“The Sunday morning group spin is one of the undervalued cornerstones of cycling development”
By Tom Daly, PhD
September is that time of year when many cyclists begin to re-group for the Sunday morning spin after being dispersed in their various cycling activities during the summer.
The Sunday morning group spin is one of the undervalued cornerstones of cycling development. It’s where many are inducted into cycling and learn basic skills, etiquette and cycling culture. It’s were the performance cyclist re-charges the batteries during the Autumn and lays down the solid aerobic base for the harder efforts to come. And it’s an important social aspect of cycling, where life-long friendships are forged and maintained.
The large increase in cycling numbers has brought many groups and new clubs together, and Sunday morning spins are sometimes occurring without the benefits of tradition and long-experienced riders.
In some cases, these groups can be ‘all over the place’, with nobody really in charge and good habits not being established. Experienced riders can find these rides ‘hairy’ and borderline on dangerous. Groups and clubs may be finding it difficult to satisfy the needs of a big cross-section of abilities and interests, and the rides can eventually be off-putting for some.
It’s also a time when new rides join a group for the first time and many will be naturally apprehensive and nervous. So, it’s in everybody’s best interests that they aren’t tuned off at this stage.
Nevertheless, newly formed groups and clubs are enthusiastic and usually anxious to get these spins right. But it’s impossible to satisfy everybody and many groups struggle to find the best balance that is enjoyable for all, a good learning environment, and where solid training and progression also takes place.
In this light, September is a good time of the year for such groups to re-assess the Sunday morning group spin. Also, with the influx of many new cyclists, it may be useful for longer-established groups to take a fresh look at how they have been doing things. Some of the following points may be useful to discuss and think about.
Trying to balance cycling activities with domestic harmony is a juggle for many and this isn’t helped by leaving the house on Sunday morning without any idea when you will be home. Think about the following:
• Some individual or group decide the route and approximate ride-time the day before and distribute Facebook or Twitter.
• If it’s forecast to be windy, consider riding into the wind in the earlier part, at a steady pace, so that weaker riders won’t have a disheartening struggle into the wind on the way home when they are tired.
• If it’s a hilly route, try and avoid longer drags or steep hills in the earlier parts so that novices and younger riders are not struggling or getting dropped from the outset – this is really bad for morale.
• If the forecast is dodgy, consider a circular route with ‘shortcuts’ that weaker riders can take if conditions become grim or if some domestic event calls for an early return home.
• And, always leave on time – once the routine is established nobody will be late.
Pacing and Etiquette
Analysis of the power profiles of some group spins show them to be very ‘spiky’ – a very uneven power output where a very large percentage of the time can be ‘wasted’ in the sense that riders are spending a lot of time at a pace below which little training advantage is being gained.
It also leads to weaker riders being in the red zone too much and too often – they will eventually leave the group if they are getting dropped regularly from surges of speed.
Typically, this is caused by lead riders who power up the drags and cruise on the descents. It can also be caused by weaker riders spending too much time in front and stalling the pace, and stronger riders making up for it when they go to the front. Consider the following:
• Lead riders should not increase effort too much on the drags.
• On the gentle downhills, however, the lead riders need to cycle harder so that those behind are not cruising or applying the brakes, and getting cold.
• Don’t be concerned about ‘sitting in’ if you feel too tired to go to the front. Stronger riders will understand and prefer this.
• If the ethos of the group is to keep the herd together at this time of the year, then lead riders should look behind occasionally or be told to slow down and give dropped riders a chance to get back on.
Novice riders learn bike-handling skills and agility in a natural way on group rides. However, there may be some things you are doing, ranging from annoying to dangerous, that you may not be aware of if there isn’t good mentoring taking place in the group.
Riders should be advised, in a non-intimidating manner, when these happen. The following are just a few examples of skills which you can practice on your own and make you more confident in the group:
• Avoid ‘going backwards’ by pausing your effort when drinking – practice taking and replacing the bottle without looking and or interrupting your rhythm.
• Don’t pause when getting out of the saddle or sitting down again – practice doing it on a downward stroke to maintain momentum.
• Practice glancing behind without drifting to one side.
These are just a few ideas which will help make your club or group Sunday morning spin more enjoyable and productive for all – there will be many other common-sense ideas suggestions which yourselves and other members will have.
The Next Move?
This leads to the next question: who is going to speak up if they think the Sunday morning spin needs a little organising? This depends on local dynamics and personalities, but here are some pointers which may help.
• Nominate a group to formally draw up an etiquette for your club or group and circulate to all
• Consider bringing in a coach or qualified person to observe the group and advise accordingly – some will take direction better from outsiders and it won’t cause any internal frictions. A1 Coaching can provide this service if required.
The cycling year has a rhythm and from September until the end of the year is a key time to enjoy the group spin and benefit from it. Discussing these points in your group, and applying your own common sense to the local context, may help to make it more enjoyable, productive and safer for all.