Adventure Day Ride Fundamentals

[This is not required reading. It's here for those of you who feel more comfortable with plenty of detailed logistical information on hand. We will cover the most important aspects - primarily Standard Formation (especially posted rider duties) during the pre-ride briefings.]

Adventure day rides are a bit more complex than street rides. We may make several radical changes in the type of terrain we are riding on over the course of a day. This terrain variability brings the differences in our own riding capabilities into sharp relief. We have more need of traveling as a band of brothers than we do on the slab, and it is more challenging to maintain that cohesiveness. Here's what - over the years - has worked:


THE LEAD RIDER rides to the left (usually) of the lane, with the second rider to the right and a few bike-lengths back. The third rider is a similar distance behind and left of the second rider, and so on. Should the ride leader switch which side of the lane he is using, following riders should do likewise to maintain staggered formation.

When the road gets more technically demanding (curves, etc.), open up into a single-file formation, more widely spaced.

When we come to a stop at an intersection, tighten up into a two-abreast (or more if convenient) configuration at the stop. This will help us get through stops without spreading the group out much. With larger groups it is often helpful to take up multiple lanes, side by side, at stops, reconvening in one lane as traffic begins to move again.

THE SWEEP RIDER — At the start of each section of riding, the lead rider will usually assign a volunteer sweep rider. That rider will be asked to stay at the back of the group for that section of the ride. Keep track of changes in who is sweeping; Always be able to recognize the sweep rider. If you drop out of the ride for any reason, please alert the sweep rider – or the ride leader, if you can easily reach the front, or someone, at least – otherwise the group may end up spending a lot of time looking for you needlessly. An entire group once spent an hour and a half looking for a rider missing in the mountains. Once we got back in cell range, we called him before calling SAR: He'd started feeling tired, & wisely went home - unwisely, without telling anyone. The only thing less pleasant that being put in that position by a rider is - for most people - realizing that they put a dozen other riders in that position.

THE POSTED RIDER — Imagine you are riding just behind the lead rider. The leader suddenly points at YOU, and then points at the ground. That means, “Wait here and direct other riders until you and the sweep rider make eye contact. Then proceed, in front of the sweeper.” It is a huge help if when this happens, you can manage an exaggerated nod of acknowledgement to the lead rider - the usual small chin-jerk can be invisible on a bumpy road.

If you do as requested, the results should be that 1) everybody leaves that spot (likely an intersection) in the right direction; and 2) you, the posted rider, will end up in second to last position – right in front of the sweeper. Make sure the sweeper sees you too!

You are welcome – once you have shown the sweeper the correct direction – to move back up through the ranks if you desire. In practice, this is seldom done on pavement, and often done off pavement. The arrangement has proved to have unexpected benefits: More experienced riders tend to move up from the back through the novitiate, with the result that less experienced riders all get more time seeing how their more experienced cohorts do things off pavement. Beginning riders learn a bit by watching, and more advanced riders end up with a more interesting ride. Further, seeing more riders during the actual riding seems to make us a more cohesive group, once the helmets come off.

If you do not do as requested, the results may be that every rider behind you makes a wrong turn. It might be several miles before the leader discovers there is a problem, at which point the ride comes to a halt, and hours are spent gathering up lost riders, instead of riding the ride. It's usually even less fun to be responsible for that, than it is to experience that; nobody benefits.

If the sweeper fails to show up, KEEP WAITING! Your continued absence will eventually serve to let the front riders know that we are missing people. Then we simply backtrack along the line of posted riders & solve whatever problem cropped up. If you leave your post to catch up with the group, everyone behind you will likely get lost, and we will spend time looking for them instead of riding the ride. Waiting. Saves. Time.

OTHER RIDERS IN THE GROUP As suggested above, ride your own pace, and let others do the same. If you are behind a rider who is taking the turns a little slower than you would like, you should feel comfortable tapping your horn / flashing your lights to request to pass. Likewise, if a rider is maintaining position right behind you in the turns, keep an eye out for his high beam: If you see it, or hear a horn, slow and let the rider past.

