This post was taken from an excellent article written by Vic Armijo the Facebook group for Ultra Cyclists and RAAM racers, see the source link below. The article is very insightful regarding the follow vehicle and everything relating to it. I copied and pasted it here in its entirety so it can preserved and re-ready later by myself and my crew. Excellent and well written – thanks Vic!
RAAM FOLLOW VEHICLE: Life Support System
By Vic Armijo
Think of RAAM and the first image in your mind is one of a racer pedaling just ahead of his/her follow car with the loyal crew inside ready to take care of his/her every need. A RAAM follow vehicle serves multiple purposes (navigation, feeds, mechanical support, etc.) for the riders and is indispensable. Though much of the information shared here applies to multi-rider teams as well as solo efforts, it’s focus is on solos. A future write-up will address the concerns and challenges unique to multi-rider teams.
As stated in the RAAM rulebook (http://tinyurl.com/zkq3ghh) a solo or team needs to have a minimum of two support vehicles. One of these will generally be in direct-follow mode behind the rider during the day (except in certain sections as per local municipal or law enforcement where “leap-frog” support takes over) and must always be in direct-follow mode after 7:00 pm local time (rule #650).
YOUR PAPERS PLEASE
Before departing from Oceanside every vehicle to be used by a crew must undergo inspection. For rented vehicles the RAAM Officials will need to see the rental agreements. All registration and insurance on the vehicles (rented or owned) must be current as do the licenses and insurance for all of the drivers.
RAAM Officials also check the lights, turn-signals, hazard lights, brake lights, head lights and horns of all vehicles. They also want to see the required amber roof lights, the required RAAM rider number on all four sides of the vehicle, all of the RAAM-required stickers and the slow-moving vehicle reflective triangle that must be in place when in follow mode.
MAKE AND MODEL
Over the years we’ve seen a number of different models of cars and trucks used as follow vehicles; from Cooper Minis to Sprinter Vans and Lincoln Navigators and everything in between. A compromise between maneuverability and sheer interior space seems best, with mini-vans best fitting that criterion. Among the many models that serve well are Honda Odysseys, Toyota Siennas, Kia Sedonas and Nissan Quests. But the most popular by far seems to be the Dodge Caravan or its nearly identical Chrysler sibling, the Town & Country. They’re roomy, their 6-cylinder engines have plenty of zip and unlike some of the others listed the window on the right-side slider door opens, making it possible to do hand-offs from the back seat. But perhaps the best feature of the Caravan/Town & Country are the “Stow & Go” rear seats that can fold completely away into the floor, making it easy to configure the inside to accommodate equipment, storage boxes, bikes or a make-shift sleeping area (the Nissan has a similar capability). For all of the same reasons the Caravan/Town & Country is the preferred choice of vehicle for RAAM Media. And no, RAAM isn’t sponsored by Chrysler Motors—but if any of you out there know any of their executives….
Outfitting the follow vehicle is an exercise in organizational skills and creativity. For the rear where the food, parts, spare wheels, rider’s clothing and such will dwell plastic tote boxes and drawers such as those found at Kmart, Walmart, etc. serve well. They’re also relatively inexpensive, so many RAAM racers simply discard them at the finish—just give them to the RAAM staffers in Annapolis and they’ll see to getting them to a worthy local charity. We’ve also seen many follow vehicles outfitted with storage and sleeping platforms built from plywood and/or PVC tubes. These are especially useful for crews doing RAAM without a motor home. With the time and effort needed to construct these set-ups they’re usually found only in vehicles owned by the rider or a crew member since time always seems to be in short supply once the racer and crew get to Oceanside. Some may say, “We’ll build our set-up beforehand for a specific make and model of car and then just rent one of those.” Great in theory, but not always in practice. Many times we’ve witnessed a real-life version of the famous “Seinfeld” scene where Jerry is told at the car rental counter that they don’t have his reserved car;
Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have the reservation.
Rental Car Agent: I think I know why we have reservations.
Jerry: I don’t think you do. You see, you know how to ‘take’ the reservation, you just don’t know how to ‘hold’ the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation: the holding. Anybody can just take them.”
