You Can Get There From Here
By Crista Borras
Superb cue-sheet writers (and I have known several!) all have their own idiosyncratic styles. Nonetheless, their cue sheets all have two qualities: accuracy and clarity. Cue sheet design is particularly critical for brevets, where routes are longer and include more turns than on the average club ride. Brevets should be challenging because of the terrain and the distances involved, not because of poor cues that cause riders to get lost.
I use standard 8-1/2" x 11" paper and apply a simple two-column format, with the text divided into quarters, leaving sufficient space between the top and bottom cues and between the left and right columns to enable the rider to fold the cue sheet into quarters without obscuring any of the text. This is a format that fits most map holders. For those who don't use a handlebar bag, folding the sheet into quarters makes it compact and convenient to place on or near the handlebar using a small binder clip.
Indicating both cumulative and point-to-point distances to the left of the directions is essential for reliable navigation. The next column indicates what action the rider will be taking. I use several abbreviations in the directions, and a "key" is provided at the top of the cue sheet indicating the definition of all abbreviations, e.g., L=left, X=cross, SS=stop sign, RR=railroad tracks, TL=traffic light, @T= "T" intersection, etc. One of my sentimental favorites is: ORF — translation: Outdoor Restroom Facility!
The placement of folds and page breaks that necessitate a cue sheet flip should be carefully considered. I try to place the folds and particularly page breaks at controls whenever possible so that the cue sheet can be flipped when you are stopped anyway, even if this creates additional empty space on the page. If there are too many cues between controls to make this possible, I make sure that the first cue at the top of the next quarter is not a quick turn, a turn in the middle of a descent, or some other condition that doesn't give the rider time to get oriented before addressing the next cue. Ideally the end of the quarter should be at a location where it's easy for the rider to stop and turn the cue sheet. Some riders are particularly adept at turning the cue sheet without stopping, and it's fairly easy for a stoker on a tandem to do this, but for many riders it is problematic.
Imagine the worst case scenario—you're out on a long brevet, after dark, in pouring rain, the wind is blowing furiously, and the last cue on the page is a left turn in the middle of a steep downhill with fast-moving traffic approaching on the left, the oncoming automobile headlights blinding you. Your cue sheet is safely protected in a plastic baggy, but now you have to stop and remove it from its warm dry enclosure and expose it to the elements, whereby the wind and rain can quickly destroy it! Oh, and the following cue at the top of the next page is an immediate crossing of a metal grate bridge or a covered bridge with perpendicular planks and deep grooves between the boards, but if you wait until you've safely negotiated the turn to change the page you won't know that! Chances are you don't have to imagine it, because you've been there. A page break at a place like this should NEVER occur on any cue sheet. Of course, the route designer should make every effort to avoid dangerous turns like this, but sometimes it's not possible. In any case, this article is intended to address cue sheet design only. Route design is another subject. (HOT TIP: lightweight 8.5" x 11" sheet protectors available at any office supply store are foldable and work much better in the rain than plastic zip-loc baggies. You can fold and turn your cue sheet without having to remove it from its rain jacket!)
The cue sheet should point out significant road hazards – metal bridges, railroad tracks, poor road surfaces, unpaved roads, unchained dogs, gravel in turns, sharp switchbacks on steep descents, etc. Highlighting such notations in bold print helps to warn riders in advance. I also note ambiguous road signs, confusing turns, and unmarked turns. Additionally, it is very helpful to indicate T intersections, stop signs, traffic lights, etc., and I always make special note of a turn that takes place in the midst of a descent, indicating that it's easy to miss ("ETM"). In the mid-Atlantic area, and particularly in Virginia, many roads are signed with both name and numbers. I indicate both on the cue sheet, and if the road name changes farther down the route, I note that as well. I also indicate the crossing of state and county lines. Don't you like to know where you are riding? Additionally, I like to include what Tom Rosenbauer calls "spotting cues," where, for example, you've been riding along on the same road for several miles, passing through several intersections, and then there is a turn with no stop sign or significant landmark, or maybe even no road sign at all. Perhaps there's a county line, a red barn, or some other landmark less than a half mile before the turn. I note that on the cue sheet as a heads-up that the turn is coming soon.
I always indicate the names of towns through which the ride passes, and note the exact locations and names of stores and restaurants along the route. If there's a chance that the rider may arrive at the location after the store is closed or before it opens, I try to note the hours that the store is open. If it's a large town I may merely indicate "stores and restaurants," but in most cases I will indicate particular services, noting which side of the road they're on, and I try to note whether or not restrooms are available.
Controls should be highlighted in bold type and set off in such a way that the rider can look at the cue sheet and see at a glance where all the controls are. The exact location of controls should be clearly indicated, again noting whether the control is on the left or right side of the road (or straight ahead at a dead end). If there is no restroom available at the control, I note that so that riders can plan ahead.
By following these fundamental guidelines, brevet organizers are sure to receive positive feedback from riders at the conclusion of even the toughest brevet.
Crista Borras is a member of the DC Randonneurs, where she has earned widespread admiration for her cue sheets and weekly ride schedule.