Monday, March 9, 2009

I see "people". They're everywhere.

Before we continue on with our educational series on what goes into getting a course ready for a bike ride, I thought I'd a take a minute and answer a question that was posted by one of my readers.

After reading my last post regarding the Eternal Struggle of all Route Coordinators, that is, not getting enough volunteers from the Volunteer Coordinator to do everything that I would like to do on the route, Joe Biker writes:

Just curious.....
couldn't you recruit some help and bring them in on your own for your department without having to go through a volunteer coordinator?

An excellent question. But there are a couple of basic flaws in Joe's thinking here. First of all, he assumes that I have the motivation and/or the people skills to go out and recruit people of my own. That would be an incorrect assumption. Most people who know me will tell you that I am an extremely lazy person. To think that I could get motivated enough to go out and recruit route volunteers on my own, would not only be incorrect, but also fool hearty.

And to be honest with you, (and I hope we can be honest with each other), even if I did go out to recruit my own volunteers, I certainly don't have the people skills to talk anyone into doing anything. Why do you think I became a Software Developer? Well, I'll tell you why. So I wouldn't have to deal with "people". Little did I know that I would wind up spending a great deal of my time sitting in meetings with "people", listening to them try and tell me what they want the software to do. Now, that might have turned out to be a bad choice on my part, but you see the basis of my decision.

I am basically becoming a recluse and a hermit. And whats more, I like it. Generally, I try and avoid "people" at all cost. It's nothing personal against any one person in particular, but just people in general. Present company excluded.

Think about the job of a Route Coordinator. Of all of the jobs involved in putting on a bike ride, Route Coordinator is probably the one that involves the least amount of contact with "people". The vast majority of my time is spent with maps, and getting signs ready, and for the most part, not dealing with "people". True, on the day of the ride, I actually have to meet with the "people" and give them their instructions for the day. But then, I send them out on the route, and I don't have to see them again for 5 or 6 hours. Once I do see them again, I just collect my sign and send them home. Of the dozens of hours I spend each year getting the course ready for Tour Dallas, I might spend a grand total of about 7 hours in direct contact with "people".

To think that I would actually go and seek "people" out, is a very misguided assumption.

So Joe, to answer your question, while it might be a viable alternative for others to go out and find their own volunteers, for me, it's just easier to whine, complain, threaten, and beg for volunteers from the Volunteer Coordinator.
Never let it be said that I didn't take the path of least resistance. And quite frankly, the Route Volunteer would probably prefer that I have as little actual contact with the volunteers as possible.

By the way, if you'd like to have your question answered by me, Nearly Famous Fred, please don't hesitate to leave a comment. I can't promise that you'll like the answer that you get, or that the answer will make any sense to anyone but me, but I will answer.

Next post, we get back to discussing our preparations for Tour Dallas. We look at the delicate relationship between the bike ride producers and the local law enforcement.

Peace out.....Nearly Famous Fred

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Tour Coordinator's eternal struggle

While Route Coordinator may be the "glamour" position of your typical bike ride, a bike ride is nothing without it's volunteers. And if there's one undeniable truth when it comes to bike ride volunteers, it's that there's never enough to go around.

Tour Dallas presents special problems when it comes to the route and the route volunteers.

Placing the route signs around the course, even one day ahead of time, would be a complete waste of time. Those signs tend to wander off by the next day. Also, the city of Dallas sign ordinance makes it illegal. So not wanting to upset the local law enforcement, we actually to not "place" any signs on the route. Any signs that we use for Tour Dallas are held by a route volunteer.

We do paint arrows on the pavement for Tour Dallas, but even that is problematic. It seems that there are some residence who live in the White Rock Lake area, that don't appreciate the subtle beauty of a properly painted route arrow on their local streets. These same residence are apparently not shy about calling their Dallas City Council representatives about said arrows. They either call their representative, or given that many of those same representatives are their neighbors around the lake, they just walk over and talk to them about the arrows. One thing has lead to the other, and suffice it to say, we do not paint any arrows around the lake. Given that we cannot place signs on the route, (see the previous paragraph), this means that every turn around the lake has to have a volunteer at it. (I'm getting a headache just writing about this.)

