I went on my first group ride a few weeks after first starting to ride trails. Long story short, it was a minor disaster—or so I thought at the time.
Newbie on Two Wheels
When I decided I wanted to start mountain biking, I spoke with a close friend who’d not only been biking for years, but had attempted to get me to start riding before in the past. I’d always said no—in fact, going so far as to say it would never happen—but something during the spring of 2017 made me want to give it a try.
I went to my first DORBA Beginner Clinic in May of 2017 at River Legacy and that’s where I got hooked. I ended the day tired—and a little frustrated from a nagging knee injury from a crash a few weeks earlier while riding a paved trail—but I absolutely couldn’t wait to ride a trail again soon.
Over the next few weeks I went out on as often as I could while staying close to home. I began to get familiar with Corinth Community Park and the Ranger loop of the Frisco NW Community trail. While I certainly wasn’t winning any KOMs, I was growing more confident and ready to move on to the next level.
So when an opportunity to join a group ride at Erwin Park came up in my Facebook feed, I jumped at the chance. I was already going to be in the area, so it was an easy choice to load up my bike and set out for McKinney.
My First Group Ride
The ride was a regular thing put on by one of the area bike shops—a shop that will remain nameless. Now, nothing in this post is meant to give any particular shop a bad name, but the ride was advertised as a no-drop ride.
And I got dropped. Hard.
Before I go into the details, let me say this. Getting dropped was exactly what needed to happen and taught me the greatest lessons learned during that ride. I have absolutely no hard feelings about getting dropped.
I showed up at Erwin Park early in the evening in the middle of July. If you know anything about Texas heat, you already have some warning bells going off in your head. It wasn’t crazy hot yet, in fact the summer of 2017 was a bit milder than usual, but the temps were still in the low 90s.
Not knowing where exactly to meet the group, I parked near the main trailhead and got geared up to ride. As the time to ride drew closer, no one else had shown up that knew anything about the group ride. So, I biked up the hill to another parking lot to see if anyone was there. Not finding anyone, biked back down the hill, past my parking spot and around the bend to where I knew there was another lot and found no one.
I eventually met a guy who told me the group for this particular store usually met at the lot back up the hill nearest the park entrance. So, I climbed back up the hill and finally found the people I was looking for.
By this point I’m already worn out.
After some mechanical issues suffered by some attendees, we finally headed toward the trail. Setting out from the parking lot, we headed southeast into the trees and met the first roll down. I’ll admit I was intimidated by it a bit but went for it anyway. By the time I made it to the bottom, the spare tube that I’d taped to my frame came flying off.
I was next to last in the train, so the guy in the back passed me when I quickly explained what happened. No big deal. I hopped off the bike, stuffed the tube into my saddle bag, and pushed to catch up with the group. I was doing fine as we approached a feature called No Brakes. We stopped to session it which gave me another break to catch my breath. I’m not ashamed to say I didn’t even attempt No Brakes, but rather gladly took the bypass around it.
I spent the next 45 minutes of the ride increasingly frustrated by the narrowness of the trail, my inability to climb some of the hills, and from the exhaustion setting in from the heat and effort necessary to keep going. I can’t tell you how many times I had to stop to either walk my bike over an obstacle everyone else cleared effortlessly, or to simply catch my breath. Though they never acted frustrated by it, I repeatedly caused the group to stop and wait for me as we worked our way through the trail.
By the time we made it to the final open section that eventually turns back north toward the road, I was done. I came to a complete stop just outside the trees, laid my bike down, and sat on the side of the trail. That was the moment the group cut me loose like the heavy anchor I was. As soon as we cleared the last trees, the ride leader kicked it into gear and rapidly led the group away.
Yep, that’s right, they left me behind.
In their defense, there was no way to get lost at that point, and if I didn’t show up at the road relatively soon I’m sure they would have come back to look for me.
I have no idea how long it was before I made to the parking lot where the rest of the group stood waiting. I’d only ridden about 2.7 miles, and I was completely out of gas.
