July 9, 2014
How-To: Group Motorcycle Riding
Group riding can be one of the best parts of getting into motorcycles, but it can also become frustrating (and even dangerous) when the group is disorganized. Like any group activity, it goes best when everyone "knows the deal" beforehand – here’s our guide to the basics of group riding so everyone can enjoy it!
Kicking Off the Ride
Unless you have a group that's been riding together a long time, things will run best when you have a ride leader/organizer in charge (especially when riders of varying experience levels are present.) This "head honcho" should be someone who has extensive experience with group riding, is well organized, and doesn't mind calling the shots for that day's ride.
The ride leader/organizer does not have to be the first bike in the pack; his or her job is to organize the ride and keep everything running smoothly, not necessarily to ride in front. Before the ride kicks off, he or she should conduct an all-rider meeting at the starting point to go over the route, designate rest stops, and go over hand signals.
A pre-ride meeting gets everyone on the same page, which is especially important if you have new riders along (or riders just new to the route.)
Its also important to go over the pace and riding style of the day's ride; some rides might be leisurely weekend cruises and others might be asphalt-shredding thrill rides, but everyone needs to know the pace beforehand. Its a good idea to get a feel for everyone's experience level at this time too - that's not something you want to find out due to an incident mid-ride.
Next, a lead and tail rider should be designated. The lead rider's job is to set the riding pace, look ahead for anything that could interrupt the ride, and be very familiar with navigating the route. They should also be very well versed in hand signaling; as the lead rider, they will be the "eyes" for the entire group, so the signals they send back to the rest of the group will be important.
The tail rider should also be very experienced in group riding. They will keep an eye out for stragglers, bikes with mechanical problems, or anyone doing anything that might be unsafe to the rest of the group. If they have to fall back to deal with any of these problems, they will be able to help out, and can arrange to get the group back together by contacting the ride leader.
For the rest of the group, its a good idea to arrange riders in order of experience; less experienced riders in front, and more experienced ones in back. This allows more seasoned riders to keep an eye on the newbies, and give them pointers based on what they observe. With more skilled riders up front, it becomes too easy for them to ride at a fast pace and leave newer riders behind unintentionally.
You may also want to consider using communication systems such as these from Scala Rider (especially between the lead and tail riders) which can make things run a lot more smoothly.
For your reference, a chart of common hand signals. There are more, but these are the basics every rider should know for group riding.
More Isn't Always Merrier
Groups of about 5 to 7 tend to work best. Up to 10 is manageable, but more than that should be split up into smaller groups.
"The more the merrier" does not always apply when it comes to group rides. Keeping your group down to a manageable size of riders between five and seven is ideal, and up to around ten can still be manageable if everyone is knows what they're doing.
If your ride is gets bigger than that, think about breaking it up into smaller groups, each with their own lead and tail rider. You can still rendezvous at the destination, but doing this makes keeping track of riders easier, and allows for less of a commotion if one rider needs to stop for an emergency.
Bring the Essentials - And More
Every rider should always have their own emergency supplies, such as a working cell phone, spare cash, and their own set of motorcycle tools (usually the ones that came with the bike.) However, you may also want to designate one rider as the "emergency situation" rider that will carry a more thorough list of supplies.
On top of the same basics, this kit might include a travel set of motorcycle tools, things like zip ties and duct tape (it sounds ghetto, but you can fix a lot on the road with these things), a flashlight, and a few spare fuses. A first aid kit is also highly recommended.
One great thing about riding in groups - there's always a more experienced set of hands to help out if there's a problem. Breaking down alone is the worst!
On top of the same emergency supplies, you’ll want them to be prepared to take care of other riders who aren’t, with simple things like earplugs, sunblock, glass wipes for visors, a phone charger, pain relievers, and water. This might sound a little “team mom-ish,” but trust me, someone with these things on a ride tends to make friends very quickly. Ideally, this person shouldn't be the ride leader, lead rider or tail rider in case they need to stop during a ride.
