Monday, December 14, 2015

Follow The Leader

Al and I wanted to do some volunteer work this year. So we looked around. Everglades Bicycle Club posted that they needed volunteer ride leaders. Apparently they were pretty desperate: They accepted us into their program.

Two Saturdays a month Al and I are ride leaders for the 16-18 ride group. I must admit, I love riding with them. The group has a solid core of regulars. These guys don't just turn up. They own their group. They know what they want from their Saturday ride. They know what they want from their ride leaders. They expect group members to ride considerately and safely. And they aren't shy about voicing their opinions.

And they're fun.

These guys want a safe, smooth, no drama ride. They expect the ride leader(s) to make easy starts, keep a smooth steady pace at the designated speed, keep the group together, and navigate the route safely. After a ride or two with them, we made some suggestions. Ride in pairs. No wheel overlap with the pair of riders in front of you. Close gaps. Echo the sweep's "all in" call forward so the leaders know when they can return to speed after turns and lights. It's a work in progress for them and us. We're working on how to do our part better.

For my non-bikey family and friends and for my bikey friends who don't do paceline group rides, let me ramble for a moment about what you do as ride leaders. You see, it turns out being a decent ride leader is more than just being strong or fit. It is a skill set you have to work on.

There are usually two ride leaders with a group.

One ride leader is up front. That leader has to know the route and navigate everyone smoothly along the route. It is a lot like driving a big RV with a car in tow. You have to remember how long that rig is when you go through an intersection. You really can't stop it on a dime either. Pacelines work only when the whole group is disciplined and consistent. Any sudden changes in speed or direction are an invitation for an accident. When you are at the front you have to rely on your group communicating with you. It isn't just the ride leader that makes the group move along smoothly. The group needs to communicate with their ride leaders. Now it is group ride etiquette to call out road hazards. ("Hole!" "Car right!" etc.)  They also need to call out when someone has mechanical problems or if there is a split in the group.

The other ride leader is at the very back of the paceline and is called the sweeper. The sweeper passes information forward, which is echoed by the riders up to the front. ("All in!" "Mechanical!" "Car passing!" "Slow down!" etc.) The sweep also assists any riders that encounter problems like becoming fatigued or beginning to separate from the group. The sweep assesses traffic, watching behind and signaling and negotiating with drivers as needed. 

As I said, it's a work in progress. But each ride goes a little smoother than the last.

Our Saturday EBC rides have definitely gotten more fun and more interesting.