Group Riding

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.

Filling Gaps
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 so.

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.

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Chapter 1. Let's Look at Some Data

Chapter 2. Risk Management

Chapter 3. Two Wheeled Physics

Chapter 4. Countersteering: Cornering Techniques

Chapter 5. Gravity Is a Good Thing

Chapter 6. Gyroscopic Precession: Nature's Power Steering

Chapter 7. Braking: Weight Transfer and Maximum Performance

Chapter 8. Controlling Slides and Tank Slappers: Mind Over Matter

Chapter 9. Group Riding

Chapter 10. Riding Etiquette

Chapter 11. MSF Courses- Editorial