6 Tips For a Faster Group Ride

I’m willing to bet your group ride isn’t as fast as it could be. You’re probably thinking, “I dunno man, my local ride is full of strong riders and we go super hard”.

Well my friend, effort does not equal speed.

Let me explain using a hypothetical situation I’ve seen play out hundreds of times on group rides.

Your average Tuesday group ride

We cross that imaginary line in the road that says, let’s rumble in the concrete jungle (you’re all saying this in your heads, right?!).

I get to the front and start gradually picking up the pace. I make the universal “let’s get a rotation going” symbol with my hand and Larry pulls around me. This is a good start, only Larry decided I was going a little too slow and surges to drive the pace higher.

Larry pulls for a solid 20-30 seconds before his pace slows a notch. Johnny decides this is unacceptable and comes around Larry with another surge in speed. What Johnny didn’t expect, is that the strongest rider in the pack, Tejay,  was sitting behind him and ready to rumble in the concrete jungle… (okay, if you’re not thinking this you should be…)

At the base of the first climb, Tejay gets out of the saddle and puts in a big dig. Johnny and Larry just finished taking hard pulls on the front, so they’re heading deep into the pain cave as they attempt to keep pace. All the riders on Tejay’s wheel are hanging on, but they’re not as strong and struggling to hold pace.

At the top of the climb Tejay motions for the next rider to pull through. It will disappoint Tejay when nobody comes around, but he should have seen this coming when considering the events leading up to this moment.

Johnny and Larry are trashed, so no way they’re pulling through. The other riders hung on, but they’ll need a few moments to catch their breath before pedaling hard again.

The moment somebody catches their breath the entire process starts over again:

Gradually pick up speed, surge to increase speed, surge again to increase speed, push at max over a hill, recover on the descent while everybody looks at each other in agony.

If you’re going to ride hard you might as well go fast

The scenario I described above makes for a challenging group ride. It also makes for a “slow” group ride.

In Kansas City, the ‘A-Group’ usually ends up with a 21-22 mph average, and occasionally a touch over. I firmly believe that with a better application of skill, 23, 24, and even 25+ mph should be achievable with the right group.

Here’s the great thing about it.

Every one of these groups has the raw materials for a fast ride; strong legs, good routes, and people willing to turn themselves inside out.

2. Know when a rotating paceline or single-file paceline is appropriate

  • <5 riders—A single-file paceline is ideal because otherwise you always have two riders in the wind and not enough rest between turns at the front.
  • >6 riders—A rotating paceline is ideal because riders will get ample rest time. There are occasions when you have 6-7 riders that a single-file paceline will be faster (typically when the course has frequent turns/obstacles).
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3. During a rotating paceline, never lose the wheel

Letting gaps open up at any point in a rotating paceline is the fastest way to lose flow and waste energy.

4. Know when to speed-up and slow down the paceline rotation

  • Flats—The rotation speed of the paceline on flat roads is your baseline.
  • Downhills—The speed of rotation should increase. You know that feeling when the draft pulls you into the rider in front of you on downhills? Instead of tapping your brakes, use that momentum to slingshot around that rider, then expect the rider behind you to do the same thing. A faster rotation doesn’t mean you should surge… never surge.
  • Climbs—The speed of rotation should decrease. There is minimal draft on climbs, which means everybody works almost as hard as the rider in front. By slowing down the rotation and keeping the effort nice and smooth you’ll avoid putting your entire group into the red zone.

5. Climb Like a Team

One person showing the group how strong they are on a climb is great… but it disrupts the flow and slows the groups average speed in the bigger picture. Everyone is at different fitness levels, but if they made the front group of A-riders, then they’re your teammate for the ride. Respect your “teammates” for the ride by listening to the flow of the group and riding at a pace that keeps it together.

6. Respect Your Fellow Group Rider

At almost any point during a hard group ride you’ll either be riding above or below your ability. This is true for every rider in the group. It’s important to remember that the group ride is about riding as a group, not showing people how strong your climbing legs are on any random Tuesday or getting in your intervals for the day. It’s expected that weaker riders will push themselves to hang on, and stronger riders will hold back. I can’t emphasize enough that this is a group ride, not a you ride.

Let’s start going faster!

Road cycling is a discipline that doesn’t take much skill if you just want to ride hard, but it takes a lot of skill to go fast in a group ride. These skills are a subtle mixture of pacing, knowing where to put your wheel, and being able to “feel” the flow of a group.

Group rides are an excellent way to get in a hard workout, enjoy the great outdoors, and socialize with friends. With a few tweaks you can have all those things, add a couple mph to your average speeds, and experience what is, in my opinion, the best part of group riding—the endorphin rush of a riders flowing in a seamless paceline, working as a team to achieve something they couldn’t do by themselves.