Let’s call the whole thing off…

One of the hardest decisions in guiding is knowing when to cancel a ride. Learning when riding won’t be fun for anyone involved is difficult. Knowing when it just won’t be safe for the group is a key skill for a guide.

I love riding my bike, most of the time

I seem to have pent the entire winter on this column complaining about the weather, or its impact on the trails. If I’m honest it’s been a difficult winter from that respect.

But the fact remains: I love riding my bike. I take the slightest of opportunities to go for a ride. I even ride my bike to the hairdresser. Seriously. I love being out. Missing an opportunity to ride bugs me and gets under my skin.

I have been known to go out in miserable conditions because I can.

As I’ve got older, I have begun to realise and to understand that there might just be times when it’s better not to ride. I might just have more fun if I don’t ride. Right now, the rain is battering at the windows as it has all day and all yesterday. So, I’ve been in touch with my social ride to tell them I’m not coming out. It’ll be soggy, cold, dark and slow, hard work. In short it will be no fun. With age comes an increasing ability to judge which rides not to go on. Knowing from the conditions which rides won’t be fun, which rides will be downright dangerous. It’s important.

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It’s not all about me

Side by side with this understanding is my professional duty of care. If you go on a ride with BackPedalling, I try to ensure that you will have a safe, fun experience. Risk assessments lay the foundations for that, coupled with questions about the group so I know that the ride planned is one that is appropriate for the conditions and the group. I have a lot of tools I can call upon, altering the route to include or leave out particular trails, altering the length to suit the group, planning for a date when the weather and undergrowth are likely to be on our side are just part of it. A lot of thought and planning goes into this.

On the day I am due to take any group out, I’m pretty excited. I get to show people cool riding and give them a great day out, and I get to ride my bike while I’m doing it. What’s not to love. With any luck, my clients are also excited about the prospect of the ride.

No-one wants to cancel the ride.

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Discretion is the better part of valour

Cancelling a ride will please nobody. The clients are unhappy that they aren’t getting their amazing ride, I’m not happy because I wanted to give them that experience and I’m doubly unhappy because there’s a significant amount of admin and infrastructure that needs to be moved or disposed of. Nobody wins. At least nobody wins yet.

However, and it’s a big however. Sometimes, it’s the right decision.

I’m a pretty optimistic person. In a previous job, I ran outdoor events for families and would hold out hope until the very last minute that the weather would come good. I really want to be able to do the brilliant thing I’ve scheduled. However, there are important caveats.

At the extreme end, it’s my responsibility to make sure that my rides never star in the news as “mountain bikers airlifted from mountains in atrocious conditions”. It’s my call if the conditions are just asking for an accident or being unable to get home safely. Actually, these calls are pretty easy. It’s usually blindingly obvious when it’s just too extreme.

Much more difficult are the borderline cases. These are the ones where it won’t actually be dangerous just to be out, but the conditions mean that it won’t be safe either.

What on earth do I mean by that?

If you’re cold and wet you won’t be having fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re not concentrating, your reactions will be slower. In addition, cold fingers can’t feel brakes or shifters properly. All of this, combined with slippery trails are just asking for an accident. And that’s before someone hasn’t got the right gear on and, in spite of all the warm stuff I have in the bag for them, catches hypothermia.

Even more borderline is when I have a group who are relatively inexperienced. The conditions may not be that bad for experienced riders, but for these people, it’s a different story. Slippery trails can be terrifying, boggy trails can sap energy and rain can get to everywhere you’d like to keep dry. It all adds up to a memorable experience for all the wrong reasons. I would be failing in my duty of care to make sure they enjoy themselves and there’s a good chance they’d never want to ride a bike again.

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The least fun I have with a bike

It is always with a heavy heart that I pick up the phone to tell a client that the ride is off. There is always one person who is still enthusiastic about going out “regardless of the conditions”. Informing them that the ride is not happening today, regardless of what they think, is never fun.

I have developed a strong sense of when it is the right thing to do and am fairly resolute in sticking to that decision. I am sticking with it because it’s my responsibility as a leader to make these decisions and my responsibility to riders to ensure that they are as safe as possible. Sometimes this means that the bike stays in the shed.

The more attentive of you will have noticed that a couple of scheduled rides this spring have fallen foul of the weather. I wanted to give you a little peak into the thinking that goes into making that decision.

There are still loads of rides to join in with and, assuming the weather doesn’t get the better of them too, they will be brilliant fun.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy