The Pablo Navigation Method

Discussion in 'Trip Planning' started by Pablo83, Aug 4, 2013.

  1. Pablo83

    Pablo83 Sleep, Wrench, Ride

    Aug 20, 2008
    Woodland Park, CO
    This is a navigation method for large groups. I have used it on BreckTrek, The MonkeyButt 500, WestFest, and many other rides with great success.

    I go through a big song and dance at the beginning of each ride to explain to the riders how the method works. I keep saying I'm going to have someone film my explanation, but I never get around to it. So I guess I'll try and document it.

    This group navigation method was invented on the first BreckTrek ride. Someone (I can’t remember who) suggested it and it worked well so I have been tweaking it ever since with a lot of success. This method is total overkill for a weekend out with your buddies. The Pablo Method was invented for moving very large groups of riders with different skill levels over long distances of technical trails.

    As your group size gets larger, this method gets more complicated for the ride organizers, but the responsibilities of the riders remains the same, and always remain very simple: “Stay at your damn corner!”

    How it Works…

    The Leader:
    When the ride Leader (Lead) gets to a trail intersection, he stops and points to the rider in back of him and then points to the ground as if to say “you stay here.” In doing so, the Leader assigns the rider to stay at that intersection. The leader should look for either a nod or a thumbs-up from the next rider to know he understands his responsibility. Late in the day riders tend to get lazy and not put much effort into their nods; it becomes difficult for me to tell if they are nodding or if their head is just bouncing up and down of roots or bumps so in the rider meeting, I tell my riders to give me a very big nod.

    Riders assigned to an intersection are called “Pointers”. A Pointer stays at his assigned intersection and points EVERYONE in the group through the intersection. The Pointer starts riding again at the back of the pack. In this fashion the riding order of the group rotates with every intersection.

    The Sweeper:
    Once the group gets larger than 6 people, it becomes difficult for Pointers to keep track of how many riders have passed, and to know when they should start riding again. With groups of this size it becomes advantageous to add a Sweeper (AKA Sweep). The Sweeper stays at the back of the pack for the entire ride. When Sweep reaches a Pointer he signal the Pointer to start riding again.

    In Colorado we have a common method of communication when two riding groups meet head-on on the trails. Below is the method as described by Stay The Trail Colorado (

    When passing or meeting other riders on the trail, give them a hand signal to let them know how many riders are left behind you in your group.

    Two Riders Behind Me: Two fingers means you have two riders behind you.

    One Rider Behind Me: One finger means you have one rider behind you.

    I'm the Last Rider: A closed fist means you're the last vehicle in your group.

    Since the Sweeper is always the last person in the group, he uses the “Last Rider” signal to let Pointers know when to start riding again. This is also known as the “Fight the Power” signal.


    Since the Sweeper is always in back, he will have to deal with most all issues that stop the group from moving forward. These problems range from simple get-offs to the death of a rider. Because of this, the Sweeper should be an experienced rider and an intelligent human. I’ve listed some situations that Sweep needs to be prepared to address. We have had to deal with all of these situations on different rides. The Sweeper should take some time to think about how he would handle each of these situations. It’s much easier to think about them now than when they happen.

    - A rider that can’t make it over an obstacle
    - Breakdowns (flat tires, broken cables, cracked radiators, etc)
    - Injuries (from sprains to compound fractures)
    - Law Enforcement Officers (Forest Rangers, Cops, etc)
    - Angry land owners that don’t want a bunch of dirt bikes (legal or not) riding near their land.

    Sweeper should know the exact route planned for the day. If the group happens to get split up somehow, Sweep will become the leader for his half of the group.

    It is important that the Sweeper never let any other riders get in back of him. One common occurrence is when Sweep signals a Pointer to start riding again and the Pointer says “I need to take a quick piss. Go on. I’ll catch up.” If Sweep moves on and the Pointer can’t get his bike started then you have a problem that might hold up the whole group for an extended time. In this situation Sweep should tell the person “I’ll wait while you piss.” An important point to note is that sometimes you have someone who can’t keep up with the pace of the group and they will use an excuse like “I need to piss, I’ll catch up” when they really need to catch their breath. These people often think they will get a “second wind” and be able to keep up, but they almost never do. When you have someone in back of the group who is supposed to catch up with the group, but he’s the slowest guy, you end up with a big problem.