OTHER VEHICLESWhen the group is passing a slower vehicle, assume that the rider in front of you has no plans to leave room for you between himself and the vehicle he is passing, once he has passed it. It’s nice when the rider in front of you can leave you a space to follow behind, but it is not a requirement, nor is it always even possible. Look out for yourself.

THE LEADERHonk or flash, I’ll letcha by. If you get to an intersection and aren’t sure which way to go, just stop and wait. Keep in mind that if you are in front of the ride leader (or behind the sweeper), you have effectively abandoned the ride; if you disappear, it is likely no one will come looking for you. You are welcome to rejoin at any time, of course. Meantime though, if you miss a turn while out in front of the ride leader – well, see ya back at camp.

We seem to make use of hand / foot signals rarely, but it is nice to know it when the rider in front of you is waving for you to pass him, and not swatting at bugs. On pavement, a road obstacle is sometimes pointed out by waving the closest foot. A few taps on the helmet has come to signify a police vehicle in the vicinity. If the ride leader puts a fist beside his helmet & then splays his hand flat, it means accelerate to 120, kill the engines, spread out coasting in a horizontal line, & get ready to lay the bikes on their sides & slide under the barricade. Make sure your safety is off.

STANDARD — Described above. We make much use of this formation both on & off the tarmac so please, familiarize yourself with it.

PACE-LINE — The lead rider pulls to the side after every challenging section / water crossing, or just after a mile of riding. The rider who was second continues as leader. The previous leader watches to see that all riders come through the tricky section, and then joins on at the back, becoming the last rider. The riders never pass each other, except to pass the leader who is on his way to the back. To do this well, each rider needs to keep track of how many riders are behind him at a given time.*

This formation arranges that each rider is observed during challenging sections, the ride flow is not interrupted by repeated stops, it makes the ride itself feel more like a team effort, and each rider gets to experience leading, following, and sweeping. We use this formation in small groups when the route is well known to all, or there are very few intersections.

*You should always do this when off pavement: It is a common courtesy on narrow unpaved or challenging roads to alert oncoming traffic to how many riders they should expect to encounter behind you. You do this by holding up a hand with the right number of fingers extended (if there are more than five riders following you, show five fingers; some rider behind you will eventually show 4... meantime, the oncoming traffic at least knows to look out for more of us.). If, by the way, the road is so challenging that you can’t spare a hand to alert an oncoming rider, it might be best for you to slow down or stop for the rider to pass.

Within the above formations, riders may like to experiment with riding in different relative positions:

SINGLE-FILE — Single-file formation will allow maximum maneouverability for avoiding obstacles. At slow speeds on easy terrain, we can ride closer together, but as speed increases, dust and increased stopping distance will likely force us to loosen up ranks considerably.

TWO-BY-TWO — Dust from other riders often keeps us widely spaced. A workaround is to ride in pairs. Ideally, a more experienced rider rides a few bike lengths behind and to one side of a less experienced rider. The front rider has only the road ahead to worry about, and the back rider has the road and the front rider to watch out for. The back rider can adjust his distance from the front rider such that billowing dust passes below his face. This formation is never a requirement, but can be fun, and will serve to keep us a little closer together. This is not a safe formation at high speeds: If the road becomes straight and level enough to allow a significant speed increase, this formation should be abandoned.

There will be long stretches which do not include intersections, and at both ends of which we will be regrouping. Such sections can be ridden in no particular formation.

Lastly, off pavement we are often either stretched out enough or on easy enough terrain that the primary concern when choosing a formation is the wind. If you see the ride leader look behind him, then move to the downwind side of the trail, it's likely to allow following riders to stay closer without breathing dust.

Passing happens fairly often off pavement (see the Passing Other Riders in the Group section above). Remember to let other riders ride at their own pace, whether slower or faster. Likewise, assert your own desires! If you want to pass another rider, let the rider know you want to go around. Passing on fire roads may require the slower rider to stop briefly, depending on the terrain.

If we are using Pace-line formation, the only passing is the entire group passing the leader after a tricky spot.

