Thursday, August 26, 2010

What Is a No-Drop Ride?

Ride-leaders will often call "no-drop rides." The meaning of the phrase appears at first blush to be clear enough, but over the past couple of seasons, I've noticed some ambiguity in the application. On some rides, it seems to mean that the group will stay together for the entire ride. On other rides, it seems to me that the group might be split by attacks, but everyone will regroup at certain junctures or intersections. On yet other other rides, it seems to mean that at least one ride-leader will make sure that no one gets left behind, even if the group is splintered by attacks.

The fact that the phrase "no-drop" seems amenable to various interpretations strikes me as potentially problematic because, if riders are not clear on the ground rules of a particular ride, they might wind up being disappointed with the ride and, potentially, alienated from the group. There are, of course, ways of avoiding such potential problems. For instance, ride leaders might better define what they mean by "no-drop" for any particular ride. Or cycling clubs could adopt default definitions that operate in the absence of contrary or more detailed directions for particular rides.

Before making any such recommendations, however, I thought I would take a nonscientific poll of my own club, Team Nebo Ridge, to see if my hypothesis about the ambiguousness of the term "no-drop" had empirical support. Team Nebo Ridge is a racing team and cycling club with approximately 80 members. I posted a one-question survey instrument on, and created a link to the survey on the team's Google Group site. Fifty of the approximately 80 members of the team and club responded to the poll.

The Poll

The poll consisted in a single question: "When a ride is referred to as "no drop" you understand that phrase to mean:," followed by six response options:

(A) "the group rides as a group for the entire ride, with no attacks";

(B) "the groups rides as a group at least until one or two miles before the end, when attacks are allowable";

(C) "the group may be split by attacks at any time during the ride, but always regroups at major junctures or intersections";

(D) "the group may be split by attacks at any time, and remain split throughout the remainder of the ride, so long as at least one rider is responsible for ensuring that no one is left behind";

(E) "other."

For those who answered "other," and for anyone else who wanted to add to their response, I provided a box for comments.

Poll Results

A. 4 respondents (8%)
B. 6 respondents (12%)
C. 28 respondents (56%)
D. 6 respondents (12%)
E. 7 respondents (14%)

Eleven respondents (presumably including the 7 who selected answer "E") provided comments. I am reprinting each of the 11 comments in full, including one that was unresponsive to the question (I have corrected a few typos in the comments):

1. "A group no-drop ride can be all of the above, depending on what was decided BEFORE the particular ride. A ride intent should be announced prior to the ride. If an individual wants to get a harder workout in, then they should speak up prior to the ride to share their ride intentions. The group can then decide if they want to stay at their own pace or go with the "attack" and then regroup if that is their intention. I feel each group ride should be able to take on some of the spontaneity of its individual make-up... within the acceptable and agreeable limits set before the ride. If during a no-drop ride someone changes their mind and wants to ride aggressively, then what's wrong with them verbally announcing that they want to change their ride... and then going. That would be the proper way to handle it."

2.  "A no drop ride means that no one finishes alone but they might spend time alone. However, the left riders shouldn't have to chase."

3.  So...if a rider attacks, is he or she part of the same ride? For example, 10 people go on a "no-drop" ride. 1 person attacks and 2 others follow. The ride leader remains with the 6 other people. Does the ride still qualify as a "no-drop" ride?

4. "This is only my 3d year of riding; no drop to me means: (1) a pre-determined pace you should be comfortable maintaining to remain with the group; (2) group remains together primarily for safety; if flat, mechanical problem, or illness occurs, group is there for assistance; (3) if attacks happen, that rider(s) has opted to leave the security of the group; the group would never chase or deviate from its pre-determined pace; (4) the group leader(s) location indicates where the primary group is centered; not the location of the greatest number of riders."

5. "I answered C based on experience, but truly feel that B is the way it should be. I like B better because when a group splits and regroups, the one rider who has dropped off gets no chance to rest and recuperate, while the stronger riders get to rest before going on. This usually results in one rider getting dropped again shortly thereafter. Anyway just my $0.02."