    The biggest problem we have with the Pablo Method is when Pointers leave their corners before Sweep shows up. This usually happens when there is some kind of hold up in the back of the group. New riders tend to get very nervous when they don’t see another rider for more than ten minutes. They tend to think someone must be injured so they leave their corner to see if they can help. This really messes things up and usually requires the leader to reassemble the entire group to get things moving again. This can be a huge pain when the group is spread out over many miles. Long holdups are almost always caused by flat tires.

    If there is a holdup (like a flat) it can take up to 45 minutes to get the group moving again. I stress very loudly and very often that Pointers should not leave their corners until someone tells them to, even if that means sitting at the intersection all alone for hours.

    If there is a holdup in the group it is very helpful for Sweep to assign someone as a Runner. The Runner’s duty is to ride to from the back to the front of the pack, stopping at each intersection to tell the Pointer that there has been a holdup and it might take a while to get moving again. They should also remind the Pointer to stay at their corner.

    Assistants (AKA Babysitters):
    When the group starts to exceed about 15 people, it becomes helpful for the Sweeper to have Assistants. Assistants ride in back of Sweep and help with problems. Some benefits of Assistants are:

    - They can be assigned as Runners.
    - They can be assigned to a Pointer that needs to take a piss while the rest of the group moves on.
    - They can assist with a trail repair while the rest of the group moves on, and then can escort the person back to the group; this really helps keep the group moving.
    - If someone needs to split off from the group, but doesn’t know the way out, the Assistant can escort that person to a main road and then rejoin the group.
    - They can go back to town and get a rescue vehicle if someone completely breaks down.
    - They can escort someone to the hospital.

    Having Assistants makes a huge difference in the overall speed of a large group. Some times it is a problem finding Assistants because most people attending the ride want to finish the ride and Assistants are least likely to finish since they have to assist anyone who can’t go on, so some times it takes some bribing to find good Assistants.

    Having at least two Assistants insures no one will have to ride solo. If someone needs to split off from the group, but doesn’t know the way out, two Assistants should be assigned to that person. That way, after the person splits off, there are two Assistants to try and catch up with the group together.

    Assistants need to know the exact route planned for the day (GPS tracks help a lot).

    One last thing to consider when you have Assistants is your Sweeper is no longer the last person in line so it’s not entirely appropriate for Sweep to use the “fight the power” signal any more, but I have him use it anyway and it seems to work.



    When I walk around at breaks and talk to people, everyone recognizes me, but when I put on my helmet and hop on my bike, I look just like everyone else in the group. Because of this, the Leader should distinguish himself from the rest of pack. A good way to do that is for the Leader to wear one of those stupid helmet mohawks.

    Why does the Leader need to distinguish himself? If someone gets in front of the Leader or in back of Sweep, that person is effectively out of the group and on their own. It is easy for Sweep to stay in back of all the riders, but if someone passes the Leader, it is the Leaders responsibility to stay with the group. If necessary, the Leader can tell the next person in the group to stay where he is and stop everyone else while the Leader tries to chase down the person that passed him, but if that person cannot be chased down, the group is going to have to move on without them. Because of this, at the beginning of the ride I show everyone my helmet with awesome mohawk and tell them if they pass me they are out of the group and I will not chase them down.

    It is also helpful (but not near as necessary) for Sweep to distinguish himself too. A different color mohawk is a good idea.

    The B Route:
    On some really long difficult rides, not everyone will be able to finish the route. But the people who can’t keep up don’t want to be left on their own so they often push way past their limit to try and keep up, and sometimes they injure themselves. To alleviate this problem it can help to have a B Route which is easier than the A Route (main route). The B Route will need its own Lead and (if necessary) its own Sweep. The increased complications with organizing a B Route means this is usually only practical for groups over 20 riders.

