Once the reason many of us rode bikes, in recent years the humble group ride has fallen out of fashion.
The rise of structured training and its proliferation among both the most die-hard of competitive cyclists and those with less specific goals has had a part to play - but could the two methods live in peaceful and productive harmony?
(Photo credit: Szymon Kotowski)
The group ride was where many of us cut our cloth. Almost through osmosis, we took in the basic skills and behaviours necessary for fitting seamlessly into a group - the bedrock of bike racing technique.
Rolling to the front smoothly and efficiently, effectively calling out hazards, riding in the wind… the list goes on. Crucially, it was my local group ride which also taught me the true meaning of suffering. I can confidently say that many races I have done have yet to exceed the levels of pain I endured as a 14-year-old taking a kicking in the wind and rain around the North Coast of Ireland.
Many are now quick to classify these vital lessons under the umbrella of ‘junk miles’. As power meters have come to prominence, so has our reliance on them. I’ve heard many claim it is ‘impossible’ to train with a group.
Granted, there are sessions which are better suited to riding solo. But if your training plan never includes rides where your longer, aerobically based days cannot be catered for by a group of mates, the chances are you are needlessly committing yourself to a grossly over-complicated programme.
That’s without even mentioning the fun, experience and skills training you’ll be forgoing - factors that are arguably as important to performance as any physiological parameter.
Consistency is without doubt the most important component of any training plan. Allowing small gains to compound over months and years is what will see someone reach their full potential.
Unfortunately, the most complex and interval laden six-week training plan will not suffice, so what is it then that will unlock that potential? Complexities such as intensity distribution ratios and training methodologies aside, I see the limiting factor being not the body, but the mind.
Motivation is a much scarcer resource than many realise and work must be done to preserve it whenever possible - especially if you require years of consistent training to unlock yours or a rider’s potential.
I feel the group ride plays a crucial role in staying motivated. Even the most fastidious of riders require respite, and by trying to structure rides which require little complication in the name of tiny physiological benefit, you will only drain the psychological battery when it should be recharging for the days we need it most.
So, what are these rides? Personally, I love to use a long endurance ride to meet up with a group.
Many of the benefits I seek with such rides don’t require an awful lot of specificity. I am merely looking for hours at a relatively low intensity.
Will it matter if I ride down the hills at 150w on someone’s wheel, and up the hill at 300w for a few minutes - versus riding a 225w constantly and acting as if I am still stuck on erg? No!
The only barometer of intensity I pay much attention to on such rides is whether I can chat to the rider beside me. Conversation should be possible and if it is, those quantifiable metrics we use on other days will fall into line.
Other such rides in a more structured manner may be some sprint drills: Splitting the group into two and setting one off 30 seconds ahead of the other. All of the above will provide us with scenarios we cannot replicate by ourselves.
So, allow yourself to embrace the group ride if you fret that you are sacrificing performance benefits by doing so. Use its offerings to make you a better cyclist.
A proper group ride will ensure you are a stronger, happier, and more skilled cyclist who is better equipped to handle whatever it is your next event throws at you.
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