Custom Cues for Safety

John Allen

OK, so CRW no longer requires arrowing of its weekend rides. Most ride participants have a RidewithGPS subscription – a free benefit of CRW membership – relieving ride leaders of a major burden. BUT – RidewithGPS makes its own demands on ride leaders. Especially because of riders like me.


I don’t carry my cell phone on a handlebar mount. Hey, I am your Safety Coordinator, after all, and I try to live up to that title. I prefer not to look at my phone when I could be looking at the road. I hide the phone in a bento box on the top tube, or place it in a rear jersey pocket, wrapped in a plastic bag to keep sweat out, upside down so the speakers face upward. RidewithGPS provides cues, and a “confirming-arrow” sound after each waypoint –  a different sound if I make a wrong turn, and a suggested way to return to the route. I can follow the route well enough from the phones’ audible cues, if they are precise and accurate.

The automated cues in RidewithGPS, however, are often not precise and accurate. Ride leaders need to review the cues and revise some of them.

As an example, here is a segment of the How ‘bout Them Apples ride as it passes through Monument Square in Concord. The ride passes from right to left on the map below.

Monument Square on the Apples ride

The cues read:

  • Turn slight left onto Lexington Road (Cue is off the map at the right, beyond point A.)
  • Turn left onto Monument Square, MA 62 (Point B on the map.)
  • Turn right onto Main Street, MA 62 (Point C on the map.)

The cue at point B is doubly confusing. RidewithGPS sets cures for turns, not landmarks. And so, the cue says “turn left onto Monument Square,” after most of Monument Square. Also, “turn left” usually indicates a turn of 90 degrees. The route makes a U turn around the end of the Square.  Only after a cyclist has successfully followed the cue at point B does the third cue give the ultimate direction that the route is to take. I took a wrong turn here.

A cyclist who wants to get to Main Street could instead turn left before Monument Square – and perhaps stop at the water fountain on the Square.

How would I have handled this? Either routing option is valid, but both work better with custom cues.

My cues to turn left before Monument Square would go like this:

  • At point A: “Merge to the center of the lane. Turn left just before the obelisk.”
  • Approaching the Square: “Turn left. Water fountain on the right.”

My cue to go around the Square would go like this:

  • At point A: “Continue straight. Water fountain ahead to your left.”
  • Approaching the Square: “Stay well away from the angle-parked cars.”
  • Approaching point B: “Go around the Square to the left, U turn. Enter the right-hand lane.”
  • Approaching point C: “Turn right onto Main Street. Ride in the middle of the right-hand lane to avoid dooring.”

These cues give accurate directions, and more: they suggest lane choice and lane position. Riders need to know these one turn ahead when turns occur quickly one after another. Riders may also benefit from safety advice.

Here’s another example, also in Concord, at mile 15.4 on the shorter East European Ride, which I have led for many years.

Turn on East European Ride

My cue, coming from Old Marlboro Road at the left, is:

  • “Turn left into thru lane on Old Road to Nine Acre Corner, second lane from the right.”

As in Monument Square, correct lane choice and lane position are a safety issue.  Unless you already know this intersection, you need the audible cue to make the right choice. No matter how far you zoom in on the map, the red line does not indicate lane choice.

Taking the right-hand lane is usual after turning: but here, the right-hand lane is a right-turn-only lane. As the satellite view below makes clear, the lane position which the red line shows is incorrect, grazing the left turn lane, and then after crossing Route 2, hewing to the centerline.

Custom cues are also needed in connection with points of interest in RidewithGPS, because points of interest do not generate audible cues. On a recent follow-the-leader ride, I helped another cyclist with a minor mechanical problem. The group ahead of us turned aside to view a historical spot along the route.RidewithGPS indicated it as a point of interest, but with no cue. Also, the group didn’t leave a “human arrow” out at the road to flag stragglers down. My companion and got several miles ahead while the others thought we were behind. Everyone spent more than 20 minutes waiting. A custom cue would avoid this problem.

Where riders have an option either to continue or to visit a point of interest, a custom cue may indicate both options, as in “continue straight, ot turn left to visit Happy Valley Farms.” RidewithGPS will indicate that the rider is off the route for a short distance, but then will recover. I also like to place cues at ride splits in case someone decides to go for the longer or shorter ride -- and at town lines so riders can call the right emergency responders, if needed.

You may insert a custom cue by editing an existing cue, or anywhere along a route, after dragging the ride position pointer to where you want the cue. Often, I find it useful to delete the automated cue and place the custom cue farther ahead of the turn. This is especially so when a lane change is needed.

I suggest that a ride leader lay out the route, then ride it, keeping notes about where custom cues are needed, and inserting them.or at least, survey the complicated intersections using Google Street View. It is work, – but on the other hand, unlike painted arrows, a RidewithGPS route can be used year after year, needing to be refreshed only where road conditions change. A ride leader may ask ride participants for feedback, so the cues improve from year to year. .

In connection with this article, also see Eli Post’s article in the January 2021 Wheelpeople, in which he shows how to create custom cues, and describes additional uses for them.



John S. Allen is CRW Safety Coordinator, a certified CyclingSavvy Instructor and League Cycling Instructor and author of Bicycling Street Smarts.