    On this year’s BreckTrek ride we had about three people start on the B route and about 10 people finish on it. That means about 25% of the A group decided to switch to the B route sometime during the day.

    It is VERY important for the B Group to stay clear of the A Group and vice versa. When both groups leave from the same location, whichever group leaves second should give the first group plenty of time to get clear. If the Leader of one group happens to catch up with the Sweeper of the other one, he should stop his group and give the other group more time to get clear.

    I used to stop about every ten miles to let the group completely reassemble. Most other navigation methods do this too, but it takes a lot of time. As I have perfected the Pablo Method over the years I have found re-grouping to be mostly unnecessary. With The Pablo Method in full effect, I only regroup at gas stops (about every 50 miles). This means on a 200 mile day we will only regroup 3 times. This allows the group to really cover some ground and this is when The Pablo Method really shines.

    Re-grouping is the time to let Assistants rejoin the group and for riders to switch from the A route to the B Route.

    We have found texting to be the best method of communication. When there is a breakdown it is very helpful for Sweep to text Lead about the incident. Cell service is often spotty on remote trails, but a text will usually go through eventually.

    We have tried having the Leader and Sweep carry two-way radios to communicate when there is a hold-up in the group. This has never worked out, someone always forgets to turn on their radio, or the distance between Lead and Sweep is too far for the radios to work.

    Group Order:
    It is very important for everyone to stay at their corner until Sweep relieves them, but it is not important what order the riders are in. It helps if you let the group know that they can change order while they are riding. If someone is on their tail they can pull over and let that person by (unless that person is Sweep). This helps relieve tension in a group with riders of different skill levels. If someone is letting so many people by that they are constantly in the back with Sweep, they should move to the B Route.

    GPS Tracks:
    I give GPS tracks to Sweep and to the Babysitters, but I make a point not to give tracks to the riders. I tell the riders where we will be going and what the trails will be like, but I have found that it is better if the riders don’t know what the exact route for the day is. Sometimes I need to modify the route on the fly and in some of these cases a rider that has the GPS tracks will follow the tracks instead of the Pointers, and sometimes others follow. Without knowing the exact route, riders are forced to pay attention to the Pointers.

    Joining Late:
    I do not allow people to join my rides late. It has caused many many problems. Holding up a group of 20 riders to locate and instruct a couple new riders is not fair to the group. I know there are many people who want to join the group, but not for the whole ride. I tell these people to start the ride with everyone else and peel off when they are ready.

    Despite this being a posted rule before each ride, I still have people who somehow join late. This typically happens when someone’s alarm doesn’t go off on time so they miss the beginning of the ride and they know about where the ride is supposed to go so they just ride around until they find a really large group of people and join in. This is a problem since it is important for everyone to know how the navigation method works. I am usually tipped off that someone doesn’t know what’s going on when I point at them and they don’t give me the head nod or thumbs up. Before you start the ride, you (the Leader) need to decide what you are going to do with late joiners. Either they need to be taught the navigation method or they need to be asked to leave.

    Wrong turns:
    Wrong turns can really create problems. When a rider sees other riders coming towards him, he assumes it is different group and his instinct is to wave and keep riding. So if the Leader needs to turn the group around he needs to make sure that everyone coming at him realizes that the group is turning around. This can become a huge pain in the butt.

    If a wrong turn is made it is easier to create a detour than to turn the group around (but this isn’t always feasable). If the Leader is not sure which way to go at an intersection, he should tell the Pointer to stop the whole group while he scouts ahead to find the right way. Extensive planning and pre-running really helps prevent wrong turns.

    Directing groups through city streets:
    The Pablo Method was invented for trails, but works in cities too (although not near as well). The biggest problem with city traffic is you have one of your riders standing in the street directing traffic. This can get dangerous. When assigning a Pointer to a city intersection that I think might be a bit dangerous I pull to the shoulder, decide where the safest place for the person and his bike would be, and then I wait for them to get in position before I move on. That way the person does not feel rushed to get in place. This makes the process safer.

