Ride Leader Guidelines
First and foremost, thank you for generously volunteering to be a Ride Guide or Ride Leader. It is important for our sport and the riding community that more experienced riders pass on the do’s and don’ts of riding while enjoying a fun and safe ride series.
Initially, this ride guide program was developed for riding in overcrowded parks near Boston. It was wildly successful, and was then rolled out into other parks around Greater Boston and New England. As MTB advocates, we dealt with vast numbers of both experienced and new-to-the-sport riders. In most seasons, we would get between 700-1000 unique riders to our various ride series, many of whom would come to repeat rides with us many times over the season, totaling (literally) thousands of cumulative visits per season. We had to develop a program that supported and safely managed all these people in the woods.
Your role as a Ride Guide or Ride Leader will set an example and spread the critical message that we are a welcome and essential part of the trail community.
The first and most important thing to remember when leading a ride is that...
It’s Not Your Ride!
Any ride that you lead really belongs to the people riding with you. And this is especially true when the people following behind you have never ridden with you before. You are the host.
When you're leading it's your responsibility to make sure that everyone with you is having a good time. More importantly, you want to make sure that they'll want to do it again. That means that you don't ride your favorite trail if you sense that someone on the ride isn't ready for it. That also means that you don't lead at a pace that knocks the people behind you out of their fun zone.
Before the ride starts it's always good to make sure that no one has a time constraint. You never want to find out when you're 45 minutes from your vehicles that someone must leave now. It's also a good idea to tell everyone how long you expect to be out and about how many miles you intend to cover and how long you intend to be out.
When you're riding with people you've never ridden with before explain how you're going to prevent anyone from getting lost. IE: We will 2nd person drop at intersections. Or we expect you to look behind you to make sure that the person behind you sees which way we go. Or, (describe the method you use.)
Really, your ride is led by the slowest person. If you go more than just a little bit faster than the slowest person there, not only will they have a bad experience, but everyone else will spend an extended amount of time waiting around at intersections.
One caution, it's almost impossible to resist going faster when someone is riding on your rear wheel. But you need to stifle that temptation when some of your fellow riders can't maintain that faster pace. Luckily, the 2nd person drop technique is a nice way to negate this.
If you're going to lead a ride at race pace, make sure that everyone is aware of that, and OK with it. The same is true if you plan to "session" on technical terrain features.
Skill: You don't have to be the best rider to lead. You just have to know where you're going.
Stuff: As a ride guide it's your responsibility to ensure that there are enough tools and inner tubes along on the ride to get everyone out of the woods when there's a mechanical emergency. You'd be surprised how many people, especially newer riders, don't bring anything with them.
Distance: During the ride ask people if they think the ride is about half over. When someone does, take a break and then bring the ride to a close as soon as you can. People always underestimate their level of exhaustion.
Route: Don't get lost! Nothing is more frustrating for people, or for a ride leader, than to suddenly realize that they don't know where they are. Or, that they went the wrong way at that last intersection and now must re-ride the last few miles. When you're leading a ride, don't go exploring.
Cheer: Be friendly and upbeat. When you are clearly enjoying yourself, everyone else will enjoy themselves more too.
Community: Have positive encounters. Slow down or even stop when you see people out on the trails. Greet every person that you see with a friendly "Hello!" Remember, they're out there trying to have a good time too, and you riding by with a group of stragglers may seem a little disruptive to them, especially if they've got unleashed dogs or small kids. Never overlook an opportunity to make a good impression for mountain biking.
Follow the Leader Rides are by far the most common. They are great when intersections are far apart or when the group you’re leading is small. The technique is simple, stop at every intersection and wait till everyone’s there before moving on. Caution: Don’t take off just as the last person gets there. They need a break too. The problem with follow the leader rides is that the slowest riders are always at the back, and as the ride progresses they keep falling farther and farther back. But if you stop frequently enough for breaks and you may be able to mitigate that.
NEMBA's version of the 2nd Person Drop Technique
A great technique to make sure Ride Guides bring back all the riders they take out is the “2nd Person Drop.” We have adopted and adapted this great technique over the years and strongly recommend it for any ride with a large volume of riders. I recall one Holiday Toy Drive ride where one leader and one follower kept a group of 35 riders happy and connected at a particularly intersection dense riding location.
Basically, when you have a medium to larger group, the challenge is to enable riders to know what direction the group went at each intersection, all while keeping the group reasonably together. Additionally, the ride leader should be able to understand the average pace of the group, as well as the pace of the slowest rider within the group.
