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The Group Ride is Broken

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article by Anthony Walsh of A1 Coaching

The group ride is broken

I had just bought my first bike a day earlier. Everything was new, fresh and exciting. As I rode to my first group ride I had a belly full of oats and butterflies.

I slowed down and went to come to a stop but I hadn’t mastered my new ‘clip in’ pedals yet and boom! Down I went.

As I dusted myself off and tried to shake the embarrassment, one of the senior riders whispered in my ear, ‘it gets easier, practice unclipping on the grass when you get home’. That was lesson number one.

I’d ride with this group for years to come. Each group ride was like a lecture in college, I’d learn a little and have a deeper bond with the class, my new community.

Over the course of weeks and months I was indoctrinated into the customs and traditions of the bunch. I looked up to senior riders as an example of how I should behave. They embraced their role as a ‘ride captain’ and always offered advice & encouragement.

My training started out basic. They showed me how to point out a hole, how to corner without touching my pedal on the ground and taught me the language of the bunch – the difference between car up and car down. (It amazes me the shouts I hear on group rides these days)

As the weeks passed my training would evolve, I’d learn how to execute a rotating paceline, the importance of wind direction and how to eat while in the red zone. Information was never given without example. I’d be told how to hide from the wind by riding on the sheltered side of a rider and then i’d be shown. The application of their teachings gave a deeper layer of understanding. In the abstract it would seem like a lesson but at maximum heart rate and riding in the gutter, it felt like they were teaching me survival skills.

Month on month, year on year I honed my craft, carried out my apprenticeship, I rarely talked but listened acutely – I became a student of the sport.

As the years rolled on, my role within the group changed. I transitioned from newbie to somebody. It was a natural progression within the group. Ours was a group where progression was gauged by years membership and skill level, not speed or strength.

I was still learning from the senior guys but I was now also teaching. As a new rider came into the group I’d aim to pass on what i’d learnt. To get him/her started on the journey and help them at the early stage of their apprenticeship.

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I rode with a club for the first time in months last week, it made me sad. The rumours were true. The group ride had indeed changed. It was is no longer a learning, nurturing environment. The faster, stronger riders wanted to show the entire group just how fast they have become. The pressure from these ‘faster’ guys fragmented the group, sometimes never to reform. The group dynamic had changed from collaborative to competitive.

Weaker and younger riders were dropped and never regained contact with the group. An experience like this can be enough to turn a young rider away from the sport.

  • Riders with mechanicals were left to fend for themselves. Did they have all the tools they need? Who knows!
  • There was no established group leader
  • Etiquette was neither taught or observed.

While I advocate following a detailed training plan and love data, there’s a time and place for staring at your garmin. The Sunday group ride is neither the time nor the place to be looking at your power meter or trying to watch your heart rate.

The group ride should be about more than watts, heart rate numbers and Strava. It’s the lifeblood of our sport. It’s how we taught all our great champions. The tradition is in danger of disappearing and we need to take ACTION!

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