Topic : Group Riding
There are several advantages for motorcyclists who ride street bikes in a
In addition, motorcyclists tend to learn a great deal from each other about
their sport. Planned stops along the way offer a fine opportunity to socialize
and to share valuable tips and techniques.
Group riding is not for everyone. It requires a certain level of skill and
self-discipline. It restricts an individual rider's options as to speed, changes
in route, and lane positioning. To attempt to ride in a group without having
good basic riding skills and a good sense of what others in the group are likely
to do -- and what they expect you to do -- is an invitation to an accident, one
that may involve damage and injuries to more than one bike and one rider. It is
also a matter of personality, in that group riding requires good communications,
courtesy among riders and a willingness to look out for the safety of others
while riding your own ride. Those who don't wish to ride in a group but who wish
to arrive at the same destination as their friends may serve as a scout if they
have a CB radio, or they may just prefer to travel solo and meet up with their
friends at the day's end.
The following guidelines for riding in a group are not gospel. There are
situations in which they don't apply. Some organizations may have different
terms for these concepts, as well.
If you as a rider find yourself in a group which does not follow these
guidelines, you can usually find someone who will explain what rules that
organization follows, if any, or how they differ from what you learn here. At
most responsible group rides, a riders' meeting will be held prior to departure,
in order to clarify what is expected of all the riders who are to participate.
If you find yourself uncomfortable with the riding style of a group at any time,
DROP OUT. Your safe arrival at your destination is far more important than
conforming to rules you don't like or don't understand.
People who ride in a group usually appreciate knowing what they are expected
to do, and what to expect from others who are taking part in a hazardous sport
in close proximity to them. Road Captains and those who frequently ride lead or
drag are particularly urged to become familiar with these terms and guidelines
in order to explain them to other riders who may show up for a scheduled ride
without having any group riding experience.
Some Common Group Riding Terms
Road Captain's Job: Preparing for a Group Ride
When a number of motorcyclists are invited for a group ride, the riders and
their co-riders gather at the appointed time and place, often without knowing
their specific destination or route from that point on. The Road Captain for
that ride will have a route in mind and will usually have pre-ridden the route
within the past week in order to look for construction and road surface problems
and other situations which might affect the safety of those who are to
participate. The Road Captain will appoint or volunteer experienced riders to
serve as Lead Bike, depending on the total number of bikes and the number of
groups required. Each Lead Bike will then select a person to ride as Drag Bike
for that group. The other riders will determine which group they are going to
ride in, and if there is an inexperienced rider along, will usually ask the Lead
Bike to make suggestions on group positioning. The Lead Bike should determine
roughly the experience level of each rider in his or her group before departing,
putting the rider with the least experience in group riding immediately in front
of the Drag Bike in the slot position. If the last open position before the Drag
Bike is not a slot, the least experienced rider should be in the last slot
position available, away from oncoming traffic.
The Road Captain will conduct a short riders' meeting to establish that each
group has a designated Lead and Drag Bike, to review group riding guidelines
briefly, to alert the riders of potential hazards, to discuss communications
within and between the groups, to review hand signals if there are riders
without CBs, and to answer any questions about the ride.
If there are several groups of riders, the Road Captain expects all Lead
Bikes to follow the route which has been laid out and not to initiate changes in
the route except in an emergency. In case of problems that require emergency
personnel or re-tracing a route to find a disabled rider or part of a group
which has gotten lost, it is much easier to locate the person(s) sought if all
groups follow the same path to their common destination. It is not unusual for
groups of riders to be separated by several miles and to find themselves out of
CB range from other groups during a long trip or in heavy traffic. It is also
not unusual for groups to break up briefly in traffic, requiring a
station-keeping rider to serve as Lead Bike or Drag Bike for a fragment of a
group, for a short time.
Rider's Job: Preparing for a Group Ride
Riders are expected to arrive on time at the departure point with a full
tank of gas, in proper attire for the conditions, and physically ready to ride
(potty stop made, medications packed if needed, sober and alert). The Road
Captain may ask a rider not to join a group ride if these basic conditions are
not met (for example, if a rider is drunk or a bike is mechanically unfit to
Normal Group Riding Manoeuvres
When the Lead Bike for each group sees that all riders are helmeted, sitting
on their bikes, motors running, and ready to depart, he or she will check for
traffic and enter the roadway. Usually the Lead Bike will not attempt to exit a
parking lot unless there is room for all or most of the group to follow
immediately. If the group is split, the Lead Bike will normally take the slow
lane and keep the speed relatively low until the group can form up in the
positions the riders will keep for the duration of the ride. This may mean
travelling slower than surrounding traffic, to encourage four-wheelers to pass
and allow the group to form up. Occasionally this cannot be accomplished until
the group has made a lane change or entered a freeway, depending on where the
entrance ramp may be.
Regardless of the Lead Bike's signals, a rider is responsible for his or
her own safety at all times. Ride Your Own Ride.
