Planning a Cycling Event? - It's Just Like Riding a Bike!
30 Jun, 2010By: Mary Helen Sprecher
The joy of learning to ride your first two-wheeler might just be overshadowed by the feeling of accomplishment you get from putting on your first successful bicycling event. And once you've done it, you'll never forget how.
Events may be competitive races or they may be organized for recreation, such as family fun rides or fundraising rides, in which participants collect money for charity for each mile or hour they complete. 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 bicycling 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 wearing helmets, 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 length and duration, and many different types exist.
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.
"Velodromes in the U.S. really are a rare commodity, with only about 24 active facilities around the country," says Jeff Hopkins, operations manager for the East Point Velodrome Association in East Point, Georgia. "Velodromes come in all shapes and sizes.Most have a concrete surface, some have a wooden surface and some have a tarmac type of surface. Most velodrome facilities are built with some level of amenities. The newer ones tend to have nicer amenities than older ones."
The type of surface can change the riding experience, according to Jason Lardy, marketing director for the National Sports Center Velodrome in Blaine, Minnesota. A specific slope is required of an Olympic-level velodrome. NSC's wooden surface, he adds, meets that criteria, but most facilities do not.
"Most outdoor velodromes are concrete," Lardy says. "That means they can’t be as short or steep – all of the outdoor velodromes in North America are not Olympic standard size (because) concrete can’t be built to Olympic standards."
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, cyclocross 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.
If your event will need officials, check with local bicycling clubs, velodromes and racing groups for recommendations.
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.
Amenities: A public address system and an electronic timer are useful in racing.
Touring and Recreation
Whereas racing is competitive, touring and recreation rides may be organized for sightseeing, fundraising or simply for fitness and fun. They may be for all ages, or for a specific age group.
While there are no standard lengths for rides, many recreational and fund raising rides offer participants several options, such as 20-mile, 35-mile or 50-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 cyclist lingo 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.
"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 branches into 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. Pot holes, cracks, flooded areas or other safety problems 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.
Because touring and recreational rides (as well as larger-scale road races) attract large groups of cyclists, make sure drivers in the area know about the event in advance. Place advertising in newspapers and signage along the course at least a week ahead of time. Local police and other officials must be notified as well. Obtain appropriate permits where necessary.
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, insurance and all other paperwork should be arranged well in advance.
You'll never have to backpedal if you get off to the right start.