QUESTION: What does “no-drop ride” mean? My bike shop has a list of group rides, and they describe some of them that way in parentheses. —Jeff T.
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: It’s a ride where nobody gets left behind, no matter how slow a rider they are. If you are a new rider or even a long-time cyclist but one who usually rides alone or pedals at moderate speeds, no-drop rides are a good way to break into group cycling.
The name of the ride derives from the term “gotten dropped,” which in both group cycling and bicycle racing means that a rider cannot maintain the group pace and falls behind. In bike racing, of course, the riders ahead of you want to drop you so they can beat you to the finish line. In group riding, it’s not that the riders ahead want to shuck you off, but that they want to ride the pace they like and if you can’t keep up, well, too bad.
A no-drop ride, however, is one that in theory at least, prioritizes the group experience over the pace of the ride. One or more group members will always move back to pedal with the slower riders. And should any rider have a flat tire, a mechanical issue, need a bathroom break or have an accident, that person will not be abandoned to deal with it alone.
Rides that are not specifically designated as no-drop — or something similar, such as “new-rider ride” — may not be focused on keeping the slower riders in touch with the group. The individual riders are not obligated to stay with those who can’t keep up. It’s not that they wouldn’t stop if you have an emergency, but that some may be so far ahead of you they won’t know there’s a problem at the tail end of the group. If that’s where you are, it’s best if you have your own copy of the route map or cue sheet, know how to fix your own flats, and have your cell phone at the ready. If you’re concerned about this, it’s a good idea to take a friend on these rides who will stay with you no matter where you are in the pack.
A decade ago, when I lived in Stark County, Ohio, I belonged to the Stark County Bicycle Club, which offers rides virtually every day of the year (some get canceled because of weather, but most happen). That club has done a good job of classifying its rides so that you know before you arrive at the start point what pace to expect and whether you could end up pedaling alone.
Class A rides are the fastest (19 mph and over), Class B rides are slightly slower (15-19 mph), Class C rides are slower yet (10-14 mph) and Class D are the slowest of all (5-9 mph), but I notice that most current rides offered by the club are Class O, rides on which riders, including the ride leader, may pedal at whatever pace they choose. The club also has NR (new rider) rides, which are no-drops, in that the ride leader will always stay with the slowest participant. And the club has T (tourist) rides, which emphasize staying together. (See the club’s ride classification descriptions here.)
Every so often, a beginning rider would show up for a Class C or Class O ride, and though those events weren’t officially no-droppers, it wasn’t uncommon to see a couple of seasoned riders fall back and pedal with the newcomer all the way to the finish point.
But the culture of group rides can be different from place to place, and if you are new to cycling and want to be sure you aren’t left behind, a no-drop ride is the place to start.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.