Group Motorcycle Riding Formation
Formation is huge when it comes to group riding. Riding in formation properly gives riders the proper space cushion to react to any hazards, and also helps drivers on the road avoid motorcyclists.
The preferred formation is the "staggered formation" (where if a line were drawn from each rider to the next, it would make an evenly spaced zig-zag line.) To do this, the leader of the group ride should be in the left third of the lane, while the next rider stays a full second behind them in the right third of the lane. The third rider should then be a full second behind the second rider but on the left side, behind the lead rider. This pattern should continue with each additional rider all the way down to the end.
The "staggered formation" is the safest and most organized way to do most group rides.
If you plan to ride through a narrower road or a road with lower visibility or poor surface conditions where more of a space cushion is required, a single-file riding formation should be used.
Either way, avoid a side-by-side riding formation at all times. Motorcycle police and biker clubs are notorious for doing this, probably because it looks cooler, but it’s also more risky. This formation gives much less of a safety cushion around each bike, and doesn't give riders any room to maneuver around hazards without colliding with each other.
A staggered formation like this looks good, and gives everyone room to maneuver if there's a problem or an obstacle in the road.
No Rider Left Behind
You may be a skilled rider who takes on all roads with ease, but some other riders may not be as comfortable through twisties as you are. Keep an eye on the riders behind you in your rear view mirror, and slow down if you see them dropping behind. If each rider in your group motorcycle riding formation does the same, all of the riders should be going at a pace that is comfortable for everyone.
Remember, part of being the ride leader is keeping a pace that lets everyone have a good ride, without leaving anyone behind or pushing anyone too far outside their comfort zones. Nobody said this would be easy! If you don't know everyone's riding ability, start with a slower pace, and step it up in between stops.
Whether you're shredding asphalt or just enjoying the scenery, make sure everyone is comfortable with the pace. If you're not comfortable with it, just fall back! You'll catch up.
When you regroup at stops, the ride leader should rendezvous with the tail rider to make sure everyone is keeping pace, and nobody is getting too squirrely. If they are, either slow down the pace, or split up the group as necessary; you may want to take a "fast pack" through the fun part of the road and let the slower group go at their own pace, and just regroup later.
Even with the best efforts to keep a group together, riders will usually still get separated somehow. Whether it's at a red light or because of a car that just isn't getting the hint, riders almost always find themselves broken away from the main body of the group at some point in a group ride.
If this happens, don't panic. If you had your pre-ride meeting, you should know where the designated stops are located. Go at a safe pace and just meet the rest of your ride there. Try not to break the law, split lanes aggressively, or ride faster than your skills just to catch up to the group – rolling up to the next stop a few seconds late is a lot better than getting into a crash!
Enjoy the Ride!
Most importantly, enjoy group motorcycle riding. Most riders don’t ride in groups all the time, its usually just something to do once in a while. So when riding in a group, try to be a good group member; keep the pace, pass hand signals, and try not to ride aggressively or show off. You can always do that later on your solo rides!
If it's your first time, just go along with the ride and try to learn how the group operates. You might find that you like group riding, but maybe you’d fit better with a more aggressive group that attacks the twisties, or conversely, with a more laid-back group that like to enjoy the scenery. Learn different people’s riding styles and soon you’ll find people you like to ride with, and people you’d prefer not to. That’s fine! No matter what, just have fun with it – after all, you're riding… so what more could you want?
Riding in groups is a fun part of riding, but its not all there is. When in a group, be courteous - save the wheelies and scrubbing off chicken strips for your solo rides!
Looking for some groups to go riding with in your area? The internet is the best place to find some if you don’t already have friends who ride. Check out Meetup.com's Motorcycle Site for motorcycle riding groups of all riding styles; there are always upcoming rides scheduled for you to try group riding with and meet new riding buddies!
Got any helpful tips or opinions on group riding? Let's hear 'em!