Ride Leader's guide V.1
Thread started by Avner
at 04.25.13 - 10:07 pm
I'm posting this block of text that I began writing months ago because enough people have told theres nothing going on for weekend rides anymore and when they do happen short of a few, known quality rides, they're all shit. Here is what I've learned as a ride leader, and from numerous others who I consider to lead some of the best rides I've ever been on.
Creening through the streets in the dead of night with 50 people on bikes can seem like its out of some wildly imaginative music video or movie. Then the freaks come out, bikes that swivel in all directions, some so tall you have to climb up the side of them just to get onto the seat. And then the beasts of burden, huge speakers mounted to home made bikes, trailers pulling 5ft cubed speaker boxes, the ass blasters mounted on triple stacked tall bikes and full DJ mixers.
Suddenly you find yourself dancing around with no pants or shirt in the middle of a parking lot, or University Campus. Maybe its around a bonfire in the middle of the city and a ghetto bird shines a beam of light - some people freak out and run around like cockroaches and then you notice in the commotion that people are screaming and waving and dancing. This is not life as you know it. This is not a club. This is not an underground rave. This is not organized. This is a beautiful social experiment.
Since the first ride I ever attended I've known that there was something different about riding bikes in the middle of the night. If I tried to write a description of it words like Freedom, Comraderie, Self Sufficiency, Spirit, and Strength would be in the description. Bravery and especially stupidity.
I went to my first ride alone. Vladi was supposed to go with me but his bike crapped out. Or he didn't want to go out that night. I wouldn't put either past him but he insisted that I make the ride from Echo Park to Venice on my own. I remember rolling into Crank Mob park full of anxiety, I knew no one; had no clue who was leading the ride, where we were going or how long I would be out on that Tuesday.
The ride was Taco Tuesday as it became one of the wildest rides in the city. This was almost two years ago. I walked across the street, bought a six pack, came back and engaged a few people in conversation and shared a few beers. On that ride I met the person who would bring me into the larger biking community and I also met people who are my friends to this very day. The moment I knew something was special about this it was 1 in the morning. Two people I met were dipping off and they were basically my life line - I did not know where in the city I was or how to get back. As we left the ride and we stopped along the beach path because someone had left a bonfire burning. We sat around it talking and drinking beer.
As we left the Bonfires we found a girl poking a man passed on the sand. After talking to her for 5 minutes she pulls out a pipe and we smoke and talked. She got my number and I began getting invites from her. This is how I began riding and since that day my life has never been the same.
Some people don't know how this can be better then a club. I don't know how you can enjoy a club. You can hardly move, you spend atrocious amounts of money simply to be in a space with other people. On a ride you're pretty much free to do whatever you want whenever you want. Dance, leave, return, get naked, throw paint, mud, dirt, stain, smoke bombs, water balloons and If you don't like it you have options; like leaving. You can burst screaming at the top of your into a conversation and you may meet your new best friends - at a club you'll probably get into a fight.
After my first Crank Mob I dreamt of leading my own ride. Roaming through the streets, throwing parties in parking structures with Live Mobile DJs, following a 15 foot tall glowing bike. This was different. This is an adventure. This is real. This is why I asked the question - what makes a ride amazing?
At first I thought it was simply being popular. A lot of people know you and like you, when they get the invite to a ride of course they will show up. BRAMP! not it. I had several ideas over my first year of riding on how these rides became what they were. Then I realized it like a movie, book, comic or any story. In order to get people lost in it you must suspend their sense of belief. And have a little sense of adventure in yourself.
This is all Ride Theory. I've asked a lot of ride leaders questions about how they lead and everyone is unique. From the strict structure of MNR's "you ride ahead of me and I will drop you" to the lax Crank Mobs where people seem to be constantly joining up and leaving as the ride moves.
Here is what I understand through both being a ride leader and a participant
Know where you are going, know the roads and if you are not very intimate with the area you are riding. Have a prescouted route that avoids bad roads; with potholes, crackheads that may wander into the middle of the pack as it rides through, Heavily Trafficked or Patrolled areas. The police are not our enemies - however it only takes one stupid rider or one dick cop to stop an entire ride and write some tickets.
Try to have music and a good playlist. One of my most distinct memories in riding was last winter. It was a chilly, foggy night and I had dragged people all over the city chasing rides. We finally meet up with the alternative critical mass and as we rolled into a park in DTLA "House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals comes on. The atmosphere it created was powerful. Plus, everything is more fun with dancing.
Plan events - get excited and make them fun. Create something on your rides and then destroy it. You don't just have to ride, stop, chill. You can do mini bike races, track stand chugging competitions. be creative and try and make it more then just a stop. The best way to create an event that will be fun is by making sure it has these qualities: Everyone (or almost everyone) can participate, Simple skills are all you need, its either funny, or failure is funny and there is some type of prize (It could be a burger king crown, beer, really anything to say "winner")
Scout - I know I said know your routes but this goes deeper then just getting from one place to another. If you're leading a ride find places to go that no one has gone to before, have cool views or just cool atmospheres to stop at. KNOW your roads, if you expect to have 150 people, don't take the ride through only residential neighborhoods. You need wide streets, don't take small rides through heavily trafficked areas, traffic will fuck with you.
