group ride

Happy Earth Day!

Spring in Minnesota is finally here and that means we can ride outside! I'm so excited to test my fitness against the hills, wind and other cyclists I ride with again!

This week begins our organized rides with the Life Time Fitness Cycle groups. I'm leading two rides this summer, both leaving from the Minnetonka Life Time Athletic Club. These rides are open to non-members, so please feel free to join us here or at any Life Time location near you.

Saturday 7:30 am is a strong "B" level, 40 mile ride. NOTE: we're still working out the parking problem and this location may change.

Sunday 8:00 am is our 30 mile coffee ride into Minneapolis. Amy and I lead this on The Bus (our tandem) and we control the pace, so it's a safe ride to learn group skills.

That group on Saturday has a lot of "A" type people with strong personalities. They really need a strong Leader or chaos and broken bikes/bodies can result. I've been leading group rides for close to 20 years and I feel I learned from the very best. You can read about being the "Big Dog" outdoors ICI/PRO members only - where I discussed the need for a true leader in an outdoor group ride and how to be the Big Dog.

Man or women, it doesn't matter - only that you act as the Leader. If you have the opportunity to lead a group this summer, and you want everyone to have a safe and enjoyable experience, you may find that post helpful.

With Saturday only 4 days away, I've been polishing up my "Big Dog" talk I give at the beginning of the season. The purpose is to convey the behaviors and attitudes I expect from the riders in my group so we all get home safely. I decided to give it a catchy title:

The 10 Commandments* of Outdoor Group Cycling 

Commandment #1 - Thou shall honor thy Leader.

A safe, enjoyable group ride needs one Leader. It maybe me, or someone else who's been assigned to lead that day. As group Leader we are responsible for everyone on the ride and intend to bring them all safely home.

Now I understand that you may have come from a place (your work or business) where you're the Leader, but you aren't there now - you're here, riding with us today.

We enjoy having you on this ride with us. Please be OK with the fact that there's a Leader on this ride... and it isn't you.

Commandment #2 Thou shall not ride as an individual.

Please leave your ego and sense of self-importance in your car... this is a group ride, not a bunch of individuals who happen to be riding together. We work collectively as a well organised group* to ensure the safety and success of everyone. 

What are examples of riding as an individual? Great question!  Finding yourself alone/away/separated from the group is a good indication you're riding as an individual.

Here are a few more that come to mind; hammering off the front, chasing a rider who hammered off the front, not staying in your place in the paceline, riding off to the side, charging up from the back, sprinting to make a yellow traffic light, hammering away from a stop sign, not willing to work at the front**, not willing to help pull others back on and of course riding like an idiot. If you do any of these expect to receive a gentle warning reminder of the importance of riding as a group - keeping in mind commandment #1.

*There are multiple places (climbs and town sign sprints) during this ride where you can demonstrate your fitness to the rest of us - wait for them please.

** We completely understand if you need to sit-in and ride in the back today.  

Commandment #3 -Thou shall be ready to ride on time.

The ride leaves on time. Please be ready. Don't expect the twenty other people, who were ready on time, to circle the parking lot while we all wait for you to pump up your tires. You may have gotten there 15 minutes early, which is great, but it doesn't count because you chatting with your friends, only to realize your tires were flat as we all started to leave. 

Commandment #4 - Thou shall come prepared.

Did you bring everything you'll need for this ride? Do you have; spare tubes* (or sealant if you ride tubeless), tools, CO2, proper clothing, food, water, money? Did you eat before the ride? Pee?

*Many of us are happy to help you change your flat tire... just don't expect my tube 🙂

Commandment #5 - Thou shall not talk excessively - but shall communicate.

Talking excessively leads to heads turning and looking at the person, which leads to not watching where you're going, which leads to crashing. I've seen it happen multiple times and it always ends badly. There is a slight exception to this during two-up riding during a relaxed coffee ride - just resist the temptation to make eye contact with the rider you're riding next to and watch where you are going. 

Please communicate with others: point out holes/sticks/dead animals in our path or when your time at the front has ended. Call out; danger, changes in speed & direction, slowing/stopping/turning/on-your-left, flat, etc...

Commandment #6 - Thou shall not join a group beyond your level of fitness, comfort or skill level.

This is a no drop ride... which means if you are suffering to keep up, all of us have to slow down - or at the very least, one of us will be forced to drop back and ride slowly home with you. We really don't want to have to do that.

We ride in a paceline = wheel to wheel with a very small distance in between. If you aren't comfortable riding closely with others you won't experience the benefit of the draft = you'll suffer and we'll have to slow down for you.

If you find yourself in this situation, or are unsure what group level you belong, please ask. I'm happy to help.

Commandment #7 - Thou shall be willing to be the leader - small "L".

There will be times you will find yourself riding in front of everyone else - it's very important to the order of the group that you stay relaxed and calmly assume your role up front.

A typical situation were we see riders unwilling to be the leader: You are moving up as riders rotate off the front of our paceline. With just a few riders left ahead you panic and pull left to fall back. This creates a gap in our paceline, splitting it in two. The (very surprised) riders behind you are then forced to fight to close the gap - we don't like to have to do that.  When you are given the lead position, take it - even if it's only for a short time.

Commandment #8 - Thou shall not pass the leader.

The leader (again small "L") in this instance is whomever is ahead of you. It doesn't matter if the rider you are following is first, 10th or 21st, only on rare occasions is it proper to pass them. This is a huge safety issue. We all need the freedom to maneuver quickly to the right or left. Passing begins with over-lapping wheels. If you decide to pass me, at the same time I have to veer left - someone is getting hurt. And trust me when I say, I will do everything I can to prevent that "someone" from being me.

Commandment #9 Thou shall not focus on your technology.

Riding with your head down, watching your power meter, may work in an indoor class - but it can be deadly on a group ride. Beyond an occasional, quick check of your speed, a group ride is not the place to monitor your heart rate, current/average wattage or check the temperature on your Garmin. You need to keep your head up and continuously watch that wheel ahead of yours + what's happening around you. And no, you can't talk/text on your iPhone during the ride.

Commandment #10 - Thou shall not ride junk.

You may own an expensive road bicycle. But if it has an issue during the ride, that's related to a lack of maintenance or inappropriate equipment, it's junk and we'll be really unhappy with you. Example: sew-ups/tubulars make great racing tires, but you can't fix a flat on the side of the road, so they don't belong on our ride.

Your fancy Triathlon bike is welcome - just don't let me see you riding down in the aerobars... not even when you're up front... not ever during our ride.

Mountain bikes don't belong in a paceline with road bikes - period. I don't care if you can keep up, they're disruptive to the order of our group and remembering commandment #2, you will leave yours at home.

* To be clear, this isn't my 10 suggestions of outdoor group riding. As the ride leader I'm ultimately responsible for the safety of everyone on the ride. I try to give everyone warnings/reminders during the first few rides. After that I'm not at all afraid to ask someone to leave if I feel they are jeopardizing the safety of others - or recommend they find a different ride if they don't appear to have the necessary fitness/skill level.


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