There was a ‘beginner’s Gap ride’ this past weekend. I didn’t participate, but by all reports it went well, everyone came home safe, and at least the few who reported said they had a good time. It got me to thinking about what goes into making something like this work.
This isn’t in any way meant to be the definitive work on the subject, just some of my thoughts, which may, or may not, have any basis in reality. Take it for what it’s worth, everyone knows I’m a complete nutter…
Leading a ride comprised of a bunch of cyclists where there are differing skill levels is something a kin to herding cats.
I guess it might seem silly, but I would imagine it would be easier to herd those cats if the cats understood what the plan was. Fortunately we can get around that predicament with cyclists by describing the ride on offer.
Now you’re free to call your ride whatever you like, the donut ride, the ‘park ride’, or like previously mentioned, ‘beginners gap ride’. The question is, is what you’re calling the ride going to attract the right ‘cats’ to make the ride successful?
This has a great deal to do with your intended audience, or ride attendee. Most of the people who’ve ridden the gaps here know where ‘Seth’s store’ is, though they may not know that its name is actually Turner’s Corner General Store. If you’re going to use Seth’s store as the start for a gaps ride, you may need to provide directions for those who haven’t been there.
Similarly, the ‘Donut Ride’ could be anything, and may, or may not, involve the consumption of donuts. The ‘Park Ride’ may actually ride to and from a park, but if the park is 60 miles from the start and you have to climb 3 gaps, and 5000 feet, each direction, you might want to disclose that info at some point, preferably before someone gets in over their head.
Unfortunately, semantics being what they are, sometimes it’s nearly impossible to convey your true meaning to the intended audience because they lack the frame of reference to understand what you’re telling them.
Take the ‘beginner’s gap ride’ we’ve been talking about. I know that the ride started at Seth’s store, climbed Neel’s Gap, Wolf Pen Gap, Woody Gap and ended back at Seth’s store for a total of about 34.5 miles with a little less than 4K vertical.
Does any of that mean anything to someone from Miami?
One of the complaints always heard is about rides that don’t go as advertised. The ride was supposed to be ‘no-drop’ but no one noticed someone off the back and they got left behind. Another one is about speed ‘levels’; a ride is supposed to be 18 – 20 mph, but it ends up being faster than that.
The speed thing is relative, that 18-20 mph pace would be a somewhat easier ride in Miami, but here in the mountains that pace would put you in the top 10% of Six Gap finishers. It’s important to keep to the advertised pace. I think its fine to slow down a bit to accommodate a slower rider, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to ramp up the pace just because no one objects.
As far as dropping people on ‘no-drop’ rides, that just can’t happen, and it’s the ride leader’s responsibility to make certain that it doesn’t. This is especially important if you don’t know for certain that everyone on the ride can navigate their way back to the start on their onesies.
This also applies if someone wants to take an alternate route for whatever reason. I was working a climbing camp and one of the riders was having a bad time of it and wanted to cut out some climbing, so the coach that was running the camp asked me for some directions to get the cyclist home.
With written directions in hand, the rider set out on his own, and as Murphy would have it, made a left where he should have turned right, and turned a 60 mile ride into his first century.
No harm, no foul, but I think luck had a bit to do with that. To this day, I still think someone should have gone with him, but it wasn’t my show.
When it comes to climbs, it’s nigh on impossible to keep a group from stringing out all up and down the mountain, but, it’s still the ride leader’s responsibility to make certain that everyone is accounted for.
Depending on the makeup of the group you may have someone who’s an experienced climber, but they’re generally slower than the group. This person could be enlisted to ride ‘tail-gunner’ to make sure everyone makes it to the summit.
If the group doesn’t have a ‘tail-gunner’ then the ride leader should make sure the last riders are attended to either by climbing with them, or at the very least descending back down to them after he has finished and completing the climb with them.
Even if there’s a ‘tail-gunner’ it may be a good idea to descend back down; being an experienced climber doesn’t make one immune to coming to grief.
