One of the greatest things about cycling is that you can approach it in many different ways. You can ride far and wide, checking out the views as you go, or you can put your head down and knock out a power hour. You can ride alone, chat away the miles in a relaxed group, or book yourself a place on the pain train and try to hang on to some speedy wheels.
Joining a group ride is a great way to meet liked minded people – you’ll learn more about the local routes, pick up some mechanical tips along the way, and probably make some new friends. You can also work on improving your riding technique: cornering, descending, and get stronger chasing people up hills.
Finding the right group to join isn’t always so simple. Like any gathering of people with a shared interest, groups will vary. Gigs and concerts are gatherings of people into ‘music’ – but a Metallica gig is going to attract a different crowd to a Justin Bieber concert. Unfortunately, in the case of cycling groups, the differences in approach aren’t always so overt, so you might need to do some research and experiment a little to find the right new crew.
The woman question
I've heard a lot of women comment that they've tried to join a club or group ride, but felt intimidated, unwelcome, or simply like they didn't fit in purely because of what was going on in their bibshorts.
Most men can rock up at their local club ride and find other men of a similar age band and level of ability – they’ve got lots of choice. Being a woman adds extra complication for many female riders.
Some mixed sex groups will be more welcoming to women than others. I’ve joined groups that have just treated me like part of the gang. I’ve joined groups where I’ve felt I’ve been over-catered for because I’ve got a vagina – which is well-meaning, but makes me feel uncomfortable. I’ve also been part of a group where I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to be part of the ride group ‘chat’ conversation because it was a boys club that I wasn’t invited to (hilariously there were 'too many penis jokes', I refrained from explaining I’ve probably had close exposure to more peni than any of the men in the group). You’ll get an idea if a group is welcoming or not pretty quickly. For men reading this: just act normal, we’re women, not aliens.
If your focus is on socialising, and you’re happy riding with men of all types and ages, you’ll be fine – there are plenty of options. Social groups will ride at the pace of the slowest rider, and they’re great if you just want to get your chat on. You’ll mix with people of all ages and abilities, and diversity is fun.
If you’d rather ride with other women, look for a group with a high percentage female membership, a women’s only ride, or a women's only club. There’s a lot of contentious debate buzzing around the ‘women’s only’ riding world. Some people will argue that it’s wrong to ‘separate’ the sexes. The thing is, for a lot of women (not all), our closest friends are other women. If that's you, it’s understandable that you might enjoy cycling with other women more than other men. Sometimes we just have different conversations.
For those looking for a training ride, the issue runs deeper. This might be an unpopular thing to say – but physiological differences between men and women mean that a faster woman is probably going to match the pace of a medium paced man. That means that if you’ve got no women around you riding at a similar pace, you’re going to have to ride with men who might have a slightly different attitude to cycling. I’ll put it bluntly: it can get frustrating if you want to talk and learn about race tactics and your ride buddies are more interested in what’s on offer at the cake stop. Admittedly, in road cycling drafting goes a long way, and you can join a faster group, where you might pick up some race craft and technique advice, and accept you’re going to have to work hard to hold that wheel. It’ll probably be good for you.
What do you want from your group?
Before you start searching for your new cycling community, you need to be clear what it is you’re looking for. Do you want social rides, training rides, or both?
Some groups organise weekend jaunts to coffee stops, at the pace of the slowest rider. These focus on the social element of riding. Other groups might place a greater focus on training.
'Race' clubs will often hold mid-week rides, such as chaingang sessions or time trials in the summer. Chaingangs will concentrate on close riding at speed and they won't wait for a dropped rider, but are often held on short circuits so you can't get lost.
Many large, established clubs will offer rides ranging from 'social' to 'race pace', all meeting at the same time and splitting into smaller groups. This offers you a clear progression and potentially gives you a long life ahead in the club.
Most groups have a website, Facebook page or twitter feed. It’s usually quite clear from the rhetoric of the club or group's page what sort of approach they take. Once you’ve found a group you like the look of, get in touch and join them for a ride. Hopefully, there you’ll meet your new cycling community, but if it’s definitely not right, move on and look for another group. If it's 'just a little bit not right', think about whether you could join and help (for example, if there isn't a women's ride - can you start one?)
