Cumulated over a number of years by observing and practising group riding, Peter Short summarises his observations for us.
1 Background Stuff
A The three most important aspects in managing a successful ride are preparation, preparation and preparation! Prepare yourself; prepare other ride managers and prepare the group you are to manage. Check out and think through the details. Arrive unprepared and many of the major and minor dynamics of any situation within a ride can (and will) catch you out.
B Know that everyone has a patience-snapping level - just that some of them reach it even before the departure (especially when one group is delayed at start to allow another group to get away, or on a long ride when some riders pull away early). Your preparation and proving that you are prepared tends to defuse this situation, but never completely - so live with the rest of it, provided you have done step 1a. If you haven’t done step 1a, then back off rather than stand and fight!! The most important point here is to ride according to an agreed riding philosophy - in other words don’t break the accepted Club Riding protocols, since others will merely follow suit (and would be entitled to do so by your example).
C Also know that everyone thinks that they know the technique of leading and managing a successful ride but very few have the guts to go out and do it. By taking on the task, you are exposing yourself to all the quirks and (mostly unfounded) criticisms that the biking fraternity can muster (and believe me there’s a lot of downright stupid thinking out there). Deal with the job professionally, leave your ego at home for the day and you will divert a lot of what could be backbiting and unfounded criticism. Accept, attract and debate good advice and keep a good memory. Go and ask for feedback from all and sundry on the ride (and make mental notes - because only you will really know precisely what it was you, as leader or manager were doing at that time in the ride). Explain the dynamics that arose for that particular rider at that time, if there was a problem and take the learning point forward.
D Everyone wants to know “what pace the ride will be ridden at”. Our use of Brisk and Leisurely has tended to defuse this problem quite neatly though. Legally, you cannot offer any better terminology than “at statutory speed limits”. Most bikes’ speedo’s over read by between 1.5 up to 6.5%! Therefore to talk of riding at 130 is quite OK - which means that you would actually be covering the ground at around 122 to 126 km/h anyway and therefore safe from the cameras. I use the GPS speed as you know, and on a Brisk Breakfast Run (as opposed to a purposeful 1000-miler!!) I will be cruising mostly at 128-130 km/h * on the GPS - this seems to make most others quite happy because they will be seeing close to 140 on their speedo’s and those at the back of the group even faster!! It has always fascinated me that so few people have calibrated their speedo’s but then that’s the Engineer in me I suppose! ( * Except for the ‘play-time’!!).
E Participating in a ride management scenario, you will be nervous and uncertain and the butterflies will flap. Deal with the uncertainty by being prepared and working through a mental (or written check-list); channel the nervousness into your task (just like a public speaker has to do!). At the start of EVERY ride I have lead, I have been keyed up (much more in the early days, but still even now). There is no such thing as a ’standard ride’ - they are all different and different problems arise. Don’t let the problems repeat themselves though and build on what works well.
F The primary purpose of your managing a ride is to get everyone from A to B in a reasonably coherent group in the safest manner possible, accepting that the hooligans amongst us are going to do weird things just as much as the novices and the insecure riders will. Let them all know by outward demeanour (even though you may be inwardly in turmoil!) that you are up to the task and ready for just about anything and encourage the less experienced riders. Your secondary purpose is to create a situation where everyone enjoys the riding experience, never really had a problem keeping up (or not getting lost is the worst fear for most, strangely enough) and will come back again. Unfortunately this means walking a middle-of-the-road style and you cannot allow the fringes of humanity to upset the group. Back in 2000 when I started leading rides I had a few hooligan types tackle me on issues of “pace” and these were always the chaps who tried to push me up front and rode aggressively - I replied via private e-mail and in personal discussion to each of them, emphasizing the technical dynamics of group riding … and they got the message. They now tend to ride towards the back of a group, where they have much more fun and they have a better understanding of the technicalities!
