by Len Wilkinson
When I started serious cycling six years ago, I was amazed by the menu of rides that the club offered every weekend. The companionship was truly enjoyable regardless of the route, and the routes were great albeit not perfect. I learned a lot by starting with “D” riders – when to shift; how to fix a flat; what the difference was between a down tube and a Eustachian tube, between a cassette and a CD; why not to wear underwear under where its collaboration with cycling shorts chafed my most important body parts.
I also learned how to get myself up a mountain. “It’s not a sprint.” “No hill is so steep that it can’t be walked.” Since then, I learned that the “mountains” of my beginnings are little more than small hills, and those previously considered big hills are now only little rises.
Regardless of my early inexperience, some start times were too late and others too early. Some routes were too long and others too short. Some started too far away and some were close in but with all the attendant turns and treacherous traffic of cycling in suburbia.
As miles accumulated between my seat and my saddle – I learned there is a difference – the two enjoyable constants were the excellent company and the delight of riding. Yet, I began to wonder how I could improve upon the other parameters.
ANSWER: Become a ride leader!
By being a ride leader, I could specify the start time, the location, and the ride category. I could select mileage. I could list the temperature below which the joy of consuming calories would not compensate for the discomfort caused by the wind chill; a temperature above which I could choose “must see TV” or Lance in France while I sat in the comfort of air conditioning and a chair easy on my backside rather than a saddle unyielding.
By being a ride leader, perhaps I could even design a route with the distance and hilliness that I deigned ideal. In short, I was in control of almost all the factors that I felt would constitute my perfect ride.
Being a ride leader also allowed me to pay it on – to repay those who had so generously helped me, to assist those new to cycling, or to give to those who simply want a nice ride. It gave me the freedom to choose a route mostly downhill and always with a tailwind.
Highly unlikely, you say? While nothing is as convenient as a great bike ride that starts at my garage door, I don’t have a garage. Therefore, that idea was out. However, the idea of a convenient starting point was not lost on me. Unlikely or not, I think I have come very close to finding an ideal ride, and here is how I did it.
First, I chose a starting location that I thought suitable and with existing routes and cue sheets. Tyler Elementary School in Gainesville, VA, was just the place. TYL was relatively close to home with routes well established.
However, I wanted even more for me and for club members. Therefore, I studied a few maps and located a new and promising location. Brentsville Courthouse Historical Park, Bristow, VA, seemed to fill the bill without the hill. It had ample parking that led to unpainted but paved country lanes and an expanse of flat-ish countryside with light traffic.
My first attempt at planning a new ride from Brentsville was very inefficient. I drove a planned route but discovered unmapped gravel, more traffic than I desired, an uncharted private road, and other unwanted features. When exploring options to those undesirables, I lost track of the most attractive roads as well as the roads I had driven that I didn’t want to bike. These miscellaneous wanderings led to lessons learned, and lessons learned led to a refined strategy:
- Pick a starting point. (I know I already mentioned that, but for the sake of continuity, I mention it again.)
- Study maps. You can order county maps from the state department of transportation. For Virginia, the maps depict roads that are paved and those that are not, but a word to the wise as the maps may be outdated and somewhat unreliable in that regard.
- Design the route on a computer. Several websites allow you to do this, and you might want to try each before settling on a favorite. I currently prefer www.ridewithgps.com, but I also have used www.bikely.com and www.mapmyride.com . There are others, too, such as bikeroutetoaster. All of them are very good but have slightly different features that may swing the balance for you.
- Drive the route to verify turn instructions and mileages. Plan to stop safely and frequently to make notes on the draft cue sheet. Carry road maps just in case your planned route turns up unexpected deal breakers.
- Pre-ride the route with someone unfamiliar with it. No coaching! Just observe and stop often to refine the cue sheet. Take your time. Time spent in proofing a route avoids a lot of frustration later with lost or disgruntled riders. When you go final, I suggest you put your cell phone and email address at the top of the cue sheet. The cell number is if others need help on the day of the ride, and the email address allows riders to make more substantive suggestions later. I hasten to add that compliments outweigh constructive criticism by 20 to 1.
- Pick a date, provide details to your ride coordinator, and lead the ride.
One last thing. Make the route yours! – one that is imprinted with your idea of the right starting location, start time, length, and hilliness. Others are probably thinking just like you. After all, great minds think alike. While some prefer “mostly downhill and always a tailwind,” others seem to have the DNA of a billy goat.
Oops! One ultimate, final, concluding, additional last thing. Whether you lead an existing route or develop your own, BE A RIDE LEADER.
Want to lead a ride but not sure what to do? We can pair you with a Ride Leader Mentor or someone to co-lead a ride with you. Contact Martine Palmiter or Linda Kolko for details.