Group Winter Rides – Ann Arbor


I’ve been asked by numerous people when the winter Dirt Road Rides will get underway. My answer, it’s time. I’ve thought a lot about ways to organize these rides and I plan to see how we can make them work to make a lot of people feel they have companions on the whole ride. Let me explain.

What is a Group Ride?
I know that this sounds like Biking 101, but it helps to refresh ourselves on the real purpose of the term Group Ride. A group ride is just that, a ride for people to be together and share the ride experience. What makes this a challenge is the range of fitness and ability levels among those who join in. Riding in cooperative groups can be (and often has been) done, with a bit of give and take. Below are various approaches with a bit of editorial comment on my part.

The No Drop Ride
The goal is to try to regulate the pace so the most casual riders don’t get dropped. This occasionally works. Usually the faster riders get frustrated and eventually the ride breaks apart. Or, this requires a very staunch leader who keeps everyone in line. Unless everyone is pretty close in ability and pace, good luck, but as I said, they sometimes do work.

Laissez Faire
In this scenario, the group all rolls out as one without discussing much of anything about the ride. Then the ride gradually breaks into its own series of groups. It’s very Darwinian and often leaves bits and pieces of the original group spewed all over the county in fives, twos, and ones. Frustration happens for those who thought they were going to have someone to ride with and find they’re all on their lonesome.

This is the extreme version of survival of the fittest. It works if everyone is on board and recognizes that they’ll either be the tough chest pounders at the end, or the wasted detritus who watch those in front of them get smaller and smaller until…poof!…silence. These can be great fun, or they can be totally demoralizing, depending on your position in the hierarchy.

Drop and Regroup
This is a hybrid of the No Drop and Laissez Faire. The hard core riders ride like hell until an agreed upon, or nebulously agreed upon spot, then they stop and wait for the talkers or those less sportif to catch up. Again, this often requires a staunch leader or a few leaders who agree to this from the start and then stick to it.

A, B, C or MPH
A (fastest), B (fit, but not A fit), and C (chug, chug, chug). The groups are sorted out in the parking lot as everyone queues up. This works great as long as everyone understands where they are in the pecking order and if they are capable of being honest with themselves. Personal awareness is a tough one in this case, but if honesty rules, then these can work. That said, how often do we really know ourselves, or admit our limitations? I’ll let you answer that for yourself.

Sometimes these are sorted by speed: 24mph average; 18mph average; 14mph average…
It works if everyone is self-aware enough to understand their averages. Most people skew these anywhere from 2 to 6mph upwards of their real abilities.

Descriptive Groups
Perhaps it’s the labels that make ABC a challenge. Anything below A is…below A (worthless scum, in other words). Maybe we need other terms. Hammerheads, Friendly Fitness, Easygoing. I don’t know. There are probably pleasantly descriptive, concise terms that clarify your intent from the start. They proudly declare your preferences rather than rank your abilities (or lack thereof).

Weekly Challenge
Though I tend to like the “Descriptive Groups” approach, all rides and groups are unique. They often require a combination of the above approaches.

Also, the groups often form according to the number who show up. In the winter that number can be (though is not always) small. If there are only five riders, then the group is often those five, even if the range of rider type is widely varied.

Dirt Ride Goals
I’m in the Friendly Fit category (spirited, but not a sufferfest), so these rides are skewed in that direction because I want people to ride with, but that doesn’t mean that the Hammerheads and the Easygoings aren’t welcome. Each group should be able to find their companions and decide on distance and pace.

The primary goal is to get together so we have someone to share our ride with at a pace and distance that will keep us motivated to return the next week.

Let me stress that it’s winter. For those who ride like banshees all the rest of the year, this is a time to chill out a bit. Again, hammerheads are more than welcome to hammer, but please do it in your own group or just do it on your own. There’s nothing to prove here and unless everyone you’re with buys into sufferfests, don’t do it. Enjoy the camaraderie of those you’re with.

Conversely, if you’re out of shape, give yourself a short ride, make sure you know your limitations and your way home and be happy for getting outdoors for a little while with those who love to be healthy and fit. It’s a good group to aspire to join.

Other Thoughts
One thing I’d like to pull off is to get women more incorporated into these groups. Women are more than welcome. Please, pass the word that we are an inclusive group.

Give a welcome to those who are new to the group or to those who you don’t know. Help those who haven’t done much, if any, winter riding. We’re doing this because we have a shared passion.

Talk to Each Other
Part of everything said above has to do with communication, both at the beginning of and throughout the ride. If you have suggestions or complaints or you don’t understand something, please pass your thoughts on to me. I welcome them. Truly. If we communicate, I promise we’ll have a great season of good rides.

These rides are not formed under the aegis of any particular group or organization. They’re a group of people who love to ride year-round. They usually start from Barton Dam. You are responsible for your own safety.

If you’d like to be on the email list for the winter rides send your request to:
clayhouse at clayhousepub dot com.

Once you’re on the list, ride notifications will be forthcoming.


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