Like most triathletes, a lot of us do the bulk of our on the bike training either alone or on the trainer, secluded, and away from large groups. While this closely mimics the situations we find ourselves in while racing, it can be very beneficial to attend group rides every once and a while. Riding in groups tends to force you out of your comfort zone, matching the pace of the group, keeping up with accelerations, and doing your time in the wind. Not to mention the fact that it tends to being the competitiveness out in most people. It also can help you gain confidence in your bike handling skills as well as become comfortable with the skills of others in close quarters.
But before you start jumping into your first group rides, there are some things you should keep in mind to make sure you have an enjoyable time (as well as everyone else).
Be invited. Most local shops host public group rides every weekend and sometimes during the week. For the most part, these rides are open to the public, but always check with the ride organizers before showing up. Sometimes group rides are by invite only and don’t want a random rider showing up. Usually shops will be more than happy to give you information about the pace, route, size of the ride, etc.
Pay attention. Riding in groups can definitely be dangerous. If you don’t keep your head up, look where you’re going, and keep an eye on everyone around you, you’re likely to cause a crash and injure yourself and others. Don’t swerve across the road, hold your lines in the corners, and be all around predictable in your riding.
On that note, be ready to lose your personal space. Riders are going to be all around you within arms reach. If you are uncomfortable riding in situations like that, try sitting at the back of the group and start moving your way forward as you feel comfortable.
Have the right equipment. Bring your road bike. Don’t bring your tri bike. Tri bikes are not engineered to ride in groups, and can be very dangerous. A road bike is typically easier to handle and has the benefit of having the brakes and shifting all in the same spot on the handlebars. If you are set on riding your tri bike, check with the ride beforehand and make sure the others won’t mind. Just remember, if others feel uncomfortable, it will not be a fun experience, and they may try to just drop you anyways.
Group rides can be a lot of fun and a great workout. So keeping these simple things in mind can make for a great experience. Just be sensible, think of the group’s well being, and have some common sense on the road. Other than that, go get out, have fun, and shake up your training a little!