It’s a relief when everyone gets back safely from a ride . With everybody still buzzing with adrenalin there’s always lots of lively banter as the adventures of the day are re re-lived . People enjoying themselves is a wonderful thing to see and the satisfaction of a job well done is one of the things I enjoy most about this job. Organising a trail ride is fun but it can also be challenging. It’s the responsibility of the ride leader to make sure the day runs smoothly and everything goes to plan. If you’re thinking about organising a ride for your mates here’s a few pointers to make sure your day out is a success.
Obviously the most important aspect of any ride is the route itself so try not to leave the planning of it to the last minute. Consider the sequence of the ride, particularly the technical sections. If you’re likely to have inexperienced riders in the group remember most riders and especially beginners are happier riding up a steep rocky section than down one so factor this in when planning the direction of your ride. I work on the premise that an accident ascending a hill usually happens at a slower speed than one coming down it ! Conversely, if you’ve got some big trail bikes coming out give consideration to whether there are any long muddy climbs to tackle. Big bikes will struggle to find traction on greasy uphill sections and a bit of thought on which direction you will be tackling a hazard from can save a lot of grief.
If you’re planning some river crossings think about putting them in the afternoon section of the route. There’s no point in getting soaking wet at the start of the ride if you can avoid it. Quite often it simply isn’t practical to plan around all these eventualities but it’s worth weighing them up and deciding which is the best set of compromises for your situation. I believe the modern parlance is risk assessment . Be considerate when passing through farmyards or past dwellings. It’s legal to ride on a byway through a smallholding at 7.30 am on a Sunday morning but it certainly ain’t cool. Try to be reasonable. Always try and have a few route options up your sleeve in case of disasters. A couple of punctures or an accident can really throw your intinerary out of whack and it pays to have a plan B.
Fuel and spares
This is very basic stuff I know but make sure you know where fuel can be obtained on the route and whether it will be open. Many rural petrol stations have limited opening hours.
I always ask riders to make sure they turn up at the start with enough fuel for at least 70 miles, if their tanks aren’t big enough they need to carry an auxiliary fuel cannister. Advise all the riders to bring the correct kit to deal with a puncture, even if they’re not able to deal with it themselves. It’s not fair to rely on other members of the group to carry spare tubes etc. Everybody in the group should be encouraged to be as self-reliant as possible. Riders will always pitch in and help each other but it’s always good to know the person in distress has at least attempted to avoid relying on the kindness of others.
Make sure you hold a rider briefing before setting off , this might seem a bit OTT if you’re just going out with a few buddies but trust me, it’s worth doing even if it does make you feel like Captain Mainwaring . Firstly make sure everyone knows roughly where you intend to take them, where you’ll be stopping for food , refreshment etc. Appoint your tail-end Charlie, contrary to popular practice the fastest rider should be at the back, not the slowest. This is because the tail-ender can sometimes be delayed at traffic junctions and will need to get a move on to catch the group up. If the slowest rider is at the back this just adds to the delays.
Position the slowest rider directly behind the leader, one way or another the group is going to have to travel at the pace of slowest rider and if he/she is positioned directly behind the leader it becomes much easier to adjust the pace of the group to suit.
Explain to everyone what your preferred method is for dealing with gates. If someone is clearly struggling to get on or off their bike [it happens] or has problems parking it on rough ground my advice is to excuse them from gate duty because they’ll just hold up proceedings and affect the flow of the ride.
Make it clear what the procedure is when you come across walkers/ equestrians / cyclists/ livestock.
Most importantly stress to everyone that as ride leader you cannot be expected to know what is going on at the back of the pack. It is up to each rider to look out for their buddy riding behind and to do this by frequently checking over their shoulder to check all is well. If a problem occurs they should stop immediately and if everybody adheres to this procedure the message will soon get through to the ride leader. This prevents the potentially dangerous situation of somebody riding like a bat out of hell to catch up with the leader to inform them of a problem. Remember to warn the group that if they’ve stopped to fix a problem and have got it sorted be very cautious about setting off down the trail to catch the leader up, they might just meet them coming briskly down the trail to find out whsat the problem is.
Once you set off don’t panic if it’s all a bit shambolic for the first hour or so . In my experience this is perfectly normal and a group eventually settles into its own rhythm. Don’t be afraid to show leadership, within reason people respond better to clear concise instructions. A riding group invariably has one guy who is always first to take his helmet off and last to put it back on. Over the course of a day these small delays accumulate and end up eating into the riding time. One of the skills of the ride leader is to identify the source of these delays and neutralise it. Which isn’t to say kill the person , just make sure you gently chivvy them along and encourage them to get their arse in gear. When tackling a technical trail always try to explain beforehand the nature of the hazard ahead and provide as much info as possible. It’s not patronising, it’s simply common sense and most riders will appreciate the heads up on any potential hazards. Better to be seen as a bit of a mother hen than have to deal with somebody’s broken collar bone in the back of beyond. Where possible lead from the back. For example, when you know a trail has a definite and clear end such as a T junction or a gate wave everyone through and let them blow off a bit of steam if they want to. This lets the more excitable riders burn off some energy without putting the leader under any pressure. It will also enable you to observe and evaluate the ability of the group and amend the route if necessary. On a practical level it’s always much easier to deal with the aftermath of spills if you’re bringing up the rear. Enjoy yourself and ride safe.