Leading a GPC Ride - Some Comments
Here are some things I'm reminding myself to consider in leading any future GPC rides. Certainly, I'd welcome additional suggestions from experienced ride leaders! Many have undoubtedly been oft-repeated and are second-nature for experienced ride leaders.
I realize that the protocol for a group ride varies greatly for different clubs and ride leaders, and procedures will certainly be adjusted to the format, difficulty of the route, and experience level of the riders. In these comments, I'm assuming that the format is a fairly large (40-50+ riders) group ride that has been advertised to the general public, rather than a normally scheduled club ride or one that caters to more experienced riders.
Philosphy and Approach
Even though a Century-Prep ride may be advertised at a level beyond complete beginner, we need to realize that complete beginners may well show up anyway and that not everyone is familiar with the canonical GPC riding routes. Some of us are quite navigationally challenged and need very explicit directions, even if the route is obvious to the ride leader.
Although splitting a ride may be OK for other club rides, I don't think it's suitable for an intermediate training ride. My philosophy on a group ride is that much of the enjoyment comes from the synergy of riding with others, rather than everyone individually struggling through the ride on their own. This does not necessarily mean close packing or tight pace-lining, which are really advanced riding techniques, but rather that people are within communication distance, visually or verbally (to put it loosely) and are available to help each other out if need be.
There is an obvious range of group riding philosophies. For the usual club rides, there is certainly room for individual style. But perhaps some ground rules should be followed for large-format rides, so non-club members see some consistency in the approach and know what to expect.
The list below sounds like a lot for a day's ride, but when one remembers that seemingly minor details might mean the difference between discouragement and enjoyment, hazard and safety, quitting or returning, a little preparation could go a long way. I've certainly gained a new respect for those who have volunteered to lead rides and better realize the responsibilities involved.
1. Construct a detailed and explicit route sheet. Route description should match road signs, or if signs are missing, note another feature that is easily identified. List mileages to the tenth of a mile, especially in developed areas. If you're able to do the ride `in your sleep', it might be helpful for someone else to review the route sheet for any possibly confusing instructions.
2. Include a map of the route and point out the course on the map to anyone unfamiliar with the area. For urban areas, include an enlargement sufficient to clearly show the start/finish and all the city streets. Getting in and out of the city (even the parking lot!) can sometimes be the most confusing part of the ride. Also realize that compass directions are totally lost on some folks, especially if they're new to the area and there are few landmarks to navigate by.
3. Clearly note any road hazards and dangerous intersections on the map and route sheet and mention them at the start of the ride.
4. Designate regrouping points, show them on the map, and point them out at the start of the ride. Request that the fast riders honor these stops, or at least leave word with someone that they are riding on ahead and where the rest of the group can meet them. Because a group will commonly get split up going through stoplights in town, a good place to consider for the first regrouping would be on the outskirts of town, even if it's only a few miles into the ride.
5. Include helpful hints on the route sheet so riders can anticipate turns. For example, `On entering Sunol turn left on Foothill just before the railroad tracks.'
6. List mileage and elevation gain of climbs. This is very helpful for riders to pace themselves and to compare to other rides (e.g., the climbs on the GPC Century, and yes, some riders ask about this).
7. Consider starting time of the ride and amount of traffic when planning a route. Traffic may be very light at 8am, but could be quite heavy by 10am.
8. Consider direction of travel for greatest safety of the group. For example, try to avoid left-hand turns that cross several lanes of busy traffic, especially when there are large numbers of new riders. If necessary, a loop can be routed in the reverse direction to change left turns into right turns.
9. Note location of restrooms on the route sheet (shrubbery does not count). This can be of critical concern to some folks. If there are long gaps between restroom stops, mention this at the start of the ride, so people can plan accordingly.
10. Bring sufficient copies of the route and map. Extra copies won't hurt, as people commonly loose them or sometimes like an extra one to file for future reference.
11. Ride leaders should arrive at least a half hour prior to the published starting time to begin signing in riders and handing out route sheets. Those taking public transportation may well arrive early due to the limited schedules available on weekends. Having someone there early also assures new riders that indeed this ride is taking place.
12. Ride leader should carry sign-in sheets along on the ride, so contacts can be made in case of emergency.
13. Ride leaders or designated club members should carry cell phones (readily accessible!), if at all possible, especially if traveling in remote areas or when it is difficult to coordinate a large group.
14. Bring membership forms and club brochures or perhaps business cards with the club mailing address and website. Maybe include the name and e-mail or phone number of the ride leader written on the back, if you feel comfortable giving out this information.
15. Remember what it was like to ride your first Century and offer encouragement to new or returning riders-in-training. Even people in great shape for other sports may find a 40-mile ride to be a real challenge (remember your early encounters with a bike saddle ... ouch!).
16. When mechanical problems occur, instruct riders to call out so leaders can be alerted. The rest of the group should soft-pedal (or agree on a regrouping point), while at least one additional person stays back to aid with repairs and help catching up with the group.
17. Request that if people are planning to leave the ride early or take a different route than listed, to notify someone who will be staying with the main group, preferably a ride leader. This could become important from a safety standpoint, if someone off-course is delayed for whatever reason and we need to go look for them.
18. Mention before the ride that if anyone has suggestions for how to improve the route or organization, feel free to offer them. It might help to have an e-mail address or phone number listed on the route sheet.
19. In pre-ride planning, any leader planning to be away or out-of-contact for a period of time should notify co-leaders and ride coordinator. If help is needed with preparations, let others know early on how they might help.
20. Keep a positive attitude and have fun on the ride!