Herding a group ride

Hello internet friends,

I’ve been asked by our tri club to lead next seasons bike training. It sounds cool and I might do it but I’ve got zero experience in group riding, at least on the road. While I’m confident in my general qualification, I’m a certified trail guide and have led plenty of off-road rides, road seems to be a different animal. The previous coach told me that the group covers a fairly wide w/kg continuum, maybe 2.5 - 4.5 w/kg. She told me she threw in the towel because she could never keep the group together, with the faster guys always raising the pace.

How do you deal with this? It’s clearly meant more as a social ride, but it appears the expectation is that it resembles some form of training. Before I split the group or establish a behave-or-be-gone rule, I’d much rather find a way to keep everybody happy.

I was thinking having a interval session on the middle where everybody can choose the length for themselves and have each interval start at the same location. Or maybe find a route where the stringer riders can ride a detour now and then where they can bury it. But that’s all I can think of at the moment.

Anyone else dealing with this kind of stuff and can share experience how to lead such a group?

Cheers!

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A few thoughts:

  1. Lay out the rules before the ride, both via whatever comms your club uses (Facebook, etc) and in person before the ride starts. Things you might want to cover include whether it’s a drop or no drop ride, average pace, if there are sections where the group has to stay together vs sections where people have a bit more latitude to go off the front, any designated stop points or sprint points, etc
  2. Point people in the direction of some general pointers on group riding etiquette. E.g. https://trainright.com/cycling-group-ride-etiquette-skills/ Particularly with triathletes who may not have much experience of group riding
  3. With that range of fitness then you either need to split the group or have designated sections where the stronger riders are free to let off some steam. E.g. a normal approach around here is that groups stay strictly 2 abreast and at a sensible pace initially while we get away from more built up areas and to give everybody a chance to warm up. Then there will be one or more sections where the group splits a bit building towards a designated sprint or hilltop, followed by a regroup (which can be a full stop if the group is very spread out, or can just mean the riders on the front coasting for a few minutes while people get back on). Other option is to include a section of rotating paceline where the stronger riders do some big turns and people that are struggling skip a few turns or sit on the back. Then we’ll go back to 2 abreast and more sedate pace as we head back into town and cool down a bit. The aim should be to have enough fast sections that the stronger riders get a good workout and burn some matches, that way they’re much more likely to be happy to go at an easier pace when you need them to. Your idea of a longer detour for stronger riders could also work, though then you need a second ride captain so you have one with each group
  4. Enforce the rules! The enforcement needs to be proportionate to the offence and the number of times they’ve repeated it. E.g. somebody being a bit overenthusiastic during the warmup just needs reining in and reminding that there’s a sprint or hill section coming up that they can save their energy for. Some people just need to be made aware of the impact their actions have on others e.g. half-wheeling, taking a drink and deviating from their line. Unfortunately there can also be a few individuals who just ride like dicks without consideration for other people or even their own safety. Hopefully you won’t have any of those, but if you do and they’re not prepared to change their ways then you need to tell them to find another ride sooner rather than later, as otherwise the people who are just looking for a good, enjoyable, safe group ride will head elsewhere.
  1. Helps to have a few other experienced riders in the group, if there’s just one of you trying to enforce order on mayhem then you’re going to struggle. Also helps if you yourself are one of the stronger riders so that you can position yourself around the group as necessary. If the faster riders are upping the pace then they’re more likely to listen to you if you’re able to ride up alongside them and ask them to take it down a notch, rather than if you’re breathlessly shouting at them from 50 yards back :wink:
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When I’ve led rides I’ve always said at the start that it’s OK for anyone to go ahead of me but if they do they are in effect off the ride and if we make a turn and therefore lose them then it;'s their responsibility to get back to the group if they want to. Having a responsible back marker is always a good idea if the group is fairly large.

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Maybe if you haven’t got experience of group riding on the road yourself, find a group you can ride with a couple of times to see how it works? Or if you have experienced riders in the club, ask them to help and you just look after route planning etc for the first rides.

To the excellent points above I’d add to keep the group a reasonable size maybe not more than 12-14, otherwise it becomes hard to ride further back. Also if you have people taking turns - stronger riders need to tale longer turns, not harder ones. If people have power meters, ask them to work out what power they can do at the front without dropping anyone, and then ride to that.

