Monday, March 25, 2013

Do I turn right or left? How to read a route sheet.

Bob McDiarmid being a TRL (in a dress).
Before every ride, you kind of have to know where you're going. If you don't, its easy to get lost. Sometimes, getting lost can be a fun adventure; sometimes, getting lost can be a grueling ordeal. If you've got the time, water, and nutrition, you're probably good. If you don't, frustration and dehydration will take their toll. So, unless the route is familiar, its a good idea to know where you're going.

On AIDS/LifeCycle training rides (and on group training rides generally), there are resources to help you know where you're going. The two primary resources are route sheets and training ride leaders (TRL). On rides, new riders tend to rely heavily on TRLs to guide them. That's what TRLs are for. But for various reasons, you might become separated from the TRLs. So its then you need to know how to figure out where you are and where you're going.

Here is a list of steps to help decipher a route sheet. Not all of them apply to every ride, but its a good idea to go through the mental check list before every ride. Below is a route sheet for the ride I led on Saturday. You'll notice several things:
  1. A mileage column. Useful for knowing if you're on track.
  2. A turn direction column. Key information!
  3. The name of the road (or bike path) to turn on. Also key.
  4. Some notes about the turns. These can help you keep safe, hydrated, and fed.
  5. Contact information. In case of emergency call 911; otherwise, call a ride leader.
Each bit of information is crucial to a successful ride and crucial to staying with the group. But, you say, you've never been to the "Nimbus Fish Hatchery" or Auburn, CA, so none of this means anything to you! Fear not, there are strategies to help you understand.

Typical route sheet.

First, the night before the ride, try to get a map and a copy of the route sheet and review them together. This will help you know your orientation so you'll know how to begin the ride. It will also help you understand the twist and turns and how they work together. It can alert you to where the hills are, and it can help you to know how much food to bring and when you'll need to eat it. Generally, reviewing the map before the ride will give you a sense of confidence.


Before each ride, the ride leader will describe the ride to you in detail. As the TRL is going through each turn, it may sound a lot like Greek, but chances are you will absorb some key information which your brain will pluck out at an opportune moment of indecision. For instance, the ride leader might say something like:
  • "The first turn is not for 20 miles." — So you know not to stress out when you've not turned for what seems like forever.
  • "Make sure you fill your water bottles at mile 18; there's no water stops for 25 miles after that."
  • "If you go through a tunnel, you've gone too far." — Important to know before you get to the tunnel.
  • "There is heavy traffic on Sierra College; be careful with the left hand turn onto English Colony."
  • "There's a big climb is right after lunch. So make sure you stop and eat."
At the time, the TRL's instructions may mean nothing. But your brain works harder than you do — you'll be surprised by how much you retain just by letting it sink in.


The route sheet usually has an elapsed mileage counter before every turn or major intersection. This is there to let you know if you're on track and to help you get back on track, if you get lost. Every so often, make sure your mileage matches up with the mileage on the sheet. For instance, on the sample route sheet, the ride begins on a bike trail. Its almost impossible to know where the turn off onto Folsom Blvd. is unless you check the mileage!

To do this, you'll need a cycling computer. Plus you'll need to know how to use it. Finally, you'll have to remember to reset it before each ride. These things start out at $60, but can cost in the hundreds of dollars. You will generally not need a GPS device (though if you cycle enough, you'll find one invaluable), but you do need one that will let you track your miles per ride.

Additionally, there are many apps for cyclists which you may find useful: Strava, Ride with GPS, and MapMyRide, to name three. Though these are helpful, you'll likely find that they are no replacement for a cycling computer.

For various reasons, your exact mileage may not match the mileage on the route sheet. When you're at a point where you know where you are, note the difference and consider it when deciding later if you're lost!


Before you make a turn, especially one which contains a hill, make sure you're going the right way: Check the route sheet. Wait for a TRL, if there's one close behind you. And ask other riders in your group, if you're unsure. Sometimes a wrong turn can mean slogging back up a hill, but it almost always means adding miles!

Also note that TRLs are human. Sometimes the route sheet can be vague or can say R when it means L (not that my route sheets ever have that problem (sorry Michael)). So use your brain — if a turn seems wrong, check a map on your phone or wait for assistance.


If a portion of the ride seems particularly long, then you might have made a wrong turn. Don't freak out. Pull over to the side of the road and try to check the route sheet and your maps. If you can't figure out where you are, call or text a TRL (whose names and numbers are usually printed on the route sheet). He or she is probably riding, so leave a message or a text. But don't just idly wait for them to get back to you. Find a convenience store or a helpful local to get you directions. If you get back on track, leave a second message for the TRL.


ALC training rides are "swept." This means that a TRL will stay in the back of the pack and will make sure that everyone stays on course and (to the best of their ability) finishes. Not all rides are swept, so if you're on a "no sweep" ride, usually, the ride leader will wait at major turns or intersections to make sure everyone gets through.


Its way more fun to ride with someone than alone. Find a person in the group who seems to be riding at your level and be friendly. You'll find it fun to ride with them, and they'll probably enjoy the support. You may not stick with the same person on the entire, ride and that's a good thing! The more you ride, the more people you know, the more you'll find yourself comparing experiences and enjoying yourself!

Plus there's the added bonus of bitching about the horrible and confusing route sheet!


The notes will help you know where hills are, which turns require extra care, and most importantly, where and when to get food and water. If you're in the middle of nowhere, missing a rest stop can be the difference between a fun ride and a failed ride.

I'm sure there is a lot I'm missing, but this is long enough! Please feel free to ask questions.

