My name is Alison Tetrick, and I love the group ride.
There. I said it. I really love the group ride. Say what you will, but this is often my favorite part of the week. I am not at the point of needing an intervention regarding my fixation on the group ride, but I do plan my schedule around when I can attend these irreplaceably painful and addicting training sessions.
When I first started bike racing professionally, I was told that “pros” didn’t do group rides. Local amateurs were notorious for going too hard, too fast, and perhaps looking too good while doing it. Race wheels on a group ride? Absolutely! Strava KOM/QOM? Go for it! That new and fancy customized bike that in order to service you have to send it back to the manufacturer pairs great with a skinsuit and other aerodynamic advantages. Between the equipment, fitness and shaved legs, you are winning Instagram likes immediately for your style, panache, and miles.
For my first few years on the bike, I was intimidated and skeptical of this biweekly brightly hued amoeba taking over the roads. I felt like I was standing on the edge of the playground watching a game I wasn’t sure I would enjoy yet craved the sense of inclusion. I wanted to join in this almost cult appearing experience, but instead I would just stare wistfully as they rode away. I would offer an awkward head nod or a hand flick of a salute. Head nod? Who does that, anyway?
I was allured by the sense of community, the heckling, and the speed. Can I do the group ride sometime, I asked. I was reminded that a true professional needed to ride slower than the normal cyclist and at times ride a lot faster. You needed to train alone to find the perfect homeostasis of slow as balls (whatever that means), and modulating intervals staring at your powermeter. Super social. Intervals only take you so far, and then you have to actually go ride your bike for competitive fun.
One morning, I ignored the rules momentarily and I grabbed a wheel of faith as I let the group ride swarm me. I never looked back. I became part of the mass. The group ride had won my heart. Two days a week, I can go and play and not think about my training. It is just about going to meet up with the local thugs and being herded around the county. (Thankfully my CTS coach, Dean Golich approves this logic.)
Yes, I have been attending my group ride(s) for a while now and I still love them as though it were the first day we met. I am fully willing to admit it. I am a professional cyclist, and I love the group ride.
Photo provided by PhotoSport International
Here are my reasons you should love and respect your group ride too.
- Brainless: Instead of needing to do intervals or specific training, you can hop aboard the Group Ride Express. All you need to do is to be punctual, know the route/etiquette/sprint lines and off you go! You will get a solid day of training and not have to look at the power or GPS file until you are done. Use your brain to stay safe, work on weaknesses, and make friends, but you don’t have to use your brain to plan structured training. This is one way being brainless is beneficial. Have bike. Attend group ride.
- Camaraderie: As much you love the monotony and lone wolf aspects of cycling, it is good play well with others too. Love them or hate them, the people on the group ride make it all worth the pain. Whether you are like me and tend to sing and talk incessantly to anyone and everyone, or you are like the guy that insists on attacking after taking the shortcut, so be it. We are all invited on the ride. We do this to ride together, to go fast, to push each other, and to ultimately be better. All for one, one for all! Even if you get dropped, you are still part of the equation.
- Repeatability: As a scientist, I know any good experiment needs repeatability and good data collection. I love knowing the route, knowing the sprints, and where to be in position and where I can manage to get extra chatty. Once you get the hang of the group ride loop, it is good to try different ways to sit in, to attack, to suffer, and of course set personal records galore. You can use whatever device you want to capture your data and there you go. You can watch your progression throughout the year and sometimes knowing what’s around the next corner is better than being surprised. Do group ride, collect data, repeat.
- Accountability: Not everyone has the luxury of a doing a group ride on a Wednesday morning, but bless those that can! Without them, I would still be snuggled up on the couch about to consume my second breakfast. You know when you procrastinate your ride long enough where your first breakfast wears off and you need to eat a second breakfast? Yeah. Not on my two group ride days! I need to eat and get out the door to meet all my frenemies on the road. The group ride has a life of its own, and you don’t have to text if you are late or apologize for forgetting deodorant. You can blend in or stand out as much as you want, but the most important part is that you are there.
- Challenge: This goes without saying, but I will say it anyway. There is always someone better than you, no matter who you are. The group ride will challenge you because you will be pushed passed your limits. I usually don’t like to ride with people that don’t wait for me when I am having a bad day. But that’s why I love to hate the people on the group ride. They push me and challenge each time I show up. They even ignore my complaining.
- Skills: I particularly hate it when someone lectures me on what I “need” to do to improve skills. But, I have to be honest with you, I love using the group ride to get that race leg speed and work on a different set of skills that I can’t do solo. There are some race scenarios you can’t recreate without your closest 50 friends. This is where the group ride is perfect. I do select a fast enough group ride that hopefully no one is practicing beginner skills on the ride. However, I will try to exploit my own weaknesses and hide my strengths just to practice what I don’t want to. I also won’t tell you I am practicing my skills, I would rather always consider me as royalty. Group ride royalty.
- Glory: There is no winner on the group ride, because we are all winners. I am serious. You can pick whatever spot you want to be a winner, and there you have it. Even if you get dropped, you can find a glory moment somewhere. The group ride may finish, but your glory will live on at the coffee shop after or in Strava accolades forever. Who needs to win races when you can find all the glory you need on group ride, even if it is only in one segment. Group ride glory never fades.
- Expression: Riding your bike can really become an expression. Be kind and respectful to others, even motorized vehicles, but also express yourself on the pedals! I have a range of emotions on the group ride from rage, insecurity, hubris, exuberance, and of course a little manipulation. Whoever is on the front making me suffer, I usually hate for that moment. I sometimes mumble and swear to myself. I don’t attempt to hide the crazy. If someone isn’t happy with a woman passing them, I start going a little harder to just start turning the screws. I will do this especially if they say I am a “beast”. Remember, talking to Female Cyclists 101. If I am not feeling good, I try to hide to the best of my ability. We are all free to express ourselves how we would like on the group ride and then we will all be at the same place, same time in a few days again. Be nice, be respectful, but make them hurt too! You have to be cruel to be kind, right?
- Universality: It is like Cher or Madonna. It only needs to be referred to as THE group ride. No matter where you live. When I moved to Spain for the season, I realized the group ride was the same here as well. We ride fast, we punish each other for showing up, and we smile “most” of the way. No matter if it is the Wednesday ride, the Saturday ride, it is always the group ride. You know that when you show up to the group ride, you are going to have to pay the price of an elevated heart rate and humility.
- Love: We all ride bikes for the love of the sport, whether if you get paid for it, Strava it, or update your status. Find people you want to ride with and share this experience on two wheels. I am so thankful for my cycling community at home and around the world.