You have volunteered to lead a group ride on Zwift. This is great and we are happy to have you in our beacon crew! If you've never led a group ride before, you probably have many questions now. Don’t worry, leading a group ride is not rocket science and you will figure out how to do it properly in no time. For a good start, you can find answers to common questions and general information in this guide.
Since every group ride leader and every group are different, there is not just one recipe on how to lead a group ride. In the end, every leader has their own way to do it and that’s perfectly fine. However, each leader should always keep in mind the main tasks that fall to them. On social group rides like our Pride rides, these tasks are
The preparation and the course of the group ride should be based on these tasks.
As the ride’s leader you may have the privilege of choosing the route for the ride. The decision you make here will have a huge impact on how easy it will be for you to fulfill your task as a leader. In particular, the route profile is crucial for this. It is much easier to keep a group of riders together on a flat route than on a route with steeper or larger hills or climbs.
There is a simple reason for this. While riders with different levels of ability are able to ride together at a given pace with consistent effort, they tend to ride very differently on inclines of any kind. Some riders are used to push much harder on climbs while others are just not able to go harder than they already did. In such a situation even a big group will break apart in no time and it is very hard for any leader to avoid this. Therefore, you should consider choosing a flat route.
When it comes to route selection you also should keep the duration of the ride in mind. For a one hour ride a short route of just 3 km might not be the optimal choice, since the group would need to ride 10 laps of it.
Please remember that you also can choose from “event only” routes. However, if you do so, participants will not have the chance to earn a route badge which for some might be the only reason to join the group ride.
You can find a complete list of all available routes here: https://zwiftinsider.com/routes/
Of course, you will need an operational Zwift setup to join and lead a group ride. In addition to this you should also spent some thoughts on how you want to communicate with the group. You will have to communicate a lot and you will have to do it while you are riding your bike. Typing on a small smartphone while your bike is shaking and you have to balance some of your body weight on your arms may not be the most efficient way.
Which method works well depends on your personal preferences and abilities. While some leaders do well with voice recognition, others prefer typing on a wireless keyboard, placed on a stand near the bike for fast typing in an upright cycling position.
Many leaders also use methods to use pre-typed text phrases to not have to type longer texts during the ride. Some do this on a copy & paste basis while others use text replacement tools and shortcuts.
Good to know
If you use ZCA or Zwift on an Android device and Gboard as your software keyboard, you can use shortcuts like this:
① Tap the settings icon -> Dictionary -> My Dictionary -> Language.
② Tap the plus sign in the upper right corner.
③ Enter a text phrase (i.e. “Try not to fall behind. If you lose group’s draft you will have to push at least 25 % more just to keep pace.”) and a shortcut (i.e. “i5”).
④ In the chat you can now type the shortcut (i.e. “i5”) and Gboard will present the related pre-typed phrase as a selection. Select it and tap enter to post the entire phrase to the chat.
It is advisable to note separately which phrase belongs to which shortcut, as it is easy to lose track if you want to use more than just a few shortcuts.
If you want to also communicate with the group via Discord voice chat, you should consider using push-to-talk to not be heard by other participants all the time.
Sometimes a social group ride can get a bit boring if there is no banter going on in the chat and there are no instructions to be given. As a leader you should be prepared for this and be able to offer some entertainment.
If you are gifted and able to start a banter from every given situation which people respond to in an entertaining way, you won’t need additional preparation. If not, that's no reason to despair. Some tricks may help. To get the conversation going, you could prepare and start a little game, for example. Quizzes that fit the theme of the ride, in particular, are popular by some riders. With just five or six questions you can fill a significant amount of time and often a banter starts with it. In our Pride rides we often have Pride Quizzes with questions related to the LGBTQ+ community.
You can also use opportunities offered by the chosen route for some entertainment. For example, you could encourage participants to sprint a timed sprint section as a challenge as you pass it. If you ride a route with several timed sprint sections, you could make this an overall competition. But please keep in mind, that many riders will not be interested in sprints. Therefore, you should always stick to the advertised pace and not take part in the sprints yourself. Also, it can be hard to bring the group back together after a sprint challenge. But it may be worth it.
If you have been assigned to a group ride as leader you can join the ride as you would do as every other participant. You can find detailed information here.
When you enter the start pen as the leader you will find yourself with a yellow beacon above you, which marks you as the ride’s leader during the entire ride. Everything you write to the start pen’s chat will be highlighted with a yellow color to signal to others that these may be important instructions by the leader.
As the ride’s leader you should be early in the start pen. We suggest to enter the start pen at least five to ten minutes ahead of the start time. This leaves you enough time to make yourself familiar with the participants and maybe to start a little banter with others who have been early too.
While in the start pen you should give general instructions to the participants on what to expect on the ride. Not every rider may have read the ride description on Zwift’s event page in detail, so it is a good idea to communicate all relevant details. It is of particular importance to communicate the targeted pace to set the right expectations. You should start giving these instructions at the earliest two to three minutes before the start time. At this point most of the participants should already be present.
If there is an official sweeper (“Red Beacon”) assigned to the ride, they will be marked with a red beacon. As the leader you may want to introduce the sweeper to the group while in the start pen.
