Why Triathletes Need the Group Ride

Group riders take part in a Century Ride sponsored by Vital Wellness Center.

Do You (really) know What “Dropped” is?

Why you need to ride with the roadies.

Why Triathletes Need the Group Ride

If you are a triathlete (or just like to ride by yourself for fun or training), you may be thinking that getting out for a group ride with the roadies is a dangerous waste of your time.  I mean, why train in a group and learn to draft if you’ll never use it in a triathlon.  Most of our races here in The States are non-drafting (supposedly).  Why put yourself out there when you’ve heard that you may get yelled at or ridiculed for showing up on a TT bike?  I’ll tell you why.

You don’t know how to ride.  (And from here on when I say “you” I mean “I” or “me”.)

I learned this yesterday on the group ride.  Without going into the story of the ride and how I eventually got dropped and limped my way back, into a head wind, by myself.  I’ll just tell you that I had some time to think about my ability as a cyclist and why you need to ride with the roadies.

First of all, you don’t know how to handle your bike.  How do I know this?  Because you crash (or almost crash) trying to get a drink of water.  How can a group ride help you?  By eliminating your margin of error.  Since you can’t maintain your speed and control your bike reaching for the water bottle you may not be able to right away.  You’ll have to try small movements, then when you discover that you can actually move your hand from the bar, grab water, drink and put the water back without taking out half the group, you’ll have come a long way.

Why should the triathlete care?  It really messes up your bike split when the rubber comes off the road (and it’s not too good for your body either.)  The ability to drink, eat, change gears without affecting your speed and control is key to a good bike time.  Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you think that you may need improvement in your bike handling skills then you might want to work on it.  If you think you don’t need any improvement in your bike handling skills then you definitely need to work on it.

Why Triathletes Need the Group Ride

Learn to ride in a group and improve you cycling skills.

Second, you have no idea how to maintain a pace.  Try riding next to your friend, stay exactly next to each other, front tires lined up perfectly.  Neither of you look at your speedometer and agree to keep a comfortable pace, say 20.5 mph for example, while staying exactly tire to tire.  Talk to each other for a few minutes and then check your speed.  Too fast?  Too slow?  Riding in a group forces you to maintain the pace, not by checking your speedometer but by feel.  Slowing down too much or putting too much energy into accelerating will disrupt the dynamics of the group ride.  By getting into the group you will quickly learn to control your speed.

This is important to the triathlete because slowly increasing speed is more efficient than using fast twitch muscle for a burst when you notice you’re dropping your pace.  Also, some triathlons can get crowded.  Recognizing the pace and movements of the rider in front of you can keep you from wasting energy in braking.

That brings us to number three: You have no idea how to read the riders in front of you.  Are they closing the gap to the next rider or are they dropping back.  Can they keep pace when they take a drink?  Will they take the next corner at speed or slow down?  Riding in the group will show you how important it is to understand the skill, condition and mindset of the riders around you.


In a group ride, constant awareness of your fellow riders is key.

In triathlon, you may not be in a tight peloton but staying with a fast group will make or break a race for most riders.  And if you’re a beginner like me and want to keep improving your bike splits, then keeping up with a fast group could be what you need.  If you can’t recognize whether the rider in front of you is getting dropped from the fast group you may just get dropped with him.

Fourth, you don’t know how to use your gears.  Controlling RPM’s and power is not just a skill for the elite.  Wasting energy spinning away, or grinding out your quads with lactic acid overload will not only kill your bike time, but you’ll pay for it on the run.  Get in the group and watch the cogs and chain rings of the other riders.  Do most of the really good riders warm up in the small ring?  Do you ever do that? (I’m talking to you Florida-Flat-Lander.)

Fifth reason you need to ride with the group.  You have no clue how your riding affects the riders around you.  No, you don’t.  Otherwise you wouldn’t drift over to the left and slow down forcing someone trying to pass you to back off or scream “On your left!” five times until you get a clue.  This may be the biggest reason why you need to ride with the group.  You need to learn that the first priority in riding is keeping safe for the riders around you.

Six, riding in a group allows you to get to know the feel for your bike at higher speeds.  How quickly you’ll slow down with just a few seconds of coasting, how your bike takes a bump at 30 mph, how a corner feels at 23 mph.  You’ll learn how to use your body position to catch some air to slow down versus braking.

Seventh, and last but not least. You’ll meet some nice people and realize that not all roadies cringe when a triathlete shows up!

Group Ride Friends

Getting into a group ride is a great way to meet other cyclists.

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