The first rule is to never cause accidents, involving yourself or especially others. The best way to do this is to ride predictably and smoothly. Occasionally, in fast, tight group situations, other riders may yell out, “Hey!” if you do something unexpected. However, the more experienced rider doesn’t usually call out. They just continue on the ride.
This post, we’re going to answer the question,
What exactly is a group ride?
This is another concept that will be hard to nail down appropriately because of the general lack of standardized rules and legislation. Again, there is no central governing body that defines and dictates how things in cycling should work. But, I’ll certainly not let that stop me from trying. Group rides are one of those things, we automatically know what they are. But when you start discussing the details, it gets a little over-whelming and confusing.
In its strictest sense, a group ride is a bike ride that starts with a group of people (for argument’s sake, we’ll say three or more riders). Group Rides are an excellent way to gain fitness, become more comfortable on your bike, become safer and more comfortable on your bike in traffic (motor vehicle or bicycle), and develop riding skills that allow you to do these things more easily. Cycling is also more fun sharing the excitement with others than it is riding alone. You’ll also learn more from experienced riders as the giving of unsolicited opinions is a favorite past-time of cyclists, as the plethora of bicycling blogs attests.
But, what kinds of group rides are there? What can a new rider expect?
There are several kinds of group rides:
There are undoubtedly more kinds, but, for our purposes, these will suffice. Now, lets talk a little about each one.
A club ride is a ride organized by a local club. Simple. They are certainly not races. Usually, they are social in nature. However, as with any other activity that involves more than one person, some people will ride slow, some fast. Some will be competitive. Some will stop every mile or so to take photos. Some club rides are on easy, flat terrain, others are extremely difficult over one or more mountain passes. Some club rides are short (15 miles or less). Others are long (100 miles or more). Some clubs only have one route at each ride to choose from. Other clubs (usually larger ones) organize several routes to choose from on each day. Some club rides have specific rest stops to get food and drink. Others may only stop when there’s a consensus among the riders. Some club rides do not leave behind other riders. They either have re-grouping points or they slow and wait for you to catch back up. Some club rides you may be totally on your own if you can’t keep up.
Most clubs will welcome visitors to their rides, but if you continue coming, they’ll expect you to join the club. There is usually a yearly fee to join.
Team rides are usually by invitation only. They may allow non-team members (visitors), but only if someone on the team knows and invites you to participate. Usually, the team members have a specific training objective in mind during the ride. So, if you happen to already be out on the road and see a team riding together, it’s best to ask them if you can join in before just hopping into the line.
Shop rides are usually a kind of club ride. Only, it’s not a club that’s putting it together/organizing the ride, it’s a bike shop. Most shops that I know of do not organize themselves into a club, but it could happen. Of course, that then makes it a club ride.
These would be a ride that you and some friends just threw together. Little to no organization. There might be a leader who was responsible for selecting the route and rest stops, but this ride is really up in the air and you need to be very flexible. Depending on the size of the group, you could be totally on your own or their might be someone providing support (I’ve seen both).
An organized event is a ride usually run and promoted by a fund-raising organization or a local club, or a local club in partnership with a fund-raising organization. Not all events raise money for charities, but the majority do. Riders will pay an entry or registration fee. Some rides allow you to fund-raise money prior to the event and use this money to pay your entrance fee. Others don’t do any fund-raising other than what you pay.
Some events are short, some are long. Some are easy, some are incredible challenges that rival the hardest stages of the Tour de France. Many do all of the above on the same day. Many events last only one day. Some run over consecutive days. Some have races with them. Some only look like races. Some don’t look anything at all like races.
A race is not so easy to define at first. Races are always organized, or governed, by a body that usually provides insurance and other logistical requirements. They almost always need to registered for and this always costs money. The national governing body in the U.S. is USA Cycling. There are other, smaller organizations (like CBR in California), but USAC is the organization that ultimately sends riders to the Olympics and the professional levels.
However, there are other kinds of races that do not have anything to do with USAC or other organizations like CBR. For lack of a defined term, we’ll call these, Citizen’s Races. In my experience, they are usually run by YMCAs, or Lion’s Clubs, or other fund-raising entities (MS Society, AHA, ALA, etc…).
Within racing, there are many kinds of races and they all fall into three categories: road racing, track racing, and off-road racing (mountain biking). This post will not go into the details of each.
While many of the best and strongest racers usually ride in USAC-organized events, many other very strong and fast racers also ride in these citizen’s races. They are by no means, an easy race. But, they are still an excellent introduction to racing for the first-time racer.