Long Distance Competition/Ultracycling, Randonneuring and Endurance Cycling - What do you want in an event?
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I'm helping to organize a bike event this year, the Tour de Crossroads (http://www.tourdecrossroads.org). It's really not a distance event this year—it's only 40 miles. We wanted to begin with a limited event this year and think about expanding it next year.
For an organized ride, what do you expect? Have you seen things that you didn't expect but thought were cool?
Thanks for your advice.
A well thought out route is nice.
What do I expect? Not much ... except .......
1) Extremely accurate route instructions and measurements/distances ... there's nothing more annoying to a participant than to miss a turn or make the wrong turn because of inaccurate route instructions or inaccurate measurements between points. It completely ruins the event! Cycle the route ... make a note of what signs exist and what the signs really say (don't go by the common local names unless they are actually on the sign) ... pretend you've never seen the route before, or better yet, bring someone with you who has never seen the route before and get them to try to follow your instructions. Remember it is possible you could get participants who have never been in your state/province before!
2) Cyclist-friendly food for ALL participants, even the ones who are last. What is cyclist-friendly food? On a ride that is 40 miles, you can get away with things like bananas, muffins, rice krispie squares, large soft cookies, and potato chips. But if you're planning to do a longer events, the best cyclist-friendly food is PASTA!! It's quick, easy, and cheap. Just whip up a large pot of it! Some cyclists (like me) will eat it plain or with a dab of margarine, others might like some sort of sauce (Ragu or some brand of your choice) which you can have available in another pot, not mixed in with the pasta. Avoid anything low calorie like tiny granola bars and diet drinks, but do include fruit because most long distance cyclists crave fruit at some point on their rides. Also, keep the food bland because highly spicy foods are hard to digest. And make sure there are salty foods to help the participants keep their electrolyte levels up (i.e. pickles, pretzels, potato chips, etc.). Oh yes ... don't rely on peanut butter as your main food source. There are those of us out there who are allergic to peanuts. Have a variety of foods ... provide options.
And I mentioned "even the ones who are last" specifically because I've been on too many rides where I've rolled in near the back of the pack, and pretty much all the food is gone. The cyclists at the back need the food just as much as the cyclists at the front, and if you provide the same level of service (friendly volunteers, good food, etc.) to the slower cyclists, they will be enthusiastic about your event.
Which brings me to: No portion control. Cyclists, especially long distance cyclists, NEED a lot of calories to keep going. I've been on two very long distance rides in the past couple years where the volunteers/staff were told to implement portion control ... only letting the cyclists have a certain amount of food an no more. That's just wrong! If you limit the food like that, you could be putting the cyclist in jeopardy down the road. IF it happens that you are operating on a very limited budget, tell the potential participants in the brochure that they will be allowed a certain amount of food on the ride, but that they will have to provide the rest themselves ... don't let them start the ride thinking that there will be unlimited food supplies when there is not.
3) Friendly volunteers. It is so encouraging when the volunteers are enthusiastic about the event too ... toward the front-runners, toward the cyclists at the back of the pack, and to everyone in between. Encountering friendly volunteers makes me WANT to do the event ... and to come back and do it again next year! "Friendly volunteers" includes the people manning the rest stops, and also the people driving the medical van, and the mechanical van, and any other SAG support/sweep vehicles you have out there. I've been on some rides where I have seen the medical van and the mechanical van fly past me in the first 10 kms of the event ... and then never seen them (or any other SAG support) again. Make sure your drivers go back and check on the slower riders now and then too so that they don't feel abandonned out there.
That's basically it. :)
Oh, one other "cool" item are photographs, which you might post on the ride website. You might have someone (maybe riding in the medical or mechanical vans, and/or at the rest stops) taking pictures of ALL the cyclists (fast ones, slow ones, everyone in between). This is not something that's necessary, it's just a nice added touch. Just make sure if you opt to do this, that you get at least one photo of each person.
Remember, that for a rider like me, my money is as good as the guys up front that people are going ga-ga over. I expect the same level of food, service and attention as they get. I, too, have been on one recent and very expensive ride where my expectations in this regard were very, very disappointed. Deliver what you promise to EVERYONE.
Try to avoid participating in the event yourself. There is no point you being a organiser/contact out in the middle of the ride when something drastic happens and you are unable to get to the incident quickly.
A sweep (vehicle or patient lantern-rouge rider) is something a lot of events miss out on. It provides encouragement to slower riders and ensures any problems are swept up along the way.
Be clear on safety policies such as helmets, lights and so on. Don't start making exceptions for mates... it can lead you into hot water.
Risk management is essential. Try to keep corners at junctions so the cyclist turns with the traffic rather than having to cross a lanes. Assessment of risk management goes with the course development... take another set of eyes along that can identify problems that you may not see because of your familiarity with the scenery.
Also on risk management, take responsibility. Don't assume that because your event is only 40 miles long that you need not pay attention to detail. Put yourself in the situation of being a witness at an accident investigation/coroners court/civil court hearing, and answer the question: "Why did you let this happen?"
09-16-06, 06:02 PM
One issue if you're planning a long ride (that is, a century option or anything longer, for sure) is to make sure that you avoid other well-established long rides in your area. Conflicting with the date of a popular ride is a sure way to limit your rider population.
