I’ve been doing a lot of endurance rides using group events over the last several weeks, and they have spanned the gamut in terms of execution and mood. From years on this platform, I also know that group rides are not an exact science. Posted pace (W/kg) is not always translated to a rider’s experience on virtual roads. As a female on the left tail of the bell curve of rider weight in the overall Zwift community, I am often trending 0.2 - 0.5 w/kg higher than the group (unless the beacon is female or of similar size). Pack dynamics are yet another interesting wrinkle, especially when the terrain is a bit lumpy. The larger the group, the more likely it is that breaks will form.
A good ride leader can generally transcend these limitations by engaging the group and/or strategic use of the fence apparatus (scaled appropriately to group size). I also contend that group ride descriptions should be as comprehensive about the rules and pace as possible, e.g., fence/no fence, anticipated wattage (both raw and w/kg)/speed, drop vs no drop, etc. With that in mind, I have seen my fair share of great ride leaders and pretty terrible ones. Not that I believe that striking such a balance as a ride leader is an easy task by any means, but I do feel that if one signs up for that role, one must be a steward of both the group and the greater community.
I have observed a disconcerting lack of decorum and general respect of late on some group rides. Often, hostility is observed directed at other members of the community over pace, fences, etc. Today I was absolutely floored by a ride where some pretty substantial shaming took place on a non-fence 100K ride that I feel I should share as it demonstrates a growing trend on the platform.
The ride included 280 people, so for those familiar with groups that large, you know it’s damn near impossible to keep the entire group together on anything other than pan-flat roads. But it wasn’t a complete disaster, at first, the group settled in within a few moments as one VERY long blob. The advertised pace was 2.0-2.5 w/kg on the Tick Tock Route. I personally was hovering between 2.5-2.7 (which, from what I mentioned above, is ultimately holding the group pace), and the beacon was about 20m behind me. Things continued pretty steadily for 15 minutes or so until we hit some undulations in the road and the large group started to fracture.
My average wattage remained the same (minus some surges from dropouts to catch back on - another annoyance altogether), and over the course of a few minutes, I noticed the beacon was 1-2 tenths of a kilometer back from the very large group I was in. My position at the time was in the 120s, so definitely not at the “front” by any stretch of the imagination. I eased up to about 2.3 w/kg and figured I would slowly drop back solo or end up in a smaller bunch that the beacon group would swallow up.
I saw some chat about turning on the fence, mind you, approaching 20 minutes in with “zap em all” type comments and other disparaging remarks toward people who were in the pieces of the group that broke off in front (for reference, the beacon was at position 240/280 so make of that what you will). For whatever reason, I decided to appeal to people’s reason and say, “hey, just let people ride their own ride :).” Oh boy, was that a mistake.
I was met with lecturing about why people join group rides and what people “should” be doing. I said it doesn’t harm anyone that riders are out front and was met with comments like, “@ Sarah where’s your pro contract?” At that point, I was at position 161 and dropping back at an average of 2.4 w/kg for the ride. Then, the coup de grace when the ride leader decided to pile on and say, “hey, don’t worry, Sarah likes to join sub 2.5 rides and go 3.5 WKG.” To be clear, my average wattage was below 130 watts!! I couldn’t believe that a ride leader would call me out to the entire group because I deigned t suggest we all just live and let live.
I was dumbfounded that instead of diffusing the situation and reminding the group that it was a no-fence ride and that 100K rides over 250 riders might cause some breaks, the ride leader decided to pile on with some shaming of her own. My response was, “I’m at position 161 and holding posted pace, but Happy Holidays to you too.” I continued to see berating comments and be lectured and tried again to appeal to reason by noting that this type of discourse is not constructive, but to no avail.
I decided to round out an hour and find another ride, not the hill I was going to die on, mind you, being absorbed back into the beacon group within 4-5 minutes of this exchange. My ride was incidentally cut short by a phone call for a family matter, but not before I was left with a terrible taste in my mouth for this group.
I’m a big girl and not planning to cry real tears in my oatmeal because someone was mean to me on Zwift, but I do think this type of behavior on Zwift is unnecessary. People join this platform every day, especially this time of year. The last thing we need is gatekeeping, lecturing, and demoralizing on a platform dedicated to riding your bike, being healthy, and enjoying the COMMUNITY. This isn’t Twitter…
I know the subject of group rides and fences is often a polarizing one. I am not here to debate the best practices of group ride management. Rather, this post is an appeal to people who are on the platform: It really is not that difficult to be kind. Celebrating kicking people out of rides, calling people out for “Zwift crimes,” or browbeating other members of the community isn’t kind. Save the dog fights for somewhere else on the internet. I know there are some GREAT group hosts and ride leaders out there, and to those groups, I say a heartfelt thank you for adding value to this platform and community. Please keep doing what you’re doing!