Going for your first ride
Before your first ride, it’s a good idea to get in contact with the group, and let a leader know that you plan on joining them for a spin. Most established cycling clubs will offer a selection of rides, at different paces – and the organiser will be able to suggest which group you should join to begin with.
I’ve heard a lot of women join group rides, introducing themselves with ‘I’m not very fast’, ‘I’ll slow you down’ – and the such. There’s an entire article on this here. But the basic advice is to refrain from talking yourself down, it isn’t good for your confidence at all. Instead, give an honest description of your riding level: how far you usually ride, what your average speeds are like on flat and a hilly rides. That allows the organiser to suggest an appropriate group for you. If there’s only one group, they can tell you if this is the right one – and if not – suggest an alternative.
Aim to arrive at your group ride with enough food and drink for the duration, a spare tube and puncture repair kit, and cash in case you stop at a cute café in the lanes that doesn’t accept cards.
Read up before you ride:
Where to find a cycling group
There are many ways to find your new cycling group, but there also some tried and tested methods. Here are some of the most popular cycling group repositories…
British Cycling Club search
If a cycling club is registered with British Cycling, they’ll be entered into the British Cycling club search tool. For members to enter any races in the UK under the club name, they have to be British Cycling registered – so pretty much every established club can be found here.
Simply enter your postcode to find local clubs. The club’s British Cycling page will give you an introduction, but it’s worth following through to the actual website for up to date info. Most clubs have Facebook or Twitter pages these days which often give you a genuine idea what and who to expect.
Formerly the ‘Cyclists’ Touring Club’ (CTC) , the organisation changed its name to ‘Cycling UK’ this year. This was to reflect the broad nature of the charity, which campaigns for the interests of cyclists as well as offering led rides all over the country. Led rides are hosted by volunteers, and are generally very sociable and inclusive. You can find a local Cycling UK group and read about their regular rides, here.
Touring Cyclist Club
Launched this year, in reaction to the change in direction from Cycling UK, the new TCC is focused on touring. If you’re looking for people to go touring with, or want to learn more about long distance riding and get inspired to try your first trip, these guys can help.
Strava recently updated their mobile app to allow users to browse local clubs, and you can do the same on desktop. This feature will show you groups that meet near you – you can snoop around in their ‘discussion board’ and look at member's recent rides. This is a pretty useful development. Where club websites are subject to error if they’re left neglected, you can always get up to date information by checking out what’s going on on Strava (and get an idea whose REALLY going to be on the ride…)
Local cycling clubs are run on the premise of everyone pitching in. Rides are led by volunteers, events are organised by volunteers, cakes are baked by ‘the person who always bakes the cake’. With the popularity of cycling ever increasing, and many new riders leading busy lives, some cycling shops are stepping in and taking up the mantle. Going out with a shop ride means you’re starting from a base where you can buy anything you need for your ride, and no doubt there will be someone whose responsibility it is to look after everyone. Many shop rides have created some fantastic communities – and there will probably be somewhere to stop for a nice coffee and a chat after the ride, too. Plus you’ll be supporting your local shop, and building a better relationship with the mechanic who will probably be helping you out next time you bust up your bike.
An arm of British Cycling, Breeze organise women’s only rides. The excursions are led by Breeze Champions, who are volunteers trained up to offer support and guidance to women of all levels of ability. These rides are all about accessibility. If you’re new to cycling, just getting back into it, or want to take to join a group that’s completely welcoming to women of any level then a Breeze ride could be right up your street.
Forums, other riders
This method probably requires a bit more 'social Houdini-ing'. There are a lot of informal rides that go out from random parks, pubs, and 'the junction with Smith Street and Jones Road'. You just have to know someone who knows someone. Ask in your local bike shop, attend their events, or browse Facebook groups and forums.
Finding the right cycling club or group for you can take quite a bit of effort - but once you find the 'sweet spot' it will be so worth it. Good luck!
Read up before you ride: