A note from Eric: I recently published a post about the best slow group rides on Zwift. The TGIF ride is one of the oldest and most loved slow group ride on the list, so I decided to interview ride leaders Wes Salmon and Eric Grant and learn more about themselves and the ride. 

First, a little about yourself. Where are you from, and how would you describe yourself as a cyclist?

From Eric: I live in Austin, TX, but I started riding about 10 years ago when I lived in Maryland.  I’m a fair weather rider which pretty much means year-round in Austin.  I got into cycling to commute to work when Hurricane Katrina hit and the gas prices sky rocketed but I’ve stuck with it more to stay healthy.  I’m a Clydesdale and probably will always be but in the last 5 years I’ve lost ~120lbs, mostly from cycling and ~75lbs of that after starting Zwift in August of 2015.

Tell me about the slow ride you lead. When does it happen, how long is the ride, what sort of pace do you hold, etc.

From Eric: TGIF is every Friday night.  It started as a North American Ride but we do see some Australian riders join on their Saturday morning.  In London the ride is 5 laps Classique (20.4miles) plus After party (~6-10 miles).  Our ride lasts about an hour for the 2w/kg event part and maybe 1hr 20min if you stick around for the After party.  As the rider with the leader beacon I hold 2w/kg in ERG mode through my trainer app. Since I’m a heavier rider I also adjust my weight for the ride so that it’s a more average 160w/170lbs.  If flyers ride off the front we let them go, but if riders get dropped we do all that we can to bring them back to the group.

The two events that make TGIF special are the Points System and the After Party.  The points system is basically a fun game we play during the ride to hold the group together.  Every 10 minutes we take a screenshot and the closer you are to the Leader, the more points you get.  It sounds easy, but only 16 out of 150+ riders gets points every 10 minutes.  Some of the riders even try to add a twist to it by trying to get captured in the screenshot with either orange w/kg or 0.0 w/kg.  At the end of the season there are random prizes awarded and those with higher points have a higher chance of winning.

The After Party is similar to what some other rides do, where after the main 2w/kg ride is over a smaller group goes a little harder.  We change this up every week and we vote on it in our Facebook group.  If we are in London, our choices are usually 2 laps Classique @2.5w/kg and we go for the sprint point, 1 lap Classique race, Fox Hill or Box Hill.  The sprints are very popular because with a large group they can really open it up, but the climbs are a good change from time to time.  The voting stays open until the end of the 4th lap so it becomes a running tally as people ride and log into Facebook to vote.  The After Party is a pure old school Zwift group ride with no leader beacon because it’s decided during the ride.

How many riders have you been seeing on your ride lately?

From Eric: Our Max was 206 riders on 1/7/2017, partially due to the January group ride prize.  At 200+ it was pretty unmanageable since many of the riders couldn’t see the Leader Beacon.  Last week we had 138 and this week 157.  We grew considerably when winter hit, from 40-65 to over 100.

Some group rides on Zwift have been around for quite a while, while others are relatively new. How long has your ride being going? What was the inspiration behind starting it? 

From Wes: The ride was originally created by Chris Ryder and William Kwan back in the Fall of 2015.  The inspiration was to create a ride that focused on socializing at a recovery ride pace at the end of a long week.  At that time in Zwift, most of the group rides were more performance focused and TGIF was one of the first 2w/kg or lower targeted rides.

I joined the first TGIF ride with Chris and William on Sept 18th, 2015.

After a few months of TGIFs, Chris had to take a break due to an injury and I offered to step up and lead the ride while he recovered.  The result was that I became the defacto leader of TGIF through May 2016.

From Eric: I think TGIF was the first group ride I ever did and I guess I missed the first week but I was there for the 2nd. I helped out by calling out landmarks before we had the Leader Beacon so everyone could find the Leader. Shortly after the Leader Beacon first came out we didn’t have a set leader so TGIF fell off the sponsored event list.  People still showed up for the ride, and after one frustrating ride around June I decided to contact Chris Ryder and Zwift to take over the Leader position and turn TGIF back into a sponsored Zwift event.  We’ve just grown since then, but many of our riders have been with us since the beginning.