Your Bear

Saturday, March 23, 2013

If You're Feeling Sad and Lonely...Eat

Image from Gay Travellers Network
We're at the peak of pre-ride training. Those who have been training all year, are now doing 2 consecutive days on weekends and 100+ miles per week. Those who have been telling secrets to Siri all winter are realizing that the AIDS/LifeCycle 12 is only 11 weeks away, and that its time to get on the bike.

Both groups have one thing in common: you're going to get cranky; you're going to get irritable; you're going to have irrational thoughts of leaving [the sport you love, your spouse, your job, your hometown]; and you're going to have unexplained aches and pains and feel like a marshmallow. Absent legitimate medical explanations for these, when you're on a bike, the most likely reason is that you are dehydrated and hungry.

When the Training Ride Leader tells you during the safety speech to "eat before you feel hungry, drink before you feel thirsty," that is what he's talking about!

Hunger and dehydration can cause all sorts of symptoms. A wise man (me) once said:

Eat and drink more than you usually do before, during, and after your ride. Having an insufficient store of calories and salt can cause cramping, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, depression, anxiety, and the like... [Read my blog post "Eat!" for citations and much more information.]

So follow the ALC guidelines on nutrition and hydration before, during and after your rides. Listen to your body, true, but listen to those voices in your head too! When they start to get irritable: Drink! Eat!

Your Bear

Friday, March 15, 2013

Corner Stone

From I Love Cycling! Facebook page
A few months ago, I wrote a piece on cornering — including ascending and descending, speed, posture, and trusting your bike. Reading the articles on which that piece was based is an excellent way to help visualize the body movements and techniques necessary for a good, clean turn. But experientia docet, as they say, so its time to put those techniques into practice.

To do so, I took the second-level training class with Savvy Bikes in Portola Valley. The class reviews all aspects of climbing and descending, and ends with a killer ride down a wonderfully curvy stretch of Alpine Road.

Most of the techniques we learned mirrored those in the articles I posted earlier, but I wanted to highlight two techniques which I've found crucial to solid cornering which together make you feel in control.

First is proper steering. When you enter the turn, you're not moving the handlebars, but using gravity to complete the turn. Earlier I explained that you achieve the turn my pressure on the handlebar opposite of the direction of turn. While this is generally true, there is a better way. Instead, focus on the feet. As you enter the turn, make sure the foot on the outside of the turn is down, and actively push away from your body with that foot.

Using only this technique, you gain a sense of stability and control you don't have by trying to use the handlebars to turn. Indeed, you probably will naturally lower the outside foot, but by driving your foot down, the process becomes conscious and the feeling is that you are much more in control. Here's a little video describing the technique.

Second is speed control. I blogged earlier about not "feathering" your brakes on descents and the dangers of keeping on your brakes during a long descent. But how do you control your speed in descents? You do it by braking before the turn. Reduce your speed so you can accomplish the turn described in the first section without applying your brakes.

Braking when your bike is upright is safer and more efficient. Braking in the turn is dangerous (especially when the road surface is gravely or sandy). So, keep your hands off the brakes in turns — just make sure your speed matches the turn and your skill level!

If you are planning on being a regular endurance cyclist, I highly recommend you take the classes at Savvy Bike (if you live in NorCal), or find a reputable and experienced trainer who gives classes near you!

Thanks, Lori!

Your, Bear

Sunday, March 3, 2013

We've Only Just Begun

Largely because the boyfriend wants "attention" and insists that we need to do "yard work," I'm skipping an epic ride somewhere and writing this quick post. I'm writing to remind myself of the real reason I'm riding in the AIDS/LifeCycle. During fundraising last year, I wrote a similar article: "Ride Yourself Some Civil Rights" and feel the same now as I did then: we are winning our fight for equality.

When I was a kid in high school, I knew I was gay. I didn't have the words for it, I didn't have the context out there in rural Connecticut. But I knew I liked men, fairies, hiking, arguing, reading, and all the other things that kids my age liked, with the possible exception of watching sports on TV. I knew I was the same and knew I was different. For no reason I can describe, it was the differences that seemed to define me. I always felt like an alien being.

As I grew up, I realized that at least part of the difference was my homosexuality. Being gay was something I couldn't let anybody know. Again, I really didn't even know why, but I knew. All through my teens and into my early twenties, I felt an underlying guilt about my sexual orientation and had no real way to address it.

Not until I moved to San Francisco in 1991, that is. There, I learned of our shared and beautiful history. I learned about the gay rights movement; I learned about Harvey Milk; I learned that I wasn't the only person with the same hopes and fears. I learned that it was OK to be gay.

I ride in the ALC because as I do, each and every person riding beside me has felt the same at one point or another — straight, transgendered, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, and gay alike, either for themselves or for others. I ride because, come what may, this is my family and my home. I ride because I never want another person to fear alone in the dark as I once did.

But they still do, don't they? So we can't stop riding until every person who needs services in California gets them. We can't stop riding until every person out there knows and loves a gay, lesbian, or transgendered person. We can't stop riding until the bigots have lost.

So, riding is an act of defiance and pride. Defiance because I know that not every person we pass is pleased to have us there. Pride because as time passes and as the prejudices which kept us down in the past recede, we step forward and prove that we are equal members of society.

So, though we still have a long way to go, I'm riding because the destination is not reached.

Your Bear

P.S.: Its important to see how much further we've come in just the past 12 months. Four states — not California yet, sadly — have voted in favor of gay marriage. The President came out against DOMA and implored the Supreme Court to uphold gay marriage, and has done more than any prior President for gay rights.