At last, summer has fully arrived in Canada!
For most of us, that means outdoor riding and, more specifically, the return of group rides. If you're already a member of a cycling club, then you're all set (unless, of course, your riding group feels more like it belongs to someone else or snot guy got you one too many times). Either way, read on to find out how to choose the right cycling club for you. We’re here to share our advice for what you should look for and what you might want to avoid.
Choosing the right cycling club can be difficult, especially if you're fairly new to the sport or recently relocated and your old crew is too far away. For most of us - yes, even those with barely-realistic dreams of racing glory - riding is for fun and leisure so it's important to ensure you find some fellow riders with which you can have a positive and enjoyable experience. Here are some factors to consider when selecting a cycling group:
Assess your own skill level and riding preferences. Determine whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced cyclist. Look for a group that aligns with your skill level and riding style. Some groups may focus on leisurely rides, while others may be more competitive or specialized in certain disciplines like road cycling, mountain biking, or touring.
It's important that you are truly objective in assessing your capabilities as you don't want to be getting dropped every time out and you equally don't want to be left feeling frustrated by a lack of speed or intensity – nobody likes a half-wheeler specializing in over the shoulder cut-eye! Larger cycling clubs may have a variety of rides that suit all levels, but if not, don't hesitate to reach out with a few pointed questions.
Consider the size of the group you prefer. Larger groups can offer more diversity of both rides and people with a better chance to find a few kindred spirits, but they might also feel more daunting and difficult to connect with. Ask yourself if you are comfortable in a large peloton-style pack or prefer to string out a bit and control your own pace. Larger groups need to have better riding etiquette (make it a goal no matter your size) to avoid creating conflict with motorists or other trail users, but that will mean riding more tightly together or in a more structured way. Smaller groups may provide a closer-knit community and more personalized attention, but will typically have less ride options, which is an important consideration if you find yourself juggling multiple priorities.
Consider the distance and intensity of the rides. Do you want your group sessions to be short to moderate shootouts, long days with company, or a leisurely coffee shop ride? The pace matters but remember terrain can make a significant difference in how hard it feels. Elevation and rough or gravel roads, and technical courses require different skills. Choose your preference but remember group rides are a great opportunity to improve where you are weak so it’s okay to stretch yourself.
Consider the social atmosphere of the group. This isn’t the same as pace or intensity - unless you’re a World Tour rider, there are social groups that will drop you and race-oriented groups that you will leave in your dust, but what’s the feel? Maybe this is just a question of what you want to talk about – wattage, aero tucks, and recovery or the last book you read and last night’s dinner. Determine whether you're looking for a casual and relaxed environment or a more competitive and goal-oriented one. Either way, you need to like these people because you’re going to spend your fun time with them.
Determine the frequency of group rides and whether the group's schedule aligns with your availability. Some groups may have regular weekly or monthly rides, while others might organize special events or training sessions. Choose a group that offers ride opportunities that fit well into your schedule. One of the benefits of group training/riding is a peer-to-peer commitment to getting out there, but if the rides are too hard to get to it won’t have the same effect, and once the social contract is broken it’s hard to recover.
Consider whether the group offers opportunities for personal development, such as skills clinics, workshops, or training programs. These initiatives can help you improve your cycling technique, learn maintenance skills, or enhance your overall knowledge about the sport. Even if you’re an experienced rider and don’t need to learn new tricks (are you ever to old to learn?), you may find it rewarding to pass your knowledge and experience onto riders who are just starting out.
Evaluate the leadership and organization within the cycling group. Look for groups that have experienced ride leaders or organizers who can ensure smooth coordination, route planning, and communication among members. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it shouldn’t be an unorganized disaster either. Strong leadership is often easy to take for granted and doesn’t need to be perfect, but you will notice if it’s severely lacking.
Check how the group communicates important information, ride updates, and any changes to schedules or routes. Many groups use online platforms, email lists, social media, or messaging apps to keep members informed. At a minimum you need to know if rides are cancelled
Find out if the group emphasizes safety and adheres to cycling rules and etiquette. A responsible and safety-conscious group will prioritize the well-being of its members, follow traffic laws, and promote safe riding practices. This is really a part of the leadership and organization that we covet. Committed cyclists know that it’s important to respect other road and trail users for the good of the sport.
Check if the group organizes activities beyond regular rides, such as workshops, training sessions, charity events, or social gatherings. Engaging in these additional activities can enhance your overall cycling experience and provide opportunities for learning and community engagement. It can also be an opportunity to involve family and friends…now, if cycling is your escape from familial commitments, it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, just don’t tell them!
If you like group activities then maybe you’ll enjoy the ultimate gathering of friends and consider a venture to once-in-a-lifetime routes – think the climbs of the Tour de France, or the switchbacks of the Passo Stelvio in Italy. Going with a group often allows you just to focus on the riding, the scenery, and relaxing in a new environment. Traveling alone or even riding alone in a new place, with a foreign language, and different rules of the road can be just plain daunting, but with your familiar town limit lead out rider beside you, can be nothing short of amazing. Of course, you’ll want to build some trust in your new group before you cross the pond, but if you have a desire to pack up your bike and go further, it’s nice to know the option exists. Also check out our blog on planning the perfect bike trip.
Utilize online resources such as cycling forums, social media groups, and local cycling websites to gather information and read reviews or recommendations about different cycling groups in your area. Personal recommendations from fellow cyclists can also be valuable in finding the right group. Of course, if you’re reading it online, take it with a grain of salt, as some things tend to get blown out of proportion. Nevertheless the web can be a valuable source of information for the quality of group you are preparing to join.
Many cycling groups allow prospective members to join a trial ride before committing. Take advantage of this opportunity to experience the group dynamics, assess compatibility, and gauge whether it meets your expectations.
Some cycling groups may have membership fees or specific requirements to join. Consider any financial commitments, such as annual fees, event registrations, or equipment requirements, and determine whether they align with your budget and expectations. Any fees are usually modest and the vast majority of cycling clubs out there are not-for-profit, but something like a requirement to ride a certain type of bike or particular clothing may be more money than you’re willing to dish out.
By considering these factors and conducting thorough research, you can choose the right cycling club that suits your skill level, riding preferences, and personal goals, while also providing a supportive and enjoyable community. Remember, choosing the right cycling group is a personal decision, and it may take some trial and error before finding the perfect fit. Don't hesitate to explore multiple groups, ask questions, and gather as much information as possible to make an informed choice that aligns with your cycling goals and aspirations.