Some have said that leading a ride is not as much fun as being part of a ride. There is a good deal of truth to this, but it is not, I find, exactly 100%. This is my second year as a road captain and I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences on leading rides for our chapter.
First of all there is the planning of where to go and how to get there. Early each year the road captains meet to talk about the up coming season and we begin to pick dates that we want for our rides.At this stage we just ideas of where we want to go and figure out dates that will work around the dealer rides and each others rides. There usually is some overlap with two or three people having the same date in mind, but that is easily solved.
This year we decided on adding a ranking system for each ride, based on difficulty of the route (twists and turns), time in the saddle and distance traveled. This was not done to exclude any riders, but to let them know what to expect on the ride so that each rider can best decide what rides they want to go on to have the most fun.
The dealer schedule is gone over and we pick the ride(s) we and to lead or be a part of. Another meeting is schedules in a month to finalize the schedule and get it printed, handed out, and posted on the website.
Now the work for each road captain really begins, creating the route. Modern technology has made this easier (though mastering the route planning apps does take work), though there are still people who do this the old fashioned way. Not only do touring bikes have built in GPS systems that you can load a route and even select a destination, smartphones and portable GPS systems mount to any bike.
They say the easiest way from point A to point B is a straight line, but where is the fun in that. Sure you can take the freeway, or whatever the most direct route to get to where you are going, but you might as well drive in a car. Being on a motorcycle is about the journey not the destination. Making a 30 – 40 minute trip last 1 1/2 to 2 hours takes time, but the end result in a great ride and everyone has a good time.
What can be the most stressful part of all this is the day of the ride. There several unexpected or uncontrollable things that can and do happen to affect the ride. First and foremost is the weather. No one likes riding in the rain, but if you ride chances are you have/will get caught in the rain or other bad weather. If the forecast is greater than 40% chance of rain on the ride or at the destination the ride will get canceled (and hopefully rescheduled). Secondly is the route itself. It is always wise, if possible, to do a pre-ride to find out the condition of the roads and if any construction is going on that may result in needing to alter your ride.
Depending on the size of the group you will at least want a sweep (another road captain or at least someone who has a good deal experience riding in groups and that you have ridden with a number of times) that has the route and can help if the group get separated or there if a rider needs help. For larger groups 12 – 15 or more, having other road captains (who also have the route) staggered through the line to help keep everyone together is a good idea. It is important to have a pre-ride meeting to let everyone know details of the ride, who the sweep and other road captains will be, go over hand signals, and have anyone necessary sign a waiver before you set out. Also to make sure everyone has a full tank of gas and uses the bathroom.
Lastly and most importantly your responsibilities leading the ride once you get under way is to keep an eye on everything (and this can be the most stressful part). Not only do you need to watch the road ahead of you, you also need to keep a watch on what is behind you. Ensuring the group stays together the entire ride is a big responsibility. In town you have to contend with other traffic, side streets, pedestrians, and stoplights that will split up the group, especially of there is a turn after the stoplight. Often if people get separated, if you can either pull over to the side of the road or ride slower till everyone catches up.
So what does it ultimately take to be an effective road captain? Experience riding in groups is important, but mostly it’s confidence. You don’t have to start out leading rides that are 200 miles each way with 20 or more bikes. You can start with a short 10 – 15 minute ride with a few friends on a route you know well or a close by place as a popup ride. You don’t even need to start out leading rides. See if you can ride next to the ride captain leading the ride or with any other road captain who is along for the ride. Talk to other road captains and ask about their experiences. All this will help you get the experience and build the confidence so that if you want to try your hand at being a road captain you will have built the knowledge and skills to be a great one.