Once all members of the group are together, the group will take up a staggered
formation and will stay in it most of the time during the ride, unless the Lead
Bike signals for a change or the need for a change is obvious. Reasons for
changing out of a staggered formation could be a passing situation or poor road
surface (single file), dog or other animal charging the group (split the group),
or coming up to a traffic signal (two abreast while waiting for a light).
When a group of motorcycles is changing lanes, many safety considerations
come into play. Should every rider move into the adjacent lane at the same time?
If not, should the Lead Bike go first, or should the Drag Bike move first to
“secure the lane”? When the Drag Bike radios to the group that the lane is
secured, is it really? What if another vehicle sees a gap in traffic and tries
to cut into the group? If part of the group gets separated from the other
riders, should everyone change relative positions (tracks) so that the new Lead
Bike is now riding in the left track? The recommended procedure for a group lane
change manoeuvre depends on how the surrounding traffic is moving at the time.
The goal for the bike which moves first is to create a gap into which the other
bikes can fit.
On a busy two-lane road, oncoming traffic typically prevents a group from
passing a slow-moving vehicle while in formation. Each member of the group must
accomplish two lane changes in order to pass, and this usually is done on an
Regardless of what a rider is told by others in the group about
oncoming vehicles, each rider must personally check to see that the oncoming
lane is clear of traffic before entering it.
If oncoming traffic requires the group to pass individually, the Lead
Bike will signal the group to move into a single-file formation and will
announce that the group members are to pass the vehicle one at a time. The
forward members of the group will gradually position themselves in single file
in the left track to prepare to pull into the oncoming lane. The Lead Bike will
usually wait for a gap in oncoming traffic that is big enough for more than one
bike to pass, but this is not always possible. When a safe interval is observed,
the Lead Bike will put its left turn signal on and pull into the oncoming lane.
After passing the “obstacle,” looking in the rear view mirror for clearance and
actually turning the head to be sure the lane is clear, the Lead Bike then
signals that it is moving into the right lane and does so, taking its normal
position in front of the slower vehicle(s) in the left track. The Lead Bike must
then maintain or even slightly increase its speed.
As with a lane change to the right, each bike should be aware of the need to
create a gap into which the next bike in succession can fit after overtaking an
obstacle. For this reason, each bike should maintain speed after passing, until
the Drag Bike has passed and the group has re-formed.
Special care should be taken when passing not to focus on distant oncoming
traffic to the point of establishing “target fixation.” The rider should
continue to scan the environment for hazards and should plan escape routes in
case of the unexpected; for example, the “obstacle” may come to life again when
he sees motorcycles passing him and may accelerate while the rider is still in
the oncoming lane, exposed to additional risk.
After he has passed the slower moving vehicle, the Drag Bike will usually
notify the Lead Bike that the group is intact again by saying, “We're family.”
Number One Rule (The 'Prime Directive')
In a group ride, the primary job for every rider is to not hit the
motorcycle in front of him.
Especially on less-congested rural back roads, the riders in a group may
spread out to create larger intervals between motorcycles. This allows a rider
to relax a bit, to enjoy the scenery and the ride. If no four-wheelers are
trying to pass the group, this is fine. However, the riders should remain close
enough to each other to be able to see hand signals being passed back from the
Lead Bike. Also, if a group is at maximum size (eight bikes is usually the
limit) and the riders spread out too much in hilly terrain, CB communication
between the Lead Bike and the Drag Bike may be severely tested or lost. The Lead
and Drag Bikes cannot work together if they can't communicate.
It is possible that a rider will also “space out” in terms of losing his
concentration and will forget to practice safe riding strategies. If the rider
has become too fatigued to ride properly, the Drag Bike will usually notice this
first and will advise the Lead Bike that a rest stop is needed. If a rider is
not riding safely enough to avoid endangering others in the group (because of
lack of experience, medical problems, fatigue, or some other reason), the Lead
Bike will usually discuss the problem privately with that rider at the next
stop. If a problem cannot be solved reasonably in this way, the Lead Bike has
absolute discretion to request that a rider leave the group and is entitled to
expect the group to support this decision. In the case of a mechanical or minor
medical problem, it is not unusual for another rider to accompany the distressed
rider to get help. Sometimes if the Lead Bike just re-assigns the riders to new
positions within the group, this is enough to bring a spaced-out motorcyclist
back to a state of alert awareness.
Checking Out The Curves
On any stretch of curvy road and in any corner, a group may ride in
single-file momentarily, to enable each rider to corner at his own speed and to
have as much room as possible for manoeuvring. This is especially important to
riders with little experience in a group, as they may “wobble” or be nervous
about making turns with another bike to their side or riding close behind them.
This is an accepted variance to staggered formation; usually the Lead Bike will
not signal for single-file at each turn but will expect the riders to choose
their own path of travel.
Odd Formations and Manoeuvres
Odd formations may be necessary in group riding when there is a member of
the group which is not a standard, two-wheel motorcycle -- an “odd duck.” This
includes three-wheeled motorcycles (“trikes”), bikes with a sidecar (“hacks”),
bikes towing a trailer, or four-wheelers.
In each case, other than for four-wheelers, it's a good idea to place the odd
duck at the rear of the formation, in the last available slot. The group should
also allow extra clearance and reaction time for a bike towing a trailer.
