The Mysterious Cue Sheet

Many of us that go on long rides these days have a fancy GPS device with some kind of navigation function, making it really easy to upload and follow whatever wacky route you cooked up late at night four beers in. In the olden days, riders would have to write down their turns by hand and wrap them or clip them to somewhere convenient, periodically checking throughout the ride to make sure they were on-course.

The big races and rides release the course maps and files ahead of time, but reading a cue sheet is a good skill to have (and more challenging!). Using just the instructions written down lends a bigger sense of adventure to a ride, and simply following someone around a turn becomes a much riskier proposition.

For the HellKaat Hundie, everyone gets a printed sheet with every instruction. We’re going to give you some pointers on how to read it. All cue sheets have the same basic features, so this lesson will be pretty portable to any race or ride.

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On the very left you’ll see the “leg” distance. That’s the distance to the next instruction. Leg distances are sometimes in different columns, so familiarize yourself with them before starting your ride.

This example card has a visual indicator and a “type” which indicates left, right, straight, etc. This gives you a fairly easy method to identifying what you should look for without parsing an actual word in your head.

The Notes column has the actual instruction and the street, feature or landmark. Sometimes these are obscure such as “Turn left after the second barn”, but most of them will accompany a signpost of some sort.

The last column is the total odometer reading at the instruction point.

So for this example, you would read it, “In one mile, turn left onto 140th Ave. Your total distance at this point is one mile. In two miles after that, turn right onto 12th St. Your total mileage at this point is 2.9 miles (maybe 3)”.

Yes, there’s a minor discrepancy there, but that’s because a lot of cue sheets are automatically generated from a mapping program. You will encounter rounding errors here and there, but unless the routemaster is especially devious, there won’t be anything truly confusing. One tenth of a mile is 528 feet, so it’s close enough for government work.

If you get off-course, your total mileage will be off. That’s where leg distances are helpful. You can also use your odometer to figure out how far off you went, and then add that total distance (including doubling back) to your Total mileage. Otherwise, you’ll just need to be checking that cue sheet more often!

Knowing how to read a cue sheet is fun, adventurous, and a good backup for the space compass when you forget to charge it or it simply decides that reality is a lie.

See you out there!