When riding solo there is no one to look out for. Your wits are a bit higher due to the risk of injury or wildlife and one can take a break as often (or not) as one chooses. There is nothing really to worry about, no one to trip up, trip over, no timeline nor pace to set (or struggle to keep up to). That being said one can’t depend on that extra square of chocolate or cookie mid-ride.
In a duo or trio, things change slightly, there is an option to challenge oneself, feature an area and a pace is typically set. This group size is selected meticulously by the riders, they have usually preferred riding partners or riders of similar speed and ability levels and they typically maintain the 2-minute rule of thumb (2-minute distance between riders). The rides are typically faster, louder, full of photo bombs, epic banter and probably end in post ride tailgate beers.
Riding in groups is different than riding solo, in a pair or 3 people. Anything larger than that third person mark is the same difference in a long climb and an even longer technical decent in that 2 totally different worlds collide. Riding in a group the whole dynamic of the ride changes, not to mention the ride time extends & the rules change.
For most, there seems to be this struggle riding with a larger group (4 or more). I have struggled with this myself. It is a tough adjustment and I noticed how I ride and how I behave changes on the group size. In smaller groups, I open myself up more to the other riders on a personal level and I find myself keeping up with the group. In larger groups I am more vocal, I mute my ability levels, I catch myself caught up in everyone else’s ride rather than my own. I stop more, I pull over more and then find myself struggling behind a less experienced rider. Mentally, I struggle a lot more. I find the large group rides more taxing and draining than any other ride. I get frustrated with myself. I am certain I am not the only rider experiencing this.
I found there is a difference of opinion with check in’s, the ride itself, assumptions on rules and then there can be some unhealthy mental states a rider can be in. Some cling to the “every person for themselves” mentality, maybe that highly competitive nature seeps out and the slower or tail end of the group gets left behind.
In larger groups, the ability and fitness levels begin to vary greatly. There are some who are slow technical climbers yet fast technical descenders. There are fast technical climbers who are cautious going downhill. There are riders who I have seen shaking after a few minutes descending, from pushing themselves into a new riding zone and when the break comes they tend to chat more to extend out the rest period.
There are some people who are not patient with the group dynamic at all, I have been on one ride where the ride leader took off, left the entire group, never returned, never looked back, just all out abandoned the group. This occurred within the first 10 minutes of the ride. Needless to say, the rest of us stuck together like glue and bonded for the ride. Turns out it was a fantastic ride in the best company. I was told one story when I first started riding. This large group of MTB people took 3 vehicles to the popular Prairie View/Jewel Pass. Most of the group rides/races together regularly, they had convinced a few beginner/intermediate riders to join them. One of the riders was an all out beginner. Not only did the more experienced group take off on the newcomers/less experienced riders, they finished their ride, packed up the trucks and left the stragglers one vehicle and went to the pub. These were riders who have been racing for the last 5-10 years. The beginners and stragglers didn’t show up for another 2 hours.
Riding in groups should be an all around awesome experience and this is what I think would make the ride more epic for the entire group.
- Group rides are going to take longer. Take your typical ride and add 5 minutes per person. This accounts for stopping for breath, the occasional walk and lag between riders. The number would probably be more accurate at 7.5 minutes per person.
- Get all riders with Bear Spray to raise their hands so everyone can see who is carrying bear spray, check in with where it is located in case the rider cannot access the spray
- Ensure everyone has gone to the washroom prior to departure. Sounds dumb but people get so stoked to ride, they forget and then you will hear the comments just after the start.
- Break off into segments of 2-3 people. Easier to manage, easier to track, easier to pace.
- Check in with the full group at designated locations, typically the viewpoint for photo ops, depending on the length of the ride in about 2-4 more times. This gives an opportunity for anyone struggling to keep up to switch segments as well as for someone wanting to go faster to move up a segment to a swifter team.
- Ride Leader Swap notes with Ride sweeps, Leaders can’t see behind them, this is a great opportunity to speed up, slow down or change routes.
- Remember the lag between the segment leader and the segment sweep, due to delayed start times, the spacing between riders & potential trail hazards (injury, mechanical, medical problem) WAIT for the segment to catch up.
- Check in with pace and how people are feeling. No one likes to admit they are breathless or needs a hit of sugar, give time for someone to do what they need to do before pressing on (including jog to the bushes for that forgotten bathroom break)
- Admit when you need a break, breather, sugar, whatever it is. Don’t let your ego put you in danger of NOT finishing and putting you and the other riders at risk for injury. (I am guilty of this)
- On large downhill segments, stop a little more frequently just in case someone hit a tree or popped a tyre. At the very least wait at the bottom for them to catch up.
- If you experience something on the trail while riding in a group, tell the next person coming up behind when they run into the group what happened, & if possible a time estimation, a request for the group to wait or carry on without. If you choose the latter to make sure you can carry on without the group.
- Leave a minimum bicycle length to 2 bicycle lengths between riders, adjust speed when approaching technical inclines or features in descents.
- Look ahead, not at the tyre in front
- Don’t follow someone’s line, follow your line. Pick the line on the trail that sets you up for the best outcome on your ride.
- Forget about the numbers, they will be effed anyway. Forget everything and just ride!
- Interact with the group. Quite frankly, group rides are actually there to get to know other people who like to ride when you find someone you like or matches your riding style swap info and go for a short ride to see if your riding chemistry works. It will be first date awkward but the next one won’t be as much so. Nothing is better than riding with people who love to stoke the pump the same way you do.
Side note: I seriously sing that song on the way downhill because it is so deliciously 80’s, oozes cheese, and I can’t do it without dying from laughing so hard.