Enjoying Group Mountain Bike Rides With Slower Friends Can Benefit Everyone

Several months ago we published a survey asking readers “how do you handle the slowest rider in your group?” The aim of the question was to arouse a healthy discussion wherein participants could share ideas and possibly learn from one another — which is the intention of any survey we publish.

In the precise moment I typed this sentence, 38% of the 3,362 participants responded to that query with “Wait occasionally and chat so they can catch their breath before continuing,” another 20% replied “I AM the slowest rider,” while the third largest hunk of the pie chose the answer “My crew takes plenty of breaks, and no one gets left behind” with 16%, and finally 9% of y’all clicked the reply “Wait for the slowest rider at all intersections, then take off as soon as they arrive.”

Overall that sounds like a friendly and thoughtful bunch of folks to meet at the trailhead. Growing our sport and making it more inclusive requires some compassion for riders who are less comfortable with speed, and well over half of these survey clickers are practicing patience on the trail. If we all thought we had to keep up with race-winning speeds like those of Isabeau Courdurier on our first descent in order to be a mountain biker, we might not have felt welcome. We might have thought the learning curve was too steep. We might not be mountain bikers.

I personally enjoy riding my mountain bike as fast as gravity, traction, and nerves will allow, and when I go out alone or with certain friends, we pin it. On group rides, where not everyone is equally cozy with speed or the potential dirtnap, things work a little differently. Faster riders need to wear more clothing on cool days so they can keep warm while waiting for the rest of the crew. The important verb in that sentence is that they need to wait. Group rides can be about community building or race simulation, and it’s rare that those elements overlap while the cranks are spinning. Reader Jon Dunn left a great comment on the survey that would work well for faster training rides, or group gatherings where a majority of the pack wants to twist the throttle.

There will always be a “slowest” rider in any group. Waiting at intersections is common courtesy. If it is going to be a race-pace drop ride, the route should be known so everyone knows where to get a cold beer post-ride.

-Jon Dunn

Alternatively, slower and faster riders can roll together and learn some different skills and lines from one another. The slowest rider in a group is not necessarily the least skilled, and they may just see some sweet lines that no one else noticed. If the faster riders are more skilled, maybe they have some techniques to teach. It’s always a good idea to ask other riders if they already know a skill or technique and if they want to learn it from you before any teaching happens. They may know that particular skill just as well as you do, and nobody likes to be mansplained.

Most of the veteran mountain bikers I know have a parts bin in their bike-storage that’s packed with greasy crap they will never use again. One way to help out newer and potentially slower riders is to clean off those discarded components and see if they could make someone else’s bike work better. There is a good chance the newest rider on your shred-group could benefit from some hardware upgrades, and you could clear out space for the next component standard that the bike industry deems obsolete. It’s a win-win. The group that Singletracks reader Christopher Purcell rolls with is fond of the upgrade and loaner method.

We advertise our Wednesday group rides as all skill level rides, so we get everything and we do our best to get them to come back again and again. Another thing that has helped is if someone shows up on an inadequate bike we find a loaner. If they still want to ride the thing we just work with it and applaud them when they make a difficult section. We had a kid show up on an early ’90’s GT with road tires last year. It even had a rack on the back. He rode every trail we did and only went down once. So we encouraged him and told him that was quite an accomplishment. He bought a new bike and joins us when he can.

-Christopher Purcell
Blistering fast racers like Noga Korem should likely put their group ride partners on ebikes. Maybe then they could keep up with her. Maybe.

Though I feel “wicked fast on a good day” I have recently been the slowest rider in a group, and it is good to remember how that situation goes. When everyone takes off as soon as you reach the intersection, it can feel like you may as well ride solo. My friends who train hard and race harder can mop the forest floor with me when they want to, and they make it look easy. The important piece, and the reason I keep joining those heart-in-throat group rides, is that I get to challenge and improve my own skills by chasing their tires. I get to watch their higher and often straighter lines, get towed into drops I might otherwise roll, and watch their body mechanics and how they make the bike stick to corners at what seems like double the speed. In terms of progression and challenges, I am far better off as their slowest rider than I would be solo. I’m thankful for the moments I can keep up, and fortunately those moments are growing longer. Arguably nothing has made me a faster mountain biker than riding with faster mountain bikers.

Reader Thomas Lynk expressed gratitude for the local group ride, the patience of the crew, and how their favor is regularly returned.

A lot of times I’m the slowest rider and I really appreciate people’s patience at those times. It’s a privilege that they let me ride with them. When you’re in that position I think that you need to find a way to pay it back. Whether it’s building trails, staying with a person with a mechanical so the rest of the group can go on or just buying the first round. Always try to be positive. You volunteered for this activity. When you’re the slowest no one wants to hear you complain about the climb, the heat, the cold, the bugs or the rain.

-Thomas Lynk

If we keep our conversations encouraging and positive, as Thomas mentioned above, we will all end up happier on group rides. If you’re the fast rider, consider not mentioning how “this is a fun easy ride for me” or blathering about your KOMs or race results. Instead, stick to positive affirmation of the fun sport that you both love, and find things to celebrate throughout the day. Let’s shred together!

Lastly, for truly agro shredders who simply cannot slow down for other folks, there may be a way for you to enjoy some company and still go all out. Remember in the fourth paragraph where I mentioned waiting for slower riders. Try this method. Instead of mashing on ahead and waiting at intersections, ride behind the slower rider you are with. Chat with them as you both warm up, and when your heart rate feels ready, stop and wait. You can wait as long as you like, as it will only affect the amount of hard effort you are about to throw down. After a minute or three, put the throttle where you like it and try to catch your ride partner. If they know you are playing cat ‘n’ mouse you can go even faster because they will be able to let folks ahead of you know you’re coming in hot. When you catch them you can chat for a while before repeating. This works best on trails that everyone knows well so that the slower riders don’t have to wait at intersections.

Let’s shred together!