The Art

Why the Group Ride is the Center of the Cycling Lifestyle

If you had to pick just one aspect of cycling that most accurately characterized and encompassed the cycling (specifically the roadie) lifestyle, what would it be? This was the debate around the table at a popular cycling magazine’s headquarters many years ago.

Red Kite Prayer is my favorite cycling blog, hands down. Padraig (author’s pen name) was a major contributing writer to the iconic, cult favorite Belgium Knee Warmers blog and branched off on his own to pursue RKP as his own creative endeavor and tribute to the sport we love. And are we glad he did! I would argue that few know as much about this great sport we love than he does. Just a quick view of RKP tells you that this guy possesses a wealth of knowledge on almost every aspect of the sport. The writing is compelling and there’s always something new. There’s my best recommendation. It’s just great stuff. Subscribe.

Each Friday, Padraig sends the world his Friday Group Ride posts. Topics vary but last week’s caught my attention. He writes that many years ago he was in a staff meeting at a well-known cycling mag and the question of how best to depict the Roadie lifestyle came up. Racing? Commuting? Centuries? This was his conclusion:

My opinion is the same now as it was then: The center of the bullseye of the roadie lifestyle is the group ride.

Not only do I agree wholeheartedly, but I’ve written HERE, HERE, and HERE (among other places) about the innumerable benefits of riding in a group including the fact that Group Rides are the center of any local cycling scene. If you haven’t guessed by now, it’s the major theme of this blog. Regarding Group Rides, Padraig said it well:

As the day-in-day-out social nexus of the riding community anywhere I’ve ever lived, group rides do more for cyclists than provide a great way to train. They offer the community a valuable way for riders to get to know each other and form bonds beyond the sweat that drips off them. I could never live some place that had no group rides.

If you’re a regular on a Group Ride, of course you already know this to be true. If you’re not a regular on a ride, you should seriously consider getting out there and finding a ride that suits your aspirations. You’ll be happy you did – not only for the training but also for the benefits listed in the RKP post: community, insight, motivation, and inspiration.

Head over to RKP now to read Friday Group Ride #58 and follow the comment thread as people weigh in on their local Group Rides from around the world. And subscribe.

It’s late right now as I type. Gotta get to bed. Group Ride in the morning.

Ride on…


8 Ways a Group Ride is Like “Fight Club” – Part 2

Yesterday, I posted Part One of 8 Ways a Group Ride is Like “Fight Club.” I encourage you to read the introduction to this series from yesterday’s post before launching into today’s. This post won’t make much sense otherwise. Here’s the continuation, Rules 6, 7, and 8, with adapted explanations for a Group Ride:

#6 – No shirts, no shoes.

  • There are some rules when it comes to basic, essential attire in a Group Ride. That’s just the way it is. You don’t need a $5,000 bike, a pair of $500 Assos bibs, or the hottest Italian shoes in order to fit in but don’t expect someone to let you in out of the wind if you show up in board shorts and running shoes. You know who I’ll think twice about making room for in a paceline? The dude that shows up on the huge Saturday ride in a skateboarding helmet and t-shirt. Why? ‘Cause if he hasn’t made the basic investment in clothes that work then he’s tipped his hand that he shouldn’t be out there. And he’s probably riding a bike with loose skewers. I don’t want to follow that squirrely guy around a 90 degree downhill corner at 30mph.

#7 – Fights will go on as long as they have to.

  • Some of the best advice I received about cycling came from a 55 year old friend who’s been racing for 40 years and owns multiple national and world masters championships. He told me to take a long-view of this cycling thing. There will be seasons of life where the miles and hours come freely. Other times, he told me, you have to scrap and fight to simply get out on the road a couple of times a week. A bad race or limited training time used to get me down. It would affect other parts of my life and leave me grumpy and pissed off. But you know when I’m most passionate about cycling? When it doesn’t own me and when it’s in its proper, prioritized place in my life. My 55 year old sensei told me that cycling tends to breed or bring out obsessive tendencies in us when it comes to getting the miles in but first things must come first, whatever that means in your life. Unless you’re riding the bike to pay the bills, time off the bike can actually be a good thing for regenerating your passion for riding. So take a long-view. The fight will go on. The road will still be there when you get back. Just make sure to get yourself back in the fight when the time’s right.
#8 – If this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight.
  • This is initiation. If you’re headed out to your first big Group Ride, just know you will get dropped. I don’t mean your first Group Ride in a new area if you’ve been doing Group Rides for years in your old hometown. I mean, your very first Group Ride ever. Dropped. It’s ok. You’ll have aspirations, you’ll hang on as long as you can dangling off the back. But you won’t know where the ride twists and turns or where the regular surges go down. When I first started riding, it took me 2 months just to finish with the big Saturday ride and another 6 months before I started to feel comfortable in the pack. Six months! You may adjust more quickly. Just don’t beat yourself up if you can’t keep up for a few months. Keep at it. You’ll come around. You’ll get stronger. That’s why Group Rides are so awesome. A great truth about cycling that I’ve mentioned before: the best way to become a better, stronger rider is to ride with better, stronger riders. Just know that every single person in the Group Ride including the hot local pro and the old grizzly veteran had to start somewhere. And we all took our turns in those early days getting shelled and dropped. The best fighters at Fight Club have just been at it longer than most, persevering.