2 Some General Comments on Ride Management
A All group rides should have a minimum of a Leader and a Tail-end-Charlie as formal managers (and not decided just at the last moment either - they need time to discover the meaning of paragraph 1a!). Beyond about 20 bikes, then one marshal riding mid-pack becomes recommended (or more marshal’s per next 20 bikes or so). We have successfully run single groups of close to 80 bikes on up to 170 km Breakfast Runs (in the rain) and with everyone smiling.
B The Leader is the manager with the final say as to what goes down in the ride but ideally the Chairperson (or Ride Organiser) should do the welcoming & new members/visitor’s bit first then hand over to the Ride Leader.
C Consider installing bike-to-bike communications for ride managers? Have a stock of reflective gear available - you may need to give a vest to a temporary manager. Always have First Aid kit on the ride available amongst the managers but at the very least with Tail-end-Charlie.
D During the year, try and draw more ordinary members into the tasks within ride management (on a formal and coached basis, like at least one or two rides in the year - not just the casual, when needed sort of situation). You create a pool of expertise for a start and greater potential for considered feedback and learning points, but you also spread a wider appreciation of what the tasks are all about and more believers of the Club Ride Etiquette. Start them on a Marshalling job then progress to TEC, then Leader.
E Ride managers must be pointed out and known to the group and be clearly visible by wearing reflective gear. This is essentially a ‘calming’ device. Those further back in the ride that may be a bit hesitant will be able to get a glimpse of the managers from time to time. The ‘catch-up’ drive is therefore split into manageable ‘bytes’.
F Check and ask about novice riders in the group and/or new bikes being run in and place them accordingly. Let the running-in bike go on his/her own ride ahead of the group, if you can - if not then the Leisurely Group, if none, then TEC will have to nurture accordingly.
G Our technique of running both Leisurely and Brisk groups, ideally each on a different route, is the system that works best (but it doubles the workload and triples if there is to be a Dirt Road Route as well). Second prize is for both groups to be on the same route but spaced in departure time (calculated from experience) and the one with the potential for the most dissatisfaction is not having enough managers available for two groups so one will have to do. Deal with this in the briefing (calling for “patience today”) and adjust the general ride pace and conditions accordingly.
H Publish the route beforehand (Lifestyle Door works well and certainly saves on printing costs especially since Lifestyle will accept an e-mailed copy).
I Always book venues in writing (fax or e-mail) and always send thank-you notes after, calling in on the recce-ride. Always put the host at ease about the ‘hooligan bikers’ he/she is expecting to accommodate! Although I had done most of this myself in the past, ideally this should be a different Committee members’ task rather than the ride leader.
J Ride managers should ideally be around the first to gather at the start of any ride so that last minute stuff can be communicated. Never take anything for granted.
K Ride managers individually and collectively have the responsibility for overall Club Ride Discipline - if it starts to go to pot, the managers aren’t doing their job! Tackle the aberrations directly and personally, focusing on the technicalities (as opposed to emotionally) otherwise a certain rot will set in.
3 Ride Leader
A Know your route well (for a breakfast run, this usually means having ridden the route shortly beforehand - yes, even on the Saturday preceding the run - that’s part of the job!). If you have ridden the route in the daytime, make judgements about it in case the day of the ride is raining. You are NOT afforded the luxury of making a wrong turning (or being hesitant about where to turn) especially where the whole group needs to U-turn in the road - if this happens, rather ride a loop if possible than doing the ‘u’-way. On a long ride, it means consulting the AA (and trusted mates who may have passed that way recently) and phoning the odd dorp-tannie along the route to check out conditions as well as monitoring the weather patterns for the day (and don’t forget wind directions and strengths). You, above all, do not need surprises to get in the way and spoil your day (and perhaps reputation). It builds your credibility to be able to pass on this sort of information to the group on the day and shows you are serious about your task.
