Group Rides: Past, Present and Best in Atlanta…

IMG_3154If you have been riding in group rides, then I can guarantee you that you have experienced the essence of this post; hard on the hard parts and easy on the easy parts.  Hang with me, as I’ll explain this very typical scenario, that is frustrating for many.

OK, you show up for a group ride, to do what?  Ride in a group.  Wow, what a novelty idea!!!  Unfortunately, there are only 4 group rides I have ever done in 205,000 miles where I have experienced what I am about to explain.  Hint.  It is exactly the opposite of my ‘hard’ and ‘easy’ comment above.  Yep, it’s THAT rare but if you ever get to experience it, my guess is that it will be one of those rides where you remember for a very long time…and probably the one you had the most fun on.

You are off from the parking lot and away you go…with the group.  A few miles into the ride and you come up to the first real climb; some are dreading it and some can’t wait to tackle it as hard as they can.  The rest have thoughts somewhere in between.  Just as wide a range of thoughts, are the same range of speed/strength level of the group and therefore what happens on the climb is far from a ‘group‘ perspective.  Can you visualize what it might look like if you were in a vehicle following this group?  Yep, spread all out and over the road; big gaps and small gaps from one rider to the next.

What happens when you get to the top of the climb?  Well, reality is that the vast majority (if not 100%) of everyone will probably either coast down the back side of the climb or for those who still pedal, they will probably not keep the same effort level in their pedal stroke…so in essence they are coasting too but their feet are moving.  Now, the hope is there is some designated ‘re-group’ point coming up and if not, then your time to ride in a group is over!!!  How is that for a verbal description of your experiences?  What do you think happens on most of the other climbs during this ride?  Probably more of the same, is my experience.

Why am I even spotlighting this?  Isn’t this ‘normal’ for a group ride to ride like this?  Unfortunately, this is where the majority group rides have evolved into but that doesn’t mean it is the best answer.  Cyclists have come to accept this scenario and my guess is that STRAVA is part of the problem.  Before STRAVA came along, I can remember the majority of group rides actually riding together.  Of course, this was several years ago and now just a distant memory.  Hey, I LOVE competition but I understand there is a place for that.  If you can’t contain yourself and exercise a little self-control during a group ride, then my suggestion is that you not ruin it for everyone else and go find a ride where everyone is riding as though it’s a race vs. a local group ride.  BAM, finally someone said it….

Let me explain the hard and easy perspective.  First off, I think you would agree that climbs are harder Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 12.09.49 PMthan flats or downhills; that’s a no-brainer.  Second, you would also agree that downhills are the easiest; again a no-brainer.  OK, then here’s a question I have?  Why would you ride hard on the hard parts and easy on the easy parts?  Doesn’t that sound completely backwards?  Doesn’t it make sense to ride a bit easier on the hard parts and a bit harder on the easier parts?  I’m envisioning you head bobbing up and down right now.

I’ll never forget riding in the infamous 6 GAP Century a few years ago, when I had a client ride with me from the start.  It is worth noting that we just had a Shifting session a few days before and just one of the topics covered was learning to use the terrain to your advantage.  I sort of prepped him as to what to expect and sure enough, cyclists didn’t disappoint.  About 8-10 miles into the ride, it was in the ‘Valley’ where it was rolling hills…and I don’t mean little rollers; these were just long enough to kill the majority of the momentum you had before the hills.  We were towards the front of the ride and this is where you find the majority of race teams, hammerheads and the like.  After staying in the same spot, what I prepped him on was to expect riders to go hard on just about every climb but then to expect them to go easy on the following downhills.  At one point, everyone was going all out uphill and next they were gasping for breath and coasting down.  Of course they had to shut down; they just buried themselves trying to climb that hill as hard and as fast as they could.  The downhill was their opportunity to recover and catch their breath.  I need to let you know that he and I kept passing this same race group several times as we continued to pedal down hill.  To another rider, that looks like an attack and I can assure you that in this group of riders, they were not going to not respond.  They usually caught us two-thirds up the climb but then we would pass them again before the top of the hill.  That just repeated itself over and over.  As I was explaining what happening to my client, one rider from a huge race team was riding beside me and overheard me (I was talking way louder as I purposefully wanted them to hear) and he said, “Wow, that makes sense.  Never thought of it that way.”  The funny part was that from that point on, that race team stayed right with us and completely changed their riding style from hard on the hard parts and easy on the easy parts, to a steady pedaling stroke…no matter what the terrain.  By the way, the overall speed kicked up quite a bit.

