Let’s (Group) Ride - Mike Sayers

Article published at: Mar 13, 2024 Article tag: Metier
Let’s (Group) Ride - Mike Sayers
All Rapport

I recently moved to the Seattle area from my traditional home of Sacramento. Over my 35 years of cycling, I have been fortunate to live in a lot of different communities. All my community experiences are rooted in some sort of cycling experience. Whether I moved to an area for work or training reasons or for personal reasons, the bike has always been the foundation.

I was very fortunate to grow up in one of the best cycling communities in the world in Sacramento, California. Most people will immediately scoff at that notion, but I have the details to back it up. We have had no fewer than five natural-born World Tour Professionals born in the city, in addition to producing countless top-level amateurs. We have had riders win one-day World Tour races and lead teams at some of the biggest races on the globe. Sacramento became synonymous with the Tour of California, which became the biggest and most important event in North America. The hidden gem of Sacramento is the dirt community, which is massive and passionate in their pursuit of gravel and dirt. We have a lot of options in Sactown with a lot of community support. I was also fortunate to live in Tucson, Arizona, for a few years, and the support and participation there are absolutely next level. Here in Seattle, from what I am learning, there are a few group rides that run or are struggling to run. The speed rides seem to be the Rocket Ride and the airport hot laps. We at Metier are working to build a diversity of rides that will accommodate all the members of our community. With all that, there is one thing that binds these communities together in their cycling excellence: the group ride. So, that is where I am going today. We will dissect the moving parts of a superior group ride.

The first ingredient to a great group ride is the makeup or the goals of the ride. What kind of ride is it? For it to survive, it must remain true to its roots, and the participants must remain true and steadfast to the ride’s goals. Again, it is a community built on trust and cooperation, which is where we will start. How does the community establish trust in the ride and continue to participate week after week and year after year?

Let’s start with the high end. There are key differences between a “drop ride” and the “we are going to drop you” ride. The second does not equate to the first. There is absolutely zero wrong or negative with a drop or race ride. It ticks a bunch of awesome boxes: race fitness and tactic training, exercising the internal chimp, and, of course, community building, and most importantly, fun. If the goal is to ride fast and hard, then hell yes, let’s do that!

In Sacramento, our group rides happen in our area of Little Belgium; the levee roads of the Sacramento and American Rivers where the roads are flat, but the wind can blow! I have no shame in saying that part of the reason I was able to survive pro racing in Europe is because men like Scott McKinnley (cover of Seventeen Magazine circa 1980s) taught me what a second echelon was and how it worked. That is unique for America, and those skills are only learned through trial and error.

Now, there is a small piece of the “we are going to drop you” in those rides, but they are not rooted in that mindset. The strong riders do most of the work and ask little of those not as strong. Everyone leaves room for everyone on the road, and there is a level of mentorship. The “cream” naturally rises to the top through strength, experience, and fitness, and the ride has a definitive start and end point. Here is a key point: for a period of time, a group of undisciplined leaders turned the rides in Sacramento into the “we are going to drop you” version, and these masterpieces of training, some of which had been going for 40 years, died. Poof, gone. People became frustrated and hurt by the attitudes of the leaders. Only through the hard work and dedication of a new generation did the rides come back to their high level of functionality. The WAGTDY philosophy does not work in the short and medium term. It creates animosity, it builds exactly zero community, and it is rooted in ego, not hard work and self-improvement. The perpetrators will claim it is.

The red-headed cousin of the WAGTDY mentality is the rider that rides to “win” the ride. Again, ego in full effect, which will poison the tree that bears the fruit of success. The idea of a weekly group ride is to try new riding methodologies, push yourself physically, ride with your head or with your legs, to gauge how you respond, learn group riding skills, and most importantly, have fun. If there is a rider that consistently rides to win, who does not contribute to the give and take, that sucks the fun right out of it. We all like to win, and if we all rode like that, the ride would just stop. The rider that does not contribute to the greater outcome, that only takes from the ride, is not contributing to the ride’s success and intrinsic value. Cycling, at its nature, is a sport of give and take. I give you my work, you take a rest. You give me your work, and I take a rest, and the ride, and the riders, grow. The person that sits on so they can win the sprint is only taking… that is ego at work.

The second ingredient to a great group ride is consistency and repeatability. Ideally, the ride is every week for a certain calendar period. It starts at the same time and follows the same route, week in and week out, year in and year out. You can set your clock by its consistency. In addition, the route will often have a cut-through or shortcut for those who are not able to keep pace on that day. An important corollary to this point is, if you do get dropped, absolutely no sprinting or attacking at the end. I feel that rule speaks for itself.

Finally, respect for the ride and rider. We all need to have empathy and respect for each other out there. Giving each other plenty of room and kind words even though we are at our maximum physically and emotionally. In this modern age, I am a man of full disclosure. I was not this mature as a rider for a long time. I hold myself accountable for this and try my best to make the group better no matter what group I participate in. I love the race ride. I think they serve an incredible purpose on many levels.

So up to this point, we have talked about going hard and fast. Amazing opportunities. I think the other side of the coin is equally important. There is, or absolutely needs to be, a clear distinction between the fast, drop ride, and the moderately paced no-drop or wait ride. They are two different rides, and in my opinion, should never co-mingle or be confused with each other (I am looking at the rider that comes out on the endurance ride and attacks every hill or half-bikes everyone). These rides are rooted in a base of control and stability. They are essentially two-by-two configurations where the front is riding hard tempo, and everyone else is enjoying the free ride. No ride, that is an organized group, where the goal of the ride is endurance pace, should turn it into a race ride or a W.