Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year Readers, Riders, and Donors

Wishing all my readers, riders, and donors a happy, healthy, and safe 2014 with a special shout out to all my new cycling friends in California and beyond.

Every day I watch your progress on Facebook and I think about how great this sport is that so many people can excel simply by simply getting on the bike — no competition and no judgments — just the personal challenge of making it happen every day.

Sean, Andrew, CJ, and me at Lake Hennesey, December 2013.
You are heroes all. Thank you for making this my reality.

Your Bear

Sunday, December 29, 2013

How to Create a Route Sheet

Leading a ride can be fun, but if group members become separated, it can be daunting for the ride leader and scary for new riders. Thus printed instructions — "route sheets" — are vital to keep everyone on track to finish safely and on time. This is generally not something you can do at 5:30 a.m. on the morning of your ride. Prepare the route sheet ahead of time to avoid mistakes.

A. Information Required for a Route Sheet

Route sheets usually contain the following information (see my blog post about reading route sheets for details):
  • Starting and ending points. An address an parking instructions may be useful, if you can get the route sheet to your riders in advance.
  • List of roads and bike paths. Knowing how the route will proceed before you start generating the sheet will help you avoid making decisions on the fly. 
  • Left turn, right turn, or crossing. With each road, you should note whether the turn is right ("R"), left ("L"), or crossing ("X") where appropriate.
  • Cumulative mileage. This information will help riders get back on track if they become lost and will help you create the route sheet.
That's all you'll get from the automatic cue sheet generator, described below. The following additional information will be especially helpful for new riders, long or complex routes, or routes which go through uninhabited locations:
  • Regroup, water, and lunch stops. Plan these out and make sure everyone knows where to get water. You ride could be ruined by one person who runs out of water on a hot day.
  • Cautions about the roadway, traffic conditions, or special instructions. Sometimes it is best to walk your bike. Sometimes a road will change names. Sometimes the police are checking to see if cyclists stop at stop signs. Note these things concisely and in the entry for the turn they are most likely to affect.
  • Telephone numbers for the training ride leaders. Remind your riders to call if they bail out on the ride, get into trouble, or jet on ahead too far.
Unless there's a special reason for it, don't include a printed map. These often too small or undetailed to be useful. Instead, provide riders with the route information to use on their GPS devices.

C. Trace the Route in a Map Application

Using Ride with GPS, you can (1) start with an existing route, or start with a blank map. In both cases, you open the route for editing, create "control points," and generate a "cue sheet." Watch these videos for detailed tutorials.

Creating a cue sheet from an existing ride's data.

Creating a cue sheet from scratch (see also their "advanced video).

I'm a novice at this, so please leave any pointers in the comments.

Figure 1: Auto-generated cue sheet.
At this point, you can just print out Ride with GPS's cue sheets. But if you want to give riders the additional information to help them get through the ride, you're best off converting the route sheet to a Word table.

B. Route Sheets in Word

So, here is a route sheet I found on Ride with GPS. (See Figure 1.) Looks like a great ride out of Martinez, over the Benecia Bridge, and then on the San Francisco Bay Trail. Follow the link to see the route.

But as you can see, the auto-generated route has at least five problems:

  1. It gives multiple directions for the same turn (see highlights for 1st Street).
  2. It requires two pages for all directions. One page is confusing enough.
  3. Turns onto bike trails are not explained. Often, especially in rural areas, such turns are not obvious. (See highlight for the trail.)
  4. It doesn't tell you if Hale Ranch turns into Busch Drive or is a different road. This can be difficult if there are choices at that point. (See highlight.)
  5. It doesn't tell you where to get water, food, or where to rest or regroup.
Figure 2: Route sheet edited with Word
Each of these problems can be solved by converting the sheet to a Word table. You can: make duplicative entries into one, compress the description cell, add notes for confusing turns, road name changes, or rest stops, add color to aid quick comprehension; and create columns to get it all onto one sheet.

Here's my route sheet for a similar ride. (See Figure 2.) It eliminates redundancies, explains confusing turns, and guides riders to rest stops and food.

I use red to indicate rest stops and blue to indicate important instructions. How complicated your instructions are depends on your ridership. Novice riders may need more instruction to get out of confusing jams if they get lost. Experienced riders will appreciate clear and simple turn instructions with little fanfare.

