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How to read a route sheet

We have a lot of new riders joining us this season. Some of you might not be familiar with how the route sheets are set up for AIDS/LifeCycle training rides. Here's a post that shows you some of the key things to notice.

On rides that I lead, I use the format that you see here on a route sheet from last season. This is very similar to what the event in June has used for the past several years, so this gives you valuable experience in learning how to quickly get the information you need.

1. The header contains the ride name and the total distance.

2. The elevation chart shows you a graphical representation of how much climbing you'll do on this ride. The vertical scale for most rides is from sea level to 2,000 feet, even when we don't climb anywhere near that high; that's what ALC typically uses in June. The horizontal scale is usually to 110 miles, again since that's what ALC uses every day of the event. This gives you a common reference to compare the rides that we'll do together. One thing you'll discover over time is that this means even small-looking bumps on the elevation charts can be very attention-getting climbs. Also pay attention to the circled locations; these are numbered rest stops, water stops (W), and lunch stops (L, but I don't designate specific lunch stops on our rides).

3. For training rides, this section includes the pace and terrain ratings, matching those you find in the official ALC calendar. I also include an approximate amount of total climbing for the day. These are usually obtained through Strava (strava.com). Other mapping tools can generate very different numbers; for example, Ride With GPS usually gives higher numbers, and Map My Ride usually gives lower numbers. This section also includes mobile phone numbers for the ride facilitator (me), most or all of the other ride leaders, and (if available) the SAG vehicles on this ride.

4. The distances in the left column are total miles from the beginning of the ride. We don't use incremental mileages, so this means that if you go off-route, your bike computer might get out of sync with the official distance. Also, it's common for individual bike computers to vary as much as 1% to 2% or even more, so a 100-mile ride could register as anything from 98 miles to 102 miles. Use these mileages to get a sense for how far it is to the next event on the route sheet.

5. In the second column, each turn you'll make is shown as "L," "R," "Bear L," "Bear R," or something similar as dictated by road conditions. If nothing appears in this column, it's reasonable to assume that you will not be turning at this point.

6. In the third column, you'll find the name of the street that you're turning onto. We usually don't include "Avenue," "Street," "Road," or other suffixes unless they're necessary to help you distinguish between streets ("Yerba Buena Road" and "Yerba Buena Avenue," for example). If this entry is not for a turn, this column usually contains a complete description of what you're expected to do here, a warning or caution, or other important information. Other things you might see here:
  • The instruction "Continue" means to go forward, although you might end up on different street or road as a result.
  • "Becomes xxx" usually means the same thing, except that a street simply changed name, often at a city or county boundary.
  • "Begin climb" often indicates the start of a significant climb, with the total length shown. On very hilly rides, not all significant climbs are shown on the route sheet, although they appear in the elevation chart.

7. All scheduled rest stops are boxed and highlighted with their location on the route, distance to next rest stop, and name. Unless marked otherwise, you can assume that all of the scheduled rest stops on my rides offer food, water, and restrooms. (I try to have vegetarian options available, but this might not always be possible, so check the rest stop locations in advance if you have any concerns.) On my Distance Training rides, we include rest stop closing times -- the latest time by which all riders should be out of the rest stop in order to keep pace with the group. On the event in June, the rest stop hours are strictly enforced and can put you out of the ride for the rest of the day if you miss one, so it's a good idea to get in the habit now of making steady progress throughout your riding day.

One important way in which training rides differ from the event in June is that training ride routes are not marked. This means that you must use the route sheet to navigate. Therefore, you should invest in a way to mount the route sheet so that you can easily and safely refer to it while on your bike. The most common ways to do this are with either a map holder or binder clips; check your local bike shop. Do not rely on other riders to guide you -- they might not be on the same ride as you, or they might be equally lost.

And if you think you're lost on a training ride, stop where you are and call a ride leader or SAG driver for assistance. We don't want you to have to ride bonus miles.

See you on the road!