Your First Bunch Ride
New to cycling and about to head out on your first group ride? Here are a few simple tips on what you should do for some basic preparation to make the ride go smoothly.
Depending on the group you are riding with, often groups take it on themselves to ensure that everyone who leaves from the meeting place, makes it back. These are sometimes known as “no drop” rides and are a great way to get an opportunity to experience bunch riding for the first time in a friendly and encouraging environment. On the basis of everyone on the day looking out for you, what are some simple things you can do before the ride to ensure you don’t let people down, that with better planning, is potentially avoidable?
The first and most obvious is fitness level. You should have a reasonable idea of distances you can manage and average speeds you are capable of maintaining. Entry level starts at low 20kph, and moves steadily up. Each bunch ride generally has a formula of speed and distance so make contact to ensure you meet their expectations.
With a sense of duty to ensure you make it back safely, you owe it to the group to ensure your bike is well prepared for the ride. It’s not about having the most expensive bike, but it is about having a clean and maintained bike. There is nothing worse than letting down the group with a bike that fails through poor maintenance, or getting help with fixing a flat tyre, to see the unfortunate good Samaritan covered in dirt and grime from a filthy bike. Their obligation to get you home means they feel compelled to not leave you on the side of the road, so do all you can before to limit the chances of this happening.
A few days before the ride, wash and check your bike. Use a specialist bike degreaser to ensure your chain, crankset and cogs are clean, then follow up with an overall bike wash to clean wheels, components and frame. Whilst you washing your bike check there is no glass or foreign objects stuck in your tyres, these could be a flat tyre waiting to happen, and that gears are not in need of adjustment. Many a ride has been spoiled by gears in spokes, so if you not sure, it may be worth booking it in for a service pre ride. Lastly re-lube your chain and ensure tyres are pumped up.
Come ride day you will need to have adequate spare tubes, two if you can, tyre levers and a pump, and potentially a small ride tool set. It’s ok if you don’t know how to fix everything, but at least having everything shows the group you are willing to learn. There will often be enough hands to make light work of most road side hiccups.
When it comes to what to wear, make sure you dressed for the distance and conditions. Any sign of rain, it pays to take a shower jacket along for the ride in your pocket. Being too hot or too cold can make riding tough so in winter good gloves, socks and head gear under the helmet can make the ride more enjoyable. If you on a longer ride, layers such as arm and leg warmers that can be removed are great if the day starts cool and warms up. Often a sheet of newspaper under the jersey can keep the chest warm and save a layer that needs to be removed later in the ride.
Now think about what you need to keep you going out on the road. As a rule, always take more food and drink than you need, as on the chance you start to struggle, the energy will come in handy. And if by rare occurrence it is still not enough, don’t be afraid to let other riders know you are in need of something, as they would much rather hand you a gel, than push you home with hunger fade. In most cases rides will have some social stop along the route, so a few dollars for the café is a must to quickly become part of the social banter.
Now you ready to go. Get there early and introduce yourself, let them know you are new and keen to ride with the group. Generally, someone will keep an eye out for you from the start and you will soon pick up the rules of the group. Be confident enough once you understand how the group operates to get involved in calling out the signals for traffic and road obstacles. Group riding is social, so don’t be the strong silent type, enjoy being active socially. If by chance you find yourself in a group slower than what you were expecting, the etiquette is to always ride at their pace, not to show them how much better you are!
But most of all enjoy your ride, we all started once, and all of us enjoy seeing new faces on the rides. And if something goes wrong on the day, relax, you did everything you could as a learner to make sure it didn’t, so it’s simply out of your control, and the group will know that. I hope you have a great ride.