It’s a little intimidating at first. I didn’t know what to expect having met online or getting hooked up by a friend. Sure, I’ve looked at a few pictures and profiles and everything looks good, but there’s still some doubt. Is it going to work out this time? Is it going to turn out like last time where everything was great at first but then really kind of fell apart at the end? Or is this the one? Meeting a riding group for the first time is a lot like going on a blind date, even with a friend along for support. There are a lot of unknowns and different personalities involved. The best thing is to just dive in and see where it goes.
To ease into riding with a new group I generally look for a short ride that involves a lunch or dinner stop. This makes it seem even more like dating but the meal actually serves the same purpose in both situations. I don’t generally get a chance to have more than a 5 min conversation at riding breaks so a lunch or dinner is a great way to get a feel for the group. I can meet and talk with several members usually for over an hour in a relax setting. Some more formal riding groups have meet-and-greet nights, bike washes, BBQ nights, etc. These are perfect for meeting other group members and getting to know the structure and personalities of a group before going on a ride. Sometimes I know right off the bat after meeting a group if it’s going to work or not even before I go on a ride with them.
After meeting some of the members and getting a feel for their riding styles, if I’m still interested I’ll meet up with them for a longer day ride. Short rides are good for getting to know the members of a group. Day long rides are good for getting to know the riding dynamic of a group. How often does the group stop for breaks? How fast or slow do they ride? Are they sticklers for staying in formation and together as a group? Are they OK with letting faster riders meet the more casual riders at the next stop? My comfort level on a ride is as important to me as the people I ride with. If the group and my riding rhythms are not compatible then I’m not going to enjoy the ride and I’m not going to want to come back. There’s always some level of adjustment and compromise when getting to know a new group. In general I know my patterns and if the group isn’t within a tolerable range of what’s acceptable to me, I know I’ll just be frustrated. My time is important to me and I don’t want to spend a glorious weekend riding frustrated and feeling less relaxed then when I left. That kind of defeats the purpose.
A riding group can mean many things to many people. Some are formal groups or clubs with strict rules, membership dues, patches, and officers. Some are just a group of friends who get together every few weeks to ride. I belong to and have belonged to both kinds. Unlike dating, I can belong to as many riding groups as I want. This gives me options for attending more types of rides. I don’t have to go on every ride for every group either. It also means when I host a ride there’s a larger pool of riders to pull from, so I’m sure to at least get a few people to show up. Personally, I prefer groups that lean toward the informal . Some structure is fine, but too much makes me feel obligated to the group in a way that is counter to why I ride with a group in the first place. My main goal in riding with a group is to enjoy the friends and social aspect as much as the riding. Not that clubs and riding associations don’t have a good time, I just like to keep my riding a little more casual.
Of course groups change over time as people join and leave, just as my riding style has changed. So, if a group doesn’t work out I can always go back to a group I haven’t ridden with in a while. Things might have changed in that group or my riding habits might have changed making us both more compatible than before. I try not to burn any bridges when I leave a group. I never know if they are going to post a ride that looks interesting or I want to ride with them again. Also, the ridding community in my area isn’t incredibly large. It’s surprising how many people know each other.
Riding with a group is about carving up great roads together and at the end of the day getting to hang out with some pretty fun people. It enhances the ride and should not detract from it. So, get out there. There’s plenty of fish in the sea … I mean riding groups to choose from. Go find one, and have a great ride.