The Guides Manual pt. 6 - Being the Second Guide on a Biking Tour
A week ago, I posted a blog to my website, reminiscing about the time I visited Doha and guided tours over its busiest streets. During the early stages of my blog, I began to describe how to safely manoeuvre a group of bicyclists through an avalanche of cars.
By describing the strategies available, I noticed something. Something I had always known and internalized so much I had just assumed it as part of common knowledge. However, the revelation that occurred to me, during writing was that this was anything but that. Therefore, here is a statement you are not going to believe right away: The last member of a biking group can be the most important one, in regards to the safety of the group.
You do not believe me. Well, why should you? With most companies offering guided cycling tours, a guest, utterly unfamiliar with the tour, takes on the position of the second guide. Well if you are a guiding company, you might understand why you could need two guides per group after reading this blog. Moreover, if you are a guide yourself, you might be able to learn some new tricks. Even if you are ordinary cyclist reading on could be a good idea, as most of the tricks mentioned here work on any kind of group rides. Whether you are just two cyclists on their race bikes, charging for your next KOM’s or the leader on a Family outing. Therefore, without further ado, here is how to be the last person in a biking group.
Position in the Group:
The second guide can take two positions in the group, mainly dependent on the level of experience with the tour. The obvious one is, of course, the place, at the back of the group.
You can see it right here on the graphic, with both our guides marked in orange, our guests in green. Except this is not the exact correct position. One of the most important things for the guide at the front to know is, whether all his guests are actually still in the group. Every traffic light, every stop sign, every intersection is a chance for the group to be separated. Then there is the possibility of accidents. Sure, the second guide is there to care for the accident immediately, but the guide still needs to notice as fast as possible. So, every few moments, he should look over his shoulder to check if everybody is still there. The quickest method is just looking for the second guide because if he is there, the group is still complete. Only in this riding position, guests riding in front of him will obstruct the second guide. So, here is a slightly better position:
And the best thing about this, slightly offset position is, that not only an easy method of checking the completeness of the group is available to the guide but also cars passing are forced into a more sweeping pass of the group. Sure the car might sill pass to close to the second guide, but he should be able to deal with it as an experienced guide. At least better than his guests.
However, there is one thing to keep in mind. For all the different strategies, the second guide can employ to aid the guide, the second guide must be as familiar with the tour as the guide himself is. Both need to be aware of every upcoming turn and lane change. In many cases, however, the guide at the back of the tour is not as intimately familiar with the track. Knowledge of the track is after all one of the deciding factors if you have the choice who is guiding, and who is at the back. Nevertheless, in this case, a completely different position within the group is possible.
If a guest is given, the position of the last person in the group, our second guide can get directly behind the first one, again riding slightly offset. Looking over the shoulder and checking the completeness of the group is now the job of the second guide, communicating any necessary information verbally to the first guide. He, in turn, is now only responsible to actually lead the group in the right direction and can, verbally, give instructions to the second guide in case he needs special assistance. And these are the cases I would like to talk about now.
The Lane Change
In this series of pictures, I would like to explain how the second guide from both positions could aid in changing the lanes. There are many reasons why you would want to change the lane. To get out of, or into turning lanes, for example. An upcoming obstruction on your lane might also be a reason. So here is how to do it.
Step 1 is the second guide, actually being aware of the lane change. Either through his knowledge of the tour or after getting the information from the first guide. Now both have to fall into a position at the end of the group, so far offset that the entire lane is currently blocked. If your second guide is also on the second position in the group, this might take a while, as he has to move out, then cycle slowly until the whole group has passed, then speeding up again and moving into his position. In both cases, it might be useful to signal the movement until you have a car behind slowing down and giving you space. If there is no car, then just take the room and wait until there is a car coming up behind you. There is a reason for this: The car behind you acts as a safety barrier. With your bikes, you are likely underway far below the actual speed limit of the road, and some people are very bad at recognizing this speed difference. Now, if you have a car going at the same speed as yourself right behind you and any driver misjudging speed will plough into that car, instead of the last cyclist in your group, reducing the risk of death or injury dramatically. Also, let me be honest here. In many regions of the world, people are not used to seeing a group of cyclists move on the road and likely do not expect them either. A slow car will be way more comfortable for them to respond to, as it is more familiar. But this reason is, why you as a fellow cyclist should always be friendly and thankful to the driver behind you. Even if he is honking or flashing his lights or making rude gestures at you. Because that driver is now your safety barrier and he had no choice in the matter. A smile and thumbs up can really go a long way here.
Now, once you are in full control of your own lane, the next step is easy and obvious. The second guide has to move out, into the next lane and take control of it, the same way you did with the first on. After that is accomplished, he can signal to the first guide, who is now moving over with all the guests. Either you are in the right lane now, or you have to repeat the entire process for your next lane. You can apply this process everywhere; no matter how big the road is, only you need enough distance. While moving at a constant speed with your group you should plan between two-hundred and five-hundred meters for the manoeuvre, so if you need to get over a few lanes to reach your left turn, you should probably start early as possible.
It works pretty much the same at intersections, at least on those without traffic lights. Again, I would like to show you the set-up first, and then we will go and have a look at the strategy.
Pretty much the first step for the second guide is, to sprint ahead and move into the intersection, way forward of the group. This time is necessary, as it will take some time for cars to arrive and stop. Now because we want to bring vehicles to a full stop, on an intersection, where they might even have the right of way a few rules apply for our second guide. First, if you want to stop a driver, look him into the eyes. Second, make precise gestures. Third, act friendly and appreciative towards the driver. These rules usually work like a charm, but in case they do not, there is rule four: Always be prepared to move out of the way, however, in my experience, that is rarely necessary.
Now, as soon as the first lane of cars is stopped, it is time to move over to the second lane. The second guide should remain until the group has passed him. Also, it is essential that he does not move over while the group is still far away, as the empty road in front of the first car will, likely, lead to the driver accelerating again.
Now there is one last thing to do for our second guide, as soon as the group has fully passed the intersection. To go into a sprint and catch up back to his position within the group. From experience, I have to say that some destinations can be quite physically taxing.
Some final words
In this blog, I decided to only talk about two different methods, a second guide can use to support his group. There are much more, but the principle is always the same: Create spaces for your group to move into, use cars as a safety barrier, and move pro-active anticipating the needs of the group. Still, there is one more important factor, which should not be forgotten. That is your own safety if you are in the position of the second guide. You should never do something you do not feel comfortable with and maybe do not try out this strategy for the first time if you wish to cross the highway in Kuala Lumpur (although it worked even in that case) but instead on some small country roads.
Again and again, over many blogs, I have mentioned that guides perform better if they are at a comfort level, so above all, you should aim to stay at that comfort level during your tours. And with that, I would like to leave you to it. Thanks for reading, and if you are looking for more content like this, check out the other episodes of “The Guide’s Manual”.