Rolling Out a Great Cycling Event
28 Feb, 2011By: Stephen Lee
Lance Armstrong cycling over the mountains on his high-performance equipment in pursuit of the yellow jersey. Everyday people blowing the dust off their bicycle seats, complaining about how they look in spandex, and then setting off as a group in order to raise money for a cause.
Guess who your event is hosting?
Bicycling events may be competitive races or they may be organized for recreation, such as family fun rides or fundraising rides. They may also be journeys, such as bicycle tours on routes with ocean views, fall foliage, historic sites, etc. They may be held in special facilities or on the open road, with or without spectators. They may be standalones, or they may be expanded to include a bicycle-related trade festival with food, bands and more.
Whatever you're planning, start out with the training wheels. Learn the rules of the events, safety precautions and other essentials first. The overarching governing body for world cycling events is the Union Cycliste Internationale (in English, the International Cycling Union, or UCI). There are also various governing bodies for the different subsets of bicycle events.
It goes without saying that the safety of the bicyclist is always paramount. Check riding surfaces for hazards, and have first aid facilities available. Enforce rules concerning helmet wearing, etc.
Clear the road: An often overlooked (until it's too late) aspect of any bicycle event planning is logistics. Will any roads need to be closed? Will specific lanes need to be set aside for cyclists? Will traffic control be needed? Make plans well in advance, since bicycle events almost always necessitate working with police and city officials. It also requires permitting, which can take substantial time. Do not overlook this critical facet of planning. Unsure about how to proceed? Talk to a local bicycling club or work with a sports event planner in the area.
Because bicycle events attract groups of cyclists, make sure drivers in the area know about the event in advance. Place advertising in newspapers and signage along the course ahead of time, as required by your permit authorities and the local police.
Generally, rides are classified by their purpose. There are two main types of bicycle events:
Touring and Recreation
Touring and recreation rides may be organized for sightseeing, fundraising or simply fitness and fun. They may be for all ages, or for a specific age group. The only thing they really have in common is that they are not set up for the purposes of competition.
While there are no standard lengths for rides, many recreational and fund raising rides can offer several options, such as 20-mile, 35-mile or50-mile courses. Sometimes, the length of the course is its main attraction, as in a 'century' or 100-mile ride. Routes may be circuitous, or they may start in one place and finish in another, necessitating return transportation. Rides may also be multi-jurisdictional, taking in more than one state (a few even go cross-country).
According to Sam Fisher, of Fisher Tracks Inc. in Boone, Iowa, recreational trails are becoming very popular in communities across the U.S. The use of such trails may mean that riders can spend less time on roads frequented by cars.
"Many of these exercise paths or trails are being built for housing developments as an attraction to the community," Fisher says. "Everyone is becoming more and more health conscious."
Routes may be urban, suburban, rural or any combination. All should have a support system for riders who suffer mechanical breakdowns, injury, etc. (The 'sag wagon' is the slang term for the vehicle that drives along the course to check on riders; it should be driven by, or staffed by, someone with mechanical knowledge and first aid experience.)
Considerations in Touring and Recreational Cycling:
"Signage is also extremely important, whether for way finding, for educating users of one type on what other types of users are on the trail, for pointing out distances or features of the route, or other communication," says Ken Buck of Stantec in Boston, Massachusetts.
If an event includes a common starting point, but several routes of different lengths, have each route clearly marked. A cyclist who signs up for the 20-mile ride is not going to be happy to find himself or herself on the 50-miler with no way to get back on track.
Have refreshment stations along the route with sports drinks, water, fruit, energy bars and so forth -- as well as the all-important portable toilets.
The course should be checked in advance by the planner -- and then again as close to the event as possible. Last-minute pot holes, cracks, flooded areas or other hazards may necessitate re-routing, or at least signs warning cyclists to stay alert.
Local bicycle clubs can provide suggestions for cycling routes in the city of your event, and often have excellent insights regarding tourism, safety and more. You may also discover they offer a treasure trove of volunteers to serve as course marshals, bike mechanics, sag wagon drivers, registration helpers, etc.
Road Racing: Road racing involves multiple riders and a common start and finish. (There may be exceptions, such as in time trials.) The best-known of all bicycle road racing events is the Tour de France, thanks to its alpine views, nonstop coverage and high-profile athletes. Generally, athletes in road bicycle races use racing cycles (recognizable by their lightweight frames and drop handlebars). Races vary in type, length and duration.
Mountain Bike Racing: Mountain bike races also vary in length and duration. They are held off-road and involve multiple competitors cycling over terrain that may be steep, muddy or rutted, or which includes natural obstacles (logs, ledges, rocks, streams, etc.). Racers use mountain bikes, recognizable by their wider, knobbier ties and heavier frames. Parks, ski resorts (off-season) and other areas of open space are often used.
Track Cycling: A racing facility strictly for bicycling is a velodrome. It is not a multi-use facility; therefore, it is a magnet for competitive cyclists. Track bicycles resemble racing cycles but do not use brakes.
Within the United States, there are relatively few velodromes (only about two dozen existed at last check). They may be various lengths. Some are surfaced in concrete, some in wood, and some with a tarmac-type surfacing. The type of surface can change the riding experience. A specific slope is required of an Olympic-level velodrome.
As always, the needs of the riders and the intended level of competition should guide the planner's choice of facility.
BMX, short for bicycle motocross, takes place off-road, often on a dirt track with a BMX bicycle. Riders may also compete by performing tricks in skate-type parks, and by using ramps, jumps and other obstacles. (BMX has gained a reputation as an extreme sport, and is one of the marquee events of the Summer X Games.)
Other types of races exist.Some combine elements of two or more of the above sports; for example, Cyclo-cross racing is a hybrid sport that involves riding both on and off paved roads. Some races, like triathlons, involve bicycling in addition to running and swimming. Events may also be held to exhibit specific skills; for example, a timed 'bike messenger race' may involve obstacles and include spectators.
Essential considerations in racing events:
Spectators: In road races, individuals may want to watch cyclists from the sides of the course. Some events use metal crowd barriers to separate spectators from riders, and to keep people from crossing the racecourse at inopportune times.
Officials: If your event will need officials, check with local bicycling clubs, velodromes and racing groups for recommendations.
Amenities: A public address system and an electronic timer are useful in racing.
Insurance: In addition to the specific coverage you will require for your event, most events will require riders to sign waivers (and parents or guardians to sign for those under the age of 18).
Going with the pros: You may find that your needs are best served by contracting with a professional event management company, which can provide registration, marketing, course layout and marking, staff, finish line logistics and so forth. This type of company can help with both competitive and recreational events. Remember that the further in advance you make these arrangements, the more smoothly your event will flow.
Children's bike safety rodeos, BMX stunt performances, skill clinics and other events may also be held either by themselves or in conjunction with other bicycling events. Trade shows of bicycle-related products may also be included.
For all types of events, have adequate parking. Most cyclists will drive in with their bicycles on car racks and will need space to set up. Don't overlook the need for bike parking: have a secure area with bike stands or a 'bike valet.' And of course, permitting and all other paperwork should be arranged well in advance.
You'll never have to backpedal if you get the right start.