Ride Leader (Part II): What The Heck Does That REALLY Mean?

My whole goal for each post is to spark conversation but ultimately help to create a more consistent, safe riding experience…no matter how fast you computer says you are going.  Part I of this post certainly didn’t disappoint.  I even had several bike shops respond to the post, which is awesome because most of all of the them have their own shop rides.  How cool would it be if every ride you showed up to had trained Ride Leaders who did more than just stay at the front?  There’s always hope….

As a continuation from Part I, the following are several other dynamics that my Atlanta WBL Ride Leaders help to facilitate during our rides.

When riding in a double pace line, the goal is to ride shoulder-to-shoulder with your riding partner.  DSC02112This creates a consistent environment that is predictably safe…for everyone.  It looks pretty cool, too.  Also, when you ride this way, it eliminates any open spots in the pace line, which becomes inefficient for the cyclist who has the gap in front of them; it’s almost like being at the front due to the lack of drafting.

Because this is talked about at every Atlanta WBL Ride Mtg and my Ride Leaders were trained to look for this, you can join any one of our three groups on any given ride, or better yet, you can pass any of our groups in a vehicle and see this organized group position and think it’s some pro team riding down the road.

Not only shoulder-to-shoulder, you should aspire to ride no farther than a handlebar width from your partner.  Why?  Because if you ride any farther apart, then you literally have 2 individual pace lines AND you are creating incredibly turbulent air down the middle.  Hey, isn’t the whole idea behind a pace line is to draft, conserve energy and everyone take their turn at the front?  If you are riding on the inside pace line, then you should never be any farther to the left than the center of the lane.  Also, you need to take your lead on ‘where’ your ‘line’ is from your partner on your right.  Since they have less room for error riding next to the edge of the road, then they get to choose how far they ride from the edge.  Once that is established, then you (as the cyclist to their left) should choose a line no farther than a handlebar width from theirs and then hold that line.  Bottom line, if you are at the front pulling, then you should establish this correct spacing with your partner.  You set the example and generally those behind you will follow.  That’s what good Leaders do.

One thing I want to stress on the two last topics is the concept of you setting the example.  What I mean by this is, especially if you are leading a ride, if during your group ride you see gaps in the pace line and/or if there is a huge space between both pace lines, then you should ride so that you are implementing both of these correctly.  Remember, cyclists typically follow and mimic whatever they see in front of them.  If you happen to be riding on the inside line and everyone in front of you is too far to the left, then you should set the example and ride where you ‘should be’ and not just ‘follow suit’ of what’s in front of you.  If you don’t, then you are just part of the problem.

The best example of this I can recall is a local (very popular) Saturday ride called the Tucker Ride. The particular day we had at least 60 cyclists in the ‘Baby” Tucker group.  About half way into the ride, I was on the inside line and stayed consistently about a handlebar length from my partner to my right, even Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 6.35.09 PMthough both lines in front of us were no where near straight pace lines; they looked more like a snake going down the road.  You know what I’m talking about.  The other fact is that the group rode 3-5 wide almost the entire ride…which is illegal to do.  There happen to be 2 times where several cyclists were veering side to side and one girl about ran right into me (on my left).  Next, my left ear got her full force of her yelling at me, accusing me of about taking her out.  I’m thinking in my head, “what, she just about took me out and I’m getting yelled at?”  I told her I was riding a straight line, as I had been doing since leaving the parking lot; it was her and those immediately around her that did some knee-jerky riding there.  But, from her perspective, she was just swerving along with those in front of her (because the group was 4+ wide and all over the place) and because I was riding a straight line, it looked like I was the cause of the problem.  Bottom line is that someone needs to create a consistent example in a group.  If it is not going to be you….then who?  Remember, those behind you will typically mimic what you do, so do what’s right.

As a Ride Leader, OR if you happen to be at the front when your group is stopped, it is your responsibility to start off in a moderate, consistent manner.  Why?  If you clip in quickly and then blow off the front, then you just created a huge gap and most likely splintered the entire group.  Not everyone can clip in at the same time nor does every cyclist accelerate the same.  The end result is those who were literally left behind from a stop have to bury themselves just to catch back up; it’s NOT their fault but they are the ones paying the price to reconnect with the group.  This whole dynamic is magnified as a group gets larger, which means you have to be even more cognizant if you are at the front.  It amazes me how many cyclists dart off from a stop and never look back to see where the group is or if they are even still together.  Hey, if you ride IN a group, you have to become aware OF the group.