ARE YOU OKAY? — To ask a distant but visible rider who is out of earshot and without a radio if they are OKAY, put your hands together over your head, forming an O (for “Okay”) with your arms. Don't wave them around - that looks like you need help.

I'M OKAY! — Make the same symbol back.

I NEED HELP! — Wave your arms around over your head. Make it look like you are drowning, or swatting giant flies.

Feel goofy waving your arms around? Get a radio. Autocom, or Baehr Communication Systems equipment are worth consideration. We have been pleased at times simply to have a pair of walkie-talkies handy.

A crux is a short section of trail that is much more difficult that the majority of the trail – so much so that many riders may want to stop and scout / discuss it before riding it. The lead rider generally stops at the beginning of a particularly challenging section of trail in order to allow other riders to gather. This way, information about the best lines can be shared. Riders then attempt the crux, one at a time, stopping just past the end of the difficulty. This ensures that if a rider has trouble in the crux, help is available from both directions. We go one at a time so that if one rider falls in the crux, the next rider is not obliged either to do the same, or ride over his downed comrade.

What follows is a (hopefully gentle but firm) reminder that as adults, we are responsible for our own decisions. The ride leader is responsible only to lead the way, and your fellow riders are only responsible for themselves:

You are considered to be a participant of a ride if all the following criteria are met:
1) You desire to be a ride participant.
2) You have paid the registration fee & signed the release form for the ride in question.
3) You have not been kicked off of the ride by the ride leader (“I banish thee from the ride!…”).
4) [If the ride is moving] You are on the road / route / track the Ride Leader is following, and either between the Ride Leader and the Sweeper, or (if there is no sweeper) within sight of and less than half a mile behind the Ride Leader.
5) [If the ride is not moving (breaks, meals, etc.)] You are within sight of and less than a quarter mile away from the Ride Leader.

A participant wishing to remain a participant of the ride is responsible for doing so by continually meeting the criteria listed above. A rider who fails to do so is no longer a participant, and may rejoin the ride at any time by meeting the criteria listed above. Participants are responsible for their own safety, and for the security of their property. The only responsibility of the ride leader is to lead ride participants on a given ride for as long as they are able and desirous to follow. All other positions of seeming importance within the ride (sweeper, posted rider, etc.) are voluntary positions and have no enforced responsibilities whatsoever.

A few things follow from the material above:
A) The only person responsible for your safety is you.
B) The only person responsible for your bike / other property is you.
C) The only person responsible for keeping you a part of the ride is you.
D) Sweepers and riders posted at corners may be helpful, but are not obligated to be.
E) Having joined a ride, you are not obligated to complete all or indeed any of it.
F) If you are on a go-around route, or even just a parallel track, you are no longer a participant of the ride.
H) Assuming you have not been kicked off of the ride, there is no limit to the number of times you can leave and then rejoin the ride.
I) Since the Ride Leader is obligated only to lead participants on a given ride, the Ride Leader is effectively obligated to not stop and help you if you have a flat, get lost, crash, need a bathroom break, or otherwise leave the ride, whether intentionally or not.

In practice, however, the whole group generally stops to help riders in need, whether or not they are currently "ride participants". This is not a guarantee; it is just an observation of past behaviour. Actual responsibilities on these rides – other than the personal responsibilities of each rider for his / her own decisions – are almost nil, yet we are blessed in this riding community with people who care about each other’s well being and enjoy looking out for each other. In practice, often (though not always) the Ride Leader shirks his one responsibility – leading the ride – when helping another rider would conflict with that responsibility. However, IF YOU DESIRE A GUARANTEE THAT WHEN YOU AS A PARTICIPANT HAVE ANY SORT OF DIFFICULTY, PROBLEM, OR DISSATISFACTION, SOMEONE ELSE WILL DO THEIR BEST TO REMEDY THE SITUATION FOR YOU, THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT RIDE SERIES FOR YOU TO PARTICIPATE IN. THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES.

Now for the fun part; let's go ridin'!