Bike & Build: Suggestions for Improvement

This will be the last Bike & Build related posting on this blog.

Run trips from west to east. Trips currently run from east to west. The argument is that the western half of the country has more climbing, less water, and less services, so you should save it for last. Foot per foot, the east coast has more climbing than anywhere else in the country. Furthermore, putting the mountains and desert first, with their perceived level of difficulty, will make people take the ride seriously. Finally, the roads out west are evenly graded, have fewer cars, and are wider than the roads in the east. There is no reason to continue to repeat the same mistake, year after year.

Another benefit of running trips the other way is that the wind will be in your favor, and about three-fifths of the country becomes a slight downgrade. You can have shorter days in the desert, as people are still getting up to fitness, and longer days out east, where flatter terrain, tailwinds, and numerous services make longer days possible.

Make cycling the central tenet of the organization. According to Chris Webber, one of the problems with HBC was that they didn't pay enough attention to their cause. Bike & Build does a fantastic job here, but does so at the expense of quality of cycling. Everyone should be clear that, six days a week, everyone will be on their bicycles - and not in the van - for many hours. Everyone should have done a century ride prior to the start of the trip, and be comfortable riding in a group, changing a flat, adjusting brakes and derailleurs, and staying hydrated. If riders can't do this by the start of the trip, they are unprepared.

Ban alcohol. Ethanol has no place on a ride like this. It interferes with recovery, and leads to poor judgement calls by riders and leaders alike.

Operate on a better budget. The budget, as it stands, provides $1.10, $1.50, and $1.90 respectively for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, per person, per day. It is impossible to give cyclists enough protein and nutrients on this budget. At the same time, a lax van policy can lead to thousands of dollars spent on fuel. You can make riders raise $5000 each, give them better bicycles with nothing lower than Shimano 105 10-speed parts, be stricter about the van, and feed them better.

Cap the trips at 29 people. Sure, increasing the trip capacity to 32 brings in $12,000 in donations, but it also mandates three van shuttles for build sites, which cost precious time and money. 29 people is exactly two trips with a 15-passenger van. If you bump the donation requirement, and buy fancier bikes, you can easily compensate for the additional funds raised by 3 riders.

Improve the gender ratio. My first trip had 14 men and 18 women; this trip had 8 men and 23 women. Skewing the trip toward one gender necessarily changes the structure of the trip. I'd like to see gender equality on these trips.

Be more explicit about the requirements. Almost nobody reads the policy guide or the entire rider guide prior to the start of the trip. They should - many things come as a surprise to them at the start of the trip.

Train the leaders. Many people who lead trips - especially those who have ridden trips before - have no idea what the real requirements are. I would suggest a leader "camp" over a long weekend in the winter or spring, where all of the leaders are forced to live three days in the life of the trip and see what trip leaders do first-hand.

Train the riders. As mentioned above, many people have no idea what they're undertaking: a cross-country bicycle trip is serious business, not just a random good idea that a dorm buddy mentioned over drinks. Too many people come on to the trips completely and totally unprepared. I can appreciate the position of a new cyclist, but I think a regimented training program should be mandatory when signing up for the trip.

Be original. What works for AmeriCorps or worked for HBC doesn't need to work for Bike & Build. Start from scratch, make the manuals clear and to the point, the policies reasonable and strictly enforced, and the gear guide realistic. This is not to say that ideas and policies garnered from other organizations are verboten, but simply that all policies, new or adopted, should be subject to due scrutiny. (I'm sure they are.)