The ride leader’s only words for me were, “Dude, you need to go home before you fall over.”
He was right. I was done. I loaded the bike and watched the group head out for another lap without me.
Some Lessons Learned
Why tell you such a sad story about my experience if I’m trying to encourage you to join a group ride? Because despite how bad of an experience it was at the time, I learned a ton about myself and my skills. I learned what not to do when it came to prepping my equipment. I learned that even though a Camelback lets me carry more water, it also wasn’t the best choice in the heat since the heavy pack on my back wore me down and made my body retain heat. I learned that I wasn’t yet ready for the intermediate technical rigors that Erwin park had to offer.
I also learned that I still loved this mountain biking thing and wanted to do it again.
I’ve been on a few group rides since then—one of which with that same ride leader—and I’ve had varied success on those rides. Sometimes I can keep up just fine, other times I’m pushed to the limit of my skills and endurance. Regardless, every time I show up for a group ride I progress a little bit more. The group dynamic encourages me to go a little faster, challenge myself to try new things, and pushes against my skill set in a way I’d never be pushed riding alone.
Here’s a quick list of the benefits I’ve gained by participating in group rides:
- Encouragement to Keep Riding—Getting together with a mixed-skill group of riders has encouraged me to keep trying, even when I completely fail at some point during the ride. For the most part, mountain bikers are one of the most encouraging and supportive groups of people I’ve ever been around. Plus, as I’ve progressed, it’s been really cool to help riders with less experience than me.
- Trailside Support—Equipment failure happens, and while we should all be prepared to do basic repairs to our bikes on our own, the benefits of having experienced riders along for the ride who can help is priceless. Even apart from mechanical failures, seasoned riders often share bike setup tips and other bits of wisdom that will help you in the future.
- Safety to Push Yourself—If you’re anything like me, there are technical features on some of the trails I frequent that I won’t attempt on my own. I’m honestly concerned that I don’t have the skills to handle the feature, end up hurting myself, and have no one around to help me. When riding in a group I’m much more willing to take risks knowing there will be people to help me if necessary, and literally there to catch me if I fall.
- Increased Speed and Endurance—Riding with people who are more skilled pushes me and my fitness. Group rides tend to go slower than the pace a ride leader could set riding solo, but when you’re a novice (or just slow like me) the pace still tends to be faster than what you’d set on your own. You also tend to ride further in a group than alone. That increased speed, distance, and saddle time adds up to make you an incrementally better rider.
- Multiple Examples to Follow—I love following someone on the trail, especially someone who knows the trail well and has more advanced skills. Following a knowledgable and experienced rider and watching their lines is worth more than gold. Even watching their mistakes and learning how to not do something is beneficial.
- Meeting More Riding Buddies—The more group rides I go on, the more people I meet who share my love for this sport. No, we don’t become best buds, but I’m slowly building a network of people I know I can ride with when we both have the time to hit the trails together.
Even as I write this I’m realizing I need to seek out more group rides when I can. Yes, I’ll get dropped from time to time and that’s OK. I’ve been thinking it’s probably time to start volunteering as a sweeper at the monthly DORBA Beginner Clinics. I’m still a new enough rider that some of the technical challenges are still beyond my current skills to ride cleanly, but the more I ride the better I’ll get. Plus, I’ll get all the benefits of a group ride as well as repeated instruction and demonstration of skills by the ride leaders.
And by the way, I’ve since been back to Erwin several times with mixed levels of success. Each time I’ve returned I’ve been able to do a little more and go a little further. I have been able to ride the entire trail—including sessioning No Brakes myself—and make it through the expert section near the end. As of this writing, the only thing completely beyond my comfort level is Screaming Drop, but it looks a little less intimidating every time I see it. I’ll be hitting it soon, I’m sure!
Should you go on group rides? My answer is absolutely yes. Just be prepared to be slow, possibly get dropped, and definitely pushed out of your comfort zone. Over time your skills and confidence will build, and before you know it you’ll be thinking about leading your own group rides at your favorite trail.
Have fun, ride smart, and keep shredding!