Here’s how it’s done:
At the beginning of the ride, designate a “sweeper”. The sweep’s job is to make sure absolutely NO RIDER gets behind him or her. The sweeper should be a strong rider with excellent trailside bike repair skills. During the pre-ride gathering, identify/introduce the sweep to the group and explain the sweep’s role:
A. They are last person in the group who, literally sweeps everyone ahead of them.
B. They fix minor mechanical issues or alert the leader to injuries.
C. They release the waiting/directing riders to rejoin the flow.
- When it is time to get going, the leader starts riding at a comfortable pace (allowing for riders to warm up). When the group approaches an intersection or trail split, the ride leader designates with voice and hand gesture to the rider directly behind the leader – the 2nd person – exactly where to stop and wait for the entire group to pass. That person then becomes a “living arrow” for the riders behind them.
- The 2nd person waits and directs all subsequent riders through the intersection or split and ensures that everyone makes it through by waiting until the sweeper arrives and gives the “OK to go ahead.”
- If there are multiple turns, make sure that at each subsequent turn, the next 2nd person drops and waits for everyone. Waiting riders must continue to wait until the sweeper releases them.
- Once released by the sweeper, riders are welcome to speed back up to the front if they can do so safely, or not as they wish. It’s been our experience most people are quite content to keep their position in the pack.
- If the leader ever runs out of 2nd persons to drop and wait, that indicates one of 3 things: the pace is too fast, there may be a mechanical failure or injury, or someone did not properly wait for the sweeper. After a few minutes of no more approaching riders, the leader should turn back and ride along the original route, gathering up each waiting rider as they go. Once the leader gets to the source of the problem, he can solve the delay issue.
- If the pace is too fast, adjust the pace to the slowest rider in the group. The faster riders will still get a good workout after waiting for the group to move through the intersections then catching up to the leader again (intervals!).
- Slower riders will appreciate being part of the group. The group actually moves at a pace that is faster over the long term because riders will not burn out and will need fewer long breaks or rests.
- Faster riders in the group may appreciate this method too as they are free to ride at their own pace and catch up to the leader as often or quickly as they wish. This means, of course, they will be dropped as the 2nd person more often than others.
- Splitting the group: If the slowest rider(s) are not suited to the group for fitness or skill reasons, the leader may wish to split the group. To do this the sweep should take the outmatched riders, plus one strong rider if possible, and work their way back to the trailhead. A new sweep is then chosen and the process starts again.
**(The ride leader can usually prevent this from happening by stopping the ride occasionally for a break. This allows everyone to have a snack, socialize and maybe re-position themselves in the group.)
- If there is an injury or mechanical issue, the sweeper will ask the last waiting rider to ride up to the leader and explain the issue. All waiting riders should remain at their assigned intersections. Non-waiting riders should continue to ride up to the leader as the pace allows. They need not wait for the mechanically or injury impaired rider. The sweep will give assistance or comfort as required, until the situation is resolved or the leader comes back to take control. When a leader is aware that there’s a problem they will reverse direction, and bring everyone back to help.
-Lost Rider: If a rider did not properly wait for the group at an intersection, continue to ride back to the last known spot. The sweep should have gathered all subsequent riders at that point at the last intersection and waited for the leader to come back to find them. This can be critical if not everyone knows the park well and the best routes. Sometimes the leader and sweep may agree that if a split accidentally occurs, the sweep will take over the group and the leader will go looking for them. Communication and planning are key, here.
- If a rider is lost, they should go back to the last intersection they saw the group and wait for the group to find them - not go looking for the group.
- If a rider or two really want to bail. Tell them to let the leader or sweep know, and make sure that they understand how to get back to the trailhead.
- The leader should always make stops at regular intervals to allow for regrouping. This also allows for socializing and building camaraderie. Often, people who have never met, find compatible ride partners in this setting.
NOTE: Sweeps are special because they ostensibly are also Ride Guides or ride leaders in training. It is always a great idea to develop new sweepers on these rides, who may likely become future ride leaders.
Before the ride starts, explain what is expected of your riders. Don’t lose the person behind you or wait at your intersection till you see the ride follower. If you get lost don’t go looking for the rest of the pack. They will be looking for you and two moving objects can never find each other.
