE.

  5. Calvin Jones

    Successful group riding, I feel, usually requires a boss. You, sir, are a “boss”, in the vernacular of today’s teens. Herding a rotating group of lycra’d ego’s is no easy task and to oft goes unappreciated.

  6. Pepsi Frank

    The weak must be destroyed and spit out the back. That’s the only way they will improve.

  7. gary

    Great post!

    The biggest change I’ve noticed in my 20+ years of doing my local group rides (in 4 different cities around the US), is how new riders act when they join the group. ‘Back in the day’, beginners sheepishly joined the ride, hung towards the back until they understood how it all worked, and maybe (gasp) even asked a more senior rider for advice. Now, it seems new riders come in very confident and strong, and don’t hesitate to go right to the front despite how little they know about pacelines or group etiquette. And ask a more experienced rider for advice? Please, no way! They seem to think that if they’re as strong or stronger than the more experienced rider, there’s nothing to be learned from that more experienced rider.

    Not sure what caused this change. Maybe it’s the wide availability of incredible bikes? Folks don’t hesitate to start riding with purchasing a $3000+ high-end bike. Maybe it’s the fact that people are more fit from other hobbies, other sports, before they start riding?

    Or, maybe I’m just getting older, slower and grumpier. Regardless, I still hit my local group rides weekly.

  8. Eric

    This post hit home for me. I learned group ride dynamics/etiquette when I was 19 riding with some very strong, seasoned masters racers. They were super friendly and willing to teach, but quick to discipline if you disrupted the ride. They weren’t being assholes per se, and you quickly realize that half of what you are learning is for safety’s sake as well. These guys “taught” me how to ride.

    You can’t do that anymore, people already “know” everything and don’t want to hear how they are half-wheeling the shit out of you or pulling through too hard, etc. etc. Unfortunately, I feel like the “race” group ride is becoming the new normal and honestly it kinda sucks. More and more of my rides are solo or with one or two others who are on the same page.

  9. Punky Brewster

    backintheday: new people sat in, listened and learned how to ride as part of a group. Needed 4 years to develop power. If guys went hard they ramped it up so everyone could grab a wheel. You rode on… get this… “training” wheels. Dudes actually went to races. The patron of the group was the wisest dude with most experience.

    Nowadays: Old guys come into sport with 4th year power. Power is the answer to everything. Don’t listen. POWWWWWWER! Ride every training ride like it’s a race, three times a week,want to school the group. show up on 12 pound bike with deep dish wheels and aero helmet…There’s a new team in town. It’s called “guys that get faster after 50″… The new patron of the group is the highest power dumbass with no experience.

    I would love to check medicine cabinets,

  10. Chris

    On our “group ride” this past weekend we had the ride fall apart, same reasons.
    I sometimes wonder why people come to group ride to NOT ride with the group they started with.
    I think they may be under the impression that they won’t get a hard enough ride if they don’t hammer the whole way.
    My experience is that is far from the truth.

  11. Larry T.

    Someone I spoke with on this subject blamed it on the electronic generation – pick up the gizmo, it does all the “thinking” and you’re an instant expert. No learning curve. Instant gratification. A modern bike is like this, whip out your credit card, it’s all assembled, tuned and ready, even with electronic, push-button shifting! The guy selling it is so afraid you’ll walk out of his store and into a competitor’s he acts like you’re the expert rather than him – YOU are the customer after all. By the time you roll out of the place you think Alberto Contador should be ringing you up any minute to help him at LeTour! You ride around some, imagining glory and then decide to show up at the local group ride to “show ’em how it’s done” only to run into some guy who actually IS an expert and has been riding since you played with your BigWheel in the driveway…but you can’t waste time listening to him..what does he know? He has no idea of how awesome YOU are! Neither does anyone else but soon enough you’ve found like-minded know-it-alls and are out “racing” the group ride, showing ’em all how it’s (not) done. Pretty soon those are the only bozos who will ride with you and you have your own cozy world where YOU are the expert and you get to prove it every day. You’d never risk buying a racing license and pinning on a number because your fantasy would be destroyed…instantly. Sound familiar?

  12. Bil Danielson

    Nice post Steve, lots of good points. I suspect you’d agree that the most important issue is knowing the nature and dynamic of the ride?

