GROUP RIDING BASICS
Like most motorcycle experiences, this one is best enjoyed by following a few simple guidelines that can help keep everyone safe. So, below we have provided a few basic tips, gathered in part from some of this country's foremost motorcycle safety experts. It is our hope that you will find it both informative and helpful.
The first thing you want to do is organize the ride. This can be as informal as standing around in a parking lot, or as formal as a special meeting to hand out maps with turn-by-turn instructions, and cell phone numbers.
When picking your route and the stops you'll make along the way, consider the stamina of the group, the experience of all the riders, and the limits of the motorcycles in the group (some bikes have smaller gas tanks). Remember, these are your friends. If it's going to be a long ride, be sure to take a few 'butt breaks' along the way.
When creating the group formation, it's wise to have your experienced riders at both the 'Ride-Leader' or 'Road-Captain' and the 'Tail-Gunner' or 'Sweep' positions. Consider positioning the less-experienced riders immediately behind the leader. This allows the lead rider to adjust the pace if necessary.
Ideally, the sweep rider will have a cell phone to call for help if a motorcycle is disabled, or if there has been an accident.
If it's going to be a large group ride, then you may consider establishing a buddy system among the riders, or divide the group into smaller five to seven bike packs. That way, if something goes wrong, you won't have 25 motorcycles sitting on the side of a busy highway. Also, smaller groups can navigate through city streets much more easily.
Hold a 'riders meeting'. Discuss things like the route, rest and fuel stops, hand signals, etc. Assign a lead and sweep rider. (Both should be experienced riders who are well versed in group riding procedures.) The leader should assess everyone's riding skills and the group's riding style.
You'll need to communicate while on the ride. So before the ride, make sure everyone knows the most common hand signals you'll use. In addition, it would be best if at least one person per pack, has a cell phone.
All riders are responsible for making sure their motorcycles are mechanically up to the task. Be courteous. 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. You really don't want to be the reason for stopping the group, because of something you could have prevented earlier.
Not sure what to check? Use T-CLOCS:T - TIRES
C - CONTROLS
L - LIGHTS
O - OIL
C - CHASSIS
S - STANDS
On the road, motorcyclists should have at least a 2-second cushion in front and behind them. However, if you want to keep the group tight, consider a staggered formation. Leave just enough room per lane, so each rider can maneuver side-to-side safely if they need to. Though it can be very intimate to ride side-by-side, it's always best to avoid that kind of formation, as it radically shrinks your side-to-side maneuverability cushion.
A staggered formation is when the lead bike is in the #1 position. This position is in the left hand portion of a lane. (That way, the driver of the car in front of them, can see the lead bike in both the left hand outside mirror, as well as the inside rear view mirror.) The #2 position is behind and to the right of the leader. The #3 position is behind and to the left of #2 - and so on.
If the goal of the ride is to keep the group together, then the leader should only go at the pace of the least-experienced riders. Those riders need to be put in the #2 and #3 positions, etc., as needed. It makes it easier for the leader to stay at an appropriate speed for the new riders. Remember, we were all new at this once.
As turns get sharper (twisty's), or as visibility decreases, move into a single file formation. You'll also want to be single file when entering or exiting a highway, tollbooths, narrow and/or questionable roads, or when passing joggers or cyclists, etc on a two lane road.
Trikes and Hacks (or Sidecars) should stay in the center of the lane, and should be given the same amount of cushion as if they were a cage (or car). It's because of this cushion, that they should be in the back of the pack just ahead of the Tail Gunner (or Sweep rider).
At intersections where you've come to a stop, tighten up to a side-by-side formation to take up less space. As the light turns green, or when traffic opens up, the first bike on the left should start rolling first; followed by the rest of the group.
Remember we share the road with many other vehicles, and it's against the law to block an intersection.
When parking, try to get the group off the roadway as quickly as possible so as not to block traffic. 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 group.
With a group, changing lanes can be a challenge at the best of times. It is suggested that you follow the DMV manual on how to change lanes safely. However, another way to have some fun, and to make smooth lane changes with a small group in tight formation (no more than seven bikes), is to change lanes in unison.
So when the lane next to the group is clear enough for the size of the pack, the leader will activate their turn signal and wait. That's when the rest of the group activates their turn signals, and also waits. When the sweep rider has changed into the next lane, that's when the pack moves smoothly as one unit, into that lane. With a little practice, this can help to keep everyone sharp and together; and if nothing else, it looks very impressive.
While riding, don't target-fixate on the motorcycle in front of you. Instead, remember your basic training. Look well past that rider and through the turn to where you want to go.
Periodically check the riders following in your rear view mirrors. If you see a rider falling behind, slow down a bit so they may catch up. If all the riders in the group use this technique, the pack should be able to maintain a fairly steady speed without the pressure to ride too fast to catch up.
If you're separated from the group, don't panic. Don't break the law or ride beyond your skills to try and catch up. Just continue safely in the same direction. If the pack has turned, there should be a rider waiting for you at that point. In any case, if they have turned or not, the leader should have gotten the message, and pulled the pack over to wait.
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 minutes behind the others - that's OK. At least you'll get there, and that's what's most important. Besides, these are supposed to be your friends, they'll understand. Keep in mind; it's all about the journey, and the fun in it.
Remember that riding in a group does not mean you surrender any decision-making when it comes to your safety. So, RIDE YOUR OWN RIDE, and don't go any faster than you feel comfortable going.
Now, be safe and have a GREAT ride!