There are some unique dangers associated with group riding. When a group
of bikes is traveling together, they tend to feel a little safer than if they
are simply riding down the road with a group of strangers in traffic. It’s
an indisputable fact that a group of motorcycles has much greater visibility
than an individual bike. However, there is a different set of risks inherent
in group riding that must be addressed in order to maximize safety for every
member of the group. One easily adopts a false feeling of security that can
be very dangerous. It can lead to packing the group in a little tighter on
the road, and following at an unsafe distance may seem safer than it is. Just
because you know the rider in front of you, doesn't mean you can predict all
his actions. Just because you know all the other riders, and you have confidence
in their skill and safe riding habits, doesn't mean that an emergency swerving
or braking maneuver isn't going to happen to the rider in front of you. Just
because your best friend, riding behind you, knows what your destination is,
doesn't mean that he can predict you will brake hard to make a turn that has
come upon you suddenly. Being lulled into a false sense of security can lead
to tragic results. Good communication, and maintaining safe driving habits
are crucial during group rides.
The pre-ride meeting
Pre-ride meetings should be utilized to impart the following information to
all the riders: what the final destination is, what route the group is taking,
what (if any) stops are to be made along the way, who will ride in front (lead),
who will bring up the rear (sweep), what kind of spacing/gaps to maintain
(if different from the standard 1 to 2 second rule), any hand signals that
will be used, how/if passes will be accomplished, how gaps in formation will
be filled, and how the group will deal with separations due to traffic signals,
stop signs, traffic conditions, etc.
Staggered formation riding
Rather than riding side by side, it is much safer to ride in a staggered formation
with a safe interval of one to two seconds between each bike and the one directly
ahead. Not the motorcycle that is in staggered position ahead, but
the bike that is positioned directly ahead of you.
Following distance should be increased during inclement weather, at night,
and in areas where hills and curves make the ride a bit more challenging.
Do not follow at a distance that you are not comfortable with, but don't allow
the gap to become so great that another motorist would be tempted to pull
out into or cut across the group of riders. Under certain circumstances, a
single file formation is preferable. Each rider signals, and the group forms
a single line, remaining in that formation until the leader signals for the
stagger to resume.
Intersections are the areas of highest risk for motorcyclists whether they
are riding alone or in a group. When approaching an intersection, it is important
to remember that each rider makes an individual decision as to the safety
of proceeding. At a red light stop it is appropriate to assume a side-by-side
formation until the light changes, at which time the group returns to the
staggered formation. This practice saves space while waiting and allows the
group to move through the intersection more quickly when the light changes.
Blocking traffic while a group passes through an intersection should be done
by escorting law enforcement officers only.
On a freeway or interstate, passing is relatively easy. The lead rider should
time the lane change so that as many motorcycles as possible can pass as a
unit. Even if the group becomes segmented in traffic, it is relatively easy
to re-form when space is available. On two-lane highways, passing requires
increased caution. No rider should pass in an area where passing is prohibited
according to signs and highway markings. In order to pass, each member of
the group should signal, establish position in the left-hand portion of the
lane, make sure traffic is clear, complete the pass, resume position in the
stagger, and maintain sufficient speed to make room for the following motorcycles.
A rider who plans to drop out should notify the lead and sweep riders of his
or her intentions. Risk involved in separating from the group is minimized
by riding near the rear of the pack. Opinions vary as to whether or not the
group should “re-stack” to eliminate the gap created by a departing
motorcycle. If the gap is to be filled, each rider, in turn, should signal
and carefully switch to the other line. The gap can also be eliminated by
all the riders in one line moving forward past the riders in the other line
to the left or right. The method used for filling the gaps should be discussed
in the pre-ride meeting.
A rider or riders who are separated from the group should not exceed posted
speed limits in an attempt to catch up. If plans have been adequately communicated,
riders have information as to the next stop. It is a good idea for each rider
to have a “buddy” in the group who can notify the leader if he
or she is missing at a stop along the route.
In any group, there is a possibility that one or more riders may be involved
in a crash or be forced to stop due to mechanical or other difficulties. The
entire group should proceed to a place where it is safe for all to stop off
the roadway, with the exception of the sweep rider and anyone in the group
who is qualified to assist in a medical emergency if one exists. The driver
of the chase vehicle, if there is one, should also stop if it is safe to do
Obstructions and road hazards
If there is a hazard in or near the road, the group leader should signal for
the group to slow down. If it is appropriate to form a single line to get
past the hazard, the leader gives the appropriate signal, and each rider signals
and moves into single-file formation until the leader signals the return to
stagger. Obstructions or slick spots are pointed out to following riders using
the appropriate signals. (illustrated below)
Responsibilities of the Group Organizer/Leader
The organizer alerts group members to the time and place for the start of
the ride. Information as to the length of the ride and the distance between
stops should be made available in advance. If practical, the leader should
conduct a pre-ride of the route so that the group can be informed of hazardous
areas and places of special interest along the route. To the extent possible,
the group leader should assess the skill level of the group to make sure that
riding speed is comfortable and safe for the least experienced riders. Prior
to the start of the ride, the leader should conduct a meeting to provide information
concerning the route and any known hazards, review safety procedures, and
answer questions from the group. If practical, the members of the group should
be provided with a map and/or route description. At a minimum, this information
should be provided to the sweep rider (the last rider of the group who is
responsible for assisting anyone who stops along the route due to mechanical
or other difficulty) and a few additional experienced riders who can take
the lead of any group segment that becomes separated due to traffic flow.
The leader and sweep rider must establish a means of communication such as
cell phones or c.b. radios in the event that the sweep rider must stop to
provide assistance to someone.
Responsibilities of Group Members
You, the group member, must assess the limits defined by your own riding skill
level and the capabilities of your motorcycle. If you exceed either during
the ride, you compromise your own safety and that of the other riders in the
group. Each rider must assume total responsibility for the safe operation
of his or her own motorcycle. You must not assume that you can safely pass
or enter an intersection just because the rider in front of you did so. Each
rider must prepare mentally and physically for the ride. Motorcycle riding
always requires an alert mind. You should never operate a motorcycle when
your alertness and judgment are impaired by the effects of alcohol, drugs,
high stress levels, or lack of sleep. Even prescription medications and excessive
caffeine consumption can negatively affect concentration.
If the trip is long, each rider must assess his or her own physical stamina
to endure long stretches of exposure to heat or cold, wind, rain, or other
conditions. Each group member should wear appropriate riding gear to provide
comfort and protection. Be aware that your motorcycle handles differently
when it is burdened with the extra weight of the baggage that a long trip
requires. Know the universal hand (and foot) signals . used by motorcyclists
to communicate with other members of the pack.
Group riding is a great way to share the joy of motorcycling with friends
or to meet new riding companions. Every member of the group shares the responsibility
for keeping everyone as safe as possible. As a participant in a group ride,
you are responsible for adequately preparing yourself and your motorcycle,
riding in a cautious and predictable manner, following established procedures,
and remaining alert at all times.
Shown below are some commonly accepted hand signals
published by the American Motorcycle Association.