Going on your first group bike ride is a right of passage in your life as a cyclist. It can also be a little bit scary, especially if you don’t have anybody to show you the ropes. Here are some tips on how to find the right group ride, what to do ahead of time to prepare, and what you can expect once you show up.
Pick the Right Group Ride
Not all group rides are created equally. For your first group ride, no matter how fast you are, choose a low-key no-drop ride. The last thing you want for your first time riding with a group, is an ultra-competitive crew that will drop you at the big hill.
If you are looking at online or printed group ride listings, look for descriptions like “no drop” or “15 mph average.” You can also look for women’s only rides as they tend to be less competitive and more focused on introducing women to the sport (although there are certainly super-fast, competitive women’s groups as well). Another good place to find an appropriate group is to ask at your local bike shop.
Still having trouble finding a club or group ride near you? Check out our Ultimate List of Women’s Cycling Clubs and Rides (Road and Mountain Bike).
Contact the Ride Leader Ahead of Time
I’m a big fan of reaching out to the ride leader ahead of time, especially if you are nervous or unsure. If you have contact information, drop them a quick line letting them now that you’ll be coming out and that it is your first time doing a group ride.
If that’s not possible, then make sure to show up a few minutes early to the ride and make contact with the leader at that time. Once they know it is your first time, they’ll make sure to watch out for you and provide support.
Make sure you have everything you need to be self-sufficient. This means making sure your bike is in good working order, and that you have the ability to fix any road-side mechanicals. Bring along a spare tube, mini-pump, and a multi-tool.
Being prepared also means being able to take care of yourself, not just your bike. Make sure that you have plenty of water (don’t count on a mid-ride refill), an energy gel or bar, and are prepared for the weather with a jacket, vest, etc.
It’s also a good idea to bring along some cash. Many group rides will stop or end at a coffee shop or pub.
Show Up on Time
Or better yet, early (as mentioned above). Nobody wants to be waiting for you in the parking lot.
Show up early, and do a once over on your bike. Ensure your tires are properly inflated, your seat collar is tight, and that you are ready to roll. This is also a good time to introduce yourself to others, be friendly, and maybe make some new friends.
Know Group Ride Etiquette
You don’t have to be an expert yet (you’ve never been on a group ride after all), but you should take a few minutes to learn group ride etiquette. Know some basic hand signals and guidelines for riding in a pack.
The most important thing is to be a safe rider. This means biking in a straight line, communicating, and ensuring that you don’t allow your wheel to overlap with other riders. Point out obstacles like potholes or gaps in the pavement.
Most group rides will also ride in either a single or double paceline. In this scenario, the leader of the paceline will rotate. The leader will pull for a while then drop back, letting the next rider in line pull for a while.
If you’re not a strong rider yet, it’s fine to take a short turn at the front and then head to the back of the pack again. If you don’t ever want to be at the front of the pack, just tell riders headed to the back to get in line in front of you. They will totally understand!
It’s easy to feel nervous on your first group ride (or your first several group rides), but it’s critical to remain physically relaxed. Stressed and anxious riders tend to be twitchy, which is the worst thing you can do in a group ride.
Focus on deep breathing and keep a light grip on the handlebars. Ask yourself every so often: Am I clenching the bars? Are my shoulders relaxed?