Why group cycling is good for you
Throughout the pandemic, many cyclists spent more time riding alone or on their indoor turbo trainer – but this habit has come at a cost. Riding alone can be good for your fitness, but it also means you lose the skills, technique and pacing required when riding in a group during training rides or sportives.
Riding alone can also strip you of the camaraderie and competition sparked by group rides, when you are forced you to push a bit harder than you normally would. There are many unique physical and mental benefits to riding in a group – and the winter training season is the perfect time to team up with other riders. Here are five reasons why you should ride with friends, work colleagues and cycling clubs.
Group rides make training fun again
The autumn and winter weather is rarely inspiring for cyclists, but riding in a group can make those long winter miles a lot more enjoyable. After the summer racing season, group rides provide the fun and freshness you crave.
“Group rides can be a great way to spend time with friends and other cyclists, even if it is just chatting about cycling and the results of a recent race,” explains London-based cycling, triathlon and strength coach Phil Paterson (@Coffeecarbsandcarbon). “And there are wonderful mental health benefits that come from training with other people, having spent much of the last two years unable to ride in groups.”
Meeting up with other riders is a smart way to combine your social life with your fitness regime, so that Sunday morning spin becomes a lot more fun. Instead of sitting in a pub with a beer, you can go out for a spin and get some exercise together instead. Plus, it’s an opportunity to discuss kit, race plans and ideas for the following season. At the very least, you’ll have a bit of company every time you get a puncture on a cold winter morning, and you can beg your friend for an extra gel if you run out of fuel miles from home.
Discover interesting new routes and climbs
Opening up your mind to the routes, rides, climbs and ideas of other cyclists is a great way to enjoy new and inspiring cycling experiences. “We’re all guilty of being creatures of habit when it comes to our usual training routes,” warns Paterson. “It’s so much easier to plan a ride based on something you know well – and there are great benefits to this.
We can monitor progress over time on specific climbs or segments, and plan times and distances more accurately. But riding with others and letting them plan the route can be a great way to discover new routes and new roads and build up your library of route options.”
You’ll discover new destinations, backroads and climbs, hear about new races and events, and escape your usual habits for a more fresh and inspiring ride experience.
Ride even further
Riding in a group doesn’t just unlock extra psychological benefits. It also delivers more powerful physical gains. Cycling and drafting with other riders usually means you can ride further than you would alone, but it also involves a greater volume of work over your threshold whenever you hit the front, follow riders, or make accelerations. “When riding alone, the maximum distance we can cover will often be limited to our average speed,” explains Paterson. “But riding with others and sharing the workload can allow you to increase that distance. Whether you ride with people of a similar ability, or tag onto the back of a slightly faster group, it’s a great way to increase your mileage.”
If you were planning on doing an 80km ride alone, you can easily nudge that up to 100km with a bit of help from your friends, increasing your fitness and stamina in the process.
Improve your group riding skills
Training alone or on the turbo trainer may be good for your fitness, but when you start competing in sportives and races next year the peloton can suddenly feel like a very frightening and chaotic environment. Riding in a group over winter will ensure you practise and refine your group riding skills, so you feel much more confident when the race season comes around. You will learn how to react to hazards more instinctively and practise how to hold a consistent pace.
“For many cyclists, it can be daunting riding in a group, especially if you’re unfamiliar with being in close proximity to other riders,” says Paterson. “But working on this with group rides over winter will help you to take advantage of drafting safely. Learning to sight around other riders, keep a safe distance, and brake and accelerate safely are all skills which will benefit you when you start competing again.”
Mastering how to follow the wheel of another rider will also enable you to save energy during races. When riding behind another cyclist, aim to sit behind the wheel in front, without overlapping your front wheel with their rear wheel, so you have space to react. When riding in front, hold a straight line, avoid any erratic changes of direction or speed, and don’t stand up without first switching to a higher gear, or your rear wheel will ‘kick’ back towards the rider behind as you slow down. Make sure you look at the road ahead so you can anticipate any changes in speed. And aim to regulate your speed so you keep the gap in front as consistently small as possible.
Boost your training motivation
Group riding also injects extra motivation and accountability into your training regime. It’s harder to lie in bed when you’ve arranged to meet a friend for a ride at 8am. And when you’re out on the road you’ll always feel the playful buzz of competition.
“On those darker days of autumn and winter, it can be harder to push ourselves out of the door as gilets and arm warmers make a return to our riding kit,” admits Paterson. “But when you’re meeting others for a ride, and have a fixed meet point and time, it tends to eliminate the procrastination that stops us getting out of the door.”
And the less rides you skip, the fitter and more focused you will feel. So group rides force you to become a much more consistent and committed trainer. But this motivation boost also flows through the atmosphere of the group rides themselves. You’ll want to keep up with friends, battle up hills together, and not get dropped off the back of the group.
“Once you’re out on the road, it’s great to push yourself up climbs with others and race to road signs f you fancy it,” adds Paterson. A little healthy competition will ensure you push yourself harder and further than you would if you were riding alone – and the extra camaraderie will ensure you always complete the session.