What is Potomac Pedalers?
Potomac Pedalers Touring Club, Inc. - "PPTC" or simply "Potomac Pedalers" - is a bike club founded in 1966 with the intention of bringing together cyclists to share their enthusiasm for the sport. We've grown in to one of the largest cycling clubs in the nation (thousands of members), with over 1,000 yearly group rides in the DC metro area for all ability levels. Most of our rides are on the weekends and some are offered during the week after work. The club also sponsors several weekend cycling outings
each year and our signature event is the Back Roads Century
How do I Join?
You can join online
at our website. As soon as you join you will receive immediate access to all of our members-only pages, and features such as forums, blogs, etc.How much does it cost to join?
See our registration page
for the current membership fees.What are the member benefits when I join?
- We offer over 1,000 free group rides each year
- Discounts from bike shops
- Discounts from cycling travel organizations
- Discounts on club merchandise
- Discounts on club weekend cycling events
- Access to the members-only areas of our website, including the full ride schedule
- Access to our cue sheet library
- Bicycle travel box rental
See our member benefits
section of the website, as we're continually adding new member benefits.
Who "runs" the club?
Potomac Pedalers is an all-volunteer organization. We have hundreds of members who contribute their time and energies keeping the club operating, as well as scheduling all of the fantastic rides and events that we offer. The club is governed by an Executive Committee
and operates under bylaws
.If Potomac Pedalers is an all-volunteer organization, why is there a membership fee?
Our membership fees cover fixed expenses including the following -
- Website hosting
We contribute to worthwhile cycling causes such as "Bike to Work Day" and we'll donate cycling safety items such as bike lights to encourage safe cycling.Do I have to join Potomac Pedalers in order to participate in a group ride?
You’re welcome to participate in a few of our rides to see what it’s like. After that, we ask that you join in order to support the efforts of our organization.I want to try out one of your group rides. How do I get details if I'm not a member?
Look in our Ride Schedule
and find a ride that you want to participate in. The title tells you the Ride Class
, the distance and the start time. You'll also see the location city and state such as Bowie, MD, or Fairfax, VA. Once you've determined which ride you want to join, send us an e-mail
and we'll respond with the ride details. Guests are always welcome!I’m new to cycling or I just started riding after many years of inactivity. Is the club right for me?
Yes. We have rides for all ability levels, including beginners. Riding with other cyclists of similar ability is lots of fun and the best way to improve.I’m not super athletic, just trying to get in shape. Should I join Potomac Pedalers?
Absolutely! It doesn’t matter what shape you’re in, it only matters that you can keep up with other riders of the same ability. That’s why we have different ride classes
. I can think of no better exercise than spending time on a bike on the open road. It certainly beats going to the gym and staring at four walls.I’ve been cycling for many years. How do I know which ride to choose?
Refer to the Potomac Pedalers rider classification table
on our web site which can assist you in determining your riding level. While these classifications are not hard and fast rules, they can give you a general idea of where you stand. Then look at the ride schedule and find a ride that matches your ability. Each ride is listed with a classification letter such as "C”, "CC”, "B”, etc. It’s always recommended that at first, you try a ride below your ability and gradually move up as you become more comfortable.As a beginner, which ride should I choose?
Start out with one of our "D” class rides. These are at a slow pace and usually travel on bike paths and/or some surface streets. In fact, many of our members enjoy the D rides so much, that they never aspire to go on faster rides.Where do I find a ride to participate in?
All of our rides are listed in our ride schedule
and you can search for rides by classification (A, B,C, etc.), location (DC, MD, VA) or by date. You should familiarize yourself with our rides by browsing through our section titled Rider Information
. Here we have pages on choosing a ride
, how to read the ride schedule
, how to read a cue sheet
, etc.Is there a registration fee or any other charge for participating in a ride?
No. All of our regular weekday and weekend rides are free! There's over 1,000 free rides annually, which are included with your membership. Is there a registration fee for any of the club events?
We do have some overnight weekend events and special events such as the Back Roads Century that do require a registration fee. If the event is open to both club members and the public, Potomac Pedalers members will receive a registration discount. This is another benefit included with your membership.I have a Hybrid bike. Can I use this on Potomac Pedalers rides or do I need a Road bike?
