Thereís no better way to become a stronger, faster, more agile cyclists than to do group rides - especially group rides with people who are stronger than you.  But club rides can be intimidating, especially if youíre new to the area or donít know any of the other riders.  Here are some tips to help you enjoy your first club ride.      

Be aggressively gregarious.  When you roll up to the starting point, introduce yourself to everyone you see.  People like to talk to newcomers, but it helps if you make it easy for them.  Youíll get to know people a lot faster, get the inside scoop on the rides and club members, and generally have a much better time if you put yourself forward rather than wait to be noticed.      

If you are new to the area (or will be riding in unfamiliar territory) donít underestimate this benefit of introducing yourself at the start of the ride:  Youíll be letting club members know that youíre new to the area.  There will always be club members who donít mind waiting if you get dropped, and who will let you know how to get back into town (someone probably did the same thing for them at one time).  A corollary to this:  If it becomes absolutely clear that you cannot hang on, ask for directions back home.  This is the best way to engender fond feelings, and you can come out stronger next time.  

If youíre a strong rider and you know it, itís still best to go with the flow on your first ride with a new group.  Established rides have set rhythms; youíll ruffle some feathers if you jump during the easy, social parts of the ride - and half-wheeling a double-paceline partner will win you no new friends.  Another reason to give into the group dynamic on an unfamiliar ride is that you donít know whatís coming up.  The group may be taking it easy because they all know about the five mile climb up ahead.  If you push yourself too hard before the ride gets hard, you may have a tough time hanging.  Even if you already know what youíre doing (and especially if you donít), allow yourself to be instructed.  You may be reminded not to half-wheel your paceline partner, or to pull off a paceline into the wind, or to back off when you hit the return line. 

If you know these things, it doesnít hurt to be told again.  If you donít know these things, donít be afraid to tell a friendly club member that you donít.  Most people enjoy the opportunity to share their expertise.  The more you learn, the more confident youíll become, and the more fun youíll have working with the group.  And if you feel that someone is yelling at you, remember that theyíre probably just breathing too hard the speak more quietly!