Someone on a smaller bike forum asked a question about group rides, specifically asking how to keep a ride going. This meant asking the forum what they felt made a group ride good.
That got the thought particles flowing in my head.
I did a group ride around here at a now-closed LBS simply because I could get there on time. It was a sub-10 minute drive there, 15 minute ride, and I'd get there just as they rolled out (6 pm start, I get out of work at 5:30 at earliest).
The ride included new riders and a very few experienced ones. We rarely had more than one or two racers out of 15-20 (and I was the best racer on paper - Cat 2 or 3 - but definitely not the strongest by far).
The rides were low key, meaning I got only somewhat shelled (few minutes for a short climb), and I did a lot of bridging type work (chasing back on). Although it was a slow-ish group ride for a "racer", it worked for me.
My team has a lot of group rides which are one rush-hour zone away from me (i.e. I need to drive 35-40 min but most of it includes rush hour traffic - traveling through Hartford - so it may take an hour or more to drive). Combined with the fact that they start before or just as I get out of work and it's game over for those rides.
If a ride is too hard I won't do it, just because it's too hard. 21-22-23 mph kills me. I may consider a "fast" ride if it's flatter (easier to sit in at speed), big group (easier to sit in), or on a Sunday (replaces a race).
(I should point out that some of the faster racer-type group rides regularly average 23-25+ mph, and some have gone in the high 20s or low 30s for considerable distances.)
Since I don't have a training schedule I treat group rides as hard rides. I use them as part of my "many hard days in a row" weekly schedule, i.e. Sun-Mon-Tue(-Wed) hard, easy Sat, repeat. Group rides used to happen Mon/Wed from the shop, although I sometimes raced Wed instead.
The best, most cohesive group rides I've done have had insane discipline, consisted of riders who subscribed to said discipline, and was merciless with rules enforcement.
The rules had to do with traffic laws for the most part. So, for example, you stop at every stop. You don't turn right if it says no turn on red. You ride single file as soon as someone yells car back.
You need a patron of sorts to enforce this.
You also need someone to set the expectation that this will happen (the patron usually says this).
Finally you need to enforce this ferociously. "What, you can't ride closer than 3 feet to the curb? You don't know how to ride a bike?" with every single other rider glaring at the guy who refused to move over when someone yelled "Car back!".
Have you ever been on a group ride where a rider dangles out in the middle of the lane? Did anyone yell at said rider? It's frustrating when that happens, right? Then the car honks at you because you're part of the group.
When things get too bunched up (and spread across the road) someone has to drill it to stretch it back out. Although I was usually too weak to do it, I'd murmur to a trusted teammate to go hard. Same effect. Single file. Car goes by. All good.
A good ride must have regroup points (end of each long road? at major intersections? etc). The exceptions are the huge ones, the non-organized ones, like Gimbles in NY.
On any smaller ride there should be no one left behind, no matter what. If someone is weak, you need to inspire them. "You don't look good, do you feel okay? You don't? Okay, you're now Fausto Coppi when he had that stomach bug. Guys, we need to bring him back alive. Pull on the flats, we gotta go easy on the hills, and kill it on the downhills. You, you don't pull, ever. We'll get you back."
That last bit is what happened on my pre-wedding rehearsal dinner ride. We were late, I blew up, and three guys (2 former leadout guys, 1 former pro) dragged me back home.
- Regroupments. I hate riding home alone.
- Good discipline. I hate being part of a group that propagates the cyclists' bad stereotype.
- Respect for one another. Strong riders pull more, esp on flats and downhills. Weaker riders can sit on, pull a bit on hills (sets tempo). No one complains about someone not doing work; everyone does what they can.
- Group members that subscribe to the above things. These can be taught/inspired.
- Peeing contests, so to speak. Attacking up hills after sitting in on the flats/downhills. Or not sitting up after an attack.
- Regroupments that are only 30 seconds long.
- Semi-regroupments at 15 mph. "Oh, they'll catch up". No they won't.
- Poor lane/bike discipline. Blocking traffic, running lights/signs, etc. Don't destroy my reputation because you are. Exceptions - if I'm on another group's huge ride (Gimbles).