There are 75 turns that the riders must successfully negotiate, to get around the Tour Dallas course. That means that there are 75 corners were I would like to have a Route Volunteer. The words "like to have" are the important words in that sentence. I know going in that there is no way I am going to get 75 route volunteers.
If memory serves correctly, I think the most route volunteers that I have ever had to send out on the route is about 30. This brings me to the most important skill that a Route Coordinator can posses. That would be the ability to lie, cheat, steal, and/or intimidate the Volunteer Coordinator into giving you as many Route Volunteers as can be squeezed out of her.

The Volunteer Coordinator is the person responsible for recruiting the volunteers, and assigning them to the particular parts of the ride. Some of the volunteers will work the break points. Some will work at the start/finish area. Still others will work at rider registration. But the extra-special volunteers will be given the glory of working on the route. Those who are deemed worthy, will be sent to me, to be assigned a place of honor out on the route, assisting our valiant riders around the course. The difficulties arise between the Volunteer Coordinator and the Route Coordinator, over just how many volunteers should be deemed worthy.

My argument, which so far has been somewhat ineffective, is that it doesn't make a lot of sense to have volunteers working the finish area, if all of the riders get lost out on the route and don't make it to the finish. Same argument goes for the break points. What good are break point volunteers, if everybody is wandering aimlessly around downtown Dallas on their bicycles, and no one makes it to the break points.

I'm 6'3" tall, 195 lbs. The Volunteer Coordinator for Tour Dallas might be 5'6". Can someone please explain to me what kind of topsy-turvey world we live in, when I can't intimidate her into giving me all the route volunteers I want? It's just not fair.

It may surprise you to know, that a certain percentage of the route volunteers that we use for Tour Dallas are Community Service volunteers. Those would be people, who have been assigned by the courts to serve a particular number of hours doing community service work. Truth is, those are some of the most dependable, hardworking volunteers that we have. The only problem with these particular volunteers, is that we are forbidden to ask them what they did to get assigned to community service. I myself, have a real problem with this. It takes every ounce of self control I can muster, to keep from blurting out, "So what did you do?". I doubt we have any spies, or gangsters, or anything else cool like that working among us. But that doesn't keep me from wondering.

Aside from the community service volunteers, the majority of our volunteers are just people who enjoy serving, and enjoy being out and around other people. Being somewhat of a recluse in training myself, I really don't understand this point of view. I may admire it, I just don't understand it.

So the next bike ride you go to, try and take notice of those brave Route Volunteers standing by the side of the road. For they are the cream of the bike ride volunteer crop. While theirs may be a glorious task, it is not overflowing with rewards. The quick "thanks" that you shout as you ride by, may be the only reward they get that day.

Peace out.....Nearly Famous Fred

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Route Map, the most valuable thing 80% of you will never look at

Tonight, we continue to look at what goes into producing a bike rally. In particular, we look at the lonely, much under appreciated, but extremely important job of the Route Coordinator. Specifically for this post, we focus on the route map.

(A quick aside here. If my posting tonight seems a little distracted, it's because my son is working on his homework on the house computer. This forces me to work off of my laptop in the living room. Unfortunately for me, my wife is watching American Idol in the living room, and no matter how much I beg and plead, she won't turn it off. If I'm forced to endure much more of this show, I'll probably grow breast.)

Back to our discussion of the route map. As I type the words "route map", I can sense a lot of you out there scratching your head, with no idea what I'm talking about. The route map is one of those pieces of paper that you get in your ride goody bag, that you never read, and simply throw away, after you've removed the power bar and the tube patch kit that you'll never use. While I certainly agree that 90% of the stuff you get in the average goody bag can be immediately thrown away, the route map is one that you might want to consider holding on to.

If you are one of that 20% minority who have actually looked at a route map before, you're probably used to looking at something like the following. This is the Rider Route Map for last year's Collin Classic:

Very pretty, isn't it. All of the different routes clearly marked, with no clutter to confuse the riders. Now her is my Route Coordinator map of that same ride:

Notice all of the little dots and icons and arrows that appear on my map. Everyone of those dots represents a route volunteer, or a police officer, or a sign, or a break point. Actually, as Route Coordinator Maps go, this one is actually fairly simple. Here's the Route Coordinator map for the very urban Tour Dallas ride:

Impressive, isn't it? The reason I wanted all of you to see my version of the maps, wasn't to impress you, although I can tell you're extremely impressed, but to show you what goes in to getting a course ready for a bike ride. Every icon on that map has to be planned for. Preparations have to be made. Volunteers have to be recruited and trained on what they will need to do. Signs have to be printed and paid for. Police officers have to be assigned a location on the route, and yes, paid for. Time and a half overtime by the way, to be exact. (Tour Dallas will have 188 police officers on the route this year. Everyone of them earning time and a half to help keep the riders safe. You're welcome.)

