Group rides are a great way to increase fitness, make new friends, and explore unfamiliar territory. Typically these rides meet at the same place and time each week, then roll out on a pre-determined route. Some rides will be chatty and social, others will be full-on race pace hammer fests.
Don't be surprised if your first group ride is a tad intimidating. It's kind of like the first day of school. You don't know anyone and you don't know what to expect. The good news is that cyclists are generally a friendly bunch, so it shouldn't be long before you're making friends. Here are some basic tips to follow for your first group ride:
Do Some Research: Before showing up, find out what the ride is all about. Good sources of info include your neighborhood bike shop and local club cycling team websites. Find out meeting time, meeting place, approximate ride distance, and typical pace. That way you'll come ready to hammer - or just roll along at a casual pace.
Say Hello: When you roll up to the meeting spot, introduce yourself. It's a great way to break the ice, and it'll help you get the 411 on the ride and riders. If you don't know the area, let someone know you're a newbie. That way if you get dropped, they might wait for you, or at least point you back toward home. As a precautionary measure bring a GPS, map, or smartphone just in case you do end up alone and lost.
Recognize the Flow: Most group rides employ either a two-up or rotating pace line. Determine protocol in your group and then follow along. Two-up pace lines are when the group rides double-file, with the front pair of riders sharing the workload for a few minutes, then pulling off and letting the next pair come forward. When it's your turn to pull, keep the speed steady, don't accelerate. Also make sure not to ride with your front wheel ahead of your partner (a.k.a. half-wheeling). This can force your partner to ride harder than they want to. When your time at the front is over, alert your partner that you're pulling off, then move to the outside of the line and slide to the back of the group.
Most group rides start with a two-up pace line, then transition to a rotating set-up as the speed picks up. In a rotating pace line, each rider takes a brief pull at the front, then drifts back into the draft in a circular motion. This allows the group to maintain a much faster pace. When it's your turn to pull, keep the pace steady, then move over to the return line as soon as you clear the front wheel of the person who pulled off ahead of you. Once you're back in the return line, ease up a little so the next person doesn't have to accelerate to get around you.
Ask Questions: Most cyclists welcome the opportunity to share expertise. And the more you learn, the more confident you'll become, and the more fun you'll have working with the group.
Chill Out: Even if you're the strongest rider in the group, don't start attacking at the base of the first climb. Group rides have established rhythms and you wont make many friends if you break that rhythm. Besides riding smart means waiting for someone else to attack, then jumping on their wheel, staying in the draft, and then rolling away solo.