B On long rides, be mentally and technically prepared also for night arrivals and/or early morning departures. Get some solid night-riding experience under your belt. By this I mean, go out there and become suitably scared so that you can exercise this experience safely within a group ride context as well. Riding in the dark is stupendously scary and much riskier than during the daytime but you have to experience it yourself and then develop safe techniques to be able to exhibit them in a ride.
C At venue, check out the approaches and the parking area well. Watch for speed humps, turning space, low branches and footing for bikes and riders. The absolute pits for a parking area is for it to be covered with crushed stone or ash and under Jacaranda trees!. Find an alternative or warn all and take it slowly on arrival even to the point of getting your Marshals to manhandle bikes in if necessary. Assess how the venue would be in the rain and mist on the approach - prepare for the worst and be mildly surprised if it is sunny. Arrange as necessary with local management for any special needs and security.
D Select your regroup points carefully - either rolling, or stopped. Make sure there is enough space - you just do not know how many bikes you will have on the day (especially Breakfast Runs), make sure the underfoot conditions are good and that a stopped group will be visible to other traffic (what if it’s raining?). Work out alternatives to the route on your recce, so that you are prepared for diversions because of other road use (like cyclists, road runners and veteran car rallies - keep an eye on press reports).
E Pick out actual and likely speedtrap sites and ride accordingly on the day. Inform your fellow ride managers (and especially make sure they know the route you are taking - do NOT make any assumptions on this one - even that your e-mail has been read because you sent it out 3 days ahead of time!). Preferably have them ride Saturday, with you - very good as a bonding exercise! Pass on your knowledge of unsafe sectors to the group before you depart and warn that you will be slowing them down here.
F It is very reassuring to be able to use a GPS but not essential. You will at least know what your arrival time is panning out to be and how far you have to run, apart from having the specific route directions in front of you. If you do not have one, then at least have a trip plan calculated in your head or on a piece of paper in the tank bag window. Know what speeds you can safely take the group up to on any particular sector of the route and in particular, through the twisty bits and the downright dangerous bits. Many a ride has foundered critically where the Leader has barrelled into a turn or other hazard and then had to tap off, squeezing all the madmen following him/her. This is how the Club was riding way back in 2000 and rides were distinctly uncomfortable experiences. Go into everything slowly and faster out, remains the absolute rule.
G Insist that the group rides to these three cardinal rules (within the framework of the Club’s Ride Etiquette):
i. Everyone maintains at least a 2 (preferably 3) second spacing to the one ahead and generally line-astern (double in rain or unsafe conditions like severely potholed roads);
ii. Ride straight ahead at junctions unless otherwise indicated;
iii. Each rider MUST take responsibility for the bike following him/her (this means not only passing signals and warnings back BUT ALSO waiting until seen, at a definite turn in the route - if you don’t the rider behind follows rule ii above!); and ‘guide’ the person who does not. Use the words: “The two most important contributions you can make to overall ride safety today is to ride with safe space around you and take responsibility for the bike behind you as to signals and turns in the route” or variations of the theme.
H Be absolutely smooth and consistent in your own riding. This means accelerating and decelerating gradually and consistently and using minimum or gentle braking (i.e. the same way every time) - if you have to use emergency brake, the rider following will recognise this by your overall style. Ride at as perfectly controlled a speed that you are able to maintain in that sector (try and aim to stay + & - 5kph of your target for the duration!); remain absolutely focused on what you are doing and scan well ahead (the 12-second rule & ‘S I P D E’).
I Make no sudden moves. If you ride roughly (or forcefully) then the whole group will do the same with guaranteed very undesirable consequences. You also invite pushy riders to become even braver and mass hysteria builds within the ride (and you can’t see it or control it!). Despite the extra work involved, it is this aspect that has always given me a buzz in leading a ride - as to how close to perfect I could get. It relieves the ‘boredom’ of having done the route recently anyway and brings a bit of excitement back for you.