Hybrid bikes are actually the preferred type of bike for the C&O canal and other non-paved routes. You’ll see them used most often on "D” rides that go on the Crescent or W&OD Trails. Occasionally I see people using Hybrid bikes on "C” and "CC” rides, however you will find it difficult to keep up with other riders as you move up in ride class. You usually won't see someone use a Hybrid bike on a "B” ride or above because they’re really not practical for the open road and higher speeds of these rides. Most bike shops will probably tell you that the majority of their customers start out on Hybrids and move up to Road bikes as their mileage increases. So definitely give it a try with your Hybrid and purchase a Road bike when you’re ready to step up. Your local bike shop will love you for it!If a ride is listed as "CC” do only CC riders show up?
Actually no. My experience has been that riders tend to look at the ride mileage and start location, more so than the ride classification. That’s because most of us base our riding decisions on distance. For example, if I want to get in 40+ miles on Saturday, I’m not all too concerned about what the ride class is. A 42 mile ride could be classified as either "CC” or "B” and I’ll go on that ride, regardless. That’s why a 40+ mile "CC” ride tends to be so popular and will split apart very quickly. The "B” riders take off in the distance while the "CC” riders chug along farther behind.Some rides are listed with an "H” for hilly. What does that mean?
Hilly rides are markedly more difficult than flat or rolling rides. If a ride is particularly hilly the leader will list the ride as "H” for hilly in the ride schedule. From my experience, I find that a 30 mile hilly ride is more difficult than a 45 mile flat ride. Keep this in mind when choosing to participate in a hilly ride.Are the rides social or competitive?
That depends upon which ride you choose. A "D” ride is very social and usually includes a stop at a local restaurant or coffee shop after the ride. "BB”, "A” and "AA” rides at the top of the ride classification are hard and fast. The "C”, "CC” and "B” rides tend to be somewhere in between.Are all rides just a bike ride or do they include other activities?
While the majority of our rides don’t offer additional activities, many rides do give you the option of extracurricular fun. Occasionally the ride leader will coordinate a picnic after the ride. Sometimes you’ll see an invitation to a local restaurant or brewery. Some rides have the option of swimming at a county pool. Other times the ride leader will invite you to their house/farm/condo for a bite to eat or a dip in their pool. I’ve seen rides that go to county fairs, visit wineries, pick peaches at an orchard, etc. Just check the ride schedule for rides that that offer these activities.Do I need to register for a ride or just show up?
We are strongly encouraging all riders to register for rides on our website. The rides are free and it only takes a minute. However you must be logged in as a member to register for rides. If you’re not able to register online, the ride leader will have a sign-in sheet for you to fill out. Please get in the habit of registering for rides online. A great benefit of registering online is that you can see a list of the other riders who have signed up as well. It’s a great way to hook up with your riding buddies or to become familiar with other club members.What happens when I get to the ride?
Show up at the start location at least 15 minutes prior to the ride starting time and locate the ride leader. Introduce yourself and let them know if you registered online or you’ll need to fill out the sign-in/waiver sheet. The leader will give you a cue sheet with the ride directions.What is a cue sheet and how do I use it?
A cue sheet will list every turn of the ride with mileage at each turn or major intersection. You will need to refer to the cue sheet while you’re riding so that you make the proper turns and don’t get lost. The cue sheet will list each turn as "R” for right turn, "L” for left turn, "X” for cross road or go straight, "BR” for bear right, "BL” for bear left, "SS” for stop sign, "TL” for traffic light, "TRO” for to remain on, etc. Oftentimes there will be warnings listed such as "steep hill”, "railroad” or "traffic” to alert you of hazards. A cue sheet is by no means a comprehensive listing of all hazards. It’s simply a tool to assist you in completing your ride.
It’s recommended that you have a way to clip the cue sheet to you handlebars or shifter cables so that you can refer to it during the ride. You’ll find cue sheet holders at local bike shops or you can use something as simple as paper binder clips. Also, it’s important that you have an odometer on your bike that displays mileage, so that you can confirm each turn in advance by referring to the mileage listed on the cue sheet.What facilities are at the ride start locations?
Ride start locations are typically in parking lots of schools, county parks and shopping centers. Some will have a port-a-potty, however that’s not always the case. It’s best to assume that there are no facilities at the ride start unless the Ride leader has notified you otherwise. Therefore you should stop at a coffee shop or fast food restaurant before you arrive.How many people show up for each ride?
