If you want cycling to be more social, joining a group ride is a great way to meet like-minded people and get to know the routes in a new place. But how do you know if you’re ready to join a group ride?
In a group ride, cyclists co-operate to ride in formation, much like geese do when flying south for winter, and for the same reason: to conserve energy.
Energy efficiency in cycling as a group relies on “drafting” which is where you tuck into the slipstream of the rider in front. Drafting dramatically reduces wind and air drag by up to 90% at high speeds, conserving as much as 50% of your energy.
There isn’t some specific standard to attain to be ready for group rides. New cyclists especially won’t necessarily know if they’re ready or not. So, if you have a reasonable level of fitness and an interest in cycling, join a group ride as soon as you can. That way, you'll learn a lot about roadcraft (another way of saying road etiquette) and about cycling in general from more experienced riders in the group.
Loosely speaking, you could divide group rides into “drop” and "no-drop” rides. With no-drop rides, the group waits for anyone who needs to stop or is slower. In drop rides, stragglers and anyone who stops gets left behind which can be an unpleasant experience, especially if you weren't expecting it.
As you can imagine, this difference goes a long way to defining the character of a ride. Make sure you know whether they stop for coffee and if there is a guide as that will help you gauge the type of ride.
No-drop rides tend to be more social and less serious, although this doesn’t mean anyone is less serious about road etiquette. A more serious group ride will probably have an informal leader and regular rotations.
A chain gang – two parallel lines of riders, rotating to the front, in tight formation, behind the leader – is a high level, very technical type of no-drop group ride, often used in training for triathlons and not something to try early on.
If you’re in the UK, join a club and it probably has group rides you can go along on and they will be used to helping new riders learn the ropes. For riders from the USA, cycling in Europe can be a culture shock. In the States, every bike cafe has a public ride that anyone can join whereas in Europe you have to be invited as group rides tend to be among friends.
Girona, where Pro Cycling Outlet is based, has grown hugely since 2012 so there are now more public rides and they’re listed in local Facebook cycling groups and there are organised rides at local cafes. But, generally, in any new place, the local bike shop will be happy to tell you of any rides you can join.
In many ways, what you need for a group ride is the same as riding alone. But the reason for being prepared is so as not to hold the group up or be that person always asking for things. So, make sure you’ve got the right bike for the conditions (gravel, road etc), basic kit to repair a puncture, snacks appropriate to the length of ride, and water.
Not everyone enjoys group-riding so if you try it and it’s not for you, that’s perfectly fine. They might not suit you if you prefer to set your own pace and stop whenever you like, as frequently or as infrequently as that might be.
One definite disadvantage of group rides is that everyone's safety depends on the skill and care of other riders. Cyclists who don’t know what they’re doing cause accidents. Someone at the front who doesn’t use hand signals properly or who makes a sudden turn can cause a dangerous pile up, while a half-wheeler will probably cause annoyance. Read our post about road etiquette to make sure that person isn’t you!
But don’t let inexperience put you off. If you’re new to group riding, stay at the back most of the time. Watch and learn the skills from more experienced riders and build up to taking turns at the front.