The front seat is sort of the command center. The driver needs to concentrate solely on driving (duh!), leaving many crucial tasks to the front seat crew member. He/she will be the one who communicates with the racer(s) either via loudspeakers on the vehicle or by radio, will hand off food and hydration and hand off or retrieve clothing articles—though if there’s a third crew member in the back seat the hand-offs are often easier for that third person since the supplies are usually in the rear of the vehicle. The front-seat crew member will usually be the navigator. Unless a techno savvy crew member has set-up a turn-by-turn GPS track on a computer or tablet, the navigator needs to be constantly referring to the route book and at all times must know their position in the book. A dashboard mounted GPS to be essential as it will tell you the upcoming street or highway name long before even the most eagle-eyed can read a road sign. It’s not recommended to use a phone for this function either unless that phone is definitely not to be used as a phone as well—you don’t want to interrupt this function with a phone call and end up missing a turn will cost you and your rider time and will irritate the rider.
Along with the GPS there are other electronic bits that need to be kept charged as well. With most front seats have more than one accessory plug most crews will connect an inverter (converts 12v auto power to 110v household power) to one of the extra ones to charge lap-top computers, camera batteries, etc. If an inverter is deemed essential we urge you to get a good one and be sure that it has ample wattage to handle whatever equipment you need to power. We’ve seen the cheap and underpowered ones fail (or burn up!) all too often.
RACK ‘EM UP
Most RAAM riders will bring along at least two bikes plus one or more pairs of spare wheels. There are various solutions to stowing this equipment. Crews with large vehicles often just shove the bikes and wheels inside, while others use a roof rack.
A roof rack takes up otherwise unused space and can also accommodate a cargo box to add even more storage space. But roof racks have many drawbacks as well. The bikes are up in the wind getting coated with road grime and worse—we once saw a dead seagull wrapped around a seat-tube adhered in place by its innards that had become outtards. Roof racks can be time-consuming and awkward to load and unload and with that awkwardness comes a greater likelihood of making a mistake. We’ve seen the aftermath of a few bikes and wheels coming off a roof rack. Finally, with a rented vehicle comes the question of what to do with the roof rack at the end. Many crews disassemble their roof rack, box it and ship it home. Hitch racks, being lower to the ground, are easier to use than a roof rack. But again, at the finish you have a heavy and expensive piece of equipment that needs to be transported home.
Another solution is to use a rear trunk rack, which has many advantages. With a trunk rack the bikes are low to the ground, making them easer and quicker to load and unload. The bikes are also out of the wind. Lastly, trunk racks are cheap enough that many RAAM crews discard them at the end, and again, RAAM staff will accommodate donating a trunk rack to a local charity.
LET THERE BE LIGHT
Per the rules, at night a RAAM races must ride with a headlight that provides a minimum of 70 lumens and a taillight with a minimum of 70 lumens. RAAM rules further state that at night the rider must be no more than 50 feet in front of the follow vehicle, the intent being that the rider remains within the light beams of the vehicle’s headlights.
That sounds like plenty of illumination but consider that the racers will ride mostly on the shoulder of the road—you know, there with all of the road debris, broken glass, road-kill and some items that defy explanation. Wouldn’t some extra light to help avoid all this is a good idea? That’s why many follow vehicles are equipped with added forward lighting. Some use lights meant for off-roading and others use banks of LED’s. In either case they usually mount them low to maximize their illumination of the road surface and where they won’t shine into the eyes of oncoming motorists.
For much of RAAM’s history external loud speakers were the means of communication between the racer and follow car and they also delivered the racer’s favorite music to help him/her while away the miles. Then in recent years came wireless systems that let the rider wear a small earphone (only one per RAAM rules) and microphone and not only be able to converse with the crew, but have music and even phone calls patched into the system as well. An added plus is that the folks that live along the RAAM route don’t get blasted with music or commentary in some foreign language at all hours. Oddly we’ve seen some crews revert back to loud speakers. But in either case, communication with the rider is valuable in meeting his/her needs and in keeping their minds occupied. Besides playing music it’s common for the crew to do things like read the rider his/her local newspaper, play the audio of sitcoms, play comedian performances or even read the commentary from RAAM Media…that last one is probably best reserved for just before a sleep session. wink emoticon