How Can Everyone Enjoy a Group Ride?

How can everyone benefit from the group ride? Just roll with it!

By USA Cycling Certified Coach Brian Walton

“On a recent Sunday morning, we had a cat 2 elite road cyclist; two coaches; two team PA masters roadies; a young cat 1 on the Chipotle Development team; a sub 30 minute 10K runner turned first-year triathlete; and an elite master female roadie/trackie all on a group ride together. Who do you think benefited the most?"

Sound like the intro to a bad joke? Well, if you asked Bob Roll, an old teammate and roomy of mine, he’d say “Stick to coaching, ‘Brian.’ You can’t tell a joke!” I’ll definitely take that advice from a master and stick to the coaching, and ask…What’s the answer?

Well, of course, everyone benefits. We all know from reading (and some experience) that group rides can benefit the athlete from a physiological standpoint by increasing endurance and intensity. We also know that group riding can benefit an athlete from a technical standpoint by improving or sharpening bike handling skills. Psychologically, most of us can also find great relief sometimes by sharing the miles with a good group of like-minded friends.

No doubt, the value in a group ride is substantial, and it all depends on HOW you want to use it.

To break it down, if you’re a beginner, my advice is to get out there with a group and learn from the experienced cyclists. Get comfortable in the pack. Use the extra motivation and social pressure as a way to get in a high intensity workout for the week. Have some fun and push yourself a bit.

For the elite riders, try to put limiters on yourself. Go into the ride tired, or use a fixed gear. Get some extra miles in before and/or after the ride. Use the ride as a tool towards a greater advantage. Let the locals beat you up. Put your ego in check. You have big goals down the road. It’s all in the name of rekindling the enjoyment we all feel on the bike. Have some fun!

As for my original anecdote…the answer is simple.

The cat 2 elite road cyclist: Pushes himself in a lighter gear, focusing on his leg speed and technique. He stays on the front a little longer than most since he is one of the stronger riders at the moment and gets in his social endurance ride with some friends.

The two coaches: They get outside for a ride, get away from the computer, see some of their athletes in action, and get in a good workout being tortured by some of their athletes!

The young elite cat 1: Stays on the front a lot longer than most since he is the strongest rider at the moment. This ride for him is about building volume in a lower endurance zone. His hard rides come later in the week. Coach even put another limiter on him; a fixed gear bike. Why? To try to level the playing field in the group as a whole, and more importantly – to work his leg speed, which is one of his weaknesses.

The sub 30-minute 10K runner turned first-year triathlete: Well, he has no idea how to ride in a group and he needs to learn fast. He just started out a few months ago but he is a stud athlete and can now ride the distance. Why not learn from some elite athletes that know what to do, really know how to ride a bike in a group, and get in a great workout as well!?

The elite master female roadie/trackie: Mom needs a break from the three kids, hard workout, and social time with a couple of adults. She’s strong enough to sit on, work on her leg speed, and get in a hard endurance and sub-lactate threshold workout. This ride is exactly what she needs as well.

The two PA masters roadies: They get in their upper-end endurance ride, increase their volume for the week, and work on some intensity in a social setting that motivates them for their goals ahead.

Walton’s WAY:

1. Relax and enjoy the ride. Always. Everyone CAN and WILL benefit.

2. Adapt: Refer back to number one and then remember, there is more than one way to reach your goals. It doesn’t have to be perfect every time. Don’t have a group ride at the moment? Snowed out? Too cold? Partners bailed on you? Kids sick? Sorry, but right now there is nothing you can do about it. Control what you can control. Relax, take a deep breath, and think about your many options for a moment. Be adaptable. Perhaps you could go mountain biking, skiing, or hiking. You could play badminton? Take a rest day. Switch your training days around for the week. Ride indoors. There are plenty of paths available if you look for them. Ultimately, they are all perfectly acceptable and worthwhile if your decisions are being made with your goals in mind.

Many of my athletes have moved their training indoors as the winter weather descends upon us here in Philadelphia. I like indoor rides for the intensity, technique, efficiency, and psychological and motivational benefits. I challenge you to add to the list of benefits. Need a ride option? I’ll leave you with a great two hour indoor session to try out when you need a ride option.

2 hour Indoor Group Ride Workout:

Warm Up
-5 min recovery-warm-up (light gearing, simulate outdoors-shift)
-10 min Endurance Zone 2 @100rpm

-2 sets of 20 min SubLT (10min recovery between efforts)
-#1 - Change rpm’s every 5min - 95, 100, 90, 100.
-#2 - Self Selected Cadence

Threshold Pyramid
-5x5min (Threshold pyramid) (5min recovery between efforts) (90-100 throughout interval)
- Each 5min INT: 1min SubLT, 1min LT, 1min SuperLT, 1min MaxVo2, 1min SuperLT

Cool Down Well

Until next time, have fun and roll with it!

Joining a club is a great way to find new ride partners. Use the USA Cycling Club Finder to find a club near you