It’s been my experience that approximately 15-30 riders show up for most rides. Some of our larger rides attract as many as 100 members. Naturally some rides are more popular than others.What is the typical age of Potomac Pedalers riders?
I see people of all ages every weekend. On most rides I see members from their 20's to 70’s. It's an incredibly wide age group.Do women participate in the rides or is it mostly men?
There are lots of women who participate in Potomac Pedalers rides. Depending upon the ride, it could be anywhere from 10% to 90% women. Most of the rides that I go on have about 25% women.Do rides ever get cancelled due to inclement weather?
Rain will cause cancellation of most rides, however some rides will go as scheduled under a slight drizzle. In the winter, cancellation can be caused by cold weather or wind conditions. Cancellation is done on a ride-by-ride basis and is up to the discretion of each ride leader. If the weather looks doubtful either call your ride leader the morning of the ride, or refer to our website for your ride leaders’ go or no-go decision. The ride schedule will usually list the best way to confirm ride status and what type of weather conditions will cause cancellation.Who are Ride Leaders and how did they get that job?
Everyone involved with Potomac Pedalers is a volunteer, so being a ride leader isn’t really a job. It’s something they do because they care about the club and enjoy riding with other people. That’s why it’s important to say "Thank You” to the ride leader every time you go on one of our rides. Ride Leaders will usually choose to lead a ride that that’s in the classification ("CC”, "B”, "BB”, etc.) and distance they prefer to ride. Sometimes they’ll use familiar routes that the club has used for years, and other times the ride leader will develop a new ride that we’ve never done before. What are the ride leader’s roles and responsibilities?
Ride leaders get to choose the actual route, as well as the time and place of their liking (within our guidelines). They’ll provide a description of the route and their phone number for the ride listing in our newsletter/website. The ride leader will arrive at the ride start with a rider sign-in sheet and a stack of cue sheets for everyone. They will address the group prior to departure with an overview of the ride and talk about rest stops, road construction or other pertinent information.Is a ride leader supposed to wait for everyone, even the slowest riders?
Ride leaders are not required to wait for the slowest riders. Everyone wants to ride at their own pace and ride leaders are no exception. That’s why it’s important for you to choose a ride that’s within your ability. However, some rides will state in the description either "No rider left behind” or "Ride leader will sweep”. This means that the ride leader has chosen to go at the slowest rider’s pace so that no one is left behind. You will find these types of rides in the lower classes of "D”, "C” and sometimes "CC”. Be sure to check the ride description for this type of ride.Who determines what rides are scheduled each month?
Potomac Pedalers has a Ride Coordinator
for each of three jurisdictions, Maryland, DC and Virginia. The coordinators evaluate all ride submissions for the month and attempt to provide rides in all classes, in each jurisdiction. Since the "CC” rides tend to be the most popular, you may see more than one of these rides simultaneously. For example on a given Saturday in Maryland you may see one "D” ride, one "C” ride, two "CC” rides, one "B” ride and one "BB/A” ride. Notice that sometimes ride classifications are combined such as "BB/A”. That means there will be two ride leaders (one "BB” and one "A”) and riders of both classes are welcome. People will gravitate into two distinct ride classes or groups during these combined rides.I don’t see any "C” rides this weekend in my area, yet there are two "B” rides which are too hard for me. Why is this?
Ride leaders submit their proposed rides to the Ride Coordinator without knowledge of other leader’s submissions. If no one volunteers to lead a "C” ride for a particular weekend and several people submitted "B” rides, the coordinator will go ahead and schedule two "B” rides since there isn’t a "C” ride to offer. This is exactly why people become ride leaders. That way they’re assured of a ride on the day, location and class they prefer to ride.There’s a ride that I want the club to do, however it’s never listed in the ride schedule. How can I get the ride added?
The answer to that question is easy - become a ride leader
. You get to pick the ride, distance, start location, start time, rest stops, etc. Ride leaders are important to the success of our club and there’s no more important role than becoming a ride leader.What do I need to bring on a ride?
Well, besides the obvious answer of your bike, here’s a list of items that will help to make your ride more safe and enjoyable.
I’ve never ridden on roads before, only bike paths. Aren’t bike paths a lot safer?
