Click. Click. There’s something magic about the sound of clipping in when you start a ride. It’s the sound of fun, the sound of freedom and adventure.

And it’s all magnified when 20-plus riders are pushing off and clipping in for a group ride. Clickety-click-click-click. It’s like popcorn—but without the calories.

Whether it’s your first group ride ever, or your first with the ERTC, here’s what to expect:

You coast up to the meeting spot (Transcend, Hawrelak Park, etc). ERTCers are milling around, chatting amicably. One or two of them are bound to introduce themselves—but don’t be shy. Say hello, and ask for the ride leader.

Your ride leader’s going to ask a few questions—first, for insurance purposes you need to have a club membership and proof of it (hard copy print out or electronic receipt) on your mobile. Next, we’ll make sure you’re geared up properly: appropriate cycling clothing (shoes, shorts, jersey, helmet, eyewear), that your bike is mechanically sound, and that you’re stocked up with food and fluids and a repair kit.

Now, it’s a conversation: we’ll talk about your cycling experience, other activities you’re involved in, what your goals are and so forth. You’ll probably be introduced around to some of the riders.

All first-time ERTC riders are required to attend a Wednesday evening training ride so we can assess your riding abilities. But even after that introductory ride, depending on your level of experience, you might be asked to ride near the back of the pack. Why? To help you ease into the whole “group” ride thing. Some people adjust to riding in a pack easier than others and you’ll get guidance and advice, and the chance to get comfortable at your own pace.

It’s a safety thing too. If an inexperienced rider takes a spill while riding near the front of the group, it’s a sure thing that a good number of riders behind will pile up. A small mistake becomes a huge problem. No one wants that.

And so clickety-click-click-click the ride begins. You’re hanging near the back of the pack, getting the hang of riding with someone in front, behind and beside you. You’re doing everything right: looking further ahead than the rider in front of you. Keeping a steady and predictable speed and holding a straight line, pointing or calling out debris or potholes so riders behind you are aware of them.

Out of town, on a pin-straight road, the sound of chit-chat is replaced by the steady metallic hiss of the peloton. You learn the joys of drafting. You aren’t even working hard, and you’re pushing 40 km/h.

Welcome to the club.