J Use your flashers to indicate anything coming up that may change the status quo. By this I mean, before you signal a change of route direction, remaining at sector pace use the flashers to warn of a pending change - pause, then signal the change and execute. Point out with your hand on freeways and major roads, the upcoming exit points well before your turn signal needs to be switched on. If you spot a hazard, ‘flash-em’ or ‘leg-em’. Signal ideally at 500 meters and not later than 300 meters before a turn. Definitely use your flashers continuously in fog/mist and rain where there is sure to be spray behind you. Bikes don’t have rear fog lights - more’s the pity. Use yellow reflective tape on your bike.
K In rain, drop your dry-road pace at least by 20% (or more depending on actual situation). If the ride is not wearing it already, stop early (and safely) to don rain gear. In fog, slow down well before hitting the white wall - be very sharp on the slowing down thing once you are within the whiteout. Use anti-fog on your visor and specs but even with this, be prepared to softly wipe your visor with one finger - if your specs get condensation on them, STOP and wipe them clear or move them down your nose and rely on unassisted vision for the time being if your eyes are not that bad. Fog is really scary stuff and fog at night is ten times worse!
L On freeways, when approaching a known exit and there is traffic (or sometimes just one truck) that you estimate the whole group will not be able to pass before the exit, then hang back rather than try to pass at that point. The rest of your ride will be happily barrelling down the right hand side of the freeway passing the traffic and will miss you turning off - GUARANTEED! Your left signal after passing is universally read as a lane-change signal and not an exit signal, that’s why!
M On long rides (or certain situations on local rides) always ride with your headlights on bright (but remember to dip to oncoming traffic!). You will be the one to chase all the lazy birds off the road - brights tend to warn them earlier. Use your hooter at the really stubborn ones and remember to duck. Guineafowl WILL turn back once they have crossed the road! You are also at the sharp end as far as hazards are concerned and thus exposed to greater danger - you will be the first to come upon the herd of cattle (or donkey, or sheep or whatever); the diesel spill; the tar-snakes; the likkewaans; snakes; hippo’s; dogs; pedestrians and pigs - so stay alert and focused (remember you may make no sudden moves!).
N Monitor (and trust) your trip sheet and GPS/Map.
O Anticipate upcoming passing manoeuvres and do not rush up to traffic that is to be passed - ease off early and work into it. If you do not, then bikes following will rush into an ever increasingly dangerous situation. For similar reasons do not rush up to a green traffic light - it may be at the end of its cycle and soon to change. You WILL discover the herd-instinct every time you lead a ride and have to pass another vehicle - another guarantee! On roads with lots of stops or lights, you will have to ‘putter along’ as best you can and when it is clear follow tip within 3q below.
P This is my passing rule (and you all know how I figured this one out!): Approach the vehicle to be passed gradually to give enough time for you to safely assume you have been seen, then dim your lights, then signal to pass and ‘toot’ your hooter twice (because once sounds like you are shouting!) - accelerate past, signal to return, wave a thank you to the driver for not turning into you or giving you a bullet for hooting and go back to bright! I know it’s a schlep, but this has worked well for me since the accident and has become the norm.
Q Once past the vehicle, stretch a little (5-10kph) beyond your pace in that sector to create a hole into which at least the next 5 bikes can ride into - they will all over-accelerate and come rushing up at you anyway - and only then tap back gradually to your sector pace. If you feel the passing for the whole group is going to be time consuming, then clearly you should ride the next km or two at around 5-10 kph less than your current sector pace to maintain coherency.
R In a ride, don’t slow down too much or too deliberately - you will make riders upset because they will not have the same grasp of the dynamics that you do and their patience will be sorely tested (and found wanting). Our Leisurely Group has tended towards this habit recently - rather ride with slight changes in trend of pace rather than a distinct slowing down for what could be an unfathomable reason at that moment. Puzzle your riders enough and they will become irritated and consequently unsafe.
S On long rides, and at gentle blind rises in the road, if it is clear for those behind you to continue passing into their blind rise, continue down the right hand side of the road for longer - this shows those behind it is clear ahead; or give a hand signal to confirm to continue passing (see 3dd below).
