A group ride can benefit your training and make you faster.
Though triathlon is generally a non-drafting sport, ironically some of the most fun and beneficial training we can do on the bike involves riding in a draft-friendly group. Organized group rides can be found in nearly all active communities, and may be geared toward bike racers, recreational cyclists or triathletes. As a coach, I structure my athletes’ bike training to allow ample time for solo sessions in order to prepare for the specific demands of non-drafting racing, such as time in the aerobars, focused effort and intensity management, but I also strongly suggest adding in a weekly group ride as an excellent way to meet others, improve bike handling skills and get a killer workout. In a single group ride you may find yourself having a grueling hill workout, a leg-searing lactate threshold session, and plenty of steady tempo riding, often at or above the level you might be able to achieve on your own.
To find a suitable group ride near you, head to the nearest bike or tri shop and ask them for suggestions. Be sure to let them know your ability level and experience with group riding so they may tailor their recommendations accordingly. If you have access to a triathlon or bike club in your area, one of the many perks of joining may be the chance to join weekly group rides. Facebook may also be an excellent way to get some targeted suggestions on the subject, and if your FB friends aren’t yet hip to the local group ride scene then you may just start a group ride of your own!
Once you have decided to “test ride” a group, you’ll want to keep a few key areas of group riding etiquette in mind:
Minimize the “tri geek” factor by leaving the aero helmet and tri outfit at home. Surely you’ll want to let them know that you are a triathlete, but there will be plenty of time for chitchat when you can casually mention the 4,000 meters you swam at 6 a.m. and the 30-minute brick run you’ll be doing off the bike.
Ride a road bike if you have one. If not, then a tri bike is fine as long as you refrain from using your aerobars when riding within 25 meters of others. Your hands belong out wide on the base bar, near the brakes so you are prepared for sudden stops or turns.
Keep your eyes up and active at all times—and off your Garmin or iPhone. And try to use only one hand when efficiently taking sips from your water bottle or eating. It is best to take care of your nutrition needs at the back of the pack.
Ride about a bike length or closer from the rider in front of you, and pay attention to their verbal warnings and hand signals regarding road obstacles, traffic and upcoming turns and stops, and pass the message on to those behind you.
Most importantly, be sure to smile a lot, ask a lot of questions and be a humble and safe ambassador for the sport of triathlon. After a couple of rides the others may start asking you questions about wetsuits, Body Glide and compression socks.
Scott Fliegelman is the owner and head coach of FastForward Sports, which provides group running and triathlon training for several hundred athletes of all levels in Boulder and Denver, Colo.