There you have it! Any reactions? Any insights to add? Would love to hear.

Ride on…

8 Ways a Group Ride is Like “Fight Club” – Part 1

There are all sorts of Group Rides out there. Some are recovery rides, some tempo spins, some hammerfests. My favorite Group Rides are like a boxing match. Not literally, mind you (though I’ve seen it happen). In the figurative sense, a great Group Ride should be great training. And great training is hard. Head down, pushing to hold the wheel in front, trying to coax another ounce of power from somewhere deep within. When it’s like a boxing match, someone hits out off the front and the group hangs on or chases. Then, there’s barely time to recover and BOOM someone else hits out. Over and over it goes. Barely hanging on. 101% of your maximum effort. Suffering. Too many cyclists ride too many miles in the comfortable, medium tempo zone. These kinds of boxing-match rides balanced with off-day recovery spins are the only way to get stronger. Easy recovery days should feel too easy. On your hard days of training, it should be really hard.

If you’ve seen the movie, “Fight Club” you know that the fights aren’t so much a boxing match as an all-out street brawl. Before you think I’m going all machismo here, let me point out that it’s not a movie about fighting for fighting’s sake. For the characters in the movie, fighting becomes therapy. As the story unfolds, fighting is a metaphor (I guess the screenwriter could have chosen some other backdrop like fly fishing or something but Ed Norton and Brad Pitt punching each other in a basement sell more tickets). I’m obviously not advocating fighting but I am saying that competitive, safe Group Rides are therapy and even a metaphor if you want to see it that way. My favorite Group Rides are like Fight Club.

Here are the 8 rules of Fight Club with adapted explanations for a Group Ride:

#1 – The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club.

  • It’s usually difficult to find information about Group Rides except for possibly a start location and departure time. Occasionally a bike shop website will list rides. Apart from start location and departure time, the listing might read “fast” or “challenging” or “B group” for a slower ride. But when it comes to what the ride is actually like (friendly, competitive, hardcore, etc), you don’t know what the ride is really like until you get out there and do it. Regulars or veteran riders might be able to give you a few insights or tips but experience is the best way to find out. Because outside of the Group, regular people don’t really talk about it. Not because it’s some big secret but because most of the world doesn’t really understand the allure anyway. Kinda like Fight Club. So get out there.
#2 – The second rule of Fight Club is, you DO NOT talk about Fight Club.
  • Ditto. See above.
#3 – If someone says stop, goes limp, taps out, the fight is over.
  • If someone goes down, usually the ride stops unless it’s one of those huge Saturday morning Group Rides. In that case, a small group of riders will stop, usually the friends of the fallen rider, but the rest of the ride will most likely continue. I’m not saying it’s right but watch what happens if there’s a crash on a ride with more than 50 people. If it happens towards the back, the front of the ride won’t even know what happened. However, on a morning ride (where the riders are usually more well-known to each other) or smaller Group Rides, when there’s a crash then the group stops. If it’s a really serious crash involving multiple riders or a car/truck/large stationary object, then the entire ride stops. Game over. Time to take care of a fallen comrade.

#4 – Two guys to a fight.

  • Group Rides like Fight Club are competitive. And it is possible to be competitive and safe at the same time. It just means that riders are pushing each other. The best kind of Group Ride is one where you’re in it with riders that are stronger than you. I’ll say it again because it bears repeating: Ride with riders that are stronger than you. That’s the only way to get stronger.

#5 – One fight at a time.

  • Get in the fight and do something. Don’t be a passenger. Go with the break. Chase down a break. Initiate a move. Pull through in the paceline. You’ll take your licks and you may even give a few. Maybe you’ll win a town-line sprint. Maybe you’ll get dropped. Either way, make sure you do something.  As long as you went to all the trouble to wake up early, kit up, and take precious time away from your family, at least make it worthwhile. Ride hard. Get in the fight.

