Endangered: Group Training Rides

As most avid cyclists know: it can be difficult to find the necessary motivation to get out and push yourself when you are riding solo, especially when the weather isn’t playing nice. The group training ride served as a fantastic motivational forum for more experienced cyclists to stretch athletic abilities, gain strength and skills. Until quite recently, the group training ride was also a great experience for beginning cyclists to learn the ‘rules of the road’.

So, why is it that many group training rides have now evolved into some sort of awful etiquette-vacuum of mindless sprints, general chaos, and savage mayhem?

We might need to add structured training rides to the Endangered List.

bike-rideStep Back in Time

One day over a year ago I remarked to a friend that it seemed like all newer cyclists had a complete lack of any sort of cycling etiquette, basic skills, or even an awareness of pace-line rules (or that there should even be any). At the time: I chalked it up to the fact that there are fewer group training rides from inside of urban areas and the environment of constant traffic over haphazard road surface intermingled with stoplights makes it challenging to absorb anything outside of ‘fight-or-flight’ mode.

Not too many months later, I rejoined a group ride outside of the city that was originally my first serious bike riding experience so many years ago when I was a newbie. It was also where I learned all about the do’s and don’ts of being a cyclist.

Destined for Disappointment

After about mile 15 or so and the sixth or seventh sprint (or was it a constant sprint from the word “Go”?) I sat up and said a few words that would make your grandmother faint. I. Was. Angry. It wasn’t that I lacked motivation or athletic ability – I was fed up with worrying that I would be taken out by some wobbly wheeler barging in from any direction (like being swarmed by deranged gremlins!).

Very few were watching whether they crossed wheels with someone and apparently attacking from from the shoulder was perfectly acceptable. These idiots had never heard of paceline etiquette and I’m pretty sure the paceline most races I’ve competed in were better organized.

Besides, why were there ‘attacks’ in a training ride?

Chaos Unleashedattack

Aggravated, but determined, I hung on to a smaller chase group that at least decreased my chances of an accident but none of them had an idea of how to work together as a group or any concern for the folks they cycled with. It was everyone for themselves and a full-on unofficial race without any regard for race rules or any actual points to be had.

In other words: it was absolute chaos.

This was not a training ride. I’m not sure what to call it, other than complete stupidity, but there was nothing in the experience that even smelled like a training ride outside of usual bad body odour. Training rides have structure, purpose, and an unspoken agreement to look out for others unless otherwise stated at the beginning of the ride. If you go through the trouble of organizing a ride, advertising the estimated speed range and length: then it is structured. If you show up and it’s labeled a ‘drop ride’ – you can bet you are on your own and better hold on for dear life. Either way: there is STILL paceline etiquette for the safety of the group!

Mayhem Ride, Not Training Rides

After some investigation I found that most of the larger weekend organized rides outside of town were conducted with some flavor of chaos, unlike the norm from years ago. At least I had an answer to why many ‘newbie’ cyclist rode like vacuum-brained retards. There was NO WAY for them to learn cycling etiquette in THIS environment! At first I thought that maybe it was because all of the slightly crusty, experienced cyclists had gotten tired of telling everyone how to conduct themselves for the safety of the group or maybe they all retired. I still didn’t have an answer to this very troublesome question…

WHY are training rides on the endangered list?

This past summer, my husband decided to link up with his buddies on Strava. Immediately thereafter, every ride we had together became a full throttle Zone 3-4 battle; regardless of where I was in my training program. Active rest day – what rest day? No recovery days, no base miles, structured training thrown out of the window and every ride at full speed or else. What the @#$! happened?? If you are TRAINING, there must be STRUCTURE. Otherwise, you will get no gains, become burned out, plateau or suffer from the ‘Dead Zone’ – which comes from riding in Zone 3 too often. Then it hit me … he was competing on Strava!

Blinding Flash of the Obvious

Strava kills training rides.

I can’t believe how blind I have been to WHY training rides are endangered. It all boils down to a very simple psychological concept that sprung from good intentions (the road to Hell is paved with that stuff too). Strava is a great online tool to encourage and motivate the cyclist, however it has morphed into something that is also causing the death of any decent training ride because some knucklehead has to get the ‘Strava-segment’ or a ‘KOM’. This has replaced the steady-paced rides designed to build strength and endurance with designated sprint zones because now anyone can set a ‘segment’ anywhere.

Our own psychology then becomes our achilles heel. We  cyclists are competitive creatures and must try to beat the previous record!

Our Own Worst Enemy

In lieu of establishing goals and following some sort of training plan, weekend warriors go out and practically kill one another to get more kudos on Strava. At the very least, there is this ever-present concern that the Strava posted ride won’t measure up to their buddies, driving silly behavior. These same bike riding wanna-be racers will then complain because their endurance has plateaued and they can’t get any further gains. Well, DUH. The only way to see progression is to allow your body variance in the types of training you do and accept that recovery is just as important as pushing yourself. 

Carmichael Training

Cycling Etiquette for a Reason

Cycling etiquette is not just for Bike Nazi’s or crusty old veterans of the road – it’s for your own good. Years ago (before I was born) cycling etiquette and paceline rules came into being because riding your bike in a group can be deadly without rules. Calling out obstacles, only overtaking on the left, how to behave when you are leading, not overlapping wheels, how to draft, hand-signals, and so on were developed so everyone got home safe and no one went to the hospital (or left in a body-bag).

As cycling become more popular: further etiquette expectations evolved for training rides that benefitted everyone and their development: establishing distances, average speed, and whether it’s a ‘drop’ or ‘no-drop’ ride. This sets the stage and riders know how to behave. On a no-drop ride, you will call out mechanicals or flats and the group stays together for safety. Advertising the speed allows other cyclists to understand if they can keep up or go with another group.

Rules Aren’t for Haters

I understand that cycling etiquette can be a touchy subject, but there are a few basics that cannot be ignored and are there for the safety of the group.

Article: The Lost Art Of The Group Ride

What has evolved from the good intentions of Strava is chaos and has already increased the incidents of cycling injuries that don’t involve motorists. By ignoring the rules of group riding, cyclists are putting themselves and everyone else in danger. If people want to ride like maniacs: advertise a ‘drop ride’ but don’t ignore basic etiquette. In the haste to bag the KOM basic courtesies are being tossed aside because the weekend warrior has no idea how to behave in race conditions.

If you want to learn how to race – sign up, pin a number on and get out there! Otherwise, keep the ‘racing’ out of training rides because it will not go well.

As an anti-electronic gadget throwback, I don’t participate in Strava but as a human psychology professional I understand how it can unconsciously drive behavior. I’m not sure it’s realistic to expect people to exert control on themselves in order to reclaim the training rides of old. Instead, I see smaller groups riding together that agree upon expected norms and hold themselves accountable to those guidelines in order to train, experience the benefits of group riding and get home safely.

Whatever you do and however you ride I hope that this article has at least brought awareness.

Cycle On Friends!

just ride

One thought on “Endangered: Group Training Rides

  1. This article has sparked some conversation in our riding group as we have witnessed the exact devolvement of the organized group ride. We split from the old larger group and formed our own sort of invite only group. We have steady paced rides with designated sprint/effort sections and ALWAYS come back together and perform a headcount after these faster sections. As you mentioned, human nature still affects us and the competitive nature of group members still cause some stampeding in the faster (Strava segmented) areas. As a result, there are constant reminders to use your brain (the logical part) and be safe, don’t take stupid risks. A Strava PR or KOM is not worth a broken collar bone or worse.

    Thanks for the article and stay safe everyone!!


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