In many ways motorcycling is a solo sport. Sure there are official racing circuits, and you can take a passenger, if you have the experience, but primarily riders are left to themselves while on the road. In fact, to fully realize the performance of a great bike, you need to have some space around you. However, there are ways to enjoy the sport as a group, if you’re willing to sacrifice some of your usual routine for the common good.
Following Group Norms
Any time you ride with others, whether it’s one partner or a large group, your awareness of the surroundings has to increase, which is saying something given how intense it can be to ride safely on your own. Group norms are essential to effectively managing this task. These are the understandings that govern your time with other riders. Some are commonly understood, such as the staggered left-right pattern riders often assume, which gives the best density versus following distance tradeoff when group riding. Other norms must be developed by the group in advance, such as whether or not the ride will include any vehicle passing or how fast to set the maximum speed for the trip. Each group is obviously free to decide on their own norms, but here are some ideas that I’ve seen work well.
I’ve ridden with groups who are just out for a slow cruise through town and with groups who set a brisk pace up twisting mountain roads. Both styles have their purpose but what matters is that every member of the ride has the same expectation. When riders are out of sync with the rest of the group, their movements become extremely difficult to predict and accidents may occur. Along the same lines, the pace the group sets should be one that everyone in the group can match. There’s no point in setting up a group ride only to separate five minutes up the mountain because some riders don’t have the experience to keep up. Worse still is the possibility that one or more members can’t keep the pace but try anyway, pushing themselves beyond their limits.
Leader and Caboose
To help keep the pace, the lead rider should be someone with experience riding in groups and with the technical skill to hold the pace chosen by the group. While most people can easily conceptualize the idea of what it means to lead a group ride, not as many realize the equal importance of a caboose. Whoever brings up the back bears real responsibility for the safety of the other riders in the group. As such, this person should also be experienced and should absolutely know the route before hand. If the group becomes separated, it is up to the rear rider to make sure that no one gets left behind. If someone crashes, the rider in back must ensure that the group is alerted to the emergency. The leader and follow-up rider should work together to hold the group in sync during the ride; it’s a team effort.
When you ride by yourself, you can set the rules of your ride on the fly. When you ride in a group, the crowd will quickly collapse if all of the riders are not on the same page. Decide before you start whether there will be passing, how fast you will travel, how long you’ll go before a break, and any other items that might come up along your route.
It’s tough, but it has to be said. Everyone in the group has to be able to keep up safely. This means that the group must travel at the pace of the least experienced rider. If you don’t want to slow down for newbie riders, don’t ride with them. Pushing riders beyond their comfort or skill level can get someone killed.
Respect the Road (and other drivers)
Taking a dominating attitude while group riding (for example forcing the group through an intersection at the expense of other drivers) is a bad idea. Not only is it illegal, but it can also lead to accidents or road rage, both of which can turn deadly. Don’t let crowd bravado get the best of your outing.
Here is what can happen if you do…
Ride Safe in 2014!