Leading a Ride

First, thank you for leading a ride. It is a contribution to the local cycling community that is much appreciated. Leading rides takes work but can be rewarding.   The Westchester cycling club has an extensive and excellent document, Ride Leader Guidelines, which details many elements of being a safe and effective ride leader.  


  • Group – Riders will stay together.
  • Regroup – Riders will spread out, regroup at specific points along the route
  • Non-group – Riders will spread out with no planned regroup points along the route
  • Social rides may be any pace, but very often are slower. The group pretty much stays together or regroups from time to time.
  • Standard rides may be a single pace or a combination of ride paces, A, B, C, and D (see below). Cue sheets are provided. Faster riders are welcome but the ride leader stays with the slowest person.
  • Training rides are generally faster paced. Cue sheets may or may not be provided, and the ride leader may not sweep the course.
  • Paceline:  Many faster rides, especially Training rides are ridden in a paceline. All cyclists are strongly encouraged to read the document Riding the Paceline before attempting to ride in a Tarwheels paceline.
  • Ride pace classifications:
    • A 18+ mph average
    • B 16-18 mph average
    • C 14-16 mph average
    • D 10-14 mph average
    • Mtn mountain biking on trails (no pace).
    • Consider posting the actual expected speed (17.4 mph)
  • Release and Waiver of Liability: Our insurance requires a liability waiver signed by each rider.  Paid-up Tarwheels members have signed that release electronically.  Ride leaders will pass around a rider release form at the start of each ride for non-members to sign.  Non-member riders should read and sign the form each time they participate in a Tarwheels ride. 


Directions for posting your ride to the website calendar is a separate document (Posting Ride).

  • For insurance purposes, please only post rides you are leading as Tarwheels rides on the Tarwheels Meetup calendar.  Contact the Ride Coordinator to have other rides and events posted to our non-club events list.  
  • Clearly state the start time, distance and pace in the title.
  • All other information goes in the description.

Before the Ride

  • If you have questions about leading a ride, contact the ride coordinator.
  • Determine your “minimum” weather conditions for having the ride go. Change the status on the calendar to “Canceled” as soon as you make such a decision.
  • Post your cell number if you want riders to be able to contact you at the start location.
  • Prepare a cue sheet and/or map. You may want to consider posting the cue sheet on your calendar posting to minimize paperwork, and provide an online map as well.
  • Distribute the sign-up sheet/release form as riders arrive.
  • Helmets are required for all Tarwheel rides.
  • Electronic devices that may impede hearing, such as earphones, earbuds, Bluetooth devices, etc. are not permitted on club rides.
  • Hand out cue sheets (if you have them) and review the planned route.
  • Review the courteous and safe riding practices expected on a Tarwheels ride. Emphasize the behavior you’d like the ride to exhibit (paceline, group/regroup, rests, etc.).

On the Ride

  • Ride at advertised pace.
  • “Lead from the rear” or appoint someone to “ride sweep.”
  • If it becomes clear in the first few miles that a person cannot ride the pace, the leader should have the rider choose among the following options:
    • They know the area and can find their way home – alone or with others.
    • They do not know the area but would like to try to follow the cue sheet anyway – alone or with others. Give them some information about simple ways to return to the start location.
    • They do not know the area and are concerned. Tell them how to return to the start location. If you are only a few miles into the ride, this should not be difficult.
    • If an accident with injuries occurs on the Ride, the Ride Leader should contact the club Insurance Coordinator and President (contact list) within 24 hours with preliminary information and a brief description of the incident so that an accident report can be filed with the club’s carrier.
    • Enforce all Tarwheels rules with direct statements.
  • If an accident with injuries occurs on the Ride, the Ride Leader should fill out an Incident Report and contact the club Insurance Coordinator and President (contact list) within 24 hours with preliminary information and a brief description of the incident so that the report can be filed with the club’s carrier.

Checklist of items to take with you on the day of the ride. (Only the first item is mandatory!)

  1. Release and waiver of liability form and pen. Mandatory.
  2. Maps and queue sheets?
  3. Tire pump and patch kit?
  4. Tool kit?
  5. Extra water bottle?
  6. Edible goodies for riders?


Does the leader basically ride sweep? I can see making sure people are okay if they’ve flatted but if they bonk do you let ’em go?

The ride leader acts as “super domestique” and rides support for weaker riders. If the ride is maintaining the advertised pace, riders struggling to keep up is a tough call. See the bullet above in the ride list. If it’s early, find out what the rider wants to do. Many folks will tell you it okay to leave them; you might even find there is a subset of riders that will be happy at the slower-than-posted pace.  If it’s late in the ride, it’s a good idea to hang with someone who’s having a bad day. No one wants to limp in alone, and know one wants to lead a ride that ends with someone stuck on the route in trouble.  Staying with them is kind of what being a leader is all about – just saying.

It’s possible that the ride is going too fast (there’s always someone who show up thinking it the Tour). Again, it’s your call. Being a cop at the front can mitigate problems at the back. Or you can let them go.. You will find that you need to be at the back and front at the same time. Good luck and just remember that the other riders have to some responsibility for this ride, too. Find your allies and get their support.

How long do you usually like the rest stop to last?