T On long rides, use the regular stops to inform the group of the hazards and what to expect in the forthcoming sector of the ride. Use this opportunity also to check them out for tiredness, irritability and other untoward stuff that could upset the ride as a whole - take suitable action. On long rides you can safely plan 180 - 220km refuel legs (for all the BMW models) with every second one possibly a meal stop. Make these known so that you don’t get the ride all filling up at the wrong places and generally holding up progress.
U Slow down your sector pace by some 20% at least with approx 1 - 2 km to go to a route change or regroup point. Signal by flasher and raised left hand to stop. Once the bikes line up behind you and have stopped, move your own bike sideways so as to have a more comfortable view to the rear to observe for your Marshal or TEC - the bikes parked up with you obscure your vision even in your mirrors. If you move or creep before the herd has stopped I can guarantee they will move with you!
V At any regroup stop, TEC should move up to and past the Leader and stop (or on the right freeway exit verge if safe) to show the all clear to proceed. This also gives a moment for the two to exchange quick info if needed. Don’t use your hooter - other more wiley members of the group catch on fast and give you the wrong buzz! If someone does hoot at a regroup, then get off and approach them asking what the problem is - this solves that one permanently and also sends the message that hooters are used only to stop the group from pulling away again because there is a temporary hassle somewhere.
W If stopped for longer than a minute or so, check your cellphone for messages - there may be one from your TEC or other ride-important person!
x At any rolling regroup, usually an affirmative wave of TEC’s hand on the approach to the turn is sufficient (or a frantic wave if the ride must stop!). Remember, though that it is physically difficult for the leader to have to look tightly across his/her shoulder while still controlling the bike (with one foot on gravel perhaps) so care needs be exercised that the correct message gets passed on. Take 1-2km to slow down and the same to speed up to sector pace, through a rolling regroup.
Y Do not allow others to push you to increase your chosen pace. This is your moment and don’t let them bully you! After all, it’s you that has done all the preparation for the ride, so steadfastly ignore this sort of minor hassle along the way. You have responsibility to everyone in the ride, not just one or two and a group ride, by its very nature, is a ‘ride for the average competence of the group’ anyway and you are much better informed to judge this. If you do become very seriously challenged, then drop him/her into a pothole or two - tends to wake them up and they learn the lesson for always (safer of course is to formally stop the ride, get off and talk to the offender). If it’s not that serious, then a comment at the end like “you ride well despite being a bit too close” usually does the trick. You will sense if you have a competent rider behind you or a hooligan anyway but competent or not, if you observe the 2-second rule being broken consistently, then make comment!
Z If you are tailgated or your safe space behind is compromised, this makes you have to ride for two (or worse, more) bikes and you will be concentrating much more on what is happening behind you and this takes attention off the front - so you must take action if this happens. Signal to back off usually works with an apologetic admission about you being a bit of a chicken, later. Unfortunately, for your own and others safety, you may have to be tough on this one from time to time before the message gets through.
AA Imagine the riders towards the back of the group to be novices on new bikes with a pillion for the first time (as you may have been on your very first Club ride!) and manage the ride accordingly. If you are able to assess the group as a whole and have a good idea of their overall competence, then you can afford to ‘be a little quicker’ but only under this circumstance and only on the appropriate section of the route (gets back to preparation again).
BB Be aware of the concertina-action going on back in the ride. If your lead pace is a consistent 130, the riders towards the back third will be touching 150-160 every so often because of the less consistent individual riding within the group!
CC From time to time, try to get a view a long way back of your ride (you will really only be able to monitor up to 6-8 bikes in your mirrors who are closest to you and this always give a false impression). This serves to gauge how things are going back there.
