This post is Part 2 in the series, Anatomy of a GREAT Group Ride. To follow along, I recommend that you first read the intro to this series HERE. As we begin, many of these phases will seem obvious. Almost too obvious, I contend, but for most of us we rarely take the time to observe fully the dynamics present that actually influence the rest of the ride. These posts are designed to intentionally take a step back and consider the innumerable social and physical factors that determine the character, quality, and tone of the communal nature of riding bikes in large groups. That being said, here are the first three phases:
- The Meet-Up – A true, long-standing Group Ride has an established meet up spot that doesn’t change. Non-cyclists in the community know that at 6:30am every Wednesday or 8:30am every Saturday, riders descend upon the meeting spot like thirsty lions to a watering hole. If it’s a coffee shop (the best kind of Meet-Up location), local citizens rush to beat the line of the lycra-clad faithful getting their pre-ride fix and curse if they arrive just after the pack. You’ve seen it: men in suits, women in dresses all queued up behind a horde of duck-walking, click-clacking riders moving towards the barista. Just prior to the Roll-Out, the Meet-Up usually involves riders taking their place in line similar to the place they’ll find themselves in the actual ride. Don’t ask me why it happens this way. I’ve just found that whatever hierarchy exists out on the road usually starts before the pedals turn. In any case, the Meet-Up is the place to chat about the up-coming ride, recent races, and life in general.
- The Roll Out and Early Stage – A great Group Ride departs on time and late riders must chase or try to meet up out on the road. If you miss the Roll-Out, the choice is simple: ride alone or roll the route backwards if it’s a loop. If you choose the latter, just be sure to spot the group early and safely cross to the other side of the road so the group comes up behind you. Otherwise, it’s tough to catch on because by the time you see the group it’s usually moving pretty quickly and chasing a ride in full flight means a quick trip to the red line. The Roll-Out is most often called out by a veteran. One of my former Group Rides always started with the alpha-rider blowing on a CO2 powered horn he had attached to his bike. The horn was useful not only for calling the Roll-Out but also for warning cars who drifted into the bike lane. What’s more, a great Roll-Out has order. Riders clip in and take a place in line two across. Three or four across or an all-out mob is a sign of a messy Group Ride. A messy Roll-Out usually translates to a sloppy ride. Conversations continue as the warm up begins. This is the Early Stage. Attacks or surges in the Early Stage are bad form! The Early Stage continues for anywhere from 10-20 minutes until a determined point where the Initial Surge occurs.
- The Initial Surge – In an established Group Ride, there’s a determined point where the ride begins to heat up. Everyone familiar with the ride will know it. A roller or hill, maybe a particular intersection or corner. This phase begins not so much with an all out attack but more with a simple increase in pace. Heart rates begin to rise and riders move to the drops. It’s key at this point to find a good wheel to follow because it’s this wheel that will determine whether or not you spend most of the next phase of your ride bridging gaps. If you choose the wrong wheel and find the rider(s) in front of you beginning to fade, be prepared to move up. The earlier the better. You don’t want to wait for a full-on gap to open up because then you’re burning matches to close those gaps just to stay in touch with the pack. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a little challenge then you may purposefully sit on the back to put yourself anaerobic early. If you find yourself doing this often, I would suggest placing yourself at the front to begin with. If you’re strong enough to close down gaps at the back of the ride all day then you’re strong enough to sit on the front and take your turn in the wind. At this point, the group may begin to move into a single file with a steady rotation at the front.
From the Initial Surge, the ride is on.