Tell your riders to wait a reasonable amount of time, like until dark, or until 100 mosquito bites, or until you start shivering uncontrollably before you try to find your way out of the woods. (joke)
**It’s never a bad idea for the ride guide to share their cellphone number with their riders. The best way to do that is to have everyone call you before the ride. Riders who need to drop out for some reason MUST tell the ride guide or follower that they are departing. Otherwise the ride will degrade while the rest of the group goes looking for them.
On a NEMBA ride is important to have participants sign a ride waiver. On a kid’s ride, a parent or guardian must sign. On an official NEMBA ride both you and your charges are covered by NEMBA’s insurance. But participants, even NEMBA members, must sign in on the liability waiver. One-time rides have one time waivers. While re-occurring rides need only be signed once and then initialed after that.
Go to “Leadership Resources” on the NEMBA.org site for copies.
The best way to hook people on riding and get them to come back is to take them on a fun ride. While the easiest way to get them turned off is to take them on a ride that they don’t enjoy. Generally, there are five types of organized rides, beginner or introductory rides, intermediate rides, training or race pace rides, technical rides and kids rides. But everyone starts off as a beginner. So, let’s talk about that first. If your NEMBA chapter is trying to grow its membership, or involve some new people, beginner rides are the best place to start.
Beginner Rides can be daunting for newbies. What you ride easily will be too challenging or even frightening for a novice. A relaxed pace for you may be an all-out race for a newer rider. If you want new people to enjoy riding and to ride with you again you must make sure that they have fun. The best way to do that is too make sure that your ride is not too challenging.
At the end of a ride if newer riders say that they would have liked to have done more, then your ride was a success.
Beginner rides can include some skills sessions, like jumping a log, or descending/climbing a hill if it seems appropriate. But don’t overdo it unless you’ve advertised the ride as a “practice session.”
Be sure to stress safety on your ride.
I always say something like, “Remember every mountain bike comes equipped with a walker, and if you are uncomfortable with riding something, then walk it.” Or, “Keep in touch with your inner chicken and when it says, ‘Don’t do that!’, listen.”
Intermediate Rides: These are like beginner rides except that the pace, the duration and the degree of trail challenges are higher. Never lose sight of the fact that they are still supposed to be fun.
Training rides: These are mini-races. People expect to be pushed and the goal is to get in a good workout. But, you still never want to lose anyone.
Skills Sessions: The goal of a skills ride can be to practice technical features. It’s not uncommon to stop and “session” an obstacle until everyone is comfortable trying it. However, if one of your riders doesn’t want to try something. No big deal, no pressure, maybe they will on your next ride.
For Newer Riders though it’s different. Now the goal is to get them comfortable will basic techniques, like braking, cornering, standing up, climbing or descending hills or riding over logs. You may even want to do a pre-ride bike safety check. Checking for working brakes, adequate tire pressure and shifting.
Kids Rides: Perhaps the most enjoyable rides that you’ll ever lead will be kid/family rides. Nothing matches the enthusiasm and joy that kids have when they are having fun. Do it right and that joy will be yours too. On a kid’s ride, the goal isn’t miles it’s smiles. Keep it short and stop frequently. Never overlook an opportunity to do something fun. Stop and climb around on a fallen tree, throw rocks into a lake, climb a boulder. Break up the ride with fun stuff and you’ll up the fun factor. Kids run on sugar and water: Make sure that your kids have water and a snack. And make sure that you stop enough so that they can enjoy them.
Tell kids that if they finish their ride with a full water bottle or snacks intact, that they’ve
carried them around all day for nothing. (joke)
Safety is the number one concern on a kid’s ride. Be especially careful to note the ability level of your charges and don’t bring them on trails that are beyond their abilities.
Always precede a kid’s ride with a bike safety check. Tire pressure, working brakes and shifters. It’s no fun for anyone if you unnecessarily have to stop and fix someone’s bike out on the trail.
Send off: After a ride is over tell everyone that you had a great ride, that you hope they did too and that you enjoyed riding with them. Make plans for the next ride.
Final Thought: Think about the best rides that you've ever been on. If you do, you'll realize that it wasn't the terrain or the speed or the technical challenges that made it great. It was the people that you shared the ride with.
Group riding can and should be more fun than anything else that you do on a bike and when you have a good leader everyone will feel that way too.
This introduction to Ride Guide Leadership is a compilation of knowledge from many different sources. It was pulled together by Bill Boles & Tim Post. Like most guidelines, it’s constantly evolving.
Thank you all for everything you do!