Group Ride Faux Pas - 12 Rules To Keep It Tidy
The golden group ride; as rare as 26" wheels at an EWS round.
Your bike is perfectly tuned, suspension recently serviced, brakes bled, rubber new. The dirt is tacky yet forgiving, the temperature is perfect and you feel strong like you've been doping with the Russian team. Pre-ride, everyone is back-slapping and jovial. Your buddy who is always late miraculously shows up early and for once he doesn't need to swap a rotor or slap in a tube. Everything is looking good, And then the unexpected happens; nothing goes wrong. Nobody breaks a thumb crashing awkwardly on a slow corner, all tires hold air and you can't hear a single voice bitching about the trails you chose.
And then it really gets good. You are riding better than you can remember, and your buddies are shredding hard as well. Their stoke amplifies yours until you are "feeding off each other" and your bullet train effortlessly devours miles of singletrack. In fact you slay lines you usually back away from, and soon everyone hits another level. The buzz keeps ramping and you've got energy tin reserve. Spontaneous high fives erupt regularly and the smiles are broad and genuine.
It's always that easy...
The sobering reality is that when you put 4 or more riders together the chances of everything turning out golden are like the medal odds Vegas gave Eddie The Eagle. You'll need riders who are compatible on and off the bike, no mechanical issues and some agreement about where to go. In fact it's a miracle group rides turn out well as often as they do when so much can go sideways. Of course you can't plan for acts of god; a tree falling on your bike, traffic making riders late or trails that are blown out and dusty. But there are things we can do to help things gel, especially when riding with a new group. Established crews know what to expect, and your buddies have decided to put up with your crap. If however you are with a new group you could seriously mess with the balance if you don't keep it tidy.
This list is filled with things I have done to piss off groups of riders in the past. I've heard slow learners make good teachers so I may be the Mr. Miyagi of group rides.
Since nobody wants to be the jerk who screws up the ride, here's a serious inventory of behavioural strategies guaranteed to help you integrate.
1. Keep it tight and be on time. Don't mess with airflow before the bird even gets off the ground or you may not recover. And if you are late maybe bring coffee and donuts.
2. Chip in. There's nothing worse than the dumbass who is cruising Tinder while everyone else is unloading bikes or clearing the trail. Either you're in or you're in the way.
3. Have your shit together. Make sure your water is filled, tires and suspension are up to pressure and be geared up and ready. A lot of this should happen the night before. Military precision is recommended.
4. Give lots of advice. Start with set up. Tell one of the riders you've just met that his bars are too long and point out for another that her tires are going to suck on the trails you are about to ride. Even better, if someone is struggling give them some riding tips. Things like, "you might want to start looking a little further ahead,". or maybe, "have you thought about getting off your brakes?" Those go over really well. /SARC
If you have words of wisdom you might want to leave them for post-ride beers. Or for never.
5. Don't bro down too hard pre-ride, talking about all the gnarly trails you've ridden. Nobody wants to ride with that dude (usually a dude) or that chick. Those are perfect post ride tales once you've been welcomed to the tribe.
6. If you are struggling, suck it up and avoid listing excuses. Maybe you were up all night with the new baby, maybe you haven't ridden for a month, both your rotors could be rubbing hard or maybe you've contracted rabies. Suck it up buttercup because nobody wants to hear it. Bruised egos heal and everyone has been the rider at the back of the pack on occasion.
7. Sit back and figure out where you fit in. Even if you think you're the fastest rider, hang back in the pack and let things sort themselves out. Eventually, the ride order will appear and, assuming you aren't riding with a bunch of jackasses who all think they are faster than they are, you'll find your spot in the order. Once you sort that out, let faster riders go ahead. There's nothing worse than getting stuck behind someone slower than you on a fun section of trail.
8. Leave some breathing room. If you do get stuck behind someone a little slower on a particular section it's likely not cricket to be buzzing tires or running them over if they go down. Now if it's one of your buddies, have at 'er. In fact, dangerous passes that leave them in the rhubarb are to be encouraged with those jerks you usually ride with.
9. Don't bitch about trail choice. If you are the new rider in the crew it's likely you aren't going to be setting the route, and even if it's uphill both ways, just smile and spin.
10. Don't use Strava. This doesn't apply specifically to this list, but I thought I'd toss it in. (note for the comments section – if you like Strava that's fine. I guess.)
11. Don't discuss the 2nd Amendment. Or Donald Trump.
12. Bring beer. More beer than you think you'll need (in a cooler of course) because cold ones attract a crowd, and if you don't drink them all they won't go bad before you get thirsty again.
On the other side, if you are already part of the group make sure you do what you can to welcome the new rider into the fold. We mountain bikers need to stick together.
Feel free to add some serious suggestions below.