Serious riders on faster rides will want to refuel and go. More sociable riders on casual rides may want to relax and chat longer. There are some wonderful destinations that invite sitting and enjoying the view. It’s your ride, rounding folks up and heading out again is up to you.

How do we deal with the heat?

In hot conditions, riders should:

  • Have two water bottles.  As ride leader,consider carrying a spare and make it available to one-bottle riders.
  • Carry sport drink. Hydration works much better if the bottles contain sports drink, not just water. Sport drink replaces the electrolytes that are crucial for muscle function. Suggest the riders get sports drink at the rest stop if they have none.

Consider lowering the pace, shortening the route, and avoid the biggest hills.If a rider is in difficulty due to heat exhaustion or electrolyte depletion, he’ll usually tell you that something is wrong. He may not know the cause. The ride leader should be sensitive to warning signs of heat exhaustion.

See below Appendix A – Heat Exhaustion.

What do I do if it’s raining?

The weather forecast can change, especially when the rain will come – sort of a sliding window. Keep an eye on the weather radar right up until start time. Remember, if you change the status of your ride on the calendar (different start or cancel), it will show a change has been made. In your ride description, you can state your weather policy. (“I will not be there if it’s raining at start time.”). Plan a route with shortcuts. Loops are better than out-and-back.

Some dangers associated with rain are:

    • Slick roads, especially painted surfaces, railroad tracks, manhole covers, etc.
    • Poor visibility, especially if the cars cannot see you. If it’s raining hard, the rider at the rear of the group should have a red blinking light. These days,more cyclists have front and rear flashers, so it should be easy to find someone for that job.
    • Hypothermia – your body gets way too cold. Not a factor in summer, an obvious factor in winter.

What do I do if it’s snowing?

Riding on frozen surfaces is dangerous.  If the road surfaces have had snow or ice on them, shady areas may continue to have slick spots well after melting has occurred. Cancel the ride.

When should we start?

Hey, it’s your ride, lead it when it’s convenient for you! Obviously, longer routes should begin earlier, and an early start will beat the heat and thunderstorms in the summer. If you’re leading a social ride, those folks seem to enjoy a later start.

Recommended Start Times

Jun – Sep 9 AM (or earlier)

Oct – Nov 10 AM

Dec – Mar 11 AM

Apr – May 10 AM


Appendix A – Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion often occurs when people exercise (work or play) in a hot, humid place and body fluids are lost through sweating, causing the body to overheat. The person’s temperature may be elevated, but not above 104°F.


Heat exhaustion is typically caused when people who are not well adjusted to heat exercise in a hot, humid environment.

  •  At high temperatures, the body cools itself largely through evaporation of sweat.
  • When it is very humid, this mechanism does not work properly. When the relative humidity is high, sweat drips off the skin so that the cooling benefit of evaporation is lost even at cooler temperatures, resulting in a build-up of body heat.
  • The body loses a combination of fluids and salts (electrolytes).
  • When this is accompanied by an inadequate replacement of fluids, disturbances in the circulation may result that are similar to a mild form of shock.


  • Often pale with cool, moist skin
  • Sweating profusely
  • Muscle cramps or pains
  • Feels faint or dizzy
  • May complain of headache, weakness, thirst, and nausea
  • Large pupils.


  • Rest in a cool, shaded area.
  • Give cool fluids such as water or sports drinks (that will replace the salt that has been lost).   Salty snacks are appropriate as tolerated.
  • (Old school) Put a teaspoon of salt in a liter of water and drink.
  • Loosen or remove clothing.
  • Apply cool water to skin.
  • Do not use an alcohol rub.
  • Do not give any beverages containing alcohol or caffeine.


Avoid heat exhaustion by not engaging in strenuous activity in hot, humid environments. People who are not used to the heat should be particularly careful. Intersperse periods of rest in a cool environment with plenty of available fluids to drink. Avoid strenuous activities during the hottest part of the day.

Guidelines for Activity (based on Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Guidelines). Based on the heat index (air temperature and the humidity)

Heat Index under 95°

  • Water should always be available and athletes should take in as much water as they desire.
  • Water intake every 15 minutes
  • Ice-down towels for cooling
  • Watch/monitor athletes carefully for necessary action

Heat Index 95° to 99°

  •    Same as above, plus:
  •    Remove clothing/equipment if possible and safe
  •    Reduce duration of activity. Consider moving activity to a cooler time of day.

Heat index 100° to 104°

  •  Same as above, plus:
  •  If helmets are required, consider suspending activity.

Heat index above 104°

  • Stop all outside activity

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a medical emergency. It is not common. It occurs especially in older people, alcoholics, and those with special medical conditions. Extreme cases of heat exhaustion may progress to heat stroke.

  • The skin is red, very hot, and dry. Not even the armpits are moist.
  • The person appears very ill or is unconscious.
  • The body temperature must be lowered immediately. Put the person in the shade. Soak him with cold water (ice water if possible) and fan him. Continue until the fever drops. Seek medical help. Heat stroke may cause damage to body organs and may cause death.

Historical Note

Nine cyclists rode 58 miles Sunday August 13, 2009 with temperatures in the high 90s. All suffered some level of heat exhaustion. We were not as heat resistant as we thought. See the NOAA heat index chart. What was the relative humidity? If it was 55%, then we had a heat index of 115.