Guide to Motorcycle Group Riding
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How to pack and prepare for a motorcycle trip means you need to ensure all essentials are included, yet space is limited so you need to travel light. The guiding rule truly is ‘less is more” which is also a fun part of the adventure of motorcycle touring!
Motorcycling with friends on a weekend ride or with an organized motorcycle rally is another cherished part of the motorcycle riding experience. It’s fun riding with a group of friends but it requires the full attention of each rider. When a group ride is done correctly ts a real pleasure and actually a safe way to ride together. A group of riders becomes a larger “object” in the road for motorists to see.
In a group it’s less likely a car will turn left in front of you, or even try to lane change into you. In fact in many cases it’s the riders within the group which pose the greatest dangers!
YOU are entirely responsible for your own behaviour in all circumstances during the ride.
If you are an inexperienced rider your first group ride is best done with riders you know well or are good friends with. Here you’ll get a feel for riding with motorcyclists you trust. This is important for your own skill development and to gain experience before participating in a ride where you’ll be riding with those you don’t know. This will demand extra concentration from you. Riding in a group does not relieve any rider of their responsibility to apply good judgement. Nor does it place the responsibility for your personal safety on the group leader.
So before you ride in a group here are some methods and pointers for success.
Arrive on time with a full gas tank.
Be sure to have a group/riders meeting ahead of time to set the ground rules and route for your ride. Discuss things like the route, rest and fuel stops. If you cannot meet before, be sure to allot time for this before your group ride departs on the day of. The riders meeting should be done by someone with group riding experience and/or is usually the group ride leader.
Assign a Lead and Sweep (tail) Rider.
Both these riders should be experienced riders who are experienced in group riding procedures. The leader should be aware of each rider’s skill level before the ride and monitor the riders during the ride.Usually this is the rider with the most experience and trusted judge of road safety. As the saying goes, “Good skills are irrelevant in the absence of good judgement!” so be sure the group leader of the ride you are joining in on is someone you have faith in!
Keep the group to a manageable size, ideally five to seven riders. If necessary, break the group into smaller sub-groups, separated by a few seconds, each with a lead and sweep rider. Ride prepared. At least one rider in each group should a first-aid kit and full tool kit, and all riders should carry a cell phone, so the group is prepared for any problem that they might encounter.
A lead rider must be able to set a pace that every one in the group can follow; safely ride within a speed limit that is comfortable for all riders behind. This rider must also be able to plan ahead and communicate to the other members of the group. Making last-minute turns, stops, lane changes, etc. will catch other riders off guard and can lead to disaster. Additionally, when a rider is lost or gone amiss, it’s the group leader that will stop the group safely and ride back to find the missing rider.
The sweeper’ or ‘chase rider’ has the duty to keep an eye on the riders in front. If something were to happen (a fall, mechanical failure, etc.) the chase rider will be there to deal with the situation. The assigned chase rider should also be knowledgeable about the ride route.
As soon as a rider is missing the group stops right away unless another arrangement has been agreed upon. To continue riding would add more space between the group and the lost rider. Stopping can be done anywhere as long as you can execute it safely. There can be situations, depending on the number in your group, when some riders in the back need a stop at a gas station and are required to leave the group. At that point someone should ride on, to inform the people who are waiting for them (and who might be worried about them).
It is important to keep your distance from the rider ahead and beside you. The two second following rule is used here and enforced to the rider immediately in front of you. If the rider ahead of you suddenly detects an obstacle requiring a swerve or stop you’ll be ready and hopefully avoid colliding. Often riders follow too close to each other in a group, more so than they would do in other circumstances. It is equally important not to follow too far behind which can create a hole in the group inviting auto’s / vehicles to enter.
Staggered Formation Except in Corners
Formation for riding in groups is staggered. This is where each following rider rides on the opposite lane position / tire track from the rider in front (right or left of centre). This allows space for each rider to manoeuvre left or right within their lane and permits maximum visibility for each rider ahead/behind. While cornering however, each rider selects their own line (often a group appears to be going single file) through the corner. So keep in mind that when approaching a corner you’ll see changes in the rider’s lane position in front of you.
Good Social Riding Skills
Aim to ride smoother than you would normally. When you brake before a corner, accelerate or decelerate, the riders behind you will be affected. In fact sudden braking on your behalf can cause a panic reaction to the rider behind you who may not have the skills to manage the reaction. Try also to keep the same speed through corners as your speed on the straight-aways keeping your speed comfortable and enjoyable for the people behind you.
Passing is done individually. The group should not try to pass together. It is important not to follow the rider ahead of you blindly! If you lose the group, they will wait for you. Only overtake when *you* are able to see that it’s possible often this requires patience as you might see your friends riding further and further ahead of you. Keep calm. Each rider should spend as little time as possible making the passing manoeuvre.
