Are you up to it?
Organising and leading a ride is a special responsibility. People are putting their trust in you so you need to know what your are letting yourself in for if you decide to setup and lead a ride.
The most obviously sensible point about organising a ride is one that is often missed by inexperienced leaders. It has to be established, right from the start, that the ride is within everyone’s capabilities. The degree of difficulty of the route therefore, should not stress the least skilled rider in the group. This may mean that the ride is restricted to roads, or it may mean that you’ll need to deviate around a hill or two, or it may require spending time with a few of the group before the ride, raising their skill levels. Splitting the group at various points to avoid hard spots is a good move, but only if you have competent second lead and sweep riders who know the route. Dragging inexperienced riders into bad territory is poor leadership and the result is usually disharmony, injury and a very dark and late finish.
Judging skill levels is very difficult if you don’t know the riders, so watch the group closely for the first few ks of the ride to get an idea of how they’re travelling. You may have to change the route to ensure all involved can cope, so be prepared for that with a pre-planned back-up course. Determining the distance to be covered is tricky as well. You can only travel as fast as your slowest rider, and the bigger the group the slower it travels. What is a one-day ride for you and a couple of mates can take a full two days with a group of 20. Err on the short side, and have pull-out points so you can cut and run if daylight is getting slim.
You will of course need maps of the route or a good knowledge of all the trails involved, good communications and be prepared to use first aid skills. Ride leaders should have a heavy backpack, carrying extra of everything. The high energy jelly beans you get from chemists are a fantastic secret weapon, with a handful of them being enough to get a tired rider operational again. Double up on tubes and patches, have gas bottles and a pump, and UHF radio contact with the sweep is highly advised. Extra fuel capacity is also a good idea, because a lead rider often has to go back, or forward, to sort out problems.
Choosing a Sweep
The bloke who rides at the back of the group should be one of the best riders. He needs to be able to ride the entire route with ease, because he’ll have to help others in tight spots. He needs to be fit because it can be heavy physical work, and he needs to be very good mechanically so breakdowns can be solved quickly. He also needs to be able to make good decisions under pressure. He’ll be the one dealing with injuries, crash damage and blokes who aren’t coping, so quick evaluations and rapid solutions should come easily.
The sweep should carry as many spares and tools as he can. He should also have the sat phone if one is available, and know where any back-up vehicles will be at various times of the day. These, by the way, should always be held as close to the group as possible – they’re no good 150ks away at a pub if someone breaks down in the middle of the afternoon. It’s all part of the planning. The sweep should also have great people skills. He’ll be the one keeping tired riders going, reassuring the injured, and consoling the bloke with the dead bike. A good sweep is a special bloke; everyone in the group should look after him in return, appreciating his efforts. Beer at the end of the day works for most.
Always brief the group at the start of each ride and each day if a multi-day ride. Keep it short and light. Start with a head count so you know exactly how many riders you have, then outline the proposed route and any hazards that you envisage. Explain the fuel stops and distances, where you will eat, and any other places that you’re stopping at along the way. The leader needs to think for all the riders. Point out that its polite to ride slowly near houses to keep dust down, or what to do around stock if the route takes you through paddocks. Camping areas should also be highlighted as slow down spots, and if there is a chance of meeting horse riders or other forest users such as mountain bikers or walkers, work out a system to warn those behind you – raising your left arm and killing the motor works well.
Ask anyone with health issues to let you know so that you can keep an eye on them or understand treatment methods. Controlling sugar levels for a diabetic or treating an allergic reaction to bee stings and the like are all part of the job. Also be aware of those who are carrying injuries, or who have damaged bikes.
Knowing When to Stop
A good lead rider has a few tricks up his sleeve. He either puts in a stretch of transport at the start or a challenging hill or trail, both of these have the same effect on the group; they calm the start-of-ride jitters, settle the riders into the flow of things, and allow the lead to better gauge the mix of skill levels in the group. He’ll also regroup regularly and do head counts to check everyone is there and traveling okay, and he’ll make these regroups in shade, well out of the way of other traffic.
He’ll also know that accidents are most likely to happen when riders are tired, so the middle of the afternoon is not a good time for a challenge section and more cornermen on hazards is a smart idea. Most of all, he’ll know when to stop. Those blokes struggling at the back are beat and buggered; don’t make them ride in the dark. Aim to have the whole group in at least an hour before sunset so they can work on their bikes and relax before dinner. If you’re camping, make that a couple of hours. And if things turn really bad, such as a snow storm, torrential rain, or an unexpectedly tough run, forget the plan and get the group to safety, straight down the Hume if necessary.
The Support Vehicle
The support vehicle’s role is self explanatory, and if you’re lucky enough to be able to con a mate into meeting you in the bush with lunch and a bit of fuel, and to pick up a broken bike or rider. Make sure you and every other rider in the group buy him enough beers at the pub that night to ensure he does it again but not so many that he can’t drive the next day.
Accident and Emergency Procedure
In the case of an accident or emergency (call 112 on your mobile) the Corner Man System can save a life. It gives the ambulance driver, or Gazza in the 4WD ute the direct route to the accident. So this means sitting there for a few hours and enjoying the Australian bush. You’re part of the chain; don’t break it by getting bored and riding off looking for your mate you left on the previous corner to have chat.
We ride for fun; it’s the leader’s job to make sure that’s how it turns out.