Joey Heard, Hincapie Ambassador, shares the meaning of some of the most-used cycling terms
If you’re new to cycling and want to join a local ride, it may be a bit confusing to figure out what type of ride you’re joining. Group rides can have several different “groups” depending on the level of riders, and then there can also be caveats to the rides that you need to be aware of. This is usually spelled out in the invite by stating the anticipated average speed, denoting number of groups, etc., but it’s good to know the cycling terms so you understand what you’re getting yourself into!
Cycling clubs usually have several “groups” on their regularly scheduled rides. A, B, and C groups are the typical designations, and they’re divided by average speed. It’s important to note that “average speed” doesn’t mean you have to maintain that speed minimum the entire time. Instead, if you use a Garmin, it means that you maintain the overall average speed. The typical A group is 19-20 mph average, B group is usually 17-18 mph, and C group is around 15-16 mph average. This is based on “rolling terrain,” meaning there are some hills (not flat). When a group ride is listed with just one speed (e.g. 18-19 mph pace), it’s understood you should be a stronger rider (a B+ rider minimum, if you will). It is assumed there will be some fast guys that will up the pace on a shop ride.
Another good term to know is “self-supported ride.” This means you should bring what you need for the distance you are riding, including nutrition and fluids. There is no SAG available, which means if you get tired, no one is coming to pick you up, or if you break a spoke or a shifter cable, you need to be able to get yourself back. A “store stop” may be noted, which means you’ll stop somewhere along the way for riders to refill water bottles or buy a coke and some M&M’s. When these rides originate at a bicycle store, usually there is help available from that store if trouble happens.
If you’re relatively new to cycling, keep your eyes peeled for rides that are “no drop.” This means riders will meet at predetermined stopping points to let the group catch up. Usually these points are after a long climb, major intersection, or past the stop sign in front of the cemetery gates (Pantera reference intended) where there is a safe place beside the road to pull off. The opposite is the drop ride. The name says it all.
Pro tip: Group rides should always have a posted route, so make sure you review the route—including elevation gain. For example, a 50-mile ride with 1,000’ elevation gain is pretty easy, verses 30 miles with 4,800’. Also, the route profile shows how tough the climbs are (think Gran Fondo Hincapie elevation sticker handed out, those mountains…!) The preferred route maker is “Ride with GPS” with most cycling groups. Leaders, sweepers* and really everyone (doesn’t happen enough) should download the route to their GPS so everyone knows where they are going! That way, you’ll receive a notice just like you do in your car (e.g. “turn left in .3 miles,”), preventing sudden turns and letting you know what to expect.
*Sweeper: Opposite of a leader, the last person in the peloton. Their job is to make sure no one gets left behind on no-drop rides. The sweeper should know the route and be able to contact others in the group if trouble. And encourage those struggling.
If this is one of your first group rides, it’s probably a good idea to let your ride leader know. He/she will keep an eye out for you and make sure you’re comfortable. But really, don’t sweat it too much—this is supposed to be fun!