How to Lead a Group Bike Ride that Doesn't Suck for Beginners
If you’ve been on a bike for a while, try to think back to your first few group rides. What were they like? Did people introduce themselves? Did you feel comfortable? Were you afraid of getting left behind?
My first group ride was with Team in Training. I had just signed up for my first triathlon and showed up for our weekly Saturday ride. Although I had ridden a hybrid bike for commuting and had a tiny bit of mountain biking experience in my twenties, nothing prepared me for showing up to a group ride with 75 motivated triathletes.
Even though TNT is known as a beginner-focused program, my team was mostly full of seasoned vets who were training for their first half Ironman with an eye to a full Ironman the next year. I was one of a handful of athletes signed up for an Olympic distance triathlon, riding a hybrid bike, and wearing a t-shirt and my Nike running shorts.
Talk about feeling out of place. I almost packed up my car and left before we even started as one matching spandex-wearing person after the next pulled out their expensive bikes, bike shoes, fancy sunglasses, and a plethora of other items that I had never seen before.
Thankfully, one of the other women noticed how out of place I felt, introduced herself, and told me we would ride together. She stayed with the me the entire way, sharing stories and cheering me on. About 6-weeks later, when I bought my first road bike and bike shoes, she hung out with me while I fell over in the parking lot THREE times. Thanks to Beth, I fell in love with cycling. Her ability to see an anxious newbie who didn’t feel like she fit in, has given me the gift of almost a decade of cycling.
Cycling communities are constantly saying that they want to get more people on to bikes and one of the best ways to do this is to offer beginner friendly rides that are actually beginner friendly.
Here are my tips and observations from participating in group rides with dozens of different bike shops, clubs, and casual groups over the years:
Offer beginner friendly rides.
That seems obvious right? But a lot of times a ride says it’s beginner-friendly but the distance or pace are not conducive to beginners. Even if a beginner is fairly fit, she may feel nervous about riding a longer distance on her first ride….and a longer distance is probably a lot less than you think. Have an option to make your normal loop shorter at a more relaxed pace or have a beginner ride leader. If no newbies show up, then everyone just rides the original route at the same pace.
Make sure you are accurately communicating
If your ride is a 14-16 mph no drop ride, then make sure it is that. Also keep in mind that pace doesn’t mean a lot to a new cyclist. There’s a good chance that they don’t know the difference between a 12 mph and 22 mph pace. Keep an eye on the new person and make sure they are enjoying the ride rather. Slow down if needed. Again, this is where having a designated rider for beginners helps.
Introduce yourself to every new person and ask their name.
This seems like a no-brainer but I rarely see it happen when I show up to a new group. I typically am the one introducing myself to everyone in the group. As the group leader or group veterans, it’s your job to welcome new people into the group.
Ask good questions to find out if they are new to cycling.
Questions will help you get to know the person and determine what they need. Some examples are
Have you been riding long?
Have you done many group rides?
Do you have everything you need for tonight’s ride? (Which leads to the next point).
Make sure they have everything they need for the ride.
Another one of my early group ride mishaps was forgetting my water bottles as I walked out the door. I was running late to the ride and didn’t realize that I had no water until I got there. One of the women on the ride gave me one of her water bottles. I would have had a miserable night without her.
Give them an overview of the route.
Riding a new route can be intimidating for a newbie. If I know that there’s a really big hill at mile 8 or that we’ll hit some bumpy road at mile 10, I’m going to feel a lot more comfortable with the ride.
We all start somewhere. After one of my first group rides, someone came up to me and told me that I would be a strong cyclist if I kept at it. Those words meant the world to me.
But also be honest
Especially in the off-road scene, someone can get in over their head really quickly. If you know you’re route is too technical or has too much climbing for the person’s expressed fitness level, communicate that up front. Ultimately people are adults and they make their own choices but no one wants to get to a place where they are in way over their head.
To bring more women into the sport, we need to have safe places for them to learn and have success. Sometimes we sacrifice a little bit of our fun to help new people learn fall in love with the sport….but then again, maybe watching someone discover a love for cycling is the most fun you can have on a group ride!