Getting dropped on a group ride is one of our biggest fears and can put new riders off joining a club. The embarrassment of getting left behind can be paralysing and prevent the majority of people from signing up in the first place.
As with most fears they can quite easily be overcome both in your mind and on the road.
Here are 12 tips to help get you through.
1. Pick The Right Group
Going out with the right people is the easiest way to not get dropped on a group ride. Most clubs will have a mix of speed groups going out on weekend days. Pick the group most suited to your pace and get used to group riding. You can easily step up to a different group as soon as you’re ready.
Have a look on your club’s website or send them a message through their Facebook group to find out timings and expected speeds.
2. You Can Do A Lot More Than You Realise
If you’ve never been riding with a group before you will be amazed at how much quicker and easier it is compared to riding solo. Drafting behind other riders can save anywhere between 20% and 40% of your energy (have a read of this to check out some more detail).
So when you have a look at the average speed of group rides, don’t worry if they are a bit quicker than you. You should hopefully hold onto more of your energy with the drafting benefit of group riding and therefore keep up the pace.
3. Cyclists Are A Reasonable Bunch
It is generally accepted cycling etiquette that groups ride to the slowest rider. I can’t vouch for every club ride but most will look after their own and not leave one person behind. That’s not to say you’re not going to be put through your paces but if they notice you starting to flag, you will find that most groups will ease off a bit to let you recover.
Make sure you pick your group right as as you don’t want to take any liberties by slowing down an intended fast ride but outside of that you should find cyclists to be a pretty reasonable bunch!
4. Keep Fuelled
One of the biggest reasons cyclists get dropped on longer rides is the dreaded bonk. This is when your body runs out of energy to fuel itself and gives up completely. Get used to eating on a ride, especially if your group don’t have a leisurely cafe stop half way through! Have a look at some of my top fuelling strategies.
5. Train For The Pace Changes
One of the biggest adjustments you have to make when riding with a group is learning to cycle at other people’s pace. The speed of a ride can fluctuate massively depending on how others are feeling. Cyclists look after their own, but that doesn’t mean they don’t test each other when they’re out on the road. Others can get an added burst of energy when you are at your most vulnerable making holding onto that wheel in front a real challenge.
You can train yourself to get used to this when riding solo by adding some intervals to your sessions. I have some examples of interval training here and would suggest the threshold session to get your body used to holding a decent pace for extended periods of time.
You can also add a random element to your solo training intervals to help you prepare for the pressures of other people’s pace. How about doing a 5 minute burst every time you see a yellow car? Or use the compass on your Garmin and ride at 85% effort every time it displays a certain direction? Maybe try to push on and overtake every cyclist you see in the distance on a ride? There are lots of things you can do to mix your training up when cycling solo that will really help you hold your own in the rise and fall of a group environment.
6. Don’t Give Up
You are capable of more than you think. Your mind will always be more powerful than your body and it controls what you can do.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to dig in on a ride and cling on to a rider who I know is stronger than I am. I don’t always make it, I’ve lost more wheels than I’d care to admit. But I never give up. If I slow down, it’s my legs and not my mind that hold me back.
Try distracting yourself. Count the pedals stroke, focus on your breathing, think your way through every scene of your favourite movie – anything to stop thinking about the pain you’re experiencing! And know that the experience is doing you good. For every extra minute you hang on, your body is getting stronger for the long term.
7. Give Up
Sometimes enough’s enough. We’ve all had really bad days; two bottles of red the night before, a heavy cold, a bad night’s sleep. It’s amazing what can knock you off your game.
If you don’t have it in you and you know it’s not going to change, don’t be afraid to admit defeat. There is no shame in telling the guys to go on without you and find your own shorter way home. If they’re a decent group they’ll try and talk you out of it but if you’re seriously dragging back the overall group, they will probably let you go. Don’t feel ashamed, feel confident that you know your body and send them a message when you get home letting them know you’re safe.
Oh and roll out these excuses if you need them!
8. Stop For A Pee!
This is a classic excuse to drag back some energy when the pain has really set in.
Ask the group to pull over so you can answer a call of nature and take your time. Regain a bit of strength, have something to eat and then set off again. It’s amazing how much difference a couple of minutes can make.
9. Know The Route
Try and get an idea of the route in advance. That should then give you an idea how much to leave in the tank.
Know there are some big climbs on the way back? Leave something in your legs to tackle them.
Headwind on the way home? Don’t get over excited on the way out as you’ll need to work together to keep the group going on the way back in.
Equally, if the worst is out of the way early and you are feeling good, it means you can really look forward to the end of the ride and have some fun!
10. Don’t Feel You Have To Chase On The Hills
It is a normal part of group riding that hills are a free for all. The unwritten rule is that everyone goes at their own pace and you meet again at the top.
If you’re not feeling up to it let the big boys play out their fantasy Alpe D’Huez dreams at the front and head up in your own time. Everyone will stop at the top for a quick breather and then you’ll go off again together.
No one will think any worse of you and it will give you more control over your energy levels.
11. Figure Out The Group
There will be a hierarchy in any group ride. There will always be the pacemen, the climbers, the sprinters and everything in between.
Keep an eye out for the different styles of riding and what everyone’s strengths are. Missing a quick guy heading to the front and surging the pace is a surefire way to get spat out of the back and struggle to get back on again.
Equally, there will be others who think they are stronger than they are. Notice how quickly they tail off and don’t be concerned if they overly increase the pace for a minute or two. Hold their wheel or let them go safe in the knowledge they will burn through their reserves soon and you will be back alongside them again.
12. Save Your Energy For When You Need It
Don’t go mad early on. You’re bound to feel fresh in the first hour or so but I have ruined many a Sunday morning by being over zealous in the opening stages of a ride. It’s better to leave some energy in reserve and then have some fun on the way home than it is to flog yourself racing for every 30mph sign to then crash with 30 miles to go.
You have been warned….. !