The Tri Club Potential of Group Riding

author : Rich Strauss
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Tri clubs offer all of us, from beginner to advanced athlete, a venue in which we can realign our perspective of what “fast” and “far” are, pushing us to new and greater heights of performance.

As the founder of Crucible Fitness and the Pasadena Triathlon Club, I find myself wearing both hats quite often. My season has ended, I’m putting Ironman in the closet for a couple years, and have subsequently found myself taking a more active role in organizing fun training events for the club. I’ve been reflecting on the potential that group riding has for the growth of a triathlon club and its members.

From a training perspective, it’s very simple: if you want to ride far and/or fast, you need to ride far and/or fast. I'm convinced that the limitations we place on ourselves are largely a function of the limitations our peers place on themselves. If you ride by yourself or with a small group at 17-18mph, 20mph is FAST, and 40 miles is FAR. That is your perspective, your performance envelope. I believe that perspective can limit your potential to accomplish many goals in the sport.

Tri clubs offer all of us, from beginner to advanced athlete, a venue in which we can realign our perspective of what “fast” and “far” are, pushing us to new and greater heights of performance, fun and enjoyment of the sport.

However, I believe many organizations miss out on this tremendous club and athlete growth potential through adherence to an almost cultural snobbery regarding group riding skills. In the meantime, the club, a social structure, trains largely as separate individuals, limiting the great social potential of cycling. Club members do the same rides, at the same speed, week after week, yielding the same results.

I founded the Pasadena Triathlon Club because I wanted to create an organization that would encourage and support the members as they explored new boundaries. The cornerstone of this was the creation of a roadie culture within the club.

The ability to ride comfortably and efficiently in a group creates many possibilities:

The club ride becomes an enjoyable social experience

After years of coaching and observing hundreds of athletes, I’ve found that often the most successful ones have moved beyond training and towards adopting a fitness-lifestyle ethos. Training is their social outlet. They look forward to their Saturday morning ride the way they used to anticipate Friday night happy hour. Because they have adopted the fitness lifestyle and woven it into their social experience, they are much more likely to simply show up, week after month after year. This near effortless consistency encourages constant athletic improvement.

Beginning riders have an opportunity to ride

Get with and learn from the more experienced members of the club, creating a vertical learning curve on a broad range of subjects. The newbie rides in the middle of the group and receives a 2 hour clinic on group riding skills, pedaling, cadence, proper riding position, shifting, heart rate training, etc.

More importantly the club has an opportunity show the new member that it cares about him: “You are one of us and we want to include you on everything we do. We will teach you the skills you need to ride with us.”

Strong riders have an opportunity to ride at their pace

If everyone behind them knows how to "stay on" through efficient drafting and positioning, everyone, from front to back, receives a great training session.

Finally, the club realigns the group perspective of what "far" and "fast" are

I believe this has the potential to move a club outside of the tri box and towards “We’re a group of fit people who like to use our fitness to do cool, fun stuff together. Triathlon is just one of the things we do.”

Four examples of this potential for the athlete and triathlon club growth:

The extreme beginner
Last year we had a young lady join our tri club. She was afraid to ride her bike and I believe it took her several weeks before she was confident enough to clip in with both feet! A year later and a few weeks ago she was sitting on my wheel, middle of the peloton, at 22-23mph. In the meantime her skills and perspective have radically changed, giving her the confidence to lead 70-80 mile rides to the beach and back.

"I can only hold 21-22mph. I'm soooo slow!"
CF had a squad of local athletes training for IMCDA. Three of them were women with maybe a year in the sport. My buds and I taught them how work in the group so they could train with us. Their perspective quickly became one where the bike idles at 21, we cruise at 22-23 and when the freaks turn up the heat we'll go all day at 24-25mph, with long pulls at 27mph. It was nothing for them to knock out sub 4:50 centuries with us. A couple of weeks ago, one of them came to the front of the ride and disgraced me for about two miles. I peeked over at her Powertap and saw nothing under 310 watts. I think this rapid growth would have been extremely difficult if she had adopted the non-drafting culture of many tri clubs.

Tour de Palm Springs
In southern California, the first organized century is in Palm Springs in early February. About 30 PTC members participated in the ride, all starting together. After a few hills early in the ride, we naturally broke up into two groups of about 15 riders each. I was in the lead group and 6 of us did most of the work for the remaining 8, with another 60 riders strung out behind us at 24+mph. The second group of 15 held a solid 22-23mph and had a similar experience. Both groups contained many athletes for whom this was their first century. Their sense of accomplishment was enhanced by the feeling of working as part of a team and being able to share that experience with good friends.

The Wednesday night brick
Every Wednesday night this summer about 20-30 PTC members would roll out of the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center parking lot for laps around the Rose Bowl, a three mile loop road. The first lap would be at about 16mph, then 17, ratcheting up the pace each lap and picking up additional riders along the way. It was common to have 40+ cyclists, all working together smoothly and efficiently. It was just a cool thing to see and be a part of, and the members are eagerly anticipating longer days and new club uniforms!

As I reflect on the club growth and “vibe” this year, and its potential for bigger and better things in the next, I believe the fostering of this unique roadie culture has been integral to our success. In my next two articles I will discuss the duties, responsibilities and skills required by the two components of this dynamic equation: the triathlon club and the athlete.


As Crucible Fitness head coach and Pasadena Triathlon Club founder, Rich Strauss has a unique perspective on the club/athlete relationship. Rich can offer a consultative relationship tailored to the growth goals of your club and its members, through club sponsorship, training articles, speaking at club meetings, writing club training plans and conducting affordable clinics. Please have your club officers contact Rich to discuss opportunities to work with and learn from each other.

Please also visit Crucible Fitness to subscribe to The Brick, the Crucible Fitness eNewsletter with News, Tips, Training Articles, special offers and more!


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date: November 27, 2005

Rich Strauss