6. "I answered C and can see how people would answer A. Now do I get a prize?"

7. "The group might be split by a rider's inability to maintain the group pace (not from sudden burst of speed). At least one rider will make sure no one is left behind to ride solo."

8. "Nobody gets dropped, left alone, left behind."

9. "Any of the above. Relying on the abstract term "no drop" alone may not be sufficient if it's all that important. Either the ride leader should define it in clear terms (and then hopefully provide any enforcement or support), or those potential participants who are concerned about it should ask the ride leader for clarification and express any concerns they may have about enforcement/support."

10. "No dropping of water bottles, energy goo, names of famous reality-show stars, or F-Bombs ... unless the latter is provoked by a rogue farm dog."

11. "The group rides as a group but may engage in periodic attacks after which the group re-groups."


My operating hypothesis when I decided to conduct this poll was that there is no consensus among riders - even those belonging to a single team or club - about the meaning of the phrase "no-drop ride." The poll results certainly have not falsified that hypothesis, although I was a bit surprised to find a clear majority (56%) agreeing on a single definition (C).

As the poll results suggest, and one or two of the comments express, the phrase "no-drop ride" remains ambiguous. It does not provide riders with all the information they might want to have about a particular group ride. In the absence of more detailed information from ride leaders, the default expectations of some riders may not be met, resulting in disappointment with the ride and possible alienation from the team and club.

How can this problem be avoided? Perhaps the team should adopt a default definition of "no-drop ride" that prevails in the absence of more detailed information. For example, Team Nebo Ridge might adopt the following default norm: "The phrase 'no-drop ride,' in the absence of additional details, means that the group generally rides together but may be split by attacks at any time during the ride. If attacks occur, the riders will regroup at the next major juncture or intersection." Such a norm would conform to the understanding of a clear majority of the membership, and would put the onus on ride leaders to provide more information, if they prefer a different flavor of "no-drop" ride. Of course, monitoring and enforcement problems might arise, but a general statement of team policy would at least ameliorate some of the inherent ambiguity that currently exists.

If the team does not consider it appropriate to develop a team policy with respect to "no-drop" rides, then, at the very least, ride leaders (and potential ride leaders) might learn from this poll that they need to be more specific in issuing calls for rides. It is not good enough merely to specify that a ride is "no-drop."

DISCLAIMER: Just in case anyone from IU's IRB comes across this post, please note that I conducted the survey in my personal and private capacity as a member of Team Nebo Ridge cycling club, not as a faculty member of Indiana University.


  1. I enjoyed that read, and the disclaimer was the best. Well, you did ask cyclists from a race focused team, so the answer C was more or less expected to get the most votes. It would be interesting to see what a poll of CIBA's members would show.

    With the help of a quick Google search, I noted that this has been addressed elsewhere as well. I would recommend to any clubs or team to adopt guidelines for both ride leaders and riders. Here's a good starting point:
    These guidelines includes the following definition: "No-drop" means that the group will wait at all regroups for slower riders to catch up. The leader may, however, suggest an alternative "bailout route" to riders unable to keep up with the published pace.

    These guidelines are actually quite good and includes many good points. Also make sure to check out the very sophisticated 3 factor rating system they use for rides. The factors are terrain, pace and distance & you will be impressed how well the different ratings are defined.

  2. Here's another interesting thread from 2005 on this topic:

    In this one, the word non competitive is added to the meaning of a no-drop ride and one poster calls option C in your poll a wait and blow ride: "wait and blow rides are a hienous subset of hammer head rides. This is when the hammerheads wait just long enough for the mortals to show up, but take off before people can even get a drink much less catch their breath. "

  3. Suggest that when the "hammerheads" reach the regroup point, they turn around and ride back (with no rest) towards the dropped riders, pass them and ride an additional minute or two, then turn back around and catch them up at the regroup point. That may give them the time to catch their breath and tire out the aggressive riders a bit more.


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