What is a bicycle club group ride like?

Photo Notes: 23 club members with three unidentified bicycles and a BSA Path Racer, somewhere in Springwood.

Springwood Cycling Club

As you improve in your cycling, at some point, you may want to test your skills against others. And rather than jump right into a race, you can join a group of other riders. If you don’t have 6 friends ready to take off for 4 hours on a Saturday morning, there’s usually a local bike club as an option.

Bike clubs come in different shapes and sizes. Some are hard-core and others are more friendly to noobs like us. They usually have websites that contain descriptions of their rides and the skills needed to join them. Many clubs have different levels based on the average speed you can maintain, like 16-18, 18-20, and 20+ mph. Keep in mind that you can typically ride a few MPH faster in a group than you can alone, which is also why group riding is fun.

The craziest group ride I’ve been on is a local one called the Bullet Train in the club called “Monsters in the Basement”, a friendly club here in nearby Concord, MA. We achieved a crazy 25mph average over 30 miles. I’m lucky to average 20 solo, on my best day.

Don’t be afraid to show up and give it a try.

What’s it Like?

Here’s what an actual group ride looks like. I happened to be on this ride. I’m in the blue helmet and black and yellow kit. Coincidentally, that’s me on the video image, and you can see me at about 30 minutes in after taking a corner.

Not that you should watch the entire hour-plus of this ride, but there are some interesting things to see in it. We start out in the dark, at 5:30 am. You can see the dynamics of a fast group ride with lots of uphills and downhills.

This particular ride is FAST. It’s a “drop-ride”, which basically means that it’s cooperative, but if you fall off the back, they’re not waiting for you at the top of the hill. It certainly adds some urgency to the ride and keeps you pushing hard or you’re on your own.

Most club rides are “no-drop”, which means the group will stop at important points to let people catch up. So if this looks scary, this isn’t necessarily typical. It’s about as hard as they are likely to get.

Also, this is historic Concord, MA of Revolutionary War fame, which may be interesting to those of you from around the world.

Holy cow, that video is cool.

It was taken with a Garmin Virb Elite, which not only takes video, but it connects to other ANT+ devices and/or your Garmin 500 or 800 cycling computers to sync up all of your ride stats and get those cool dashboard graphics.

This Looks Dangerous!

Well, cycling is dangerous. And riding in a group has its own risks. There are definitely more crashes in a group. When a rider in a paceline hits the wheel of the rider in front of him, he’s probably going to go down.

I’ve crashed once at speed and walked away with just some bruises. Others aren’t so lucky with broken collar bones and dislocated shoulders, or worse. Most crashes that I see or hear about end in only scrapes and bruises, which is good news because if you ride a lot, especially in groups, chances are you’re going to go down at some point.

On the other hand, group riding can be safer as you’re easier for motorists to see.

What Club Should You Join?

There are clubs everywhere, and they are becoming more and more popular every year. You should be able to find one near you. Ask around and keep your ears open for people talking about it. Look at the kits other cyclists are wearing as clubs usually have branded kits for their members to buy.

Also, here’s a great post by someone in my local club, who also has a cycling blog, about cycling clubs…

What’d I’d like to offer you, and ask for your help as In The Know Cycling readers, is a way for anyone to find the best enthusiast cycling clubs near you, ones that can offer you the kind of exper…

Get Some!

Want that camera? I do!

Walmart has just about the best price I could find for this camera, under $200. It’s $269 most places. If you would rather shop at a cycling website, Competitive Cyclist carries them too…

What does SAG mean in cycling?

The more experienced you get cycling, you will hopefully get the opportunity to go on some longer organized rides. They might be for charity like the Pan Mass Challenge, a local cycling club, or even just a group of friends. And as you do, one of the things you’ll start to hear is comments like, “is there SAG for this ride?” or “We’re doing a double century. my wife will SAG for us”.

Typically “sag” is not something you want. For example when it comes to pants, roofs, and br…uh…bridges.

But in this context, SAG is a good thing. It stands for Support And Gear. It’s that car that drives around full of tools, food, first aid, and even replacement bikes on the more serious rides.

I’ve done lots of rides where the yellow Mavic SAG cars are driving around looking for mechanicals and flats. These guys are life savers. or at least ride-savers.

Supported rides are expensive, and I’ve backed off from doing the organized rides in favor of being out with a handful of friends, and relying on our own ability to resolve any problem that comes up. Flats are nothing. Sidewall tears can be fixed with a ‘boot’. We’ve dealt with broken chains, spokes, blown cassettes, even broken seats repaired with cobbled together, non-critical parts of each others’ bikes.

These are all good things to know how to take care of without support.

What’s the strangest mechanical issue that you’ve had and were able to fix yourself?

Clean Bike, Happy Bike. How to Clean your Bicycle.

There are lots of reasons to keep your bike clean.

Less grime = less friction
Less friction = more faster
Less friction = less wear and tear

And don’t you want your bike to look good?