    Sometimes other riders start to get stacked up during this process. If there is not a safe shoulder to pull onto, I stop in the middle of the road so that traffic (cars) has to stop also. This might make some Leaders nervous, but this can be important to the safety of your Pointers. Usually you can get moving very quickly and not piss off traffic too much. Even if it does take a while to get a Pointer set up, when more and more dirt bikers start joining your group, the car drivers decide they should be patient and stop honking.

    Roundabouts with heavy traffic are one of the worst intersections to safely navigate and should be avoided if possible.

    When there is a difficult obstacle I usually assign the next guy in line to stay there and help others through it. Sometimes two people need to be assigned. Sometimes a cameraman should be assigned as well :D. If a gate needs to be shut after the group moves through it, I assign someone to it as well.
  2. Witold

    Witold Been here awhile

    Jul 21, 2004
    A long time ago, I had a rider crash on my relatively big ride (30ish riders), no one realized it, and we didn't find out until we got home. (!!!) When bikes crash, they might leave no sign of crashing as the bike and rider sit in the ditch.

    On another ride, it was just the 3 of us. When the first person lowsided, we both rode on by and didn't see him. The rider who crashed was not hurt and eventually picked up his bike and rode to us to the next intersection but I really wonder how long it would've taken us to find him if he did get hurt. There were no signs of a crash on the road. Nothing. He told us he watched both of us ride on by and was unable to get our attention since we were both looking through the turn instead of looking at the outside of the turn. Since he was leading and he wasn't at the intersection waiting for us you would think it would be very simple. But what confused us was that the intersection was sort of a 'yield' intersection... It had a stop sign, but it was plausible that the leader just kept going and didn't treat it as a waiting intersection. We were not sure.

    In short, your strategy can be improved by using the count. At our rides, we usually wait for everyone at each intersection and do the count. The bigger the group, the more important this is. In my first story with 30ish riders, we had some drop-offs and people leaving early and basically, I lost the official count. It was really bad luck because I lost the count literally the intersection before the rider crashed and at next intersection, we divided up into smaller groups (some people went home, some people went for a further short ride, and some people continued for the long ride.) Boy, did I feel horrible finding this out after the ride and knowing that a rider and his bike were stuck there because the bike was not ridable.

    For the second scenario where there is a small group riding similar pace, I think it's best to keep a visual contact with the person in front and behind you. That is actually what we did 3 of the other days of the ride and this was the tail end of out trip and we got a bit lax.

    In general, unless it's some sort of semi-parade, it's always best to break up groups into 7-10ish riders. We've done 40 person sportbike rides around here and the way we do it is that we let people pick what pace they want to ride... fast, medium, relaxed, and people park and lineup accordingly. If any of the groups is still too big, it gets split into 2 medium groups/etc. Each group has at least a leader doing the count, and usually someone helping out as a sweeper. Fast people leave first. It has worked amazing well even if people are not used to it. This is how you can turn a 40 bike ride into a fun ride where you don't feel like you're in a parade of bikes. With the sub-groups, it feels like an excellent smaller group ride. Highly recommended. If you only have one leader who knows where they are going, each group waits for the next one at intersections. So the leader does his count with the help of the sweeper, and when the see the next group coming up, they leave the intersection.
  3. acejones

    acejones Long timer

    May 14, 2005
    MS. Gulf Coast and Puerto Vallarta, MX
    All of the above is why I don't ride with more than three other bikes.........and that's usually too many.
  4. Jamie Z

    Jamie Z Long timer

    Oct 17, 2006
    Denver, more or less.
    I've been using that method for quite a few years. We call it the Drop/Sweep.

    You used a lot of words to describe it, and scared off all the children. It's a good method if you don't make it complicated. We've used it for groups as large as about 20 or 25.

    Ace, I'm not going to change your riding habits, but I'm like you. I generally don't like to ride in groups, but the Drop/Sweep works well because you're never really riding in a group. There are often times that you won't even have another motorcycle in view. You ride your own ride and when you come to a corner with someone pointing, you go that way.

    The riders don't have to all stay together. You don't have to all make it through the green light. It doesn't matter if you get mixed in with traffic.

    It sounds like Pablo uses it for trail rides. We always used it for street rides. Sounds like it'd work for either case.