Ten games to spice up your rides
Few things in cycling are more enjoyable than heading out for a ride with a bunch of close mates. Good company and good conversation can make long, hard kilometres tick away quickly, and having others to share your struggle with can make things that much more manageable. Of course, riding with mates also opens the door to a bit of friendly (or perhaps not-so-friendly) competition.
Often it’s a sprint to see who’s first to that next street sign, or a hard uphill effort to see who reaches the top first. But beyond these basic challenges, there are many other ways to satisfying your competitive urge while riding with friends.
Without further ado, here are 10 games you can play on the bike, to liven up your bunch ride, as tested and explained by the CyclingTips/Ella CyclingTips team. Of course, the usual caveats apply — obey the road rules at all times and be sure to always ride safely and predictably.
City limit/town sign sprints
by Anne-Marije Rook
City limit or town sign sprints are a fun way to incorporate some friendly competition into your regular group ride. They’re also a fun way to practice lead-outs and test your legs.
Some teams or riding groups have a long-rooted city limit sprint tradition and things can get quite competitive. Others simply do them on the fly. Usually all it takes is one person to initiate a sprint for the first city sign and the bunch will catch on. Lead-outs are organised on the go, but you can always scheme ahead with your mate to come up with a strategy.
Usually, there’s nothing but bragging rights on the line and it’s up to each rider whether they participate or not. As soon as the sprint has been contested, the sprinters will sit up and the bunch will regroup to continue the ride en masse.
There are no real rules but safety is key. To ensure that, some standards are implemented:
– Seeing as the roads are open to traffic, all the usual traffic rules will be adhered to.
– One will only sprint if there’s no traffic and it’s safe to do so.
– One will stick to their side of the road.
– One will not sprint on multi-use trails if recreational riders or pedestrians are present.
– Signs that follow immediately after a stop sign or traffic light will not be contested, thereby avoiding any temptation to run a yellow or red light.
In areas where there are lots of sprints along the route, points are often assigned and some signs are worth more than others. The rider who earns the most points wins the imaginary sprint jersey for the day. Here’s how points can be broken down:
– City limit: 1 point
– County/province sign: 3
– State line: 5
– Country line: 10
by Matt de Neef
Sure, regular sprints are enjoyable enough on their own, but why not take things to the next level and add an element of hilarity? The rules for granny-gear sprints are as above, with one exception: you must do the entire sprint in your lowest gear.
Perhaps your group designates one sprint per ride that’s a granny-gear sprint. Or maybe someone calls it out on the road. Either way, pick a landmark before which everyone must be in their lowest gear and then spin away!
It sounds ridiculous, and it is. You will look and feel like an idiot spinning that tiny gear at 140rpm. But there’s also an element of strategy to this game as well. Just as you wouldn’t be able to sprint full-gas in a regular gear for more than a few hundred metres, you’ll also find it difficult to maintain a high cadence in your 34×28 for very long. Time your run!
Col du Roll
by Andy van Bergen
The premise of Col du Roll is fairly simple. Someone will call out “Col du Roll”, and select a landmark on the crest of an upcoming hill. You can ride as hard as you like up to that point, but after the landmark you can’t take another pedal stroke. The winner is the rider who rolls the furthest without pedalling. The contest is usually determined at a wobbly, sub-walking pace with riders throwing their bike forward to get every centimetre they can.
This game works best on short straight descents, when you have been riding a bit too long and you’re in need a bit of a distraction. A few things to note:
– The fastest descender doesn’t always win. You might be overtaken by riders on the descent before catching them later on.
– Heavier riders will have an advantage in this game … unless the descent rolls into another climb!
– It pays to get as aero as you can.
by Wade Wallace
My good friend Straussy introduced me to this ridiculous game. I asked him how you play it and he replied: “When you see a horse, just call ’horse!’, and you get a point. Keep calling ‘horse!’ and building your points. If you mistakenly call a cow or other animal, you lose all your points. That’s it!”
I was sceptical. But as it turns out, once you call ‘Horse!’ it’s game on. Breakaways form in order to get up the road and gobble up all the horse points. And mistakes are made when riders point out animals far off in the distance, hoping to snag points before their mates do.
It’s actually quite fun when you’re out on a five-hour ride and you’ve already retold all your exaggerated war stories a thousand times over.
(Side note: I went for a ride with Marianne Vos one day and was delighted to learn she’s a remarkably normal and laid-back person given her accomplishments. When I introduced her to Horse it wasn’t long until ‘The Cannibal’ in her came out!)
Uphill handicap race
by Matt de Neef
If you ride with the same crew reasonably often you’ll have a pretty good idea of who the strongest climbers are and what the hierarchy looks like. If you all go full-gas on a given climb, chances are you’ll have a decent idea of the finishing order before you even begin. The handicap race changes this entirely.