Suspending Belief - this is something I just came upon. When I lead rides I really enjoy doing shit other then riding. I like to climb over fences, ride places a track bike may not be meant to go, climb hills, etc. There's a reason though, for most people it is not part of their daily routine. Take them somewhere new, and make them feel like its something extraordinary.
Disorient - A lot of people who come on rides regularly commute by bike. They ride to work, to friends houses, to run errands. One of the special things about being on a bike is that you can see the world around you, there are nothing separating you from your immediate surroundings, however when you see them daily you can just stop seeing your surrounding. So disorient people, this is something I learned from MNR. Make turns, take streets you normally wouldn't take, indirect or roundabout routes for close stops all work. Disorienting people has a huge effect on suspending belief and bringing people into an adventure.
Themes - In the LA bike scene I find themes work for two occasions, 2nd Friday ride and Westside rides. I don't know why but on the East I've not seen many themes get a lot of participants. But that just may be my own personal bias because I don't tend to participate in them. However themes that will get people to want to participate are things that they connect with, cult movies, popular movies, things everyone knows, americana, etc.
Being A Rider Leader - Leading a ride isn't for everyone, but anyone can do it. It's difficult, it requires making choices that everyone will follow, making hard calls, like do you ride off on someone who has a flat, do you stop because someone got pulled over, talking to EVERYONE you possibly can on your ride, and sometimes justifying your choices to people.
You MUST make calls, inaction leads to bad rides. You need to make a choice; you have 150 people on a ride, one person gets a flat. Do you stop the entire ride? You can, for a moment. Do they have a pump, patchs, a tube? Are they asking people for them, do they have friends on the ride? You can try to mediate the situation so all parties are able to rejoin and get the rest of the ride moving because it isn't EVERYONES fault they got a flat and its taking them 40 minutes to fix. You can choose not to stop, and hope they have a way to reconnect.
On Smaller rides its easier to stop and make the entire thing snappy. But the bigger the ride the harder it is to stop.
When cops stop a rider, I strongly recommend sending a few people who know where you're going to stay with the rider, solidarity is great but it also can make an officer nervous which doesn't help anyone out. However with one exception - If the rider was a dick, then their on their own.
Making these choices will effect how your ride plays out.
When to ride and when to chill - If it isn't clear, this guide is primarily directed at how to lead a ride for a party, social styled ride. Sometimes you end up at a stop too long and you begin to experience attrition, or people slowly draining from the ride due to boredom or the desire to actually ride. Pay attention to peoples body language. When about 1/3rd of the group is no longer socially engaged its a good time to start rolling.
Descriptions - This is possibly one of the most over looked aspects of posting an event on Midnight Ridazz or facebook. I've talked to a few people, newly discovering the riding community and a common conversation topic is "What are the good rides?" That question should be at least partially answered by the description. The best ones are either humorous or interesting while also providing the time the ride meets, clear directions to the meet up, roll out time, and some information on the personality of the ride. Also DONT spam your events everywhere if you're hosting a weekly ride.
On organizing a cycling event.
How do I do this, how? Well I get asked this one a lot. Organizing events involves many things the main thing is you will be duly punished for doing a good deed, there are no exceptions. I've been putting on bike related events for over 12 years now and I guess I can say out of all the things I do, putting on a good low buck/high fun ratio event is what I’m best at. I see other people doing events and over time I have seen many of them falter for various reasons, I think it all comes down to how you look at an event and what motivates you to do it. Firstly, if you set out to do a bike event you should keep in mind that you should do it because you want to for fun and not expect anything else. If you do an event for ego or self-aggrandizement then you will most likely come away from it feeling disappointed. The fun aspect is devising a plan and getting all the pieces of the puzzle together and then knocking them off your checklist (You NEED a checklist) one by one and then doing the event, seeing it through to the end where you are sweeping up the mess at the end of the day. The event is almost an anti-climax to the building of the event. All the thought and ideas that go into it and all the energy to get things going is where the magic happens, the day of the event you will see the fruits of your endeavors brought forth, the key is to not expect much and you won’t be disappointed. Know that if you can get half a dozen people from staring into their cell phones for a few hours in a day you have achieved a miracle. Most people have such short attention spans now that to provide a tactile, real experience that is better then pointless updating on one’s face book page that will get people to break their routine is an arduous task. The deck is stacked against you. The first events you do will have low turn out typically, but you must press on and not be discouraged by low numbers. If you make 1000 flyers and ten people show up, they deserve the best you can give them, keep in mind they have set aside their day to attend your idea. I’ve done 2500 flyers and had 12 people show up, the next one we had 70 and so on, I’ve had near 300 at times after 12 years, the numbers will ebb and flow. You must keep the promotional aspects up, the fires burning all night high and hot, to back off even a little means markedly less turn out. Paper flyers are still the best way to promote an event. I make stacks of small hand flyers and posters and mail them to bike shops. Why? Because bike shops are often filled with bike people, they want to do fun things on bikes; it is your target audience. Secondly, it is a physical reminder of the event, an e-mail can be so easily