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April 5, 2017
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April 27, 2017

When you started trail riding, the chances are you ended up in a small group following a guy who knew where he was going. That would be the 'run leader'. The guy who knows the lanes, know's how to connect them and knows when to get the camera out for the bits that you're going to fall on.

But how do you go from being a follower to a leader? Cumbria TRF have put together an innovative scheme to help TRF members get skilled up and build the confidence to begin to lead runs. Nigel Summers was on the latest training day, here's what happened...


So Nigel, the first I heard about this was when I saw Steve Stout’s post on the Cumbria TRF Facebook Group. Is that how you got involved?


We had talked about it at our local area TRF group meetings. A problem had been identified. Each month a run leader is chosen to lead a TRF run. Steve Stout was advertising these runs on the Cumbria TRF Facebook page and they were hugely oversubscribed, filling up within seconds, leaving many who would like to have come out disappointed. Group numbers are strictly limited especially in the highly sensitive Lake District National Park. Steve Stout’s solution was to encourage more riders to become run leaders so we could offer more runs per month.


What’s your background in the TRF? Why did this appeal to you?


Apart from brief forays into trials and grass track racing over four decades ago, and more recent trail riding on big adventure bikes on the Iberian Peninsula and in North Africa, my bike life has been lived on European tarmac roads and UK track days.

A neighbour of ours, TRF member Lucy Dunn, and her partner Steve Stout were clearly having far too much fun on their knobbly-tyred steeds and my curiosity made it a simple step for them to talk me into trying the trails which, with Steve’s patient guidance, I started exploring in February 2016, joining the TRF a month or two later.

The Cumbria Group proved to be a friendly, welcoming and lively lot, always ready and willing to share their years of knowledge and experience with a wobbling newbie. I was soon making new friends and heading out on the green roads. At the end of 2016, I volunteered my services as secretary for the Group, a position I now hold.

The Run Leader Training appealed on many levels. Primarily it would provide an opportunity to give something back to a Group who had treated me to a year of great riding adventures and fun. To lead rather than follow would demand taking control of route planning and on-the-day navigation; it would involve an enhanced degree of responsibility and attention to the welfare of other riders in a group; it would require an ability to identify and tackle various logistic issues including trying to keep people safe, legal, fuelled and fed.

Overall, it promised to be a win win. A chance to help answer a specific problem of oversubscription to ride outs within the Group and a broadened view of the whole trail riding experience for myself.


How did the day unfold?


First off, I should tell you that Steve Stout went to considerable lengths to prepare and produce a set of notes which he sent out to all the participants before the day.

These notes were to serve as a post-event aide-memoire since he knew he would be covering a huge range of subjects during the course of the day. At my age, the memory sure needs all the aid it can get, so I’ll be drawing heavily on his notes in what I now tell you.

Also, the briefing was actually conducted throughout the day at various stops and over lunch as there was much interesting and stimulating discussion surrounding many of the points raised.

Steve kicked off with a briefing at our rather chilly rendezvous point. This was basically split in two parts.

1: What to do before the day

This included:

Route planning. Making sure that the route suits both your own capability as a run leader and your prospective rider group. Are you offering to take out newbies or intermediate and experienced riders?

Navigation methods. Primary means of navigation (e.g. GPS). Back-up navigation method (e.g. detailed OS Maps covering the route). A printed route overview map to highlight potential fuel and food stops on the day.

Timing. Making sure that the route could be covered in the available time, remembering daylight hours and adding contingency for potential mishaps, gates, fuelling and food breaks.

Advertising your run: how and where to make your run known to your group. Making sure people know where and when to meet and when they’re expected to be ready to actually ride.

Kit: making sure your own bike and your kit are fit and won’t be letting you down.

Force Majeure: Being prepared to abandon the day - for example if extreme weather intervenes. How you can communicate such last minute changes to the group.

2: What to do on the day.

At this point the briefing took on a more practical tone. We were, after all, about to go on a ride and at any point, Steve would select any one of us to act as leader or tail ender.

Introductions with helmets off provided lesson number one. We won’t look like that with helmets on! As the plan would involve each one of us taking the role of leader and tail ender for periods during the course of the day, we needed to know that we could recognise each other once ensconced in riding garb.

And how many of us were there? Another important point to get lodged in the head! Obvious, you’d think, but do we all make a pre-ride count every time out, or do we just tend to leave it up to the run leader? Be honest now!

Steve offered important insight into the run leader role. This touched on what can be a legal minefield and led to some interesting discussion among the group.

Basically the run leader in our scenario is an unpaid volunteer who is willing to show others a route taking in legal roads, some of which will be “green”, and some will be tarmac linking the green ones together. That’s it. The leader is otherwise not responsible for whatever might happen during the day and every rider should be aware that he or she is entirely responsible for themselves.

But that might not absolve the leader of perceived responsibility in a court of law, so the business of introduction was taken a little further than a mere exchange of names. For example, Steve asked each of us to say a little about our personal riding experience.

This may sound involved and time consuming, but in practice, Steve showed how a great deal of information could be gleaned from quite brief exchanges using carefully worded questions.

The introductions phase also provided an opportunity to ask each rider about their bike’s maximum fuel range. Fuel stops need to be planned to suit the machine with the shortest range.

Steve stressed the importance of making sure that the group know and can identify (with helmet on) who is the Leader and who is the designated Tail-Ender.