    One thing you didn’t touch on that I think is cause for some group ride mayhem (although I use Strava daily and really like it) is / are Strava segments. This is a relatively new dynamic and riders know fully well where the segments are, and are often going for a best time or KOM. This gets silently added into the group ride equation. I’d be curious on your opinion about how Strava can be a good and bad influence on the group ride dynamic. IMHO, I think it’s really just knowing ahead of time what to expect. And if the understood expectation is for a no-drop ride, then there’s really no room for “chest pounding.”

    I’ll be racing the Epic up in Cable, you heading up?

  13. jpete

    I remember a time when even the fast group rides had a nice, structured element to them. The “vomit comet” in Lawrence ( I am sure there are lots of rides with the same name) was one of my favorites. Rolling out in a two by two paceline heading south most weeks towards Baldwin (About 15 miles). All Hell broke loose on the climb and race into Baldwin, then, it would regroup and ride moderate until it headed back towards Lawrence. All bets were off after that. I think it gave new guys a chance to warm up, sit in, learn some etiquette, and then test themselves in race conditions. Would roll slow again after the city limits sign sprint. I wonder if it still works this way. I always felt there was a “Mountain Dew mentality” starting to creep in where everything was “extreme”. Seemed to lose a lot of what makes the sport beautiful, turned it all into power and aggression.

  14. Nathan Guerra

    I totally agree that blowing up group rides which have the expectation of no drop is lame, although fun for some at the time…but I have an axe to grind on this sentiment that is becoming a silent standard, because I gained so much early on from full on drop rides.

    This “old school” “back when things were different” seems like the same thing as parents BSing their kids. Before power was big and I was just getting in to the sport, plenty of friends much older than I who took interest in my cycling taught the opposite of this post in specific rides. I would have been so unprepared for racing had it not been for these mentors who were totally willing to drop me with no reprieve. When I started group riding where it was known to be a fast ride on purpose, I would get shelled and loved it and came back for more because I like that kind of ride. It is an attitude that desired to be pushed and not catered too. I kept showing up and in part owe my Pro career to the guys who showed up and kicked my ass. That was my expectation. That is the real issue here, the expectation, and NOT some way it OUGHT to be, as it is what we agree upon in the group. I guess that is what bugs me the most about this rah rah rah around this sentiment, it is acted like this is the ultimate standard more and more now. Maybe it is the other wayt around about the latest generations influence. Cycling is growing and has a lot of newcomers. I would perhaps say it is the new generation attitude seeping in the opposite way, where everyone is a winner and can “hang” even on the “race ride”. If the ride setup was expected to be no drop then fine, let the guy go and who cares…BUT THERE IS NOTHING WRONG with a full on drop ride because people like full on drop rides. We call them fashion shows and gun shows around here.

  15. DBG

    You’re a wanker. Just a great way to cause someone to go down midpack and bring down a few others.
    But hey, if that’s how you get your kick, I’ll just make sure I’m not anywhere behind you…

  16. Wayne

    The author clearly doesn’t realize that there needs to be different group rides for different people. The idea that all group rides should be the same is idiotic. People who want a no drop casual group ride should go on such a ride, and not bother showing up at the rides the racers do. There are plenty of casual no drop rides around. I went to a lot of trouble to find the rides that the racers come out to for their training rides, and they are drop rides. I often get dropped, and I feel that has helped me get faster more then anything else I have tried. Also, I have noticed how the group dynamics are much different in a group of racers then they are in a group of non racers. It is important for new racers to learn those dynamics if they want to do well at racing, and learning those dynamics will make the races safer as well.
    I for one am a big fan of the racer-interval-drop training rides and I will continue to do them because that is what I know will make me a stronger rider and a better racer. I’m not going around telling everyone they have to race or do drop rides, it isn’t for everyone. So why do you think you can tell people that they should only be doing your type of rides?
    You do the kind of rides that you want to do, and let me do the kinds of rides that I want to do. Live and let live I always say!

  17. DBG

    Another wanker who will never get the idea of GROUP RIDE. There is a major difference between a Group Ride vs. Fake Race. You totally miss the point that the author was making.

  18. Nathan Guerra

    Under the guise of a definition is an “ought” of what your preffered group ride should be, as well as psychic powers to Steve’s intentions. Although you may have some, as I do sense an ought in Steve’s post too, which only exists in the agreed upon expectation.


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