It is INCREDIBLY rare to find any cyclist who can ride a consistent steady effort in their pedal stroke, what I call riding by pace.  It literally means you continue to shift to maintain the same effort in your pedaling, no matter what the terrain.  The result is you don’t wear yourself out NEAR as fast, your overall average speed tends to go up and if you are riding in a group, this approach will help keep the group together better than any other riding dynamic.  Imagine if you had a power meter on your bike and you picked a random wattage reading that you wanted to stay at the entire ride.  When you see the wattage rise (probably on inclines, hills, etc), then you would shift to an easier gear so that your wattage dropped back down to your target.  On the opposite, when you begin to go downhill, if you stayed in the same gear, then you would see your wattage decrease…which means you would have to shift to a harder gear to keep that target wattage.  Make sense?

I ride like this all the time…in groups.  Why?  Because it’s a ‘group’ ride and I know this single dynamic will keep the group together; I don’t verbalize it all the time, as I am hoping others in the group will ‘see’ and realize what I am doing.  Most of the time that is not the case.  I have had countless times over the years of riders asking me if I rode with a power meter and were shocked when I said no.  You can get in tune with your body and effort just as much as I am but it takes concerted conscious effort. The times I don’t ride like this is if I purposefully ride with the intent of doing more of an interval ride; going hard for short periods and then recovering and then repeating it.  Good thing is all I have to do is join just about any local group ride and I’ll get exactly that.  You see the two totally different ride perspectives?  One is a ‘group’ perspective and the other is a ‘selfish’ perspective.  When you get a majority of riders with the selfish perspective (hey, I’m calling it what it is- I am FAR from political correctness), then you experience what the typical group ride has evolved into.

My BEST experience on riding steady was at my annual Jackson County Brevet charity ride in Braselton, x_140132GA June of 2014.  ‘Big’ George Hincapie was our VIP Guest and we rode the metric route that day.  I’m not exaggerating when I say we rode shoulder-to-shoulder the entire time we pulled; not once was either of us in front of the other by more than an inch.  Our handlebars were about 6-8 inches from each other, and that was when we were going 15mph or as fast as 40+ mph.  I can’t even find words to express just how FANTASTIC it was.  Every time I think about that ride, I get higher than any man-made drug could provide.

Back to the four rides I mentioned earlier (all in metro Atlanta).  Let me preface to say that I am sure there are some rides that I have not done in the last 19 years…..but NOT many.  There are also some new rides that I haven’t had the chance to get to (yet), but as of this post, my list is still just four.

The first is the weekday morning Lifetime Bikes- Loganville bike shop ride, where a controlled and the effort (or pace) is very steady from the start.  The group is always 2-by-2 for a perfect double pace line; you literally ride ‘as’ a group.   They do come to a point in the ride (towards the end) where anyone can do whatever they want and generally some do hit overdrive and take off.  This is exactly how they advertise the ride and I respect them that their advertisement is literally how the ride functions.  The second ride is  hosted by  Cycleworks (Duluth) bike shop.  During the summer, when weekend rides tend to be the longest and hardest, this Monday recovery ride comes at the perfect time.  There are a couple sprint sections but for the balance of the ride, expect an organized experience.  The third is Grayson Cycling Club, a new club started about a year ago…you guessed it…in Grayson.  Sorry, couldn’t resist.  Their attention to keeping organized throughout, as well as a truly steady pace (effort), makes them stand out very easily.   As you would expect, their commitment to this approach has been a huge hit and the headcount at any of their rides certainly confirms it.  Lastly, the final ride is my own Atlanta Winter Bike League (WBL), but this ride is only during Nov-Mar and is a controlled steady effort from the time you leave the parking lot, to the time you get back.  Our first year we averaged over 50 riders per the 10 rides, our second year that average jumped to almost 80 and our first two rides this year we had 130 and 115 riders respectively.  Bottom line, these 4 rides are perfect examples of when you create a consistent, steady riding environment, cyclists will show up in droves to participate.  This is what the vast majority of cyclists wants!!!

Coach Robert…

2 responses to “Group Rides: Past, Present and Best in Atlanta…

  1. As always I love reading your blogs. I have input? I wish I could fine a ride within my level of skill that rides like this. Most of these larger groups are faster cyclist namely a groupers. I would love to find a group of “ladies” or mixed group that was a level I could feel comfortable in. I hope to be able to make a AWBL ride soon to experience the real paced group ride.

    Tania Castleberry, Owner St. George Island Vacation Rentals 770-826-8327 Love God. Love your neighbor.

    Like us on Facebook!  Everything is always better at the beach!

    Like us on Facebook! Everything is always better at the beach!


    • Hope your schedule does allow you to make one…or two…or three. I have some thoughts on your request, though that involves a local bike shop. let ya know how initial conversation goes…

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