Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Group Rides – Tips and Tricks, How to guide

This last spring and summer I went on a lot of group rides which were nerve wracking at first but pretty darn fun once I got the hang of them. Group rides have a lot of written and unwritten rules that I mostly learned on the fly while simultaneously trying not to look like a newbie cycling dork. Because I don’t want you to feel like a newbie cycling dork on your next new group ride here is a list of survival tips that you might find helpful.

Know the hand signals
No matter what group you ride with they will use hand signals and most of them are universal. Here are a few common ones.

  • Pointing at the ground – This means that there is an obstacle in the road that you should watch out for. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be able to avoid the obstacle especially if you’re drafting closely behind someone but at least you’ll know something is coming before you run over or into it.
  • Hand down waving at the road – contrary to what it may look like this doesn’t mean that the person in front of you is happy to see the road and is greeting it, it means there is some loose gravel or debris ahead of you on the road.
  • Hand down palm facing you – this is telling you that the rider in front of you is slowing down or plans to slow down. If you’re drafting, as soon as that hand goes down it’s time for you to slow down as well unless you want to experience a full blown peleton pile up which could be fun but trust me you won’t be invited to the next group ride if this occurs.
  • Left arm stuck out – this one is pretty self explanatory it means that the group is turning left.
  • Right arm stuck out – just like 44 is the new 29 the right arm stuck out is the new sign for turning right. It took me a while to figure this one out but it does makes sense because if someone 3 or 4 positions in front of you sticks their right arm out everyone can see it and knows to turn right. This works a lot better than the left arm at a 90 degree angle unless you’ve got a death grip on your handle bars with your right hand and refuse to let go until the ride is over. If this is the case just use the old signal for a left hand turn and work on that right hand issue that you have on your trainer at home.

Know the verbal signals

If you aren’t familiar with the verbal signals of a group ride you might wonder to yourself if you’re riding with a group of people with a mild case of Tourette syndrome. Rest assured that you aren’t. Each of these verbal signals are vital to your safety so listen up.

  • Car back – This has nothing to do with what your backside looks like so don’t take offense. This means that there’s a car behind you that will be passing shortly. If you’re in the lane a little or a lot now would be a good time to get over and out of the car’s way.
  • Car front – This means that there is a parked car in front of you that the group will be passing shortly. If the car has a driver in it pay close attention any movements toward opening their door. Although this is always funny in the movies it’s probably not as funny in real life and more importantly it could wreck your bike.
  • Slowing – once again this means that the rider in front of you is slowing down. When you hear this slow down at the same pace. Slamming on your brakes usually isn’t healthy in this case.
  • Rockets – this means that the rider in front of you is preparing to launch snot rockets and you should get out of the way at all costs. OK, this isn’t a verbal command that I’ve ever heard but I’ve followed a couple of individuals that I wish had used this command.

If you find yourself toward the front of a paceline pay attention to the speed that you’re maintaining. You’ll need to know this because when you get to the front you’ll want to maintain this speed and not go any faster or slower. You’ll probably want to show off just how fast you can ride when you get a chance at the front but trust me, the rest of the paceline won’t appreciate your awesomeness. Maintain a reasonable average pace for a couple of minutes then pull over to your left (in the US and right in Australia) and let the next person in line take their turn at the front. If you’re riding with a friendly paceline at least one person will congratulate you on taking a good pull. Give them a nod of appreciation and take your place at the back of the pack.

Also, if someone is in your pace line with aero bars and is consistently using them remember that their hands aren't even close to their brakes. I would avoid them like the plague. Just my personal preference.

Questions to Ask
Most group rides start in the parking lot of some establishment with riders milling around gathering up their gear and getting in some last minute tire pumping. If you’re new to the group you’ll have to go talk to someone to get the scoop on the ride. For me this is a necessary but painful step. Here is a list of good questions to ask.

How many groups are going out on this ride? If there are a lot of riders going out usually a number of smaller groups will go out at separate times based upon their speed and abilities. This will allow you to pick the group that works best for you.

What’s the average speed of this group? This will allow you to gauge if you’ll be able to hang with this group or not. I’ve found if someone tells you that the average speed is X MPH they really mean a couple of miles an hour more. I’m not really sure why but people always underestimate what pace their group will maintain. Also, if your group is ever passed by another group of riders expect your group to make an attempt to catch them no matter how fast they are going. Chalk it up to testosterone, competitiveness or some other reason but your group will not tolerate being overtaken by another. If you see someone trying to pass just get ready for some suffering, but in a good way.

Are there any regroups along the way? Usually, most groups will regroup at specified points along their chosen route for the riders who couldn’t keep up the average pace. This is really nice if you aren’t familiar with the route because at least there will be someone along the way to confirm that you are at least on the right road.

Do you do anything after the ride? This is the most important question of all. Most of the time the group will go out somewhere after their ride to get a bite to eat or something. If you’ve got the time and means this is a great way to meet new cycling buddies because really who doesn’t need more cycling buddies.

Well, there’s my survival guide for group rides. I’m sure I’m leaving out some really important points. Feel free to add your two cents worth and hopefully, I’ll see you on a group ride someday.


Jenny-Jenny said...

Great post! I remember once thinking I would be fine in the 'fast' group and I was until a couple of cyclists casually passed us. That was the end of my group participation. I think our speed increased by about 3mph in order to overtake those two renegades. How dare they try to pass THIS gang?!

Craig said...

Helpful stuff. Especially the "rockets" one. I didn't know about that one.

Lizzylou said...

There have been several times on a group ride where I am swerving over because I see the guy in front of me waving his hand around only to realize that he wasn't trying to point out an obstacle, merely trying to wake up his sleeping fingers.

And I always filter myself to the back before I shoot the rockets, no warning needed.

Excellent summary:)