Finally, the ALC has an excellent route sheet library for Bay Area rides (and beyond). Their route sheets don't provide much detail, but eliminate confusing redundancy and get the rides onto one page. (See Figure 3.)

Figure 3: Official ALC Training Ride Route Sheet

Your Bear

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Absolute Beginners: Training for the Dilettante

Believe it or not, more than half the training year is gone! We have only five months or 25 more weekends to prepare for the epic 545! But, you say, how can I possibly be ready? Here are 15 16 training tips to help you and make training fun and easy.

Please add your tips in the comments! Also, follow some of the links for additional articles I've written on these subjects.

How the Polar Bears rock ALC 2014 training in the far north.
Image Credit: Glenn Gebhardt.
  1. Daily Rides. Training is less painful if it's routine. Find a way to fit daily or quasi-daily rides into your schedule, even if they're short.

  2. Commuting. Even if you have to drive part of the way, find a way to ride your bike to work. You'll totally impress your friends and colleagues!

  3. Spin Classes. A great way to get your body ready for rides. Spin classes are no substitute for hours on the road, but they'll increase your aerobic capacity and help your body get ready for warmer weather and longer rides.

  4. Get a Trainer. For around $300 (or much, much more), you can ride your own bicycle in the warmth of your living room. Add on those miles, sweat off the Christmas feast, and increase aerobic exercise without riding in the dark.

  5. Choose Back-To-Back Rides Over Distance. If you have a limited number of hours per week to ride (but more than 2 hours per week), choose to ride on two consecutive days rather than putting all your time into one longer ride. This will prepare you for the 7 days we'll be riding in June.

  6. Choose One Longer Ride Over Two Shorter Ones. Alternately, if you're limited to about two hours, do one long ride rather than two one-hour rides. A two-hour ride will help condition your body for the distances we'll be doing.

  7. Leave from your House. When going on a recreational ride, choose a ride that leaves from your house. That will help keep the time commitment low by eliminating the time driving.

  8. Ride Before Work. If you cannot commute, grab a banana and do an hour or two before you leave for work. If you go early enough, there will be less traffic than after work. Better get a light set!

  9. Spend Some Time Getting to Know Your Bike. On the days you cannot ride, set aside some time to clean and examine your bike. This will help you feel more confident on rides, and will keep your bike running well.

  10. Get a Bike Fit. Now is the time to make sure your bike is properly fit for you. A good fitter will make small adjustments which will eliminate pain and numbness! It is well worth the expense.

  11. Make a Training Plan. Sit down with a calendar, the ALC website, and your mates and choose weekend dates and rides. Then add one to five week-day training rides and commit to them.

  12. Gradually Increase Mileage. In your training plan, don't forget to plan for hour and mileage increases. You need to get comfortable with a 60-mile ride by June. At this point, a 60-mile ride might take you up to seven hours — a real time suck. So start smaller and work your way up.

  13. Go on Training Rides. The ALC offers volunteer-led training rides all over California and in other states as well. If none of them are convenient, ask your local bike shop about rides in your area.

  14. Commit to a Training Ride Series. Some of the ALC training rides are "series." A series is a set of rides on consecutive weekends that begin at the same place and time every single week, and gradually build the number of miles. This will build confidence, your cycling network, and motivation.

  15. Hook up with a Ride Buddy. I cannot stress how important this step is. Cycling is wonderful because almost anyone can do it and improve. In some ways it appears to be a solo sport, but really its all about the people. Connect and you will learn to love the early hours and sore muscles!

  16. Ride for time, not Distance. Cyclists alway ride for distance — "I rode 30 miles today." "Are you doing that century?" "The ALC is 545 miles." This can be intimidating and cause you to think your training is insufficient. Instead, if you have an hour, ride for a half hour and return. Next time, try to ride a bit further with your half hour.
Figure out what works for you, then do it. You'll impress your friends. You'll impress your coworkers. You'll impress your partner. You'll impress yourself. But most importantly, you'll impress your donors!

Much love and here's to a great 2014 training season!
Your Bear.

PS: If you found this useful, click "Donate," above and consider a gift to my ride!

