A group ride is more than the sum of its parts
Riding or guiding on a group mountain bike ride? Here are some helpful pointers on how to deal with group rides to get the best out of them.
A group ride is not just a bunch of people on mountain bikes who happen to following the same route around the trails. A group ride is not a collection of solo rides happening concurrently.
A group ride is a different beast. It’s an organic shape-shifting dynamic. It’s a two-wheeled conversation. It’s a community minded compromise. It’s a shared experience. It’s a life-affirming thing of biking beauty. A group ride is more than the sum of its parts.
Don’t worry, this is not about the quasi-Masonic world of road riders with their funny hand signals and baffling barked phrases (“car back!” er, what?) This is just a simple guide for social etiquette on mountain bike rides with other people.
Yet there are riders who don’t know how to behave in a group ride. It’s not just new riders who are in the daunting dark with group rides. Even riders who have riding for years still don’t seem to know to behave on a group ride.
The slowest rider is the most important member
The golden rule. Wherever possible, a group should ride at the pace of the slowest member of the group. This doesn’t mean riding two inches behind their rear wheel and humming or muttering. It simply means not shooting off ahead for extended periods or distances. It also means giving them a rest at the top of climbs and not just setting off again as soon as they finally reach you.
Say “thanks”, not “sorry”
If you are one of the slower members of the group don’t keep apologising for being so. It makes everyone, including yourself, feel bad. If you feel the need to say something then say “thanks for waiting” or something. Everyone has been the slowest rider at some point in their lives. They all know what it’s like. It’s not a problem. The secret is that riders like it when they have to wait for someone else, it makes them feel better about themselves!
Don’t go as fast you can
If you want to race or set PBs, ride on your own. Or in a group of two or three who all know it’s that sort of ride. Don’t turn up at a social ride with half a dozen other riders and put the hammer down. You’re there to have a laugh and enjoy the exciting bits. Similarly, don’t selfishlessy session or re-ride a section if it didn’t go quite to plan on your first attempt. Suck it up, move on, for the good of the group flow.
Don’t sweat a pecking order
Working out the order of who should ride first, second, third etc on a trail is a waste of time. There will always be some folk who are a bit vain or delusional who think they’re faster than they actually are. Leave them to get on with it. It’s not worth the aggro or sulking. By all means try to subtly position yourself in a vaguely suitable order of speed/capability but don’t obsess over it. Just let THAT person go on ahead while you cruise for a few seconds to afford yourself a clear-ish run of the trail ahead. Conversely, don’t be overtly modest and insist on going behind someone who is riding slower then you on the day. If someone asks “do you wanna go ahead mate?” that’s actually code for “please go ahead because I don’t want you behind me on this bit at the moment thanks.”
Leave a gap
Don’t ride too close the person in front. It makes them nervous and it reduces your view of the trail ahead. Even if you’re faster than the person in front and find yourself creeping up closer, slow down and leave at least half a dozen bike lengths between you and them.
If you’re new to a group ride the key to a happier and easier experience is to talk. Ask questions. Inquire as to where you’re riding, how long you’ll be out, how many significant climbs you’ll be doing and so on. A lot of bad experiences on group ride stem from suffering in silence under unintentionally thoughtless group leadership. A classic case is ride leader(s) expecting newbies to remember where they’re supposed to be going and disappearing off ahead. There should always be someone keeping an eye on the back markers at all turns and junctions to check they go the correct way. “I did say to turn left at the third fence post” is not good enough when dealing with someone who’s just been roaming lost from the group for the past twenty minutes.
But not too much
If you are one of the ride leaders, then try not to over-explain things. No-one will remember a full detailed description of the route, just keep it brief and basic. And, during the ride, by all means warn of major obstacles ahead but don’t overdo it and remove the thrill of riding things ‘blind’.
Encourage without patronising
Saying “it’s hard that climb isn’t it?” to a struggling straggler when you hardly broke into a sweat is extremely infuriating. Cycling is all about personal effort and achievement. Someone’s easy bit is another person’s nemesis. Try saying “good effort” or similar.
Turn up early
If you’re new and/or anxious to a group ride, do yourself a favour and turn up in plenty of time. Being late gets things off on the bad foot and, more importantly, puts you in a rushy panic that you’ll struggle to shake out of for the rest of the ride.
Bring everything you might need on a ride with you. Read our guide to What to take with you on a mountain bike ride for help on deciding.
There will be faff
Before, during and after the ride there will be much faffing taking place. You will most likely be a proponent of it.
Don’t shoot off at the end
This is not always possible admittedly. Sometimes life calls and you have to split ASAP at the end of the ride. But if at all possible don’t slope off. Group rides and social activity as well as sporting one and the post-ride gabber is a big part of it. There’ll be plenty of people on a group ride who want – and indeed need – to have a conversation with like-minded human beings at the end of a ride. It’s good to talk.