On flatter terrain I would give a new or weaker rider the ‘Cavendish treatment’. Assign a strong lieutenant, if not yourself, to look after the rider, make sure he has a good wheel to follow, and doesn’t get isolated.
Rotating pace lines are good for groups of varying ability. The strong riders can pull longer, and the weaker riders can just pull through and off without messing anybody up.
If a rider is really having a bad time of it you can put someone at the back of the line to offer a good wheel, then the pace line can rotate in front of that person, and the person having difficulty doesn’t have to contend with gaps opening in front of him.
The person who goes to the back of the line to help needs to be aware that the person in difficulty is still on their wheel. If they get dropped, the ‘helper’ needs to go with them, either to pace them back on, or if that’s not possible, to escort them to the finish.
Obviously, it’s a good idea if the group, and, or the ride leader know that this has happened.
Here in North Georgia some of the riding can be pretty remote. If you’re riding the lower three gaps (Neel’s, Wolf Pen, Woody) there’s water at the top of Neel’s and Woody, as well as Vogel at the base of Wolf Pen.
There are also stores: Seth’s, the one at the top of Neel’s, Vogel, and at the end of 180 in Suches.
Unfortunately, the upper three gaps (Hog Pen, Jack’s, Unicoi) don’t have any water on them. There are stores in Helen, which is where everyone usually starts if they’re only doing the upper three, and there’s Sunrise Grocery on GA 129 just south of where you turn onto GA 180 to go to Jack’s.
Needless to say, it’s nice to have a SAG when riding the Gaps, not that it isn’t any time. Having said that, having been accompanied by, and driven the SAG vehicle, I’m not a fan of the SAG following the bunch on the ride.
It’s been my experience that motorists, at least here in the mountains, will rather aggressively pass the SAG vehicle, and they may not have accounted for the cyclist(s) in front of the vehicle, if they saw them at all. If the motorist gets it wrong its not going to go well for the cyclists.
I much prefer for the SAG vehicle to act as a rolling rest stop, leap frogging the group to designated re-group points.
I have provided SAG for rides, and Mrs.MBBB has driven the SAG vehicle when I’ve ridden with groups here in the mountains, and while the availability of the SAG vehicle was never announced as more than ‘available’ or ‘will be provided’, I have some thoughts as to what it entails.
The first thought is that the SAG vehicle has to be appropriate for the task, team cars are usually estates for a reason, they need to be able to carry quite a bit of stuff, as well as a bike or two, and their riders.
The second is that I look at providing SAG as the opportunity to play super hero. Yes, the general idea is to have everyone put their ‘stuff’ in the SAG so as to have it toted along the route, but when I’m providing SAG, I like take the opportunity to load ‘extras’.
I have Mrs.MBBB bake up some Banana bread, and/or some cookies. I make sure I have plenty of extra water and hydration drink mix. I also like to carry along tools, and spares, as well as a first aid kit.
You never know when some small little thing will save someone’s ride, and it’s not like I don’t have room in the van…
Along those lines, it’s probably a good idea to check if anyone on the ride is carrying a pump. It may sound silly, but what are the chances of the person with the flat tire, and the two people who drop back to help him, going through all of their CO2, and not effecting repair?
Yea… that never happens…
The best rides seem to work with only the gentlest of nudges from the ride leader. Yes, the leader is responsible for the way the ride is conducted, and I absolutely think he should step in when matters of safety arise.
But, there’s no need to go all Napoleon… Not everyone enjoyed boot camp, and even those that did probably don’t want to relive the experience whilst riding their bike.
“Lighten up, Francis” –Sgt.Hulka
It’s supposed to be fun after all…
Since you didn’t ask… I also don’t think that the ride leader need be the strongest rider, as long as those stronger are riding to the plan, and not according to their own agenda. If they want to do their own thing that’s fine, but probably best to split the group.
As a participant, if you join a ‘ride’ you should be willing to ride according to the plan for the ride. If you want to do your own thing that’s fine, just do it on your own.
I don’t know if this makes sense, I may just be rambling on, content in my own dementia, it’s just some of the stuff I thought about.