Over the next couple months, I'm going to write a few articles with the lead-in title "Absolute Beginners," explaining some of the basic principles of cycling. Most of the information is stuff I've learned from other cyclists, bike shop mechanics, classes I've taken, and Google searches. Please help me out and comment with corrections, additions, or supplements which will help my readers learn about how to operate their bikes!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Fundraising for Absolute Beginners

Raising even the minimum donation can be the scariest part of committing to the AIDS/LifeCycle. The AIDS/LifeCycle website has information to help you:
Plus, there is a calendar of Fundraising Workshops for you to attend and get ideas.

But the number one way to get a donation is simply to ask for one. Your donors are your friends and family. Your donors are committed to seeing the end of the AIDS epidemic, supporting people with HIV, and eliminating the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. Your donors care about you. Your donors have used HIV and AIDS services.

They want to be asked to support your ride. They want to be involved. They want to support you because they know it means that you care. So, the question is: How do you get up the nerve to ask? The answer is: you don't need nerve, you need love and passion to ask. That and a little bit of social lubricant ... er social media ... can't hurt either.

1. Post on Your Own Wall.

If you've not yet started your fundraising, I want you to post this message on your Facebook wall right now (modified to suit your fundraising level and with your own URL):
Hi. I'm riding in the #aidslifecycle #alc2014. I've committed myself to raising $12,000 to fight HIV and AIDS, to support people living with HIV, to end the spread of the disease through testing and outreach, and to finally end the stigma we all have to live with. 
I can only succeed with your donation. Please follow the link and donate whatever you can. Thank you. http://www.tofighthiv.org/goto/bear2014.
You won't raise the money if you don't ask! Post similar messages throughout the training and fundraising season updating your status, how far you've progressed in your goal, and with news items or facts about the ride, HIV and AIDS research, or your won cycling training!

2. Send Individual Messages.

Usually, status updates to your wall are not enough. Follow these up with individual messages to each and every one of your Facebook friends — however well you know them. Ask politely, and you'll find only polite responses in return. Not everyone can donate to your ride. That doesn't mean they don't want to support you.

Let me know if you need ideas for the text of these messages; I'm happy to share the text I use.

3. Follow Up.

If an individual responds, always thank them for that response — even if it is negative — and reply accordingly.
  • "I understand you cannot donate, but your encouragement is greatly appreciated."
  • "Thank you for your offer to donate! I'll follow up in a few weeks to remind you."
  • "Your generous donation will go a long way to helping people living with HIV. On their behalf, I thank you."
If an individual does not respond, don't pepper them with messages. But next time you see them in person, you might want to ask if they received it or you may want to follow up with a message in a different media (say by letter, email, or telephone).

4. "Promote" Your Facebook Posts.

Each post on your Facebook wall now has a handy "Promote" link. For about $7, you can make sure your posting will not drop the bottom of the stack. Thus, it will be seen by more people. Usually, I get a 30% increase in views for my promoted posts. I do that once a month or so — not enough to become annoying, but enough to keep my ride in the back of everyone's mind.

5. Team Fundraise.

I don't have the best advise about fundraising with others, but many teams are quite successful raising money together. Ask your training buddies what team they are on to find out about membership.

6. Multimedia.

Don't limit yourself to social media. Use as many forms of communication as you can. Print business cards. Send out mailings to all your friends. Make a Youtube video (it is surprisingly easy). Make your message consistent and redundant!

The AIDS/LifeCycle Participant Center has an email interface you can use to send formatted emails asking for donations or thanking your donors. Explore your Participant Center and use it!

7. Thank your Donors.

A happy donor will donate again and again. Happy donors want to know they are making an impact. You are the face of the ride for them, so show them the impact you're making by thanking them by name on your Facebook wall (ask them if they don't mind being publicly thanked, first). Send emails and messages on social media.

And if you can, send a card or letter to each donor. No one gets handwritten mail any more, so a simple note will make each donor feel really special.

8. Don't Stop There.

Once your donations start rolling in, challenge your donors to help you raise a sub-goal by a certain date, raffle off prizes, or offer prizes to top donors. Keep your donors engaged in the process. Many of them might love to ride, but cannot for various reasons. Therefore, let them know: This is their ride too!

Your Bear

Over the next couple months, I'm going to write a few articles with the lead-in title "Absolute Beginners," explaining some of the basic principles of cycling. Most of the information is stuff I've learned from other cyclists, bike shop mechanics, classes I've taken, and Google searches. Please help me out and comment with corrections, additions, or supplements which will help my readers learn about how to operate their bikes!