So the next time you show up at a local bike ride and pickup your goody bag, instead of just throwing the route map away, go ahead and slip it into your jersey pocket. If for no other reason, just to remind you of what went into getting the course ready for you. Oh, it might also keep you from getting lost.

Next post: Route Volunteers, worth their weight in gold.

Peace out.....Nearly Famous Fred

Monday, March 2, 2009

We start down a long, dark road

As promised, today I would like to introduce all of you to the wonderful world of bike ride production. Hopefully, by the end of our little magical journey, you'll have a better appreciation as to what goes on in the weeks, and yes, even the months leading up to that morning when you show up at your local Saturday morning bike rally, pay your $25 to $40 dollars, collect your goody bag, and go for a ride.

As I have mentioned before, I work with Bikin' Mike Keel, (in Texas, we don't pronounce or spell trailing g's on words), here in the greater Dallas/Ft Worth metroplex, where he produces several bike rally's in the area. My official title, (actually, as an unpaid volunteer, I'm not sure how official it is), is Route Coordinator. Once again, I capitalize Route and Coordinator to add importance. Impressive, isn't it?

So what exactly does a Route Coordinator do? Excellent question. My duties as Route Coordinator include, but are not limited to:

* Getting the course ready for the ride. This means that I am the guy, who goes out in the days before the ride, and paints the arrows on the pavement that direct the riders around the course. If there's anything I've learned from the years I've been painting arrows on our rural Texas roads, is that if there's a way for a rider to get lost, they'll get lost.

* I'm also the guy who places the the route signs, or "signage" as we call it in the business, out on the route. This means that I have to be familiar with every twist and turn on the route, and make sure that we have a sign to go at every corner. The timing of the actual placing of the route signs out on the course gets a little tricky. It seems that if you place the signs out on the course too early, they tend to get bored and wander off. Some teenager here in the McKinney area, has a very nice collection of Collin Classic signs in his bedroom. So typically, we don't place the route signs out on the course until the day before the ride.

* One of the more stressful duties that I have is the coordination of the route volunteers that go out on the course and stand at the corners, making sure that you don't get lost. Why would this be stressful, you ask? Another excellent question. Quite simply, there are never enough volunteers to meet the needs of the Route Coordinator. There are never enough volunteers to cover all of the corners that I would like to have a volunteer at. Never. Never ever. There just isn't, ever. Also adding to the stress, is the one universal truth when it comes to bike rally volunteers; "If someone is not required to be somewhere, they tend not to be there." We always have a certain percentage of people, who no matter how many times they say there going to be there, don't show up. Not that I'm unsympathetic. Things come up sometimes. A child gets sick. Work calls and you have to go into the office. There's a really kick @ss rerun of Speed Racer on. All of these are what I would consider to be valid reason's for not making it to the ride.

So with these duties in mind, let me get you up to speed on my preparations for Tour Dallas. With the ride being on April 4th this year, we're about a month out from ride day. I received the route signs from Bikin Mike this past Saturday, so I now have 4, very large boxes of signs, occupying valuable space in my garage.

Just yesterday, we finalized the route for this year. But, aha, you might ask, "Fred, given that this is the 5th or 6th year of the Tour Dallas, wouldn't this year's route be the same as last year's route?" Once again, another great question. Well this year, we are moving the start of the ride from the American Airlines Center, (AAC), to Dallas City Hall Plaza. Wanting to leave our business relationship with the AAC on good terms, I won't go into too much detail on why we're moving the start, but suffice it to say, the good folks operating the AAC don't seem to be a terribly motivated group of people.

(The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not reflect the views or opinions of Bikin' Mike Keel, or anyone else involved with the production of Tour Dallas).

This, along with the fact that there is always road construction in Dallas, require subtle changes to the route each year. I have to document all of these subtle course changes, make sure that I have signs to accommodate the change, and when necessary, make sure I have a route sign to go on any new corners.

In my next post, we will discuss the much under appreciated skill of route map making. You'll learn how to spend hour after hour working on a map, that 90% of the people you give it to will never look at.

Peace out.....Nearly Famous Fred