The Tri Club Potential of Group Riding, Part II

author : Rich Strauss
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Inclusion is the key, with elements of the ride fulfilling the training and social needs of 95% of the membership. We have found that course selection, leadership have been the keys.

How do you work with your tri club to create this culture of group riding? I've broken it down into three essential elements: Commitment, Education and Camaraderie.

It’s very simple. Your tri club leadership must first realize the value and potential of cultivating a group riding ethos in the tri club and then commit themselves to making it happen. And if you want to see this happen, the quickest way to get it done is to do it yourself! I’m notorious for “volunteering” people who come forward with good ideas. At the very least, you and your leadership need to commit to the following activities.

From now until the end of time the club WILL have a Saturday ride that leaves from Location X at Time Y. The route can be different every week but having a concrete starting time and location allows the club to focus its marketing efforts on creating a buzz about this ride. It also encourages consistency and simplicity. In short, you need to make it easy for the people who have committed themselves to making this happen.

A club representative will be at Location X at Time Y from now until the end of time.  Be patient! This could take a while to get off the ground, given your environmental constraints and quality riding opportunities. The Pasadena Tri Club has only had a regular ride for about 12 weeks and it was tough to get it off the ground. After hyping it up all week it would often be me and the usual suspects. But over time the buzz began to build slowly and now, in a club with about 65 members, we have 18-20+ showing up very regularly. That’s pretty good from what I gather from talking to other tri clubs.

A smooth, well coordinated group ride is a beautiful thing to see but it doesn’t happen overnight. Your club’s commitment to creating a quality group ride in turn creates the requirement to educate and instruct the members on group riding techniques. However, it’s also an opportunity for the club to return value and demonstrate just how much it cares for the safety, training experience and fun quotient of the members. A few ideas:

  • A smooth group ride is guided by a long list of “best practices,” rather than strict rules, with each member learning over time “just what to do.” You want to seek out those experienced club members who can share their knowledge with the club in a controlled and unintimidating environment. Seminars, pre-ride talks, short group rides, debriefs in the middle of rides, etc. are all good ideas.

  • Seek out qualified experts to help the club: experienced road cyclists, coaches and athletes who can add an even more detailed and professional knowledge to the formal and informal educational activities above.

  • Create a compendium of web resources and encourage the members to education themselves about the nuances of group riding. Just Google it!

To create a truly successful ride you MUST take the session beyond training and towards “I get to hang out with my friends on a bike on Saturday.” Inclusion is the key, with elements of the ride fulfilling the training and social needs of 95% of the membership. We have found that course selection, leadership, and simply good people have been the keys.

Putting It All Together
As an example of putting all of these elements together, I will offer the Pasadena Tri Club Saturday morning ride. Note that this ride is only about 10-12 weeks old but I'm beginning to think we have a good thing pretty well dialed in!

Start Time and Location
The ride begins at 7:30am SHARP in the Starbucks in downtown Sierra Madre. We picked this location to start and, more importantly, end the ride because several large roadie rides finish in the same downtown location from 10-11am. Every Saturday from 10-11am there are several hundred cyclists passing through the town, creating excellent visibility for the club. We are VERY eager to receive our club uniforms! SHARP means just that. Every PTC ride leaves exactly on time, no exceptions. This is certainly my Marine influence :-) This sense of urgency is made easier by scheduling a second clip in at 8am at a small park about 8 miles east of Sierra Madre. The route is mostly downhill and encourages an easy, small chain ring social ride.

Route Planning, Education and All Abilities
The park is directly across the street from a bike path that includes mountains 3 miles to the north, a nearly closed, perfectly flat, 3 mile dam, and Seal Beach about 35 miles south. It's even possible to hook up with a second system of bike paths that can take us about 35 miles to Long Beach.

We pick up Team Encanto (the name of the park) at 7:55, leaving at exactly 8am. The first 45-60' of the ride are "no-drop" and focused on teaching group riding skills. I typically lead the ride to the end of the Santa Fe Dam, explain what we're going to work on today, and then off we go. This past weekend we broke into A and B groups with each peloton practicing a double paceline at 21-22mph and 18-19mph respectively. It is VERY cool to have 15-20 triathletes rolling smoothly through the line at 22mph in November! The dam is three miles end to end, with no cars but quite a bit of foot traffic, so we typically do 8-9 miles of pace line work.

We form up again and either continue on as a loose group (too many people to be safe while riding closely together on a bike path) or split up into smaller groups to do our own things. Regardless, we know what everyone's plan is, who is riding with whom, etc. We will typically continue south down the path (no-drop) to another path and then head back north. At this point we turn the no-drop off and let the dogs loose. We generally meet back up in Sierra Madre at 10-10:30am, with the stronger riders rolling into a large roadie ride for a very intense 30-45' time trial to the finish.

By having a well-defined route and drop policy, the needs of ALL abilities are met. Beginners are encouraged to ride with us because they will be made to feel welcome and included. Advanced riders can enjoy the experience of teaching and mentoring the others and can be patient: yes, you will get to drill yourself at the end of the ride!

Finally, we have a box of coffee waiting for us when we arrive. Some of the ladies are beginning to bring baked goods (!!), a couple wives bring the kids to meet dad, Joanne runs up from my house with Sonny and Riley, the club officers have an opportunity talk a little shop, etc. The experienced riders share tips with the beginners, we create visibility for the club among the local athletes, and, in general, a good time is had by all!

SoCal is not Chicago. We've got it pretty good here. But with patience and committed leadership you too can make this happen for your tri club!

See Part I



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: January 1, 2006

Rich Strauss