Riding with others is safer, can push you to new heights … or can look a lot like what you went to the woods to escape
Story & Photos: Randy King
Riding at night is best with a group or at least with a buddy
For the first time in my mountain biking life I am part of a regular riding group. Over the last year I have ridden with these guys in rain, summer’s heat, by blue light of LED’s and on a misbegotten adventure in the snow. The cast of characters shifts around one central figure, Scott, who recruits and bonds with the rest of us.
In the late ’90’s I came out for a few night group rides. However, they were things of pain and suffering, cut with only slightest companionship. So for years after most of my rides were just me and two wheels.
Yet riding with others makes sense for most big mountain riding, both for safety’s sake, and for the companionship that forms when we share a big adventure. It’s also a great way to get and stay motivated. So, how to keep group rides at their best and minimize the downsides that can spoil everything?
Ingredients for good group rides:
-camaraderie – If it ain’t fun, why do it? The best groups get along well. Or at least well enough to stick together and have some fun. In Active.com, Active Expert Joe Decker, an ultra-endurance power athlete and renowned fitness trainer, says: “Get out of your cubicle, your car or your house and go meet other people that have a common interest just like you. You never know, you might just meet some real friends instead of the ones you find online.”
-competition – If you can’t test yourself against somebody, why do it? Friendly competition is a vital element of mountain biking. It’s a lifestyle where every yard of trail may present a new challenge. It may not matter who gets back to the parking lot first, but great energy will be spent on who can master one log or that 20-foot long rocky section. “Not only are you more motivated to get out of bed and exercise, but there’s the motivation to improve your current fitness level.” says Active Expert, Joe Decker on Active.com. “If you work out with people who are faster, stronger or fitter than you, you are probably going to get in better shape.”
-patience – Group rides are group efforts. The odds are slim of assembling more than 2-3 riders of exactly the same skill level with the same tastes in trail preference. Group rides are about compromise on both ends. The faster riders get to wait for the slower ones, and the slower ones should push themselves to ride faster than they would on their own. Downhill demons will hang out at the bottom for the mortals to descend; climbing freaks get a welcome break at the top while the lung-limited masses claw their way up. A good group adopts the Marine Corps mantra of never leaving a buddy in the field.
-organization – So it’s about compromise. That being said, somebody has to line up the dots to pull the thing off. Especially if it’s an out-of-towner. Ideally the load of logistics will get spread around. And the rest of the group should comply by being on time for rides, bringing along their own food, common repair items, and adequate clothing, safety equipment, etc. On the trail someone has to pick the route – if you’re blessed with a trail system with more than one loop. Share the load, or keep the complaints to a minimum.
-variety – shake things up a bit. Go for out-of-towners, ride the same-old loop the other direction, mix in night rides. Invite new folks. Few mountain bikers enjoy doing the same lap every time. Have somebody else lead the ride if the normal leader is feeling burnt out. We don’t ride mountain bikes because we love predictability. If you’re getting burnt out on mountain biking, than I say drive somewhere – it doesn’t have to be far – and point your knobbies down a trail you haven’t rode. It will remind you of why you love this fat-tired fad. And, if you have a strong group that likes riding together, start planning your trip to a mountain biking Mecca. When my brother and I were in Moab in 2007, we shared our campground with a big group from CO. They were a Tuesday night ride group that had grown and bonded and now made multi-day trips to places like Moab to ride together. Those folks knew about camaraderie! Watching them jump their blazing bonfire to the tune of their own guitar music made me envious of such a tight-knit riding group.
Spoilers for group rides:
-selfishness - Group rides are not about stomping the rest of the group into submission or surrender. Nor are they about being the center of attention. They are about the group and everybody having a good time. Riders who are always dragging the group along at a lung-searing pace, or those who are dragging the end of the line all the time should consider finding another group. If you’re all friends then you should ride at a compromise pace. That’s what friends do.
-unfriendliness - Nobody likes a jerk. Just because someone’s the best rider doesn’t mean they have the right to rebuff the rest of the group. These are the people who may be carrying you out of the woods if something goes wrong. Save the attitude for race day. Be friendly, get others interested in our sport. Like we learned in grade school, it takes less effort to smile than to frown.
-unsafe practices – I know, it’s an unsafe sport, so what is an “unsafe practice”? It’s relative, but riders who put others in danger don’t belong in a group ride. Danger comes in many different packages. Consistently riding beyond personal abilities, riding poorly-maintained equipment, not wearing a helmet, taking the group on trails that exceed the experience of group members, not waiting for the slow riders, bailing out without telling anybody, etc. A good group ride depends on the right people. If you’re in with the wrong folks, find yourself a new group. If you’re guilty of some the above, then now is the time to turn over a new leaf.
-poor planning – No big deal, right? And so it might be on a 1-2 hour friendly. However, it gets serious fast when somebody has a mechanical failure or breaks a bone several miles from the nearest road and nobody has any tools or a working cell phone, or has told anybody where they are or when the ride should wrap-up. When it comes to planning, the old proverb rings true: a stitch in time saves nine.
I definitely recommend riding with others as part of your time on two wheels. When you’re out with a bunch of amigos, remember to have fun and be safe. Patience, organization and variety are keys to making that happen. Happy Trails!
Group rides in Lynchburg, VA: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday @ Winngate Inn on Candler’s Mountain Road. Park in the lot to the right of the entrance. Usually a 2-2.5 hour ride, medium pace.
Group rides in Roanoke, VA: Roanoke Outside
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