ignored while a wad of paper in one’s pocket will remind the potential event attendee of something fun in the future. Also, it is a keepsake of sorts. Many people have told me that they kept flyers from my events and hung them up in their garage etc. I’d say web promotion is less effective and bringing people to your event. You can post things on web forums and will get a few here and there as a result. Social media is nigh worthless, my contention is people on facebook are on facebook and seldom anywhere else, no matter how many people “like” what you’re doing expect less than 1% of the virtual people to actually show up in the flesh. Case and point: I was working with a guy doing some off road stuff, they said they had 153 friends on facebook for their event, only 4 people showed up to race, the ones that did I mailed flyers to. So you should expect about a 1% return on your advertising, anything more is a boon. All that being said, a website detailing your event is useful. People can look at it when they have time and help you promote your event. It is also a good place to have all of the frequently asked questions listed so you don’t have to answer the same questions over and over again via e-mail or phone. I find it best to have a huge amount of detail for my events, not only to cover all the bases from an informative stand point, people will know what to expect and you've shown that you’re putting effort into the event which will usually translate into more and better informed attendance. I’d shy away form using Craig’s list, the moron factor is too high. The first thing you need to do is make a flyer. A flyer should convey some detail and be catching to the eye but not overwhelm the reader with too much information nor be too arty and have too little. Look at your flyers like a box of cereal: it is most likely bad for you and will make you sick but it sure looks fun! Hand drawn or stolen images from the web are fine as long as it does the job. Double and triple check the date so you don’t put the wrong date on there and make sure you spell everything right, not only does it make your flyer look more professional, the last thing you need is some web weenie commenting on a spelling error. Once you make the flyer you should either go to, or mail it to as many shops as you can, most will put it up, some will throw it away. The more you pay personal visits too the more will take it but this can be a huge task. I have done this only to find out later that they threw out the flyers once I left, or you've handed someone a flyer and they throw it on the ground, it happens. Not everyone believes in bike culture or they are jealous or controlling of their space or they are just plain old jerks, it is best not to get hung up on this and move on. Detail. You must think out everything and have all the bases covered. Every aspect of your event can be broken down into components; each one of those should be on your checklist. A checklist is an essential component to proper event organization. While the whole task of putting on an event can be daunting, breaking down each of the tasks in a given event should be easy to get done one at a time. The key is to start early. I usually start two months before an event, putting the pieces together one by one. This way if you get sick or injured or have some other unforeseen mishap occur you have time to make up the difference, adhering to the 5 P’s is essential. If you don’t know what those are, it is Proper Planning Prevents Piss-poor Performance, live it. After flyers you may have to make route maps and spoke cards or other things such as special event bikes, t-shirts, stickers etc. Best to get all this stuff made well before you need it. Some stuff you can do yourself and other stuff you will need help with or have to pay for. If you are enlisting friends to help you, you should expect next to nothing. Sorry to be a downer but most people just don’t have the drive to finish a project, if you rely on someone to complete a component of your event be ready to re-take the reigns and finish if they falter. As you should well know by now, most people will help you eat your bread but not bake it. Many people want to be involved just for some accolades or an ego boost but have no vested interest in your event; it is up to you to finish things or be willing to have certain aspects of your event not come to fruition. Be prepared to do everything from drawing up a flyer to sweeping the floor for your event. Whatever type of cycling event you do, you should try and come up with something that is not being done in your area. Things like races on kids bikes or single speed or vintage mountain bike races are fun as well as things like odd alley cat races or themed cruises. The point is to be creative and make the activity attractive to strangers that want to do fun things on bikes; you are being a salesmen in this point so you should have something to sell. Most events should be free but if you have to charge something make sure they get a lot in return. You should have a spoke card, stickers, buttons, or a t-shirt for a race you’re going to charge for. I would not recommend trying to make money off your events; just charge enough to break even and if you have left over money just feed everyone or buy them beer, people love that stuff. People should have a cool keepsake to take home with them, if you are planning on doing something besides a one off thing and plan to repeat it, these keepsakes act as continuing advertising for your event and word of mouth beats any other form of promotion hands down. In closing, the goal is to have fun and from a personal philosophy point of view you can either leave this world a little worse, the same, or a little better and every little bit helps. It took some self-realization over time but I realized that you can’t expect any sort of reward for organizing an event; the doing is it’s own reward. If you are organizing an event for a ego boost or are fishing for complements, you are in the wrong game. Sometimes you will wonder if it is all worth the hassle being that you will never amount to any accolades than perhaps a tiny blurb in the very back of a newspaper, once again if you are hoping to achieve fame you are on the wrong road. However a little validation is nice and after 12 years of doing my Halloween ride/event I had one of the participants come up to me and prefacing his speech told be that what I was doing was valuable, I nearly cried.
responding to a comment
04.26.13 - 10:30 am