Instead of a one-second interval between that bike and the next, and a
two-second interval between it and the bike directly behind it in the same
track, these minimum times should be doubled. For trikes and hacks, it is not so
important to position these riders in a slot, but it is still a good idea,
because these vehicles do not handle turns in the same way a motorcycle does. If
a rider has difficulty handling an “odd duck” vehicle, the bike following it may
need extra time to react, and the “odd duck” should not worry about being hit
from the rear by a group member while he solves his problem. If there are
several bikes towing trailers in a group, they should generally be riding at the
back of the group, even if they are not all in slot positions.
When a four-wheeler is a part of a group, it should trail the group behind
the Drag Bike. It helps if the four-wheeler is equipped with a CB radio.
Additionally, that vehicle should drive with its headlights on at all times, to
enable the Drag Bike to distinguish it from other cages if possible.
Exceptions to Normal Guidelines
The often-heard rule, “Ride Your Own Ride,” means that any guideline for
group riding can and should be ignored when it doesn't make sense. Determining
whether this is the case and acting prudently is each rider's individual
responsibility at all times. Under normal circumstances, the Lead Bike will
choose a lane, will determine the speed at which the riders are to travel, will
suggest the formation which makes manoeuvres most safe, and will navigate.
Common exceptions to these guidelines occur with a rider who is not yet
experienced with group riding. If a manoeuvre looks too dangerous or awkward for
the new rider to complete safely, he or she should do what he needs to do to
protect himself and avoid an accident. This may mean passing up a turn or taking
it very slowly, or parking somewhere not with the group, or going more slowly
through a curve than the riders ahead of him.
Each rider commands his entire area within a lane and may move to left
or right in it as required.
Another exception: the Drag Bike may not travel in the same path as the
rest of the group. If, for example, a two-lane road is narrowing so that a lane
is about to be lost, the Drag Bike will frequently “close the door” by moving
out of the group's staggered formation into the lane which is soon to disappear.
This is to prevent a four-wheeler from trying at the last minute to pass part of
the group and then have to cut into it when the pavement runs out. Even if the
riders near the back of the group observe that the Drag Bike is no longer in the
position where he has been riding most of the time, they should maintain their
own place in the group.
Rubber-Band (“Yo-yo”) Effect
Reaction time for a motorcyclist when confronted with an unexpected threat
is, on average, about one second. If the need to react is anticipated (such as
when a turn has been announced), then riders can usually react within about half
a second after the bike ahead begins to react. When a group of riders change
speeds very gradually, however, it usually takes two or three seconds for a
rider to recognize this and begin to change his speed to maintain his position
in the group.
This doesn't sound like much time, but experienced group riders manage their
risks reasonably well with a minimum one-second interval between each bike and a
minimum two-second interval between bikes that are travelling in the same track.
When the group has more than six bikes in it, however, gradual changes in speed
within the group can become tricky.
When a Lead Bike begins to accelerate, the second bike doesn't instantly
start to travel at the faster rate. Instead, a gap grows between them while the
second bike is reacting -- and it continues to grow until the second bike is
fully up to the increased, stable speed of the Lead Bike. Clearly, once the
speeds are the same, the gap will remain the same size. However, since most
groups prefer to keep a one-second minimum interval between bikes (two seconds
between bikes in the same track), the new gap caused by the Lead Bike's
acceleration may be larger than is desired. When this occurs, the second bike
must go faster than the first one for a brief time in order to “catch up.”
If we assume that the Lead Bike speeds up from 60 to 70 mph over a period of
two seconds, the second bike will have to ride at 75 mph for two seconds (after
his reaction time passes) in order to close the gap. Then he will take another
one second to decelerate back to 70 mph to create a gap of the proper size.
If there were only two bikes in the group, this example is easy to follow.
But when the group is larger, and the bikes involved are riding further back in
the pack, the “rubber band” effect can be especially dangerous to all bikes from
the middle of the group to the Drag Bike.
For example, the third bike in the group has this problem: About two seconds
after the second bike has begun to accelerate, the third bike responds. Now,
however, the second bike is moving at 75 mph rather than at 70 mph like the Lead
Bike. The third bike must use even more effort to catch up to the second bike
than the second bike did to match his speed to the Lead Bike's new speed, if the
gap is to stay relatively constant. He will have to move at 75 mph for four
seconds, not two, to catch up. The fourth bike will have to accelerate to 80
Now, imagine what happens in the group if, while this is taking place, the
Lead Bike must apply his brakes! This rubber-band effect becomes extremely
important if the Lead Bike happens to make an abrupt and major change of speed
at certain critical moments, such as when approaching a sharp turn or a tricky
The rubber-band effect can be reduced by following these guidelines:
This problem has been described with respect to the acceleration of the Lead
Bike. When the rubber band effect is considered in reverse -- that is, when the
Lead Bike is suddenly braking -- these tips on how to avoid the rubber-band
effect can be even more important. Those who ride as Lead Bike for their group
should be aware of the importance of avoiding sudden changes in speed if at all
possible, so as to reduce the risks to those following.
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