Group rides are the primary medium for the development of cycling skills and forging new friendships around bicycling. You can visit any good bike town and walk into a bike shop and ask where the group ride meets. There’s gotta be one. The benefits group riding returns help towns develop greater bicycle friendliness. Group rides increase the visibility of bicycling, encourage people to ride, and inspire bicyclists to ride more and accelerate the improvement of bicycling skills.
The Saturday morning show and go ride in Flagstaff has been the staple for my training the last ten years. When I moved to Flagstaff in August 2004 I bought a full suspension mountain bike from Absolute Bikes. The public lands that ring town in every direction were so enticing I spent all my time stringing rides together like spokes on a wheel emanating out from Flagstaff exploring as much open country as I could on dirt forest roads and singletrack. I would spend all day riding carrying a backpack loaded with provisions. I thought I was in pretty good shape. But when I showed up for the group ride they applied some checks and balances to my perceptions. I got dropped like an anchor weight. The test of fitness and measure against other athletes the group ride fosters is a great way to prepare for competition.
People are social animals so riding with others adds a whole new dimension to what a bike ride can offer. My favorite aspect of group rides is meeting new people! That is as exhilarating as the ride! Outside of work bicycling is one of the best social mixers. It is like a Saturday morning dance party on a bike. People of varying skills, backgrounds and abilities mesh and synchronize moving to the elevating rhythm of the wheels turning round and round. Because it is an inclusive and open invitation, anyone can show and you meet college students, newly arrived families in town, visiting athletes, doctors, lawyers, engineers, hippies, public employees, you name it, it is a relatively complete cross section of the community. The conversation is very diverse and stimulating, and since our windows are always down, you can pick up streams of words you wouldn’t otherwise be privy to. It is very inspiring riding side by side with people from diverse backgrounds. Anyone can ride a bike and just about everyone does. I’ve met so many interesting people through biking and made long lasting friendships.
The support and sharing elements are what the Flagstaff group ride excels at. If somebody gets a flat or has a mechanical we’ll try to help and often times there is a sharing of repair tools and labor (or, everyone will smilingly supervise you as you perform the labor). The other day I saw a rider dressed out in an old Grand Canyon Racing jersey and shorts from the team I was on back around 2006. I asked him about the uniform and he said Jim gave it to him. The sharing of resources and assistance to new and enthusiastic riders is customary. Jim has won so many jerseys over the years he has to make room for the new ones in his closet anyway.
The education and training a group ride delivers is second to none. If you are training for a race or charity ride or event that involves riding with other people, the group ride is the best place for your to prepare. You can build skills in a friendly environment and watch the master level cyclists to pick up best practices. You may be able to download free coaching advice by asking curious questions. Trying to follow faster wheels when the pace picks up is an excellent way to train. Just be sure to heed your limits and don’t get in over your head. If you can’t hang on this week then let your body rest and recover and try it again on the next ride. You’ll be surprised how riding with other people will make you stronger.
The inspiration may be what draws me the most. Flagstaff attracts riders from all over and many high level folks come here specifically for the benefits of the altitude since we are at 7,000 feet above sea level. And the riding courses are world class as well. You can ride for sixty miles out Lake Mary without encountering a traffic control signal, though you may have to slow down for elk herds bounding across the road. You can meet and ride shoulder to shoulder with Olympians, pro cyclists, world class triathletes, world class mountain bikers, accomplished riders from other parts of Arizona coming up for diverse training, and local super stars. The favorite part of it for me is the diverse mix and never knowing who my dance partners will be for any given Saturday! I love riding with my Flagstaff neighbors who happen to be excellent bicyclists. They’re superstars to their community, top performers at work, and after they finish the Saturday morning carbon free vacation from their front doorstep, they’ll return to that same doorstep changed having traveled substantially but without having driven a mile. They’ll return to the home where they belong reenergized, and they’ll light up the life of their sons and daughters and spouses, and be recharged for work. I find the group ride very inspiring, and owe all my successes since I moved here to the road, the people, and the strength I draw from riding on that magical threshold where things come together, people know you and say just the right things for that day, and somehow little by little you become a better bicyclist, and a happier one.