And shout out obstacles. This isn’t as important off road because you sort of expect them, and you usually ride a bit further stretched out. But if you’re inches behind someone’s wheel, you can’t see potholes, and road tyres are not great dealing with sudden impact.

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I’ve a couple of suggestions:

  1. If you don’t know how to ride in a group, it is important to have someone else on board who can explain and deal with etiquette like how you rotate, what hand signs and shouts you use, when to stay 2 abreast and when to single out etc. this is really important, because riding erratically in a group can cause crashes and put the whole group in danger.
  2. It’s useful to have a ride leader and a second in command - that way you can have one person near the front, and one person near the back to reign in the stronger people and support the weaker ones at the same time. It also helps if it splits for some reason.
  3. You need to define the purpose of the ride at the start. If it’s a social ride, then it’s a social ride, and those that want to do training should go somewhere else. Fundamentally you can’t have training rides that cater to new riders and super-fast racers. The road club I’m part of had a problem where the “Dev” ride for people who were thinking about racing kept getting blown apart by the super strong racer types out to smash it. After a bit of friendly discussion, there’s now a separate Screamer ride alongside Dev for those people, and if they go on Dev instead it is clear that they can’t go too hard.
    The only exception I can think of is if this ride has a cafe stop. One way to allow mixed training is for the ride to split at an agreed point and meet up again at a cafe. That way the fast group can take the long way around and go as hard as they like, and the slower group can be more social and everything can regroup at the cafe.
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one of our local club rides is no drop to a certain landmark or point (in our case, a coffee shop which is approximately 20 miles out). After that, the main group breaks up into smaller groups based on ability/ambition/distance and is a drop ride from there. This keeps most people happy with a social element and a chance to do some real hammering without the detriment to the entire club ride.

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One of our local group rides was starting to have this issue. The leader of the group turned it into a fox and hound chase. The B group left 5-10 minutes before the A group and the A group chased until they caught them if they caught them. It really motivates both groups.

Also the B group if they are caught quickly for some reason there is a short cut to put the B group back in front of the A group to start the chase over again.

The ride is normally a 50 ish mile ride.

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“One of our local group rides was starting to have this issue. The leader of the group turned it into a fox and hound chase. The B group left 5-10 minutes before the A group and the A group chased until they caught them if they caught them. It really motivates both groups”

This is the format of our race clubs Tuesday night worlds. C group goes, 6 min later B group, 10 min later A group. Although this is definitely NOT billed as a social ride. It’s billed as a cut throat hammer fest drop ride… But within that, there is definitely a coaching aspect within each group. We’re lucky to have a couple legit pros that join the ride regularly (Eddie Anderson, Brian Lewis). Each group has a designated “safety officers” as well as a specified protocol for dealing with/reporting aggressive drivers.

The social aspect of the ride is at the bar after…

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It is quite possible to have a ride made up of 2.5 to 4.5+ w/kg riders that functions well as a group ride. I do a couple with that kind of range of abilities and we have no trouble sticking together.

You need the faster folks to not push the pace too hard on the steady parts and have designated segments where the gloves come off with designated regrouping spots at the end of each such segment. The issue you’ll have with triathletes is that for the fast folks, a “hard segment” might mean a 15 mile TT off the front which will have them waiting for 15 minutes for everyone else to show up whereas its not hard to keep a group of fast roadies to be happy with a couple 5 minutes sprint efforts or a 10 minute climb or 2 on a 2 hour ride.

If at all possible, try to come up with a course where the fast parts are loops where slower people can cut them short or skip one altogether. I do a couple rides with that feature and it works great. And not just for the slow people. You know when a big race weekend is coming up when the cat 1’s are skipping the hard parts on the Thursday ride :wink:

Our Tuesday drop ride split into this format. It worked until some took it too seriously and started riding unsafely (blowing stop signs and red lights, cutting off traffic in circles, etc) while thinking staying away or catching actually meant something. Personally, for this ride, I’d prefer one group and you hang on as long as you can… if you get dropped, better luck next week. My goal is a hard workout and I can get exactly that even when riding within the rules of the road and being an advocate for cycling. I save racing for real races on the weekend.

Good luck to the OP on keeping a group ride together. In my experience, larger groups don’t stand a chance of keeping egos in check (and the group together).