- Bike helmet – It’s a requirement of Potomac Pedalers that you wear a bike helmet on our rides
- Bike computer that displays mileage – You can purchase these for as little as $20.00 or bring your latest, greatest GPS that tracks cadence, heartbeat and lunar orbits
- Cue sheet holder – Either pick one up at a bike shop or use binder clips to attach the sheet to your shifter cables
- Water bottles – I prefer to carry two bottles, one with water and the other with Gatorade. Many people use Camelbak water backpacks which work well. During the hot summer months it’s very important that you don’t run out of water, so take my advice and carry two bottles.
- Snacks – Bananas and energy bars are two popular choices.
- Spare tube, tire levers and air pump – Even if you don’t know how, or you’re not strong enough to change a tire, you need to bring a spare tube. That way another cyclist can assist you with a tire change if it’s too difficult for you to perform.
- ID such as a driver’s license
- Cell phone
- Cash for drinks and snacks at the rest stop (some small country stores still don’t take credit cards)
- Bring a smile and have fun!
From my personal experience, I find the local bike paths can pose their own set of hazards on particularly crowded days, therefore I much prefer to ride on the road. Bike paths have dogs with leashes that are too long and they cross right in front of you. There’s small children learning to ride their bikes and swerving all over the trail. Joggers with iPods who can’t hear you passing. Cyclists going 20mph and brushing you as they go by. Strollers, roller blades, unicycles, clowns (I made that up), etc. Going on some of the local bike paths on a Saturday can be quite an experience, so don’t necessarily think that bike paths are "safe” compared to riding on the road.How can I be safe while riding in traffic?
While it’s impossible to eliminate all danger while riding in traffic, you should take certain precautions to help make you safer. My biggest concern is a driver being inattentive by reaching over to change the radio station, making a phone call or texting, and then swerving right into me. Bright jerseys and flashing lights will help to distract the driver to look at you instead of looking at their phone, away from you.
Do you worry about getting hit from behind by a car?
- Wear a bright colored jersey – I prefer bright yellow or iridescent lime.
- Use a flashing tail light – The Planet Bike Super Flash is the best tail light I’ve ever used. It’s extremely bright and highly visible.
- Use a mirror – Check out different types of mirrors at your bike shop to see what works best for you. I prefer the Mirrycle mirror which clips on to my Shimano STI shift lever and gives me great visibility. Not all shops carry this mirror so you may have to order it online at Amazon.
It usually doesn’t concern me when cars pass from behind. Most cars tend to give me plenty of room and swerve across the center line when they pass. Also, I’m quite visible with my bright shirt and flashing light. My biggest worry is when cars are approaching from the opposite direction. The reason for this is that when a car is occupying the opposite lane, the car behind me can’t swerve around me. So instead of slowing down and waiting, the driver might try to pass between me and the approaching car at full speed. I call this getting "pinched” because the car pinches me against the shoulder or guard rail with nowhere to go. That’s why you need to be attentive at all times and use a mirror.Will the roads we travel be busy with traffic or calm and quiet?
Most of our rides are scheduled on Saturday and Sunday mornings when traffic is light. While Potomac Pedalers attempts to schedule rides on more lightly traveled secondary roads, every ride will have a mixture of both lightly traveled as well as busy roads. On busy roads it’s best to ride with other people (single file). A group or row of cyclists will cause a driver to slow down, more so than a single cyclist. I always wear a bright colored jersey, use a flashing rear light and look out for traffic in a mirror. Even with every precaution you still can’t prevent an accident. So you’ll need to stay extra alert on busy roads.Have you ever had an incident with a road rage driver?
This is one subject in which I consider myself an expert. I’ve been blasted by horns, cursed at, screamed at, saluted (you know what I mean), run off the road, had projectiles thrown at me, etc. While the vast majority of drivers are courteous to cyclists, there’s always that one person who can’t be inconvenienced for 30 seconds. Your natural tendency is to get into a shouting match with the driver. This is not a good idea because a car beats a cyclist 100 out of 100 times. It’s best to just shake your head and feel sorry for the driver. What feel sorry for them? Consider this. If something as simple as a minor 30 second inconvenience causes a driver to go ballistic, than most likely they have a lot of other problems in their lives; and they’re taking out their frustrations on you because they don’t have anyone else to blame beside themselves. Thank you Dr. Freud.Does everyone stay together on rides or do people split apart?
