Shoshana Hebshi by Shoshana Hebshi

It’s great to ride with a group—the camaraderie, the ability to draft, the sharing of the love for the sport of cycling. But before you head out on your first group ride, here are some hard-and-fast rules to maximize both safety and enjoyment.

1. Arrive Early

If it’s your first time riding with a certain group, get to the meet-up spot at least 10 minutes early, so you can introduce yourself, let everyone know you’re a newbie and make small talk. If a ride starts at 7 a.m., it means it leaves at 7 a.m. Don’t show up at 7a.m. Be prompt and ready so you’re not left behind.

2. Don’t Push The Pace

Don’t Push The Pace

If it’s an easy ride, or an easy part of the ride, or you’re just not sure, don’t charge ahead to show off your skills. Not only should you save your energy for the hard part of the ride (if it’s on the docket), you want to avoid upsetting other riders who want to stick to an easy pace. Faster is not always better. Sit in the back half of the group and get a sense of your fitness level relative to the fitness levels of others. If you feel good later on, move to the front and take some pulls. It’s common for new riders to take a couple of turns at the front when the pace gets high and then immediately get dropped.

3. Don’t Half-wheel

Half-wheeling—when two riders are side by side and one persists in riding ahead a half-wheel length—is considered rude behavior. It requires the other person to play a constant game of catch-up. If you want to be sociable during a ride, stay in a spot where you can have a reasonable conversation and not feel like you have to chase someone down to get a question asked or answered.

4. Bring Enough Food and Water

Bring Enough Food and Water

Make sure you bring enough food and water to support yourself during the ride. If one of your riding buddies runs out and you have extra, it’s great to share. But don’t be the one mooching off the others because you left that second water bottle on the kitchen counter or you thought only two granola bars would be enough sustenance for that four-hour ride. Bring cash or a credit card if there’s a place along the route to buy food and water as well.

5. Be Prepared For a Flat

Flatting stinks. There’s no way around that. What’s worse is changing your friend’s flat because they were too busy to take that bike maintenance class at the bike shop. Always carry an extra inner tube and either a hand pump or compressed air cartridges. And don’t forget that tire tool! You might also want to bring a compact set of Allen wrenches to tighten anything that comes loose, like your seat or handlebars. There’s no guarantee that people will wait for you if you experience a flat, so be prepared to fix it and find your way back home if needed.

Memorize these five rules and then go out and have a great time on your ride.