We spoke to Chris Guella of Unknown Bike & Brew to learn more about how to go from total beginner to a weekly rider in no time.
Getting Started with Group Bike Rides
A local bike shop is a great place to start. Those employees love riding and have chosen a career in cycling and know all of the local rides. They also know equipment you will need. The basics include a helmet, bike, pedals,clothing and shoes. Depending on your budget you can spend $1,500 or $15,000 on these items! There are some really great entry level bikes in the $1,500 range. Look for Shimano Ultegra, 105 or Sram Force. These are gear component groups that are commonly used on any road bike.
The bike itself can be a tricky choice since there are so many manufacturers you are probably best served to try a few, take some advice and do some research. But the big brands like Specialized, Trek, and Giant all have bikes that can get you started. I would pick a brand that is in the local bike shop you prefer to patronize. Most people buy what are called "entry level" road bikes and then decide how much they love the sport before investing more. This is a well-advised and common approach. Talk to your local bike shop staff, they can guide you. Don't be intimidated or afraid to ask questions! This is preferable over finding some cheap bike on Craigslist to save a few dollars.
Once you have a bike you need to ride it. Alone. For a while. Get to know it, learn how to shift and see how you like to ride. Log your miles using Strava on your phone or buy a Garmin device as well. It will motivate you to see your progress and it also has a social element to gain motivation and kudos from friends. Next you can start riding with a friend... You know, the one that rides "too much." We all know them and they generally love to help people get started! They own a few extra bikes and boast about riding hundreds of miles at a time. They will help you get started by riding with you to get you used to being next to others, safely.
Close-in-riding is a must for a group ride since the benefits of drafting improve efficiency by up to 30%. With your cycling buddy learn the hand signals and how to safely call out obstacles and potholes or signal upcoming turns. Remember to obey traffic laws and know how and when you should take a lane (you can legally do that in most places) or ride off to the side to allow traffic to flow by.
Finding the Right Group Ride for You
Some of the local breweries have started to host rides and some are for beginners. For example, Unknown Bike & Brew (held every Saturday at 2:30 PM) has 10, 25 and 35 mile routes and welcomes beginners that can start on a 10 mile route with some instruction and then graduate to different to longer distances and skill levels. Another beginner ride is the Plaza Midwood Tuesday Night Ride. This is not a brewery ride per se, but they always stop at places serving beer, and they ride at a slower pace. This is more of a social ride that requires front and rear tail lights another dimension that can add to confusion when getting started. You can also check the Cycling page on Work For Your Beer to find more rides to fit your needs.
Whatever ride you choose get there early, ask questions, follow instructions, and stay towards the back of the group until you get comfortable. Many group rides will ride two abreast rotating turns at the front where it is harder to pedal with the headwind. Some go single file which usually is at a little faster pace. How fast depends on the personality of the ride and the road being traveled.
Get to know these important things and what you may be comfortable with based on your solo training experience. For example the Unknown Bike & Brew 10 mile ride is usually a manageable 12 mph average speed with no drop (left on your own if you are slow). But the lead 35 mile ride is 21 mph on average, and getting dropped is possible (and in fact, it's likely). Regardless, know the route and the way back, have a spare tire, know how to change it, and have a cell phone. A No-Drop ride is a good idea since others will help you get through it.