DD Some hand signals explained (be prepared to use them at any time and even in corners):
i. Left hand moved over the shoulder and forward (beckoning) means come on through; the water is warm!
ii. Left hand out slightly behind your body, stationary, palm down and means do not follow me right away (sort of a ‘wait there Fido’ warning). A very important signal in any passing manoeuvre - it’s your call and be ready to use it in an instant.
iii. Left or right hand out with finger pointing deliberately next to you or slightly behind means ride there for the moment
iv. Left or right leg out briefly, indicates a hazard and which side of the riding line it is on (and/or use your flashers)
v. Right leg out for a slightly longer period means “I’ve seen you, please pass when you are ready, on that side” (hardly never use the left leg!)
vi. Left and right legs alternating means slippery surface (or oil or sand wash or stones on tar or tar-snakes or snow or ice or any other loose surface problem)
vii. A deliberate pointing down at the tank means going in for fuel or ‘do you need fuel?’
viii. Left hand cheekily waved from the wrist at a road warning sign means note the sign even though you may think I am ignoring it at the moment (especially for speed signs - “please note the speed limit and expect me to brake suddenly and possibly very hard the moment I even THINK I have seen or smelt the Cops!!”)
ix. The universal hand Stop signal needs no explanation except that you can most times use your right hand because you could be off throttle at that moment
x. A deliberate point and hold towards a road sign (used mainly on freeways but not exclusively) means read and conform
EE Enjoy the job and realise that you are the only one in the ride who will ride at a smooth and consistent pace the whole way and be the one with most of the answers to questions like:
i. How far is it?
ii. When do we get there?
iii. Where’s the next refuel/meal?
iv. Why this route?
v. Why so fast/slow?
A Tail-end-Charlie makes sure that everyone stays ahead of him/her, guides stragglers, supports novices and tends to breakdowns. He/she is the last to leave and the last to get to venue (or gets the last and worst parking space at venue!). He/she is also the one to chase after another who went straight on when they should have turned.
B If riders get lost, TEC (and ideally ANother) goes to find them after informing the Leader (either while the group waits or goes on ahead to the next agreed regroup). In this latter case, a rider needs to be allocated to the temporary TEC task for that sector.
C He/she would also play the “wise-old-man” to give advice to novices (who tend eventually to congregate towards the back of a ride anyway) and coach them into the whole dynamic of group riding. Tail-end-Charlie also has the responsibility to phone ahead to destination, giving a head-count (which he/she had previously established) and/or potential arrival time - applies equally to a long ride by phoning at the last stop before destination. Be aware of and include other riders who may be going to venue independently.
D MUST know the route intimately since may have to direct the ride independently because someone did not follow cardinal rule 3g(iii) above (which unfortunately is another GUARANTEED event).
E TEC should ideally be the most innovative member of the ride management and have first aid training because he/she may have to deal with breakdowns and accidents along the ride. He/she should have all the usual breakdown and emergency numbers at hand; spare puncture kits; petrol syphon hose; towrope and water, duct tape and plastic ties … and whatever else comes to mind. He/she should expect not to be able to make contact with the other ride managers for some time and be able to act decisively and independently.
A Marshals must be ‘mobile’ within the group - moving forward towards the Leader at the future change in route direction and moving backwards in the group at such changes of direction in route. Ideally, there should be no need for the group to stop at a change in route direction given that the Marshal should be forward at that point and he/she would be the one to stop to indicate the new direction while the group continues - the Marshal only moving off when he is sure that Tail-end-Charlie has picked the change in direction out (by TEC flashing his/her headlight). A Marshal needs to make him or herself visible to the Leader (who essentially only has his or her mirrors to give this information). The group need to be told to allow Marshals to move back and forth without them speeding up to join the chase!
B If you are using Marshals in a ride, the sector pace you use must recognise that your marshals may need to move up and down in the pack, so generally with Marshals your actual pace will be a little slower, but the ride will get there quicker (because of less need to stop).
C Marshal will stop at venue entrance to show direction while another could sort the parking. Marshals are usually the best placed to note unacceptable riding within the group and should either tackle the issue themselves or report to Ride Leader.