Stick to the advertised pace
In an official group ride it is essential that you stick to what has been advertised in the ride description during the entire ride. Keep in mind, that many riders have chosen to join the ride just because of what has been promised in the ride description and that those riders rely on the announcement.
Some riders will ride at their limits during the ride and get dropped by the group if you start going faster than the advertised pace. This will lead to frustration. Other riders may have chosen the ride for active recovery and will get frustrated if they get challenged more than anticipated. To avoid this, make sure everyone gets what they were promised.
This does not mean that you have to ride mathematically exact. Of course, you can push a bit more on inclines and a bit less on declines as every rider would do. Just be careful and do not overdo it.
Ride predictably and steadily
As mentioned above, in a social group ride your main task as a leader is to try to keep the group together. To achieve this, the most important requirement is to ride as predictably as possible. The goal that most riders gather around you as leader and ride with you at the same pace cannot be achieved if you start to ride in an erratic way. Therefore, it is essential that you ride as steadily as possible, even if you tend to be distracted by other tasks like typing text. To be predictable you should also announce any relevant change of pace you plan to make to the group in advance.
To ride steadily and predictably sometimes means you have to fight your instincts, especially when you hit inclines or get passed by other riders. Don’t push too hard on climbs, and don’t increase your speed to chase others. They have to adapt to your pace, not the other way around.
If you need to adjust your pace, this should only be done on a small scale and after having announced it to the group in advance. If you decrease or increase your speed more than just slightly, it will most likely tear the group apart. Many riders will notice the change too late or tend to ignore it to continue with their steady effort, and they will drag others along. So be extra careful in those situations.
Give instructions where needed
Sometimes to ride at a steady pace is not enough to keep the group together. There may be a group of riders that has started to follow faster riders off the front (“flyers”) or the group has broken apart on a challenging incline or you need to regroup after a timed sprint section. In such a case you need to instruct your fellow riders what to do, but you should always keep it friendly and short. Just ask the front to ride a little bit slower, remember everyone to regroup or encourage riders that have fallen behind to push a bit extra.
Many riders will follow your instructions, but there also will be participants just doing their own thing and ignoring the leader’s wishes. Don't take it personally and be happy for the riders who follow you.
Most routes have challenging parts to master as a group, especially longer or steeper inclines. If you get close to such section, you should consider announcing it in advance to draw the group's attention to it. Keep in mind that every other rider also might have to fight their instincts to achieve a steady effort. To be aware of an upcoming challenge might help.
Main communication during the ride will happen via text chat. As the leader you have the privilege that every message you type will appear in large letters right in the middle of the screen of every participant. Handle it responsibly.
With your communication you will set the tone for all others. Try to establish a welcoming atmosphere. Be always polite and respectful, supportive and encouraging. A touch of humor can always help, but you should avoid irony as it is often not understood by others. Since many participants do not speak English as their native language, you should communicate with easy words and avoid slang.
Welcome firsttimers, as it may have been a big step for some to participate, especially in a Pride ride. Let them know that you are happy to have them.
Get a sense of how much communication is wanted or needed. If there is already banter going on, just let it flow. If the group is silent, try to initiate some entertaining talk. This is where your prepared entertainment program could come into play. Just try it out, but if the group is not responding well to it, let it go. Avoid appearing desperate in your efforts to entertain the group.
If a participant asks a valid question, try to answer it or encourage someone else to answer. If a rider has a problem, try to offer a solution (see section “Dealing with difficult situations” below for examples).
Discord voice chat is optional if there are other riders logged in. As a beginner it might not be a good idea to also join the voice chat, since most of the time it will be challenging enough to keep track with the text chat while riding a steady pace. Also, please remember that the vast majority of riders do not participate in voice chat. Therefore, your focus should always be on the text chat.
As the ride’s leader you can make use of specific features provided by Zwift to support group rides. One of those features is the "fence". The fence looks like a red force field and appears, if activated, in a specific distance in front of you. Riders will be able to pass the fence but will receive a request to return to the group if they do so. Zwift provides also a variation of the fence where riders are automatically kicked from the ride if they do not return behind the fence within a certain period of time, but we do not use that fatal option in our group rides.
The fence can help you keep the group together by preventing participants from following “flyers” (see below) or going faster than they should. If you want to use the fence, you need to request it in advance because it needs to be activated for the specific ride.
If the fence is activated for the ride you will see a control panel at the bottom of your screen during the ride. The panel has a button to activate/deactivate the fence and three buttons to set the distance between you and the fence to your needs (2s/5s/10s). 5s should work in most cases. The fence cannot be activated until the group has reached the actual road.
If the control panel is not visible, you need to activate it by tapping or clicking the fence button in the Action Bar on the screen or in Zwift Companion App. You can hide the control panel by tapping the fence button on the Action Bar again.
Coordination with the sweeper
If you are lucky enough to have an official sweeper on the ride, they will help you keep the group together by drafting riders who have fallen behind back to the main group. The sweeper will look out for riders in trouble on their own, but sometimes a good coordination between you and your sweeper is required.