I think most everyone has covered the big points. If the group is otherwise safe and has ridden together multiple times, there probably isn’t a need to go over those rules, other than the one(s) you want to emphasize. In this case, it seems like the group splinters and really becomes multiple groups over the course of the ride.

You’ve really got two solutions to this: 1) State that flyers will basically be considered as abandoning the group (i.e. they don’t factor into your plans, anymore), or 2) just break up the group into different speeds.

Different factors might flummox each approach. For example, if the group just can’t keep themselves from chasing flyers, then you’re going to have to split the group. Alternatively, if there aren’t enough people to warrant smaller groups of different speeds, you’re going to have to crack the whip on the flyers.

In my local club rides, if someone takes off during a hill climb, we just let them go. I just call “go at your own pace” and we regroup at the top of the hill, or the next stop sign, or whatever. If we’re in a paceline and the leader surges away, I call “you’re off the front” or “slow it down” – if they don’t slow down, then the person behind them becomes the de facto lead of the paceline, and we just let the flyer go. Eventually they look back, see that they’re way off the front, and have to slow down, anyway.

I think the bottom line is that if the group is consistently fragmenting, maybe it’s because they don’t want to ride as a group, in which case, just splitting the faster riders off and letting them leave, first (so there’s no chance of catching them, and no temptation to do so) is the only solution. Good luck!

The regular group rides and on the ones that are cohesive, there is a lot of chatting going on in the peloton. They have parts where we hammer on each other but the key to groupness is that there is a very good chance when things get back to being 2 by 2, people are chatting with the guy or gal next to them.

Aside from all the good riding tips here, cultivate a group ride culture where folks chat with each other and know people’s names. Its easy to leave strangers behind but you’ll actually want to wait up for your friends. Make it a group and it will behave like a group.

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One other trick worth trying is a paceline practice at a relatively manageable speed. Just drive home the fact that it is being run on a pace and no ‘pulling through’ when you get to the front or blasting the corners. The guy on the front is responsible to hold the line together. The constant focus on position tends to distract the speed freaks and the lower watt guys get to hide as much as they can. win win.

Plus it looks cool.

I think it is most important to clearly define the goal of the ride for yourself and for everyone attending

You can change the goal as the season progresses, or even within a ride (social/group riding until coffee shop then hammer fest back to the start) or pick one and have it remain constant

Without a clear message to everyone about what the ride is you will inevitably disappoint or even anger some riders. If someone wants to get a great workout in and someone else wants to learn how to ride comfortably in a paceline they aren’t both going to have a great time

Once you pick the goal and communicate it to everyone then you can fairly easily follow the appropriate suggestions from elsewhere in this thread, but before you know why people are showing up and what they are trying to achieve on the ride you’re bound to have a bad time enforcing any sort of rules

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I’d start the ride off by saying that this is not about finding out who is the strongest or “Willy Waving” as we say in the UK. The ride is about keeping everyone together. Try having a look at this:

https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/knowledge/skills/road-racesmart/article/izn20141117-Road-How-to-ride-through-and-off--chaingang----Racesmart-0

add weighted backpacks to make all w/kg equal. voila!


i guess that’s not really a good tip

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But it made me giggle. :+1:t4:

Thank you, that’s all excellent advice. I’ll try out some of the recommendations and take the suggestions seriously. Some form of having the faster riders hammer some sections and regroup later seems like a great idea to facilitate a ride for riders of different levels.

I honestly don’t agree with this at all. You could always think of it like a Team Time Trial, stronger riders don’t go harder, they go longer. My advice, keep everyone together, the faster guys shouldn’t need to view this as a key training session.

That works up until a point, but with a range of 2.5-4.5W/kg it’s very hard to keep one group. Might just about work on the flats if the stronger riders are happy to keep the whole thing below threshold and are super aware of not surging out of corners, from stop lights, etc. Doesn’t sound like they’re anywhere near being on board with that at the moment. And if there are hills then all bets are off - a 4.5W/kg rider can be riding at an easy 65% and a 2.5W/kg rider is going to be into the red trying to hang on.

I don’t know any rides that are managing to keep everybody happy with that kind of range of fitness. Some that stay together for the warm up or cooldown with stronger riders doing longer turns as you suggest, but they all have some way of letting stronger riders let off steam at some point, whether it’s a sprint, a climb, splitting the group in 2 after a halfway drinks stop, etc.