It’s a simple concept: the slowest riders start first, the faster riders start later. First to the top wins. This game is best played on a climb you’re all familiar with and that you all ride reasonably regularly. Take each rider’s best time up the climb and base the handicaps off that.
Of course, this method exposes the contest to all kinds of sandbagging and excuse-mongering: “I’ve been sick”, “I was fitter when I did my PB” etc etc. Either nominate a handicapper that can adjust the starting times accordingly, or decide that your time is your time, regardless of any excuses.
The ABC Game
While most games have a winner, this one only has a loser. There’s only one rule, and it’s simple: Any rider on the front of the group can be ordered by those behind to sing the entire ABC song at any time.
It’s a means of holding chatty group rides together, forcing anyone pushing the pace on the front (and thus breathing hard) to slow down to a pace that allows conversation.
The big-ring challenge
by Dave Rome
Here’s one for those of you with little sense of self-preservation and an overly developed competitive spirit. The big-ring challenge is a battle that involves an insanely steep hill (the longer and steeper the better) and the use of your biggest chainring and smallest cassette cog.
Pick a startline at the base of the climb — rolling start or standing start, choose amongst yourselves — and the winner is the person that makes it the furthest up the hill in their biggest gear. Time is of little importance, but you’re not allowed to put a foot down!
Strong balance and weight distribution out of the saddle are key to winning this one. Start fast and try to keep on top of your gear for as long as possible. Once you run out of momentum, learn to load one pedal at a time. Weaving across the road is allowed, but only if it’s perfectly safe to do so.
Riders with a compact chainset will have an advantage in this one. Either let that slide, or ensure everyone’s running the same equivalent gear (more on that here).
Do be warned: this isn’t a game to play if you’re prone to injury (particularly your knees), if you need to conserve your energy for a long ride, or if you’d like to keep your chain intact. Without doubt, the dumbest game here (but still strangely enjoyable).
by Matt de Neef
Most riding groups will have at least a couple riders that love busting out a trackstand at traffic lights. They’ll tell you it saves them from having to clip in when the lights go green. The reality is they just like showing off. With this game you can give them a chance to put their skills to the test.
This is a challenge that should be attempted off the road — at the mid-ride coffee stop for example. Find an area with enough space for each rider to set up a trackstand and roll back and forth a little.
The contest is simple: the person able to keep their feet off the ground longest wins. A little rolling back and forth is ok, but no “riding out” of a fall. Do that and you’re out.
Many riders will be able to hold a regular trackstand indefinitely so it’s important to ramp up the difficulty every so often. After a set amount of time (or whenever someone not in the competition calls it) the contestants take one hand off the bars. Then, if that doesn’t decide a winner, each rider should take both hands off the bars. No winner yet? Try unclipping one foot – that should do it.
Make it clear beforehand whether contact with other riders is allowed. Being able to give each other nudge can add another element to the contest, but does come with added risk.
Accidental single speed racing
by Caley Fretz
We all have that friend who forgets to charge their Di2 batteries. Well, I have two. Fifteen minutes into a group ride last year both of them lost their shifting. What did we do? First we laughed at them. Then we turned right towards a flatter route. Then we decided that everyone should join in the fun, pick a gear for the rest of the ride, and stick with it.
It was a hard ride — one we called “Full-Tilt Tuesday” — over rolling terrain with a couple sprint points. A few went for a big gear they could sprint on; others went for a lighter gear with the intention of escaping on one of the small climbs.
Top tip when playing this game: Pick a gear in the middle, something too easy for the sprints but too hard for the hills. The key in accidental single speed racing to to pick something that won’t get you dropped.
Choose your own (hilly) adventure
by Andy van Bergen
This game requires a little more planning and changes the structure of the ride you’re doing, rather than simply slotting in as part of an existing ride. But it’s worth the trouble.
Meet at or ride together to a designated point in a hilly area — a location with many short, sharp climbs works best. From there, riders set off on their own in whatever direction they like, aiming to accumulate as many vertical metres as they can in a set time. We’ve found half an hour to be an ideal amount of time, but you could do this in a shorter timeframe if you like (or longer if you’re particularly masochistic).
At the end of the allotted time you all meet back at the starting point and compare GPS devices. Being late attracts a significant penalty (choose a metres per minute value that suits your group) so you don’t want to be late. But be too early and you’ll be throwing away precious minutes that could be spent climbing!
If everyone in your group is a featherweight climber then the winner should simply be the rider with the most metres gained. If your group features riders in different weight ranges, there’s a rough and ready way to provide a handicap. Each rider multiplies their elevation gain by their weight in kilograms. The rider with the highest total wins.