Route marking success

How to avoid rider confusion

The art of century ride route marking requires the obscure “talent” of placing arrows right where the cyclists will need them, whether you want to or not. As with golf and sex, perfection is unattainable, but the potentially herculean route marking task also requires tenacity, patience and fortitude.

In the four and a half decades I’ve been calling myself a “cyclist” I’ve seen my fair share of confusing maps and poorly marked century routes. I have learned a thing or two when it comes to this talent so bear with me and I’ll pass along five nuggets of route marking for your consideration.

1) Be generous: Excess is better than skimpy! We recommend five Arrows per turn: three before the turn, one at the turn, and one right afterwards. The goal is to grab the attention of those few riders who aren’t paying attention, who never read their map, who think they know the route and who would probably sail right past flashing neon.

2) Be consistent: We recommend that arrows be placed to the left of the white line, not in the shoulder/bike lane. First, shoulders come and go, but left of the white line will always be there for you. There are a few other good reasons for using this location: i.e., the arrows stick better and will be worn away faster.

But the best reason is when riders are in a peloton, most of them will be able to see and comprehend the arrows just to the left — arrows in the shoulder/bike lane are often only be seen by the lead rider(s). Also, just to the left is where most riders’ attention is focused as well.

3) Be safe: I probably should have this item first: Always wear bright colors, work during low traffic times, if possible, and work in teams so someone keeps an eye on traffic. I’ve never heard about a person getting injured while route marking, so let’s keep that going, ok!

4) A few other helpful details worth mentioning here: Always use a separate color for each route, (see reason 1); all pre-turn arrows should be set at a 45 degree angle; never put the arrows on a white line, they vanish! Finally, arrows placed in the middle of long sections are a nice touch, a mint on a pillow that says “You’re fine, keep going, you’re not lost!”

5) But why, you might ask, go to all the time and trouble to mark a route at all? Isn’t the map and a cue sheet enough? Well, no.

It may be a bit nutty, but I believe a well-marked route can set the riders free. To be free allows them to fully enjoy their day, relish their time with friends or to be alone, to be unburdened by the worries and necessities of navigation, to sail across the rolling hills, free to feel the delicious burn of their body at play, free to drink it all in, to feel alive. A well-marked route can and does provide that opportunity, whether the riders are aware of the gift, or not.

I hope this helps illuminate the situation. One more thought, if you're so motivated, please give some time and energy to your local bike club or to other worthwhile events in your area. Bicycle events are under increasing pressure; your support is always needed and appreciated.

Randall Braun has been a sponsor of the BE-Pro Conference and the inventor of RouteArrows — a method of marking the routes of long-distance rides. For more information about RouteArrows, the website is RouteArrows.com