Take care not to get too tired. It happens more easily than when riding alone or with people you know closely, because you are constantly watching the movements of the others. Equally, don’t make the mistake of relying on others to think for you. Often in a group there’s a sense of protection as those around you sort out the dangers, roads and traffic situations for you.
Stay alert as you never know even within your group when you may have a situation.
News Headline: Twenty One Motorcyclists in a group ride were injured when the front of the group had to make an emergency braking manoeuvre – those following; some 21 riders were not able to stop!
Beware and if you are not happy with the riders you are riding with, remove yourself from the group.
When riding in a group of vehicles that cannot maintain the posted speed of the road, do not travel in staggered formation. Ride in single file and, when necessary, as close as possible to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway. The “two-second rule” gives a minimum following distance. If you are travelling in a very large group, break into several smaller groups in order to allow faster traffic to pass.
Recap & Additional Tips
- Identify the Ride Captain / group leader(s) to all riders and have them wear a reflective vest (i.e. orange safety vest). Have novice riders in the group put a large “X” on their back with contrasting tape to warn experienced riders to be more patient and cautious around them. They may also wish to wear a different coloured vest from the lead riders.Divide the large group of riders into several smaller groups. Have them leave at staggered times to the same destination. This will be less intimidating to novice riders and safer for other road users as well.
- No passing within the lane.
- All riders are also responsible for making sure their motorcycles are mechanically up to the task. Before you even meet up with the group, make sure you’ve got plenty of fuel in the tank, and that you’ve taken care of all those maintenance issues. Use this pre-ride inspection. You really don’t want to be the reason for stopping the group for something mechanical you could have prevented.
- Ride only in a staggered formation.
- If the goal of the ride is to keep the group together, the leader should only go at the pace of the least-experienced rider.
- Safe and proper following distance between motorcycles (do the 2 second count from the bike in front of you).
- Show and standardize a few basic hand signals for slow down, debris on the road, etc.
- While riding, don’t fixate on the motorcycle in front of you. Instead, remember your basic training. Look well through the turn to where you want to go.
- If the group is riding faster than you are comfortable with, let the sweep rider know you’re dropping out and ride at your own pace. So you may reach your destination a few seconds behind the others, but you will get there, and that’s what’s important. Keep in mind, it’s all about fun.
- As turns get sharper, or as visibility decreases, move back to a single file formation. You’ll also want to use single file when entering or exiting a highway, at toll booths, or when roads have a rough or questionable surface.
- At intersections where you’ve come to a stop, tighten the formation to side-by-side to take up less space. As the light turns green, or when traffic opens up, the bike on the left proceeds through the intersection first.
- Remember we share the road with many other vehicles, and it’s against the law to block an intersection.
- Circulate maps to your destination before the ride starts. In the event that riders get lost or separated, they can still find the destination at their own pace.
- Ensure that lead riders are experienced and know where they are going. They should also know how many bikes are in their group and which rider will take up the last rider role in that group before leaving.
- Consider having the last riders in the group are the more mature/experienced riders with novice riders mixed together to keep their speeds and skill levels more equal.
- Have each rider wait for the rider behind them at intersections where there is a direction change. If a rider has fallen back out of sight, they may miss the turn.
- Trikes and sidecars should stay in the center of the lane, and should be given the same amount of cushion as if they were a car.
- Consider some basic helmet “Rider to Rider Communicators” for long-term club purchase and use for group rides by the “Lead and Last Rider (Drag Rider/Tail Runner)” riders.
- In advance of the ride, appoint a “Ride Emergency Contact Person” for the day of the ride. This way, family members know how to get in contact with someone participating in the group ride in case of family emergencies. This contact person would closely monitor that cell phone at all times the day of the ride.
- When parking, try to get the group off the roadway as quickly as possible. If you can, arrange in advance to have pull-through parking at your destination, or at the very least, make sure there is ample parking for your size groupf you are an organized riders club and hold a Club Constitution to have elected officials, etc. Also consider seeking legal advice about where the Club stands when you sanction a large club ride and assumed liability for when accidents (i.e. Club insurance for rides, etc.) occur.
- Remember that riding in a group does not mean you surrender any decision-making when it comes to your safety. Ride your own ride, and don’t go any faster than you feel comfortable going.
Riding in a group is not only about being visible, but it’s also about working together as a team regardless if you are a group of two or twenty – communication is key. Having two-way communications systems (such as the Cardo Scala Rider) are an advantage. However a simple agreement between all riders for the use of hand signals works ideally. Though riding as a group it is important to remember that your safety and security is managed individually.
By Vicki Gray
Editor, founder MOTORESS; motorcycle basic, advanced and race instructor certified for over 28 years. Motorcycle On-road and race licensing examiner. Coached, taught, examined riders for European, Caribbean and North American training institutes.