Many group rides are run by a team–sweepers helping those off the back, different leaders rotating responsibilities, even others helping to advertise the ride, etc. Who helps make your ride happen?

From Wes: We have been really lucky to have some amazing people step up over the years and we have never really used sweepers or rotating leaders.  The key thing we did early on before Teamspeak became popular was to have someone in the ride texting out leader location as we passed known landmarks.  This helped keep unintentional flyers in check.

We never really went looking for sweepers but we’ve always been a social ride so people look out for each other, so a few of the regulars usually help sweep.  I’m not really a social butterfly but it seems that we have a vocal group, so often when the conversation comes about 2w/kg rides someone speaks up and that’s how most of our advertising comes from word of mouth.

In all honesty the group makes this ride happen.  Someone suggest to have a bot set at 2w/kg instead of the leader and I’m all for that because we are more about the social aspect of the ride instead of holding a specific wattage.  The conversation and the good times is what keeps bringing people back.

Do you have problems with “flyers” zooming off the front of your rides? How do you handle that situation?

From Wes: Sadly we do have flyers and as the ride continued to grow, it became more common for the group to be split up due to a fast front pack not sticking with the leader.  In an attempt to fix that, we created a game within the game to encourage people to stick with the leader (see “Points System explained above).

The result is that those who want to fly off the front still do and the group who wants to stay with the leader really doesn’t care.  Some even say they are glad the flyers leave us behind, it makes it easier for them to get points.

From Eric: Wes is the brains behind the points system and it’s amazing to see how tight the group gets every 10 minutes hunting for those points.  It makes me feel popular when everyone is trying to hug my wheel.  I just ignore the flyers and let them go their way.

Here is a screen shot from one of our points checkpoints and you can see how tight the group is in the elevation profile, even at 157 riders.  We do spread out between checkpoints but they seem to manage to come back together to get those virtual points.

Does your ride use Discord for audio communication? If so, how can folks get in on that?

From Wes:Yep, we switched from Teamspeak to Discord after the new year and it’s been really great for the points game.  We can post real-time screenshots at every 10 minute mark so riders know if they got points that round.

We have over 175 members of our Discord server and it grows every week.

People can join our Discord server at http://discord.me/tgif

As you know, we’ve got lots of new folks joining the Zwift community. What would you recommend to anyone who wants to try your ride, but has never done a Zwift group ride before?

From Wes: A few things:

  • Get on the Discord server, lots of verbal help happens there before and during the rides
  • Learn the camera hot keys so you can find the leader beacon, it’s the most important part of the ride
  • Practice the draft.  Even though we’re a 2w/kg ride, we go FAST when you have 150+ riders in a group.  Falling out of the draft even by a few seconds can mean you never catch up
  • Ask for help, the core group of TGIFers are super helpful
  • Follow the Leader Beacon, not the front rider.  Unlike real world rides you can’t ride to the front and slow the group down, that just speeds up the group.
  • Use the elevation profile to see if you are ahead or behind the leader beacon.

Zwift has come a long way in the last year with the event module, leader beacon, etc. What other upgrades could Zwift roll out to make your group rides even better?

From Wes: I think they could focus more on discouraging bad behavior for specific rides like a social recovery ride.  There have been some ideas thrown around about auto kicking flyers out of the group and I think those types of things make sense but I’d also like to see well-behaved riders get bonuses as well.  Integrating something like the points proximity game into a group ride would be great.

From Eric: I know Zwift has talked about it but integrating something like Discord into Zwift should be a priority.  We have a good group on Discord but a large majority of the ride is missing out on that conversation.  I know there are some difficulties getting the mics setup, but just being able to listen to the chat would be a major step in improving the social aspect.  Many people already just listen and respond in Zwift chat.

There are many things that Zwift could do to give the Leaders more control (or any control) but I think we get by with what we have and it’s working.  There are other things I would prefer Zwift to work on.

Wes wanted to make sure Eric got the credit he deserves, and sent me this additional note:

When I quit Zwifting for the Summer in 2016, Eric was the reason TGIF continued being a great ride.  He took it over and kept things running smoothly while the group continued to grow.  Without that, I suspect there would be no TGIF right now.  He is an amazing ride leader and the entire TGIF group owes him a debt of gratitude for his leadership.