Making sure everyone is aware that they are expected to keep an eye on the person immediately behind them is equally critical, especially at junctions.

If the rider behind you is not there, there is a problem or a lost rider so stop and turn back. Eventually the group will all become aware in turn and go back to the source of the problem to help sort it out.

Even the penultimate rider in the line needs to adhere to this golden rule. The Tail Ender might be an experienced rider, but that doesn’t mean they will have a problem-free day!

If a rider becomes separated from the group, they should wait at the last place they were still in visual contact with the others. Eventually the group will double back and find them. Lost riders should not attempt to head off in a random search for the group. This will only make the situation worse.

The Gate handling procedure is shared with the group.

Leader and Tail Ender do not open or shut gates.

Rider two opens.

Rider three shuts after the Tail Ender has passed through.

Tail Ender waits for the gate shutter to pass and then sets off him/herself.

Simple, and if everyone follows this rule, everyone gets to ride everywhere in the line except at the very front or at the very back, everyone gets some gate-opening and gate-shutting action and gates are handled with the minimum of time-loss.

And yet how many riders do you know who get confused by this simple procedure and seem incapable of following it? A good few, I’ll bet!

Steve discussed procedures for handling accidents and injuries and the importance of identifying when the point comes when the best outcome will be provided by emergency service professionals and is beyond the capabilities of the group.

The vital point was made that unless a rider is pretty much on the point of death, it is crucial to take the most humorous possible photograph of their plight for later publication on all social media platforms before going to their aid!

Steve advocated encouraging riders to speak up if they were finding the ride-out pace too fast, too slow, or the terrain too hard or too easy. There might be something the leader can do to improve the lot of a rider having a bad day, although it was also pointed out that to please all the people all the time is an impossible dream.

The importance of making sure that all riders have tools appropriate to their own machine was also highlighted. Steve demonstrated his own simple kit, developed over more miles than most of us will ever cover.

Numerous other points were covered throughout the day and included…

Making sure that everyone understood that in the event of breakdowns, injuries or any other problems suffered by an individual rider, everyone was expected to muck in and help out to the best of their abilities and that injured riders should never be left alone.

Sharing any information about the lanes that the leader and/or others may not know

Handling challenges from members of the public and/or landowners

Following the TRF Code of Conduct

Reporting access issues, lane blockages, lane damage etc. to the local group’s Rights of Road (a.k.a. RoW) officers

Making sure you and your ride out group have lots of fun and laughs.


What were the big lessons you came away with? Any surprises?


For me a favourite moment came when Steve deliberately included a lane in the route that would almost guarantee a confrontation with a landowner. This particular lane - lets be accurate here and call it “this particular ROAD” - includes some gates wired shut and others deliberately rendered inoperable, forcing users of the road to make detours over field land which is extremely soft and very easy to mark.

Sure enough, we were challenged, not by the farmer himself on this occasion, but by the farmer who owns the neighbouring farm who had seen us making one of the aforementioned detours.

The encounter began with the farmer disputing our contention that it was our legal right to make a reasonable detour if there was a blockage on the legitimate road.

At this point, he was not a happy bunny. Illegal detours by “off roaders” through his own farmyard (itself a bridleway), fuel theft and various other problems had caused him to have to spend thousands on an elaborate set of access gates for vehicles and pedestrians.

We all removed our helmets and crucially did a lot more listening than talking until we fully understood his position. You could not help but sympathise with his problems, and he certainly appreciated that we did.

Anyway, the encounter ended with him having a right good laugh with us, eventually confessing to having been a keen biker in his past, and generally realising that we weren’t a bunch of two wheeled hooligans out to ruin his life and intimidate him and that in fact we were all prepared to look out for, and be respectful of, each other’s needs.

By that point, an unhappy bunny had become a happy bunny. Job done!

The whole day was an eye opener. It was brilliantly and professionally thought out and run, but the real surprise was how it will impact on me even as a participant in ride outs. Yes, it was Run Leader Training, but it was also so helpful in “getting the right head on” just as a rider in a group situation.

I’ve spent my motorcycling life preferring to ride alone or just with my better half on the pillion seat and there was so much information offered on the day that I simply hadn’t thought about. I think the training will make me so much more aware of the needs of others. Less selfish I guess you could say, and that can’t be a bad thing.

Download the Run Leader guide here


So will we be seeing you at the front of the group more often now?


Definitely. I’ve already taken out my first group (before the training day) and now, armed with Mr. Stout’s excellent words of wisdom, I’m very keen to repeat the experience. I really enjoyed the planning phase - beats watching the TV any day - and contributing in some small way to folks having fun on the day was a great feeling.


Finally, what would you say to any other TRF members or groups that are thinking of replicating something like this elsewhere in the country?


Go for it. The only thing missing on the day were other experienced run leaders. Steve invited them, but none could attend and that was a shame. Everyone can benefit from everyone else’s experiences and nobody knows it all. I would say that even the most experienced run leader in the country would have found food for thought somewhere in what was covered on the day. It’s definitely a more-the-merrier thing. Everyone will benefit so get to it!


Thanks Nigel!


Feeling inspired by Cumbria TRF? Putting together a training day like this isn't too hard with a bit of planning. Having more run leaders helps spread the responsibility of leading rides throughout your regional group.

Get in touch with Steve Stout if you would like a few more tips.