When approaching a stop sign, intersection or whatever and you know you are going to have to either slow down or eventually stop, then as a Ride Leader or if you at the front at the time, then you need to think about how your actions affect those behind you.  Remember, whatever you do, the general rule of thumb is that everyone else behind you will tend to have to do the same…but slightly more exaggerated.  Let’s say you are pulling and you see a stop sign ahead.  As the (current) leader, you should actually shout out “SLOWING”….and here’s the key….before you personally ever begin to slow down.  Did you catch that?  In other words, whatever instructions you are shouting out as it relates to slowing and stopping, YOU should be the LAST person to actually do it.  Way too many cyclists either call out slowing when they themselves are literally slowing or afterwards, which is generally the case.  You already know ahead of time what needs to happen; it’s everyone else behind you that cannot see ahead.  And, you need to allow enough time for the last person in the group to actually do what you are about to do yourself.  That means you need to give yourself enough room to come to a stop after you shout that out.  Bottom line, shout it out and THEN do it.  If you don’t, you may get rear-ended or even cause an unnecessary crash(s), as I’ve seen this result FAR too many times.  Being really good at this literally eliminates any panic and sudden reactions from everyone behind you.

I have seen all kinds of styles of rotations off the front but when deciding what style you want to Still 7implement, you need to really consider the consequences.  For example, there is one group ride I’ve done where the inside cyclist moves to the far left of the lane, while their riding partner moves to the far right of the lane…opening up a big ‘slot’ so to speak, for the entire group to pass in the middle.  There are several reasons why I would NEVER rotate like this:  (1) before rotating, both riders have to shift to the middle of the lane (assuming they were riding to the far right before rotating).  Remember, you want to keep as consistent as possible; adding an additional ‘move’ even before you rotate can confuse the group, (2) this creates a 4-wide scenario for the entire time both cyclists are slowing and waiting for the group to go past them.  Now, you are taking up the entire lane and leaving theoretically almost no room for error if anyone makes a mistake,  (3) this 4-wide scenario also blocks motorists view 100% as they are trying to look up ahead and ‘around’ you so they can pass, and  (4) you hope and just assume everyone can and does ride a straight line but that is NOT reality; just think back to my ‘snake’ comment above.  With cyclists on both sides of the group falling back, you now impact every single cyclist in the group when you transition this way; your goal in rotating should be the EXACT opposite. This goes to one of the biggest responsibilities of a Ride Leader…and that’s to keep things consistent.

Therefore, the way we rotate in the Atlanta WBL is what I call a ‘Single Rotation’ and I have found it is BY FAR, the easiest and most consistent way to rotate.  Our Atlanta WBL C Group rotates more fluidly than many A and B groups I’ve ridden in.  Generally, when you are fairly new to riding in a group, the last thing you tend to feel comfortable about wanting to do is rotate and change positions on a regular basis in a group; just mentioning rotating to newer cyclists tends to change their body language almost immediately.  Yes, there are always exceptions.  Here’s how a single rotation works and how our Ride Leaders help to facilitate it:

  1. both cyclists agree its time to rotate (you would think that is common sense)
  2. you (the cyclist on the inside pace line) move to the left center of the lane and slow down.  the key here is to NOT slow down your effort as you change positions; you keep pedaling at the same effort you were pulling….until you have moved to the left.  Now, you fade back until the last cyclist passes you and then you rotate to the outside pace line.
  3. when you have moved to the left and then slowed down, THEN your partner does the exact same thing AND they also keep pedaling at the same effort the entire time…until they get to the left center of the lane; then they slow down like you.  They will rotate to the back and then to the outside pace line.  Though I described separately, you and your partner are falling back together.

In this style rotation, you only create a 3-wide scenario, which still leaves a bit of room in the far left of the lane for motorists to see a bit better.  It also eliminates the entire group from riding ‘thru’ cyclists on both sides of them and finally it eliminates both cyclists from shifting to the middle of the lane to allow room for them to fall back on both sides of the group.  Bottom line, this style affects the group in the least and further extends this concept of working together and staying as consistent as possible.  Remember, that’s the biggest Ride Leader responsibility…and the most difficult.

In closing, my goal in spotlighting Ride Leaders was to give some real credence to a term that seems to be used very loosely.  If you are part of a riding club or shop ride, then the next time you hear someone mention the term ‘Ride Leader’, ask what that exactly means.  There’s way too much assumption in every group ride; the last area you want to put a lot of assumption into is someone who has been designated to ‘lead’ the ride.  Their perspective of this term may be WAY different than yours.  For the safety of yourself and everyone else, it’s probably a great idea to actually ask those in charge to explain what they mean.  Then, everyone is on the same page and the expectation level is the same.  Now, you have the potential for an even better functioning group ride.

Coach Robert…

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