Know your Enemy: Where does the grime come from?

Well obviously, if you ride in the rain (or snow, you badasses) you’re getting mud, sand, and salt (in the Wintery places) all over your bike. That’s no good.

Even in dry weather, dust and pollen accumulates everywhere, into every nook and cranny. This dust acts like sandpaper.

Additionally, what you may not realize is that sweat drips onto your frame and drips down into places where the salt will eventually do damage. Don’t look at me like that. It adds up over thousands of miles. Seriously. And if you ride on trainer or rollers, it’s a million times worse. You can actually get a guard or “thong” for your bike to protect it from the sweat shower on the trainer, like the Blackburn Sweat Net.

Your entire bike should be kept clean, if nothing else to show that you take things seriously. But the majority of your cleaning efforts will be focused on your drive train.

Many people hose their bike down after every ride — it’s ok. Your bike can get wet. Or wipe it down with baby wipes. Not a bad idea. Even if you aren’t riding in sloppy, wet weather, dust and pollen accumulate on every surface and in every nook and cranny.

Depending on how often you ride, and how dirty it gets, you should give your bike a thorough cleaning fairly often. The most important part is the drivetrain. Greasy, sandy, grime accumulates there causing wear and tear on your chain and cranks. If you can hear your chain rubbing against the cranks, and a gritty sound when you turn the handlebars, you’ve waited way too long friend. You’ll be replacing parts sooner than you need to.

Before: Dirty, dirty, bike

Cleaning Products

There are lots of cleaning products out there to help you with this. You can get chain cleaning devices that clamp onto the chain, fill with cleaning fluid, and spinning brushes give it a good cleaning. You can also buy special purpose brushes and floss to get into the hard to reach places. I’ll provide a list of these at the bottom.

But when it comes down to it, all you really need is a thick cloth, or a paint brush (big and floppy to get lots of soap into deep places) a small brush (like an old toothbrush), and a thin plastic or wooden stick (like a barbeque skewer) to get into the tight spots, especially if it’s been a while and things are really gummed up.

And you need some sort of degreasing cleaning fluid. There are lots of special purpose cycling cleaning products, and feel free to try them out. But you’re probably spending too much money.

Many people swear by Simple Green. I’ve been using LA’s Totally Awesome All Purpose Cleaner. Both are inexpensive, and handy to have around for all sorts of cleaning projects.

How to Clean Your Bike

First of all, this whole process is much easier if you have a bike holder. Some might consider this a luxury, but this is just a great thing to have for lots of reasons. Definitely consider investing in one.

Remove all the removable stuff: saddlebag, water bottle, front tire, computer, etc.

Start with the dirty bits first. Get the cloth or paint brush sopped up with a water/degreaser mix and watch the chain and cranks. You should be able to get it all clean to the touch. This part is going to get everything else dirty.

Some people remove their chain and soak it. This is probably unnecessary, at least for us amateurs. You can give it a good cleaning by leaving everything on the bike.

From a wear and tear standpoint, be sure to get all the dirt out of the cogs, especially the small ones on the rear deraileur. You’ll be amazed at how gummed up they get. Spend some quality time in there with the stick and brush.

Use the stick, or even thick string or twine like dental floss, to get in between the gears on the back cassette if there’s some thick gunk in there. The goal is to get all of the black stuff out of there. Make it shine.

Next, just like washing a car, soap up the rest of the bike and clean it off. You’ll find greasy grit everywhere. Get it wet and it’ll wash out of the important places where it will cause problems.

Dry it off with a towel, or air compressor if you have one.

That’s it. Nothing terribly scientific about it. If you’re like me, you’ll find it very satisfying.


Lube the Chain

The last step is to apply lubricant to the chain. This is a religious topic for many, and probably the topic for a separate post, but you basically have a choice between wet and dry lube, meaning what’s the environment you’re riding in. To me, we always have the chance of riding in wet, so I go with wet. I use Boeshield T-9. It’s waterproof and it cleans. I find the drip bottle to be more effective than the spray so it doesn’t get all over the rest of the bike when applying it. Read the instructions on the lube bottle. You may be surprised to see instructions for letting it dry for a few hours.

You don’t have to apply this every time, especially if you didn’t need to scrub a really dirty chain. One application of waterproof lube will last for hundreds of miles.

Watch Out for Sharp Parts

You may not realize that over thousands of miles, your cranks are getting sharpened by the chain to a razor sharp edge as they wear out. Be careful of this as you’re digging in there to get the greasy grim out. Or you might get bit.

Those are sharp!

If you’re going to be a cyclist, get used to the sight of blood.

Watch a pro do it.

Keep in mind, this bike was probably cleaned the day before, so he doesn’t need to dig as deep as you do to get out the grime that’s been accumulating for two months.

Get Some!

Seriously, one of the best cycling purchases I’ve ever made…

You can buy all these cleaning tools separately. I bought all of these, but I just use that brush tool, mainly.