A good sweeper sometimes will start to collect several riders who have fallen behind and form a group that will try to catch up with the main group. Since often riders of the chasing group are riding at or above their limits, the catch up attempt may only be successful if the main group slows down a bit. To coordinate that, you will need to communicate with your sweeper. You can do this via public chat, but sometimes it is recommended to communicate via private chat messages instead.
Sometimes you will have to deal with challenging situations during the ride. Below you will find some hints on how to deal with typical issues that may occur.
Nearly every group ride will have participants who will ride off the front at a pace higher than the advertised pace. These riders are called "flyers". You should never chase flyers, since this would mean to ride faster than advertised and will very likely break any group left apart. But the flyers aren't the real problem either. The actual danger is that other riders tend to instinctively follow them. If you see that this starts to happen, you should intervene and remember everyone to stick to the leader’s pace and not to follow flyers.
The use of the fence (see above) can help and is recommended, but if the fence is activated riders tend to gather just at the fence and not around you anymore.
Complaints about being dropped or riding above advertised pace
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon that riders who have fallen behind start to complain about being dropped, often accompanied by complaints about the leader riding above advertised pace.
Of course, it is unpleasant for any rider to fall behind and find themself riding alone and out of the group’s draft having difficulties to catch up again. However, complaints are often unjustified and the result of a lack of understanding of Zwift's metrics. If a single rider falls out of the group’s draft, they needs to push 25 % to 33 % more than the group just to keep pace and even more to catch up again. If the leader is pushing 1.6 W/kg, the rider behind the group needs to push 2.0 W/kg now to ride at the same pace. If the rider is pushing 2.0 W/kg without getting closer to the group, they might get the impression, that the group is also riding at 2.0 W/kg and thus above the advertised limits. In the end this misunderstanding may lead to unjustified accusations. Constant complaints of a single rider, in turn, can spoil the atmosphere of the ride for all other participants sustainably.
In such situation the best solution is to eliminate the cause of the problem. Therefore, you should try to find a way to bring the complainant back to the main group if possible. An official or unofficial sweeper might help to draft the rider back if the rider is still within a manageable distance. Just ask for help. Slowing down the group a bit might also help, but you should not put the one unfortunate rider above the interests of all others (see also section "Plague and cholera" below). If you are still within the first 30 minutes of the ride, you also could suggest that the rider leaves and rejoins the ride using the late join option. They will then be placed right into the main group again.
Most complainants will get silent if they see that you care about them. If you have been falsely accused of riding above advertised pace, you also should explain politely that this is not the case and what the effect of losing group’s draft is to counteract the false assumption. This may prevent other participants from taking sides with the complainant and spreading even more bad vibes.
Plague and cholera
Sometimes you may find yourself in a situation where you get complaints from dropped riders in the back while you are already struggling with flyers and riders starting to chase them in the front. At this moment, the decision to increase or decrease your pace is a choice between plague and cholera. If you increase your pace to hang on with the flyers you will lose everyone behind you and might not even catch up. If you decrease your pace you will lose everyone in front of you and the rider(s) dropped might not even be able to catch up. In the end you might end up riding alone.
The best decision in such a situation is to stay at the advertised pace, to ask the riders in front of you to slow down a bit and to encourage the riders in the back to push a bit more to catch up. In most cases this will work, and the group will start to gather around you again.
In rare cases, discussions may develop between two or more participants that become emotional. If you become aware of that you should act fast and try to stop the discussion as early as possible. How to do it will depend on the situation, but you will have to make clear in a suitable manner that you will not tolerate such behavior. Often a simple “Guys! :-)))” will do. In any case, you should avoid taking sides.
Offensive behavior and alike
It is unlikely that you will have to deal with insults or offensive behavior of any kind in one of our group rides. However, if you notice something like this you need to act fast. At first you should make a screenshot (screenshot button in the action bar in ZCA) of the Zwift screen to document what has been said if this is still visible on the screen. At second you should take a screenshot of the chat page in Zwift Companion App to document the chat history for evidence. At third you should make clear, that you do not tolerate such actions and that every offensive behavior will be reported to Zwift. You should also ask the offender to leave the ride. Unfortunately, you have no option to kick the offender of the ride in case they doesn't comply.
During the ride you should always keep an eye on the remaining time. Five minutes before the end of the ride you should announce the remaining time to the group. It is also a good time to thank everyone for joining the ride, for special shout outs to individual participants who stood out during the ride and for special thanks to your official or unofficial sweepers who supported you during the ride. If you like, you can also promote LGBTQ Zwifters and point to our website lgbtq-zwifters.com for additional information.
If everything went well, some riders will now thank you for leading the ride and doing it well. Enjoy it! You have earned it!
Be invited to post a summary of the ride in our Facebook group or on our Discord server! If you are planning to post a short ride review, you should make screenshots from different camera angles during the ride to get interesting pictures to publish along with the review.
We hope that you understand better now how to lead a group ride on Zwift. Even though it may seem a bit challenging, don’t worry. Practice makes perfect. Just dive right in and don’t forget the most important thing: Have fun!