Doing a Group Ride? Take Some Responsibility

We looked forward to another Mamma Jamma training ride today, but Pat woke up feeling poorly, so I was on my own. That actually gave me the opportunity to ride the 37-mile route, which is one that I like because it gets farther out in the country on roads where cars are scarce Sunday mornings.

The Mamma Jamma training ride organizers do a nice job of putting these things together. Each week, they come up with a different sponsor to provide sag for the ride. The sag is often needed, because on these kinds of charity rides (Mamma Jamma raises money for breast cancer research) a lot of beginners are trying their hands at longer distances for the first time. The organizers also try to post a map of the week’s route on the training ride website, so riders can download it and carry it with them.

I didn’t have a map, but I’d done the route several times before, and was quite familiar with it. We met at a school parking lot, signed the required waivers and contact info sheets, and got our instructions. Another ride sponsored by the Austin Cycling Association (ACA) was leaving at the same time from a different corner of the lot, so cyclists were in abundance.

Riders could pick 45, 37, 22 or 18-mile routes. I’m not crazy about the 45, because it goes onto two different spur roads that dead end and require riders to backtrack. The 37 is a more or less figure-8 shaped loop that gets us back to a convenience store at about 25 miles — just when it’s convenient.

Bill, the ride leader, briefed the group.

“If you’re taking the 45 or 37-mile routes, pass by the convenience store nine miles into the ride,” he told us. “We’ll come back to that later in the ride. If you’re in the 22 or 18-mile groups, that’s where we’ll turn around to head back.”

Bill was riding sweep for the 37-milers. Out in front was our ride leader Jenny, whom I had met before. We headed out, and it wasn’t long before several of us off the front distanced ourselves from the rest of the group.

We reached the convenience store at nine miles and kept going. By this time, we had caught up with some of the 45-milers, who had left a few minutes before us. Jenny waited at a corner for some riders to catch up, while I rode on and chatted with the sweep for the 45-milers.

“Hey,” she said, after a few miles. “Do you know where we turn? I think we passed our turnoff.”

“No, it’s up ahead,” I told her. “This road turns left. The 37-mile route turns right about a mile past that, and the 45s keep going.”

“Oh, good,” she said. But when she realized that I was in the 37-mile group, she got on her cell phone and called her ride leader to make sure.

By now we were getting indications that the ride had broken up. Two of the 37-milers had turned back, thinking they’d missed a turn. I was out of sight of Jenny and the people she was with, and rode alone for the next five miles or so.

As I pulled into the convenience store at 25 miles, there was Bill with a gaggle of riders. They had never gotten beyond the nine-mile point.

“The ACA ride stopped here,” Bill said. “These folks stopped with them, then got confused about where to go next.”

He told them the bad news.

“This has just become a 22-mile ride,” he said. He was greeted by groans and complaints.

He reiterated to them his instructions not to stop at the store on the way out, but wait until the return leg. Instead, like sheep, they had followed the ACA riders into the store. It turned out that none of them had the route map.

We had other problems, too. A county crew ripped up a section of road, and we had to dismount and carry our bikes across a trench.

Pat and I (and our friends, Cynthia and Liz, who I also saw today) like these rides, because they’re well organized and supported. They’re easy rides, but still challenge less experienced riders. But that doesn’t mean the rider has no responsibilities. When as much support material is offered as on these rides, take advantage of them. Download the map (there’s a cue sheet on the other side). Look it over the night before the ride, to get familiar with the route. Often, if a map isn’t available online, you can get copies at the start.┬áCheck your bike the night before, so you have no last-minute adjustments to make. Arrive at the start early — leaving time enough to get your things together, take a nature break, and get the ride instructions. Carry a few bucks so you can buy something at the convenience store. If you’re going to use their facilities, and top off with water, it’s only right.

These training rides have been going on all summer. The Mamma Jamma ride is in October, so we still have plenty more opportunities. I hope that cyclists will wise up before then. And bear these simple tips in mind for any other organized ride you’re part of.


  1. says

    I don’t ride with groups very often, but when I do I am always surprised at how little people know of the route they will be traveling. People are very trusting, I guess, or perhaps much more willing to leave the future to chance.

  2. says

    It’s very important for everyone to know the route they’re riding and for “veterans” of a particular group ride to look after new people.

    My first experience of my regular Wednesday ride was not so happy.

    A rider who had been a member for a while assumed I knew the route and turned into me at an intersection. I have the scars to prove it.

    One is likely to encounter riders of varying experience in a group ride and it is especially dangerous to form a paceline with riders of unknown experience.

    Choose a good coach and build a “team.”

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