We all ride. We ride a lot. Sometimes we ride by ourselves, and sometimes with ride with others. Eventually we fall into groups of people that we like to ride with because a.) we like to hang out with them and b.) their riding skill/style is complementary to our own.
And sometimes there are larger group rides. Lots of people love to take advantage of these to learn the trails or make new acquaintances, but group rides are a minefield of challenges for those that try to lead a group through the trails. Over the years we’ve pulled together a “code of ethics” for joining in a group ride. If you come across any suggestions that we missed, leave a comment and we’ll update the list. Hopefully this list will make it easier for everyone involved.
Be Prepared – Nothing is worse than being on a ride and someone has forgotten something. Water in the summer is especially problematic for some people. Always make sure that you have extra water. I ride with 100 ounces in my CamelBak and during the summer have an additional 16-20 ounces in a container in case I run out. Most of the time that ends up going in the CamelBak of someone who didn’t prepare. Always assume that you don’t have enough, running out of water can be very dangerous.
Know the Route – Know where you are riding; it is your responsibility to pay attention to a.) where you are going and b.) where the start point is. Inquire about drop points, for instance, along the way. There are some places where it is easy to turn around and return and other places were you pass the “point of no return.” If you have any reservations about completing the ride, then make your plan before you get tired. Keep an eye on the surroundings; if you don’t have a GPS, commit yourself to a mental map of where you are going. Don’t expect the leader to stop the ride for you, don’t expect that anyone else wants to drop and take you back.
Be Self-sufficient – Make sure you have what you need with you, don’t rely on the kindness of strangers. Always assume that you could get cut off from the group, so you need to be self-sufficient. A great example was a guy that was riding on the Greenbelt with us and he had a singlespeed with a bolt-on axle. He didn’t bother to carry any tools to fix the flat that (surprise) he got on the trail. We had to stand around until someone passed who had a tool. Make sure your CamelBak has everything that you need to get you back home in one piece, even if you are alone.
Learn About Drops – Most of the rides are “no drop”. This doesn’t mean there won’t be technical downhill sections, it means that we will not drop a rider who is lagging. But don’t be that person. If you are falling behind and having a hard time keeping up, don’t make 10-15 people keep waiting for you. Just do the polite thing and self-drop. And when you do, make sure someone knows so they don’t keep waiting around for you. Have a cell phone number of a few people so if you can’t catch up and decide to go back, you can text them. Some rides will be drop rides, so know that up front.
Maintenance – Accidents happen. Bikes break. Maintenance is a reality of the sport. But, if you don’t maintain your bike, you greatly increase the odds of having a problem on the trail. We will all wait for someone to handle a mechanical on the trail. Maybe we will wait a second time. But the third time, don’t be surprised to find the group splitting off from you. That is an indication that you don’t care about the others and that you aren’t very good at maintaining your bike. Also, if you do have a mechanical on the trail and are not that familiar with how to repair it, ask. Nobody likes standing around for 15 minutes waiting for someone to deal with an issue that could be solved in 3 minutes. I can’t adjust a derailleur worth shit, so when I am constantly dropping a chain, I will ask someone for help, it’s the polite thing to do.
Intersections – This is where people get lost. There are 2 ways to deal with intersections. The first is to wait until the next rider behind you makes visual contact, then proceed on in the right direction. The other is for the person in the lead (or the second person) to wait at the intersction until everyone has gone through. The first method works well when you have riders of varying speeds and skill levels and the second typically works better when you have a pretty tight group and everyone is about the same level. Always call out the turns when making them. Even if you think someone has visual contact, they might not be paying close attention.
Sweeps – The last person in the chain is the sweeper. Their responsibility is to tell the leader that everyone has made it to the regroup. As the sweeper, this means that you have to be the last person, no exceptions. You can’t sweep and say “there are 3 guys right behind me.” The sweeper position sucks, so unless someone enjoys it (because they like to ride a little slower), offer to switch off, taking turns. If you find that it is just you and the sweeper most of the ride, think about dropping.
Think About Others – Whenever you do anything on a ride, remember that there are other people and your actions impact them. If you like to take pictures, then make sure that you go ahead of the group and set yourself up, then jump back in line as quickly as possible. If I am taking pictures, I go ahead, set up, take pictures of several riders, then start putting my stuff away so that when the sweeper passes, I can jump in behind them and stay with the group.
Let the Leader Lead – If you call the ride, you pick the route. If you didn’t call the ride and you aren’t leading it, then don’t bitch about what you are/are not going to be riding. You can make suggestions, but if the leader doesn’t want to take them, then suck it up princess, call your own ride next time. When a leader is trying to keep 10-20 people together, taking them down unfamiliar or unknown territory usually ends up with half the group lost and 20 minutes of wasted time trying to find them. Explore on your own or with a few other people that can keep together. The leader should be the first one down the trail after a break or a regroup. Don’t start off and tell them that you will meet them down the trail (see the rule above.)
Pay Attention – Keep an eye on the surroundings, keep an eye on the other riders. If everyone has a good spatial understanding of the guy in front of them and the guy behind them, they are less likely to run into problems. If it is a trail that you have not ridden, try to always follow the line of the guy in front of you. UNLESS you can’t at their skill level. Most of the incidents that happen on a ride are because someone was not paying attention. This includes crashes, getting lost, losing people, running out of water…you get the picture.
Regroups – As a leader, be sure to regroup periodically to make sure you have everyone. It doesn’t have to be a full stop. Do a “rolling regroup” on a flat, straight section. You slow down enough that everyone catches up. I do this about every mile, just so that I can have visual ID on at least half the group. Then I plan for brief stops every 15 minutes or so, where applicable. Longer breaks for nutrition should be once an hour.
Start Time – Whoever calls the ride will call a start time. That time is wheels down. 9:00 means that at 9:00 you start rolling; it does not mean get to the parking lot by 9:00 and start putting your bike together. Don’t be surprised if the group decides to head out at the right time, leaving you behind; just get your shit together and catch up as quickly as possible. Don’t call someone 10 minutes before the ride starts to tell them that you are “only 15 minutes away.” What this really means is that you are 20 minutes away. And that when you get there, late, we will still be waiting for you. Your call, before the appointed start time, should be asking which path they are taking so that you can meet them at the first rest stop.
Beer Time – After the ride you’ll generally find people opening up coolers and having an ice cold reward for all of their hard work. Someone will always really want a beer, but neglect to bring one. Don’t be that guy.
(Did I miss any?)
By following these simple rules, group rides will be a lot more fun and people will actually want to ride with you, not avoid you.