Let's face it, group riding is fun. Sure, solo riding to clear the head or just to burn some miles has its merits, but getting together with the gang, scoffing down some grub and twisting some with the buds has equal benefits. Riding solo places the rider in his or her zone, where they're minding the P's and Q's of the road, traffic and managing a safety zone around the bike and other would-be disasters. Group riding is a bit more tricky because there's the other bikes to consider, their individual skill levels and group safety. And everyone has a role to maintain a smooth column. Rider etiquette plays a role, too. Here's some tips to show mastery of the group ride:
- Arrive with a full tank and empty bladder. Nothing is more frustrating that riders who inconvenience the group. Think ahead. Eat a small meal if you're heading from a distance to meet up. Just use some common sense and it'll go a long way.
- Make sure the motorcycle is as ready as the rider. Bald tire(s) smacks of an under-maintained machine and it's also dangerous. Keep up the bike so it's ready for any group riding opportunity.
- Read about it first. If group riding is a new gig, look up some group riding pearls online or in various riding books. Research the general expectations of riders. Remember the Five P's -- Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.
- After arrival, listen to the group leader or Road Captain. Any good group ride will have a pre-ride safety meeting. In every group, there will be a leader and a tail-gunner or sweep rider. But those riding in between have responsibilities, too. Listen-up for them.
- Maintain a staggered formation. When riding in a group, staggered is best. Why? This gives both longitudinal and lateral room for each bike to evade a problem. When staggered, you should never have a bike directly in front or immediately to the side. There will be a bike two-spots forward, however. This open spot gives that longitudinal space for stopping. Laterally, riding side-by-side at speed is a no-no. It's not only unsafe but quite possibly illegal if done in the same lane. This is often called riding abreast. Sure, in a parade formation at 5 mph it's quite OK, but not at 55 mph.
- BOLO (be on the lookout) for road hazards. Dead squirrels, debris, anything. Be prepared to point it out to the riders behind. This is a controversial topic in some circles since it involves removing a hand off the handlebar to point or, extending a leg towards the hazard to bring attention to it. Controversial because, well, is the rider compromising control in doing so? This is one of these things that a rider simply needs to do at times so riders need to be competent. Scratching ones nose at speed also takes a hand off the bars, so what's the big deal. It's better to warn riding buds at six o'clock in any circumstance so they won't crash.
- Narrow roads or passing pedestrians/bicyclists sometimes require a single-file formation. The ride leader will generally stick and arm straight up with a "1" finger in the air indicating one file riding. Then, they should indicate going back to staggered.
- Group riders generally are responsible for the rider immediately behind them. In other words, if Joe from accounting is behind Fred from purchasing, Fred watches out for Joe falling back or having a problem. The sweep or "gunner" watches out for the lot and will stop with any bikers that have to pull over.
- Bike-to-bike communications is a great safety asset. Bluetooth communicators, bikes with CB radio rigs, these help maintain a huge safety margin. The group leader calls the gunner for a lane-change and the gunner "captures" that lane first. Then, the group files in. Sweet.
- Being willing to help to the group goes a long way. Be a positive contributor to the group, not a nag or critique person, especially if group experience is minimal.
Ride with a group that embraces the kind of safety and techniques which are the most comfortable. Some groups have vague rules for group riding, some very tight. Finding that right mix makes or breaks the group riding experience.
Remember, there's safety in numbers, too. 10 headlights in a staggered formation is quite visible down-range.
Enjoy the group and the group ride by being a positive, productive and safe group member.