Tonight I jetted over to a nice but sorta weird place for a bike meeting — a neighborhood emergency center — to learn how to lead group and bike shop rides. It was organized by the active transportation (bike and walking) advocacy and membership non-profit organization for which I occasionally pitch in to volunteer, Bike Austin, led by new director Katie. The training was given by Bicycle Sport Shop Road Captains Daniel, Laura Jane (LJ), and Stephanie and with some of the dozen of attendees contributing some amusing stories of what people do on their bikes. So listen up kids, class is in session! Professor A Dude Abikes is on the mic, talkin’ trikes, and safety things he likes…
Safety First, Also Second and Third
Mostly it was a Q & A about the various issues that come up when groups of riders of varying abilities, experience and confidence get together and go for a ride. The classroom portion is Part I; the other two parts are rides. On the first, I will observe and on the second, I’ll take a leadership role.
How well a ride is led — or not — could make the difference between someone coming back the next week or hanging their bike up and staying home or driving their car. Or living or dying. So in some ways, it’s actually a pretty big deal that involves some real responsibility. This post may be a little nerdy for the non-cyclist, but so what? I like learning me some stuff, and assuming you do too. So how about a quick night (re)cap?
Bike Austin has partnered with BSS to not have to reinvent the wheel. The goal is the same: to make sure all ride leaders are on the same page. BA insurance covers leaders if something were to happen, but that is being investigated. Of course keeping people alive is the priority, whether it’s a bunch of complete noobs (newbies) or experience hammerheads (racers). As volunteers with BSS, the goal is to have consistent message before all rides at all shops and levels.
This makes sense to me, because trying to control a bunch of different people out on the road is pretty difficult. Riders need to be able to keep up and take responsibility for themselves, but it’s also really great to know that people will not leave you by the side of the road if you have a flat tire. There are three roles that are covered by volunteer riders on every ride: Leader, Rabbit and Sweep.
- The Leader doesn’t necessarily have to be the faster rider or at the front the whole time. That’s good for A Dude, who ain’t no Speed Racer. But it helps. S/he can circulate back and forth as needed.
- That’s what the Rabbit is for: to go back and forth up and down the line of riders to communicate when a group has been split by a traffic signal, mechanical breakdown or other issue. A Rabbit can also be a Leader if the ride is split in two due to significant speed differences.
- The Sweep is what it sounds like; they come along at the end to make sure everyone gets home. That’s on no-drop rides. For faster, advanced rides, you may be expected to get home yourself if you aren’t up to the average speed of the ride.
Some Other Components of a Successfully Led Ride
BSS did a great job of providing materials like a Ride Leader Code of Conduct and a Pre-Ride Briefing Checklist. I look forward to seeing the slides which LJ wasn’t able to cover due to all the comments and questions. Murphy’s Law is “If something can go wrong, it probably will.” The Ride Leadership Team’s job is not to control reality, but to monitor and shape it as much as possible and then adapt to what might happen. For riders who are not new this is old news, but for new or returning riders, there are alot of nerves about riding in a group and in traffic. A good leader can help with that.
It all begins by talking with and assessing every rider BEFORE riding. Someone doesn’t have a helmet? They can borrow or buy one, or they don’t ride. Did everyone sign the waiver? Then there’s the all important safety speech. Naturally, communication is key: call out hazards, use hand signals, and listen to the Leaders. Knowing the route, hazards, planned stops. Having first aid and tube patch kits. (You can coach someone to fix their flats, but Leaders never touch a rider’s bike in case there’s a problem so they don’t blame you for it!) What about problem riders? Or what to do when there’s a crash? So many details to think about!
Where the Rubber Hits the Road
I’ve been on shop rides through The Peddler Bike Shop (one of the attenders was a regular leader). So although I have seen how it’s done, I would not jump into a ride tomorrow and offer to lead. There are so many possible things that can go wrong on just one bicycle, not to mention a whole group of them, that the classroom can only touch on them. And with my training being mellower due to aches and heat, I’m not quite ready to bust out a long, fast, hilly ride. The upcoming training on actual rides will have alot more detail about how it all works in the real world. But I’m stoked to have attended this training and am grateful to Katie, LJ, Daniel and Stephanie for the class.
As for those stories? There are brand new riders who have never learned to pump up their bike tires. That’s ok. When I was a beginnner, I had no idea what clip-in shoes were. Now, I wouldn’t be without them. Ignorance is ok, because you can teach people what they don’t know. It’s the ones who should know better but don’t. Like the person who thinks they can go 20 miles per hour, but really can’t. Or who doesn’t know how to slow down for people going 10 miles per hour. These people are on the wrong rides!
How about someone bringing a vaper to smoke while riding? Or a person with no water bottles on a hot summer ride? There was even a story of an experienced rider who tried to jump a cattle guard and really hurt his collarbone. There was blood gushing out all over it, not to mention his bike was busted up too. That pretty well ruined the ride for everyone else. These are the sort of things a Ride Leader, Rabbit and Sweep may have to deal with.
When you’re out on a 40-miler or even longer ride, you want to have a competent team of people around you. Given the many, Many, MANY thousands of miles I’ve ridden around Central Texas, maybe there’s a way for me to help others. Although I’ve got other plans and things on my plate not to mention I’m not getting up at 6 am, training is never a bad thing. Thanks for reading, please like, comment, share and follow. And tune in soon for more details about this in Parts 2 and 3 on A Dude Abikes!
Remember the phrase “It’s like riding a bicycle?” There’s a lot more to it than there used to be!
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