Life is like a group ride... the more friends you have, the easier it is to roll along.

So, you’ve been invited to ride with a club, team, or just another group of friends you haven’t ridden with before. Below I’ma run down some of the things to consider when accepting a ride invitation, what to expect, and some simple etiquette for unfamiliar group rides.

I’ve been fortunate to have been invited to ride with lots of different groups – usually not more than once, but hey, what’re you gonna do?┬áIt’s great to ride with lots of different groups because each group has their own way of doing things, their own dynamics and interactions. When you’re doing critical mass (mass start) events, sometimes you don’t know what group you might end up riding with. The more you’re able to adapt, the better.

A few questions you should try to have answered before you accept a ride invitation:

  1. How far do you guys usually ride (or plan to ride)?
  2. Is the pace casual or do you push?
  3. Do you know the route, or will this ride be mostly flat, hills, rolling, or a mix?

Now, asking all these questions might make you sound nervous, but really, it’s just good sense. If the group is used to riding 80+ miles and you’ve been training at 40? Nice knowin’ ya. If they do a leisurely 12-15mph pace and you’re the next Cadel Evans, you’ll know you have to kick it down a notch or three. If they hammer long, massive hills and you’re a sprinter who cries when rolling freeway overpasses… might want to reconsider.

So try to get the details so you know what to expect, and can accept/decline accordingly. Will the info be right? Eh, not likely. Might be close sometimes, but so far the majority of info I’ve gotten about rides is usually understated in some way. Here’s some quick translations:

  • They say: “We like to push a little, not too hard, about 17 mph.”
    • They mean: “We average about 23 on flats, and 17+ on hills.”
  • They say: “There’re a few good hills.”
    • They mean: “Bring oxygen.”

A’ight, it ain’t always like that. But remember: faster riders tend to underestimate the difficulty/speed, slower riders tend to overestimate the same. Use what you know about the person that’s inviting you to try and get a sense of how that person’s riding style meshes with the info you’ve gathered. Is the person that’s extending the invite known to enjoy hard rides or do they ride casually? Have they been riding a long time? Are they riding a Pinarello Dogma 2? Are they wearing a yellow jersey? Take what clues you can find.

Next step: you’ve accepted the invite. First piece of advice? Show up early. Not on time – early. Some groups say “We’ll roll out at 9AM.” That means their legs are over the top tube and they’re clipped in at 8:58. For others, it means they’ve just arrived at the parking lot at 9:02 and have another 8-10 minutes before they’re ready. But since you won’t know beforehand, best to be prepared. And it’s embarrassing to have people who don’t know you wait for you – sets a bad first impression.

So you’ve gotten to the ride, introductions are made. Identify the ride leader, and confirm what you can about the route (maybe you’ve done it before and can get an idea of what you’re getting into). Then let them lead out. If they roll light for warm-up, follow suit. If they leave rubber on the pavement from peeling out – haul ass.

Let the group set the tone for the ride, and adapt accordingly.

Just make sure they set the tone. If it turns out they like to ride at 14-15 mph and you like to ride at 20, you’re the guest, so kick back for the day. You’re not gonna impress a new group by flying past them, or by taking a pull at the front and then setting the pace way too fast. It won’t kill you to take a day off. If it’s a windy day though and you want to take an extra long pull – assuming you know the route – that’s cool, as long as you set the pace to what they set it at. But don’t show off – even if you can pull them all day, drop back and let them work. It’s why they’re out there.

On the other hand, you could end up with a group that can blow you away. If this happens, it’s good etiquette for the person that invited you to hang back and help you along. Do your best to hang with the group. Push yourself beyond what you normally would, but don’t kill yourself. If you really can’t hang, let them know. There might be a shorter route you can take; don’t be embarrassed if you need to, just tell the ride leader (and the person who invited you) so they know. If it’s a good group, they’ll ease up a bit and help you along. But if they’re in training, don’t expect them to wait for you. Worst case scenario: bring your headphones with you should you find yourself gasping for air 20 miles from home.

Riding with a new group is like trying a new restaurant. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes you wish you stood home. Enjoy the good, learn from the bad, and keep rolling.