That does it for Part 1. Part 2 is HERE.

Ride on…

Thanks for Joining the Ride!

We’ve had a big few weeks here at Art of the Group Ride as readership has continued to grow since we launched 4 months ago. More and more of you have come along for the Ride and for that we’re extremely grateful. We’re all time-crunched these days so your internet browsing time is probably limited – so if you’ve enjoyed AGR posts, here are a few quick ways that you can follow along that will make the most of your time:

  1. Subscribe by Email – In the right-hand sidebar, you’ll see a box where you can enter your email address. You won’t receive any spam, just new posts directly to your inbox. WordPress is great like that. Scan it, read it, share it, delete it, whatever you like. Takes 3 seconds to decide & you’re moving on.
  2. Subscribe by Reader – If you haven’t discovered RSS feeds or Readers, this is the best way to organize and quickly scan through blogs that you like. I subscribe to about 200 blogs and regularly scan through post titles, stopping to read a few that seem interesting to me. I think Google Reader is the best out there. It’s free and easy. Simply head over to Google and open a free account. You’ll get a gmail address but you don’t have to use it if you just want to use the Reader.
  3. Become a Facebook Fan – You can find the AGR Facebook page HERE. This is a great way to stay in touch as new posts will show up in your News Feed.
  4. Follow AGR on Twitter – Join the Twitterverse. You can find the AGR Twitter feed HERE. I’ll follow you back too!

MANY thanks to Biking in LA, Richard at Cyclelicious, and Leslie at Go Faster! for linking to AGR over the past week. Also MANY thanks to John and Rachel at Bike Religion and Tony at Joe to Pro Cycling for partnerships in the past few months.

And MANY, MANY thanks to you for reading!

Ride on…

6am Group Ride? Here’s How to Go from Sleeping to Pedaling in 15 Minutes

I love to sleep. And I’m not a morning person. Not a good combo for a cyclist. In order to ride during the week, it’s those early morning hours that I’ve had to make friends with over the years in order to get the miles in. But I usually can’t think straight right when I wake up. Maybe you’re the same. For years, it took me 30 minutes or more from the time I woke up to the time I rolled off in the dark to meet up with the Group Ride. I just move slowly. Searching for knee warmers, fiddling with the floor pump, even struggling with the ratchets on my shoes…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rolled out the door without bottles.

So over the years, I’ve had to develop a routine that involves planning the night before so that I don’t have to think when the alarm goes off. Here are a few tips I’ve learned for making the most of those early morning minutes. The key is preparing all I can and laying it all out so I don’t have to think in the morning. All of this occurs the night before:

  1. Check the weather and temp for the morning, especially for the colder months. The Weather Channel iPhone app has a temp predictor that’s fairly accurate.
  2. Lay out appropriate kit based on temp in order of how I put it on. Socks, knee/leg warmers, bibs, base layer, jersey, arm warmers, gloves, hat, helmet, vest/jacket.
  3. Prepare one bagel with Nutella. Put it in a baggie so it keeps ’til morning.
  4. Fill bottles and put in fridge in the front next to the bagel I’m going to eat in the morning. I’ll forget the bottles if they’re not right next to food. Again, it’s early and dark and I can’t think straight.
  5. Pump up tires. Leave bike by the door. Check to make sure bike lights work. Put phone/ID/keys next to bike.
  6. Fill coffee maker. Set timer on coffee for 5 minutes before I get up.

Here’s the routine in the morning:

  1. Wake up to my ridiculously loud, annoying alarm. Think of 10 reasons why I should stay in bed. Visualize my riding buddies calling me all kinds of names if I skip the ride. Drag myself out of bed.
  2. Dress while checking current temp. Hopefully, I don’t have to look for more layers.
  3. Coffee.
  4. Hit the fridge. Grab bagel and bottles.
  5. Roll out and eat while riding to the Group Ride.

Unless I forget something, I can usually go from getting out of bed to pedaling in 15 minutes.

Any tips from your morning routine? Can you get out the door in less than 15 minutes?

Ride on…

Bike Religion Saturday Morning Group Ride

At 7:30am on Saturday mornings, the Bike Religion crew hosts a Group Ride leaving from the shop at 149 Riverside Drive in Newport Beach. If you live and ride in the Orange County area, you’ve got to check it out.