Another hint: if you mark the road (probably a good idea, I'd even say necessary, for a charity ride) make sure that you mark it while riding your bike. Use only white paint -- nothing else shows up well enough. If other organized rides use the same roads, use a distinct marking. Little is more irritating than a ride that was marked from a car -- the arrows will be too close to the turns, which is dangerous on several different levels. Around here we do two set before the turn (one well before, one pretty much at) with another set after the turn (a "follow through" to let people know they're on the correct route). I've gotten off route unintentionally far, far more on organized rides with markings that I ever have on randonneuring events, where the roads are unmarked. It's one of the few things on the ride that has to be bullet-proof. Food and route selection can slide quite a bit. But scattering riders all over the Indiana countryside, or causing a pile-up of fast riders becuase an arrow was a mere 50 feet before the turn, are sure ways to create some ticked-off cyclists!
Anyway, I'm glad you asked us. Hopefully you get some usable feedback. Your web-site looks great. Hope you have a successul ride this year and if you've got a longer option on tap next year, perhaps I'll see you at it! Do post again here afterward and let us know how it turned out.
I just did my very first 'distance' ride ever (50 miles on a mountain bike) for the Tour of the Ozarks, and while everything was really great, the maps they provided were very confusing and unclear. It assumed a basic knowledge of the area, and since I live about 180 miles away, the map was pretty much worthless for me.
If you provide a map, don't just show the route itself. Show all the roads and make sure the route is in bold, or highlighted, or clearly marked. This way, a cyclist who is unsure about whether or not he has missed a turn or is on the right path can come to an intersection, whip out the map, and locate the name of the intersecting road on the map. The map we were supplied with simply showed the route itself, no intersecting roads. This could also help a lost cyclist find how to get back to the route quickly, instead of maybe just backtracking.
+1 on the road markings. And put a mark in the middle of long (4+ miles) sections with no turns. I always begin to think I missed a turn somewhere.
09-17-06, 08:41 AM
+1 on showing more map than just the marked route. We were recently at the MTR in Cedar rapids and a great many (including our team) missed turns. When four teams suddenly realized we were lost and stopped at the roadside one had a map of the area which we were able to use to reconnect us back to the ride. Bonus miles any way but less discouraging than riding back to the last known spot on the route.
09-17-06, 03:20 PM
On a ride of 40 miles, there will be some fast rabbits who could finish in just over an hour. They probably ride 40 miles every other day, so a 40 mile event is no great challenge to them. That's when you need to enlist these rabbits' help to assist other riders. For those who are particularly slow, the rabbit can ride with them so that they don't feel alone on the ride. Letting slow riders draft behind a faster rider will also encourage the slower rider (esp. if there is a headwind). Other rabbits can help the medium-fast riders by showing them the advantage of a paceline.
These thoughts are very, very helpful--please keep them coming. Thanks to all of you. If you have more thoughts I'd like hear them. Have you gone to organized rides and seen something unexpected or especially well-thought out?
One thing I would like event organisers to do is arrange a section of road with markers one kilometre and a mile apart as measured by the device they used to survey the course. I have had significant variations between ride instructions and my computer readings, both plus and minus, on rides that can become quite tricky when interval distances between instructions are short. And speaking of course creation, don't rely on commercial software... ride the route or at the very least drive the course in a vehicle with a reasonably accurate odometer.
Have someone drive the route the morning of the start... if it is, say a 9.00am start, you may have to arrange a drive in the early hours. This is to check that any signage you want is in place, and that vandals or roadworks haven't obliterated any road markings you have put down (this happened on a recent major event, and the lack of attention to detail -- in putting down new arrows on the morning of the ride -- meant at least one rider added 20 unnecessary miles to his journey). Indeed, roadworks or some other closure may well cause a major detour.
One thing that hasn't been mentioned is schwagg. Personally, a small memento may be appropriate, plus the option of buying apparel such as a jersey or shirt in addition to the entry fee. But otherwise, don't bother with schwagg, especially if it is going to bump up the entry fee, or the quality is less than top-flight, or the items are next to useless. Free samples of stuff like energy drinks or gels or whatever, are OK, but many people prefer their own anyway.
For some of the rides I have organised, bike buddies have been arranged as suggested by others. There is some difficulty in this, however... you need to gauge the ability and experience of a buddy to ride patiently with others -- those who do are truly very special people.
If the weather turns foul on the morning of the ride, don't think that nobody will turn up. You have to go through all the motions of running the event. It will surprise you just how many people will arrive at the start full of expectation of defeating the elements. You might have to have contingency plans in place for any post-event function, or if there is flooding along the route. If you have to cancel, hang around until 30 minutes AFTER the official start time to let latecomers know.
Speaking of an after-ride function, schedule it carefully so the late finishers won't be arriving to empty chairs, a cold barbecue and no people.
And finally, be prepared to receive complaints from the public. Despite your best appeals at a participant briefing and in event documents for people to ride legally, it is likely that five-abreast riding and shooting red lights will be observed by members of the public who are quite adept at complaining to police. Rider behaviour is out of your control once the event starts, but you are still the responsible organiser who has to take the rap if that behaviour is bad. Speaking of which, you have organised police permits or the sanction of a club authorised to conduct events, haven't you? And there is a good level of public liability insurance coverage for the event, isn't there? And you do have an emergency plan in place to cope with injury or death? And you do have a session planned for volunteers so they know what they are supposed to do (ranging from booking in and out to catering to assessing serious physical stress in riders)?
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