Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Cue Sheet Club

M. Tot.LegInstructionsKm TotalLeg
0.00.0Start at Greg Cox's house (Control #1)0.00.0
0.00.0(N) 144th Ave SE0.00.0
0.30.3L(W) SE 240th0.50.5
5.75.4L(S) Russell Rd9.28.7
6.10.4R(W) Meeker9.80.6
6.70.6ST Thru light onto Reith Rd (Becomes 259th)10.81.0
9.12.4L(S) 16th Ave S.14.63.9
10.31.2BR(S) Pacific Hwy S.16.61.9
11.41.1R(W) Dash Point Rd.18.31.8

If the first rule of Fight Club is that no one talks about Fight Club, the first rule of Cue Sheet Club is that everyone talks about cue sheets. Actually, I think the rule is that everyone complains about cue sheets.

Many bike club rides and virtually all randonneur events use cue sheets, yet it seems that at every event there will be at least one person at the sign-in station who will stare at the cue sheet as if it is an artifact written in ancient Martian. They may have trained for months to ride this event, obsessed over gearing and tires and lights and food, but the idea that they might have to read and follow directions while riding simply never crossed their mind. So they stuff the paper into their jersey pocket and follow the person in front of them. While this Blanche DuBois approach of relying on the kindness of strangers often works surprisingly well, it strikes me as being at odds with the self-sufficient spirit of randonneuring. Nonetheless some fast friendships have formed from these navigational alliances and a fair number of great blind leading the blind stories have resulted from cue sheet mis-cues.

On other end of spectrum from the Cue Sheet Virgin (CSV), we have the Cue Sheet Obsessive (CSO). The CSO has measured tire roll out to the nearest millimeter. The CSO has the cue sheet loaded into a GPS unit. The CSO has studied Google maps of every meter of the route and has printed a copy of the cue sheet out in a font that is scientifically calculated to provide the best balance between compactness and legibility. If you are a CSV, you want to be following a CSO. Be aware, however that throughout the ride the CSO will update you on exactly where, when and how the cue sheet is in error.

In between the CSO and the CSV there are the mass of men and women who somehow cope with the cue sheets they are dealt. For many folks, a plastic bag and a binder clip keep the cue sheet dry and in view. Others manage to memorize a few lines of instructions and pause periodically to consult the cues and refresh their memories. Some folks have a map holder on their handlebar bag.

The thing about cue sheets is that they tell you where to turn based on how far you've gone. Thus, the key to using them is to have a sense of how far you have gone. For most of us, that means using a cycle computer of some sort. If you are one of those folks whose "not into that whole numbers scene, man!" that's cool but know this: you forfeited your right to complain about the cue sheet when you decided to show up on a cue sheet ride without a computer. If you can ramble your way through the course in a comfortably vague way, more power to you but if you complain, somebody is going smack you upside the head with a GPS. You have been warned.

I have to confess that at various times I've been each of the kinds of folks I've talked about here. I've been the clueless cue newbie, the obsessed mathematician, the crunchy granola dude. I'm riding a 200K this weekend. I think my computer is pretty closely calibrated and I've taken a look at the cue sheet. I'll probably even print it in a font I can read and put it in a plastic bag that I'll attach to my handlebars with a binder clip. I might not even make any wrong turns, but I can't promise that. I can tell you this, however, I know that I'll be involved in at least one conversation about cue sheets, and I'll be puzzled by at least one intersection.


Anonymous said...

I will throw in a couple of wrong turns just for you...


Anonymous said...

I'm sure I'll manage to take the same wrong turn this year I have each of the last two times I did this ride, thereby adding about 1/2 mile to my pleasure, and approaching the finish line from the wrong direction. I suppose if they don't decide to put a secret control 2 blocks from Greg's house, I'll make it in okay. Great write-up, Kent.

Anonymous said...

For the speedo geeks here's a tip:

Calibrate your speedo to run as accurately as possible but so that it runs a little long. Then, when you are deep into a ride you can get back to the 'right' mileage on the speedo easily, here's how:

Say your cue sheet indicates the next turn is at 101.5K. When your speedo reads 101.5K, disconnect the computer from it's mount, and reconnect it when you get to that turn. Voila! you are back to the 'correct' mileage.

Phil said...

After my first populaire last weekend, I realized the other thing you have to be careful not to do is to misread the cue sheet and think it's 2.5 mi to the next turn, when it's really 1 block. Luckily I caught myself when a block later I hit a street that I remembered seeing on the sheet. I can probably only get away with this when the route goes through a subdivision, though.

beth h said...

On my first brevet last weekend, I discovered that sticking with my "obsolete" mechanical cyclomter (no GPS for this girl!) seemed to cause few, if any, problems.
The sync between the cyclometer and the cue sheet only went to hell in the third and final leg of the ride, and then only by a mile and a half off.

Since I was bringing in the rear of this group, I was totally on my own for most of the ride and the cue sheet proved excellent. In fact, it good enoug that I'll use it for future "Sunday fun rides" out in that part of the world.

Anonymous said...

I have a clock on my stem with a second hand and will carry maps.

Estimating and calibrating my sense of distance has worked well for me. A little fudging for hills and such is easily handled.

Mounting the cuesheet well is the most important part.

Comfortably vague is fine with me.
Precision has rarely if ever been necessary for the cue-sheet rides I've taken.

What was new to me was reading a cue sheet at all and not having planned out or navigated the route on my own with occasional map stops or map-reading at breaks.

Having a fixed route to me is the only necessary evil of brevets.

No chance for exploration when coming upon something interesting and still getting mileage credited.

Just ride where you're told.

I guess it's back to lonely long-distance touring for me.

Will they have GPS-tracked brevets to ride whenever and wherever you want to go provided you meet some minimum elevation gains and losses?

Labann said...

I've hosted countless rides as a club volunteer and professional marketeer. Cue sheets are the least welcome, but organizers I've worked for seem to want them anyway. Maps are better, yet compass challenged riders still get lost when street signs are missing. Arrows painted on pavement before corners are close to ideal but not foolproof. Nothing beats a guide who knows the way and sticks with you, who we call "the map", especially when guide wear a bright jersey should you lag behind on a hill. Good companions take turn hosting rides in their training areas.

Even calibrated cyclometers run "cold" and "hot"; riders going together all with 700 mm wheels will report as many as 5 miles difference in total mileage over a century due to tire profile or wider turns.

Covered all this in my ultimate book on bicycling culture, Bike&Chain, free on-line at http://bike-n-chain.blogspot.com/