Ride Leader Guidelines
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Guidelines for Ride Leaders; or, 10 Steps to a Worry-Free Group Ride
So you want to plan and lead a bike ride? Here are some guidelines that should start you down the right path.
1. Choose a route and a destination you would enjoy even if you were biking by yourself. If you’re enthusiastic about the ride, it’ll be contagious. Also, even if no one else shows up — a possibility — you’ll still be doing something you want to do.
2. A map or cue sheet is obviously a useful planning tool, but cue sheets won’t tell you about neighborhoods and traffic conditions. Have a look at the cue sheets on the Fast and Fab website, but remember that properly planning a ride requires that you test your proposed route before asking others to trust you and follow you. When you scout the ride, note the availability of potty stops, food stops and bike shops, for instance. Check the days and hours these places are open.
3. Write a ride description that includes a date, meeting time, meeting place, proposed pace and distance, along with anything about the ride that would be helpful to potential riders. Look at the “Read Me First” on a previous ride calendar, so you know what information you don’t need to include in your writeup. For example, we care about our riders’ well-being, and so require that everyone wear a helmet and not use earphones or earbuds on our rides. Use the A/B/C rating system (see “Read Me First” if you aren’t familiar with it) for the proposed pace. If you want riders to RSVP, the ride writeup is the place to note it.
4. You might want to inform yourself about interesting touristy stuff along the route: museums and overlooks are always nice places to stop. Is there secure parking for bikes, or can they be brought inside? If not, include the need for locks in your ride description. Such information — rest and food stops, points of interest — falls under the heading of “added value”: it’s why some folks choose to bike with groups rather than by themselves.
5. Check out bike-friendly public transit near your route and find out whether bike passes are required. (Subways and NJ Transit don’t require passes; all Metro North and Long Island Railroad trains do; most bus lines will not allow you to take a bike with you.) Taking a bike on public transit offers a graceful exit for riders who find either the pace or distance of the ride too challenging or who have a major maintenance problem. And if the weather is threatening but you know you can take public transit, you can still embark on the ride with the knowledge you have a bailout option.
6. Consider using the “point — drop — sweep” system to keep folks together on your ride, especially if you expect more than just a couple of riders. The leader is the “point.” Whenever the leader turns (or if there’s a particularly tricky hazard), the rider immediately behind the leader “drops” (stops and waits) to make sure the next rider makes the turn or avoids the hazard. The “sweep” is the last person on the ride. Using this system helps keep folks from getting separated. If riders are reluctant to “sweep” or “drop,” explain that it’s how everyone can help on a ride. If they are reluctant to do it alone, two people can “sweep” or “drop”: it becomes a social activity rather than a task.
7. When you’re biking by yourself, you’re responsible only for your own actions. Maybe you’ll occasionally blow through red lights and do other things you’d prefer no one else observes. When you’re leading a ride, you’re responsible for the safety of the group. You lead by example. One of the biggest risks in group rides is leaders who think all they need to do about bicycle safety is to see that everyone is wearing a helmet. We care about our riders’ well-being, and so require that everyone wear a helmet and not use earphones or earbuds on our rides. Don’t expect that merely wearing a helmet, or pestering those around you to wear one, will shield you from the consequences of bad judgment. And when you’re leading a group, stopping for red lights is also a great way to let slower riders catch up with the front of the ride.
8. What additional tools and supplies should you, as ride leader, bring along? It helps to have cue sheets and maps for other riders, but this isn’t a requirement. I bring along my regular complement of tools and spare parts, which is pretty minimal: a multi-tool, a spare tube, tire irons, a tire patch kit and a pump. This is also one of the reasons you paid attention to where bike shops are located along your route. A spare filled water bottle is never a bad thing. A cell phone is useful in the case of emergencies, and if more than one rider has a cell along, program everyone’s number into your phone so you can get in touch if necessary.
9. What’s the right pace for a ride and when should you make rest stops? Be alert to the dynamics of the group, and ask people when they want to stop. Most groups won’t ride as fast as you did when you scouted the route, so factor this into time estimates. Also, sometimes it makes sense to vary the route from your original plans. Be ready to be flexible.
10. And have fun!