No Drops: Interpreting the language of the group ride text
“Saturday Secrets ride. Meet 8am, Buena Vista Trailhead. 12-15 miles, intermediate trail and speed. Class-one e-bikes welcome. No drops”
So… you are thinking about joining a cycling group and want to start coming to group rides but what does all this mean? When I started joining the Cyclemaniacs’ group rides a few years ago, I thought that “no drops” meant that there would be no scary big cliffs to fall off of and that sounded good to me. Who wants scary big cliffs on a trail? I soon learned that “no drops” has a completely different meaning. Group rides are a great way to spend a couple of hours with like-minded people doing an activity that everyone loves. Group rides are also an effective way to up your game regarding riding skill and stamina. If you are thinking of joining a group ride, there are a couple of things to keep in mind, all contained in the coded text of the ride announcement.
Starting from the beginning, one thing to keep in mind is that the start time is not the time that you arrive at the meet point; it is the time that you are expected to be ready to put your foot to the pedal and leave the parking lot onto the trail. You need to be sure that your bike is prepped beforehand. Before you leave home, check your tire pressure, lube your chain, check your shifting and brakes. Be sure you have water and snacks and be sure you check the weather to know what you should bring to keep you comfortable. It is going to be cold starting out and then warm up quickly? Sometimes I suffer a bit of cold, knowing that if I dress too warmly, I’ll soon be shedding layers that will be bulky to carry. If there is wind and some drizzles expected, bring a wind breaker in your pack. Make sure you have a trail tool and flat repair materials ready to go. If you have tubed wheels, bring along a spare tube, if you have a tubeless setup, be sure that you have fresh sealant in your tires. People on a group ride are happy to help in the case of some unexpected breakdown, but have little patience with folks that show up every week unprepared and expecting everyone to wait while they prep their bike and frequently fix flats along the trail.
Here’s an important one. Make sure that you have some experience on your bike, at that altitude. 12-15 miles on a single-track is a ways and takes some previously built-up stamina to accomplish. Keep in mind that the group will be riding a loop trail that might be up to 5 miles from the starting point and if you wear out, it’s a long way back and sometimes backtracking is the same distance as just persevering forward. Most group ride members expect a predictable return time and a worn-out rider can substantially delay this time. 12-15miles at 7,000 feet is significantly different than the same distance at 2-3,000 feet. If you are new to an area, be sure that you are able to ride at that altitude before you attempt long distances. It normally takes a couple of weeks to acclimate to altitude and one way to level the playing field if you are frequent traveler between areas with very different altitudes, is the use of an e-bike. Using an e-bike in higher elevation areas can let you ride at the same level you are used to at lower elevations. People often get frustrated with themselves when they wear out at half the distance they normally ride easily. It’s not you, its nature. The red bloodcells of a person from a lower elevation are just not acclimated to carrying the necessary oxygen needed for high exertion activities in areas with “thinner” air. The use of an e-bike gives your body a chance to acclimate while letting you ride, and enjoy the experience with a group of locals without completely wearing yourself out.
“Intermediate trail and speed”
This phrase means you should not expect to attend this ride if you have really never ridden a single-track mountain bike trail. You will be expected to be able to maneuver through some technical features and be able to accomplish climbs and descents. This also means that the group will be traveling at a pretty decent speed but will not be racing along the trail. In general, group rides will be utilizing mostly “green” and “blue” trail sections and will avoid “black” sections. Nobody wants anyone to get hurt and the goal is to have fun riding together. Most group ride leaders will begin the season at a slower speed and select less technical sections of trail to ride. As the season progresses, the rides will most likely pick up in speed and difficulty as members gain strength and confidence together. If you are thinking about joining group rides, be sure to get out there and practice pre-season to be ready to join the group within the first few rides. Once again, an e-bike can help tremendously. Newer riders will gain technical skills and be able to handle climbs much more quickly on an ebike than they would without. We have had very new riders keep up with the group in both speed and maneuvering past technical features on an ebike, while they certainly would have been struggling and wearing themselves out on a non-ebike.
“Class-one e-bikes welcome”
As mentioned previously, e-bikes are great for many reasons. They are fun, they can help keep your riding level equalized between altitudes, they can allow you to travel at faster group speeds and conquer technical features and they help older or less fit riders keep up with younger or more fit group members. They can help you recover from winter down-time or injury and they can motivate you to get out there and ride sooner in the season. “Class-one” e-bikes are those electric bikes without a throttle and with a speed-assist limited to 20mph. The e-bike needs to be a mountain bike specific model and needs to be used as any other mountain bike would be. Most of our local group rides consist of 20-40% ebike riders. We ride together, and bikes are bikes. If you are on an e-bike, don’t blast past everyone on climbs and don’t get ahead and try to lead the group at a faster pace than comfortable for everyone else, but in general…bikes are bikes. Come along and enjoy the ride.
Finally, what does this mean? Simply translated, this means no man left behind. Trails have many twists and turns, multiple intersections and some are easy to get lost on where you’d spend the day traveling in circles trying to find the parking lot. No drops means that there is a leader in front who has a plan and a last person, or drag, who makes sure that nobody gets off track, has an accident or is struggling too much. On our rides, we generally know each other’s riding ability and speed and sort ourselves according to that hierarchy. Faster and more skilled riders take the lead and the slower and less experienced ones take the tail end. It’s entertaining watching riders wrangle over who is at the end and then gradually move up as it becomes apparent that those who claimed to be slow, really are not. The faster riders complete a section of the trail to the next intersection and then stop and wait until the slower ones arrive. The drag indicates to the leader that everyone is accounted for and then the train starts up again. The advantage to the leaders is that they get to take a break and chat while waiting for the rest to arrive. The advantage to the end riders is that they get to travel at their own comfort level while ensuring that they don’t get lost turning the wrong way on an intersection. No drops also means that if someone is injured, has a breakdown or just wears out, we will make sure that that person is escorted back to the trailhead by a local rider.
So, there you have it. Cliffs or not, group rides are fun and inclusive. Group rides allow you to see a trail as you might not be adventurous enough to explore on your own. Group rides push you to increase your speed, stamina and technique. If you have some experience and feel comfortable on a trail for several miles, join a group ride. Who knows what friends you might make and what skills you are actually capable of? If you are interested in local group rides in the White Mountains of Arizona and would like to see weekly ride schedules, join the STRAVA “Cyclemaniacs” group, follow cyclemania_az on social media, join the Save the Buena Vista Foundation (https://stbvf.org) and/or join TRACKS (https://trackswhitemountains.org)