Everyone starts at the same time however riders will begin to split apart within the first few miles. Stronger riders will form groups at the front and maintain a high pace throughout the ride. Weaker riders will drop back into slower groups, and some riders will be struggling and fall completely behind. This is known as getting "dropped”. While it’s easier to keep up with faster riders on flats and downhills, going uphill is a different story. Slow riders may be going up a steep hill at 5mph, while fast riders climb the same hill at 15mph. That’s why you’ll see rides split apart so much on climbs. So if you want to become a better rider you’ll need to become a better climber! Just ask any Tour de France winner.Do we ride the entire distance non-stop or are there rest stops along the way?
Most rides will have one rest stop near the midway point, and longer rides (over 50 miles) may have two or more stops. The rest stop location(s) will be designated on your cue sheet.What facilities do the rest stops have?
When it comes to rest stops I always expect the worst and hope for the best. I would classify the rest stops into one of three categories –
What are the rules of the road and how do I interact with other riders?
- Full service rest stop. These are wonderful facilities where they’ll make you a fresh sandwich, bake cookies and fluff your pillow (not really). This would be something like a Sheetz gas station that we frequent on rides in the Frederick or Thurmont area. I wish every rest stop was this good however they tend to be the exception not the rule.
- Convenience store/gas station. This would be a Shell or Exxon station with an attached convenience store similar to a 7/11. They’re pretty good but nothing to write home about. Usually they have indoor restrooms.
- Country store. Since we prefer to ride on rural roads, many of our rides end up stopping at country stores in little towns. They’re cute and cuddly however they may only have a port-a-potty or no rest room at all. Also, some of these stores don’t take credit cards, so be sure you bring cash.
Obey the traffic laws. If a light is red than you need to wait until it turns green. You should always ride single file on busy roads to allow traffic to pass. Signal your intention to turn left or right by extending your left or right arm completely out to your side. This is important because the rider behind you (as well as cars) need to know that you’re turning. If you don’t signal, the person behind you could very easily run into you because you suddenly turned right in front them without warning, while they’ve continued to go straight.What’s all the yelling about?
Riders will call out hazards as they see them. For example, when a car is approaching you in the opposite direction, its common practice for someone to shout "Car Up”. When a car is approaching from behind, riders in the rear will shout "Car Back”. When you approach an intersection riders will shout "Car Left”, "Car Right” or "Clear”, to alert you of approaching traffic. Once you’ve gone on a few rides you’ll get the hang of it and learn to shout with the best of them.
You’ll also notice riders giving hand signals by pointing to the ground and waving their fingers. This is to alert you of hazards such as loose gravel, a water drainage grate or other obstacles in the road. If you watch professional cycling on TV you’ll see riders in the Peloton (main group) using these same hand signals to alert other riders behind them.What if I get dropped and I’m riding by myself?
Personally, I get dropped all the time and end up riding alone in the back. That’s why you’ll want to have a cue sheet, computer, spare tube, water, etc. So long as you’re prepared to ride in the back it’s no big deal. In fact, I like some of the Potomac Pedalers rides so much that I’ll go ride them alone; even when that particular ride isn’t scheduled. Therefore I consider myself dropped 100% of the time on those rides. If you hate to ride alone in the back, than go on an easier ride next time.Has anyone ever wrecked or been hit by a car on a Potomac Pedalers ride?
Unfortunately the answer is yes. Even with all of our precautions and experience, there’s bound to be an accident at some time. It’s the nature of cycling. That’s why you need to be careful and attentive whenever you’re on your bike. Once I was on a ride where the fastest riders were very aggressive and took a turn too fast. One rider went off the road, crashed into a fence and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. Fortunately he was just banged up and didn’t suffer serious injury. This example shows you that injuries can happen whether a car is involved or not. So ride safely within your limits.What if I have a mechanical failure; can’t fix my flat; can’t ride any farther, etc?
Ask for help from someone in your group or another passing cyclist. If you’re still not able to continue, use your cell phone to call for assistance. If all else fails, call home and have someone come pick you up. You should be able to give them your location by referring to the cue sheet or your GPS-enabled phone.
If you have any questions that you don’t see answered here, please contact us
and we’ll get them added to the list.