I’ve been asked to go on group rides with others and have never gone on one before. What should I know before I join them?
Riding with a group can be a lot of fun, but it also has its challenges. Clarifying expectations, understanding the protocols a particular group may follow, and having an escape plan if things go wrong can help prevent many problems from arising. Each group has its own personality, set of rules, and style of riding. Understanding what you want from a group ride can help you make an informed decision as to which folks to join and which ones you may want to avoid.
Look at your own style of riding. Do you prefer going fast on straightaways and slow on curves or vice versa, stopping frequently to smell the flowers or pushing through to get to a destination, single track tackling roots, streams and epic crashes or mellow Forest Service roads with an occasional rut? Does it stress you to have to constantly be adjusting to another rider’s quirks or is it relaxing to have someone else doing the navigating while you simply follow their lead?
Once you find a group that has potential, evaluate their style. Does it fit with what you want, and do they at least say they ride in a manner that feels safe to you? Most good group leaders will go over protocols and rules before heading out, including what to do if separated, how to signal each other, making sure everyone knows the route, and how to handle situations like passing each other or needing to make an unplanned stop. Typically, larger groups will break into smaller sections to make it easier to keep tabs on everyone, with a leader and ‘sweep,’ a person who rides in the back to make sure no one gets lost.
Even with the best-laid plans, things can go wrong. A leader may describe herself as sticking to reasonable speeds, only to get out on the road and push the group to the limits on what feels safe. Or it turns out their definition of stopping is every fifty miles for a smoke break while you simply want to keep moving. Knowing where you are, having a GPS to re-route you home, and a tactful excuse in your back pocket can help you politely, but firmly, leave the group to their fun while you get back to enjoying your ride, solo.