In case you’re new to this Group Ride thing, here’s why they’re so important for cyclists of all skill levels:

It’s a fact that the strongest cyclists regularly do Group Rides. If you’re even vaguely interested in becoming a better, stronger rider then you need to find a Group Ride near you that fits with your aspirations and get out there. If you’re a regular on a Group Ride then you already know this and you’re reaping the benefits. Being a regular on a Group Ride gives us challenge, motivation, accountability, fellowship, a goal, and a little bit of daily purpose alongside our bigger purposes. When you get the kids to bed on time, get yourself good sleep, wake up early before anyone else, push yourself on the road with those like-minded, and have more fun before 11am than most people have all day then you know you’ve stumbled upon something worthwhile.

A good Group Ride can change your life. Seriously. If you’re a regular on a Group Ride, it already has. You’ve become a better, stronger, faster rider (and maybe even a better person) over time because of your passion and participation.

There are all kinds of Group Rides out there, some great and some not. So you need to know what you’re getting yourself into before you head out. The great aspect about the Bike Religion Group Ride is that riders of any fitness level will fit right in.

So you know what you’re getting yourself into, here are the Top Ten Reasons you should do Bike Religion’s Saturday morning Group Ride:

  1. Discipline, Motivation, and InspirationI find that when I’m disciplined enough to get out of bed to jump in with the group, I’m also more disciplined in other areas of my life: quality time with my family, patience with my toddler, work, sleep, diet, and other life priorities. I’m more motivated to train consistently when I know there are friends out there waiting for me. Additionally, it’s easy to find inspiration when riding with others. I learn a little bit every Group Ride – how to be a better bike handler, when to push and when to sit-in, how the newest gadgets and products work, and how to drive myself just a little bit further.
  2. TrainingThe physical, psychological, and emotional benefits of regular exercise are obvious and well-documented. Add to this, because there’s usually someone stronger than you in the group, there’s no better training than riding your bike with others stronger than you.
  3. Therapy – Most likely, you’ll always in a better state of mind when you get home. The endorphins get going, your brain and body are in sync, and you’re doing something you love. If more people had a positive, healthy outlet like this, the world would be a much better place.
  4. Rhythm – Variety may be the spice of life but regular rhythms and routine are the foundation. The Saturday morning ride is regular and you can count on it. Life = family, work, eat, sleep, ride. Wash, rinse, repeat.
  5. The Cycling Tribe – There are few subcultures with more etiquette, opinions, unique customs and language, unspoken rules, and causes for celebrations. Not many people get it but if you do there’s a special sense of belonging. To the uninitiated, cycling is sometimes viewed as an individual pursuit or maybe something to be shared with a few friends. But you can only be Han Solo for so long. Something special happens when a group of riders all show up at the same place, chat for a few minutes, click into their pedals simultaneously, and roll away into the morning in a blur of color and harmony of movement. The Bike Religion group is a tribe. There are no dues, interest fees, or weird rituals but membership still has its privileges.
  6. An Escape – When you’re pulling along in a good paceline, you’re completely in the moment and there’s not much room to think about anything else. You’re able to forget about struggles at work or home and simply focus on the present. The struggles are obviously still there when you return but you’re usually in a much better frame of mind to face them than when you left. Also, see #3.
  7. A Reality Check – When I ride on my own, I generally take it easier than when I ride with the group. If I go too long without a regular Group Ride then jump back in after a lay-off, I know right where my fitness is. And it’s usually not as good. The Group Ride will make you a stronger, better, more consistent rider.
  8. Self-Selecting – You want to be doing a Group Ride that challenges you at times. So you have to know that there’s a hierarchy out on the road that has nothing to do with your job, paycheck, education, ethnicity, or background. It has to do with your legs. You will find your place in that hierarchy quickly. If you stick with it, you will move up. If you respect the Group Ride’s etiquette, your personhood will not be judged based on where you are in the pecking order; but your legs might. That’s fine because your legs will get stronger.
  9. The Center of Your Local Cycling Culture – Similar to #5 but on a larger scale, those who talk and think about cycling, spend the most money at local bike shops (or online), watch race coverage on Versus, and read the magazines/blogs/websites, are the same folks who frequent Group Rides. If you want to know what’s going on in a local cycling scene anywhere, go do a Group Ride. If you want to know what’s happening in the Orange County cycling scene, you must do the Bike Religion ride.
  10. The Bike Religion Crew is the REAL Deal – We’re talking about the best bike shop with the most knowledgeable and experienced team in Southern California. If you haven’t met the owners John and Rachel personally, be sure to introduce yourself. They’re a power couple but very unassuming and willing to help with anything you need. Rachel is a former PRO racer and in the other, male-dominated Group Rides in the area, she’s up there with the strongest riders. I remember suffering along in the Pro/1/2/3 race at El Dorado Park a few years ago, I looked to my left and there was Rachel spinning effortlessly and breathing normally in the men’s race while I was praying for a flat tire to put me out of my misery. John’s an amateur Cat. 1 but don’t be fooled – he does all the PRO races with all the PRO riders in SoCal and puts the hurt on all the young talent. To this day, one of the hardest efforts I’ve ever made on the bike was simply trying to hold John’s wheel in a race! That being said, the BR ride isn’t a hammerfest and you can trust it’ll be safe and orderly with these folks as your guides. What’s more, with these kinds of pedigrees, you can be sure you have a bike shop staff that knows what they’re talking about.

If Group Rides are the center of any local cycling culture, then the local bike shop is the nucleus. That’s where it all goes down. Bike Religion is where you’ll hear all the stories, get all the information, pick up all the wisdom and insight that you need to become a better, stronger, more informed cyclist. So now there’s really no excuse – get out there! You’ll be happy you did.

Ride on…

Anatomy of a GREAT Group Ride, Part 3

This post is Part 3 in the series, Anatomy of a GREAT Group Ride. I highly recommend that you read PART ONE and PART TWO. If you have, you’ll know that we’ve moved from the Meet Up and the Roll Out, through the Initial Surge, and are now into the heart of the ride.

As in the previous posts, some of these phases will seem obvious but I contend that most of us rarely take the time to fully observe the dynamics present that actually influence the rest of the ride. This series is designed to intentionally take a step back and consider the innumerable social and physical factors that determine the character, quality, and tone of the communal nature of riding bikes in large groups.

Here’s what goes on in the middle of a GREAT Group Ride:

  1. Attacks and Bridges – After the Initial Surge, the pack will tend to settle in for a moment. For many, the ride just got really hard so there are a whole lot of mental calculations going on: how do I feel? How are the legs responding? Where am I in the pack? Who’s up front? Who looks strong and who’s suffering? A hundred considerations go through each riders’ head in an instant. The group is sizing each other up. If you’re suffering, this is one of the most difficult things to do in cycling: attempting to think clearly and objectively while your brain and body go into oxygen debt. The first rider to finish these calculations and who’s feeling good usually attacks or at least tries to move off the front. This brings on a host of new questions: Do I go too? Am I too far back? Is the rider in front of me opening up a gap? Should I close it? There’s always someone ready to go. How the group responds will set up the rest of the ride.
  2. The Paceline – Based on the Group Rides I’ve been involved with over the years, there seems to be 2 schools of thought on this phase: Either a single rider pulls until fatigued then slides off OR a handful of the strongest riders that are committed to keeping the pace high put their money where their mouths are. I’m a big fan of the latter. Not every Group Ride forms a solid, well-ordered paceline somewhere in the middle of the ride but the GREAT Group Rides do. A smooth paceline is one of the more enjoyable aspects of cycling. It takes a group of riders working well together, understanding the intricacies of pace and bike-handling, and a setting aside of personal agendas. This is where you find out who’s come out to play for real.
  3. All Strung Out – One of the results of a consistent, strong paceline is a weary pack as riders dig deep to hang on. As a GREAT Group Ride moves along, things should go in the direction of a fast, single-file pack. A sure sign of a mediocre ride is a bunched up pack, rolling 3-4 wide, at a medium pace. This is one of the beauties of the Group Ride – the strong are at the front while the rest of us are just hanging on. A GREAT Group Ride is great training and digging deep at this point is why Group Rides will make you a better, stronger cyclist.
  4. The Final Pulls – Just before the Lead Out, it seems there are consistently a few riders that won’t commit to banging bars in a Lead Out but they’ve still got some extra fuel in the legs. If you do the same Group Rides long enough, you know who these riders are. I appreciate these riders because they keep the pace high when everyone is starting to get fatigued and they’re not content simply to sit in. So they pour whatever they’ve got left into a few Final Pulls before the more aggressive riders move to the front for the Lead Out. The Final Pulls may actually be faster than the Paceline that preceded it. For the riders still Strung Out, this may be the end of their ride. Popped and dropped. But no matter, the Lead Out and Sprint are not too far away.

I’ll cover the final few phases of a GREAT Group Ride in Part 4. Here are links to the series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Ride on…