Group riding can be a fun and rewarding change in the usually solo sport of motorcycling. There are some things that we can do to keep a group ride safe and fun.
As Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month continues we again recruit the help of Lorri Carney, a motorcycle instructor since 2011 with Team Oregon, to give us some advice and tips. She previously wrote about Riding Motorcycles Safely on the Street now she tackles group riding and offers her expertise to make this exclusive adventure fun, safe and something to remember.
1. Hold a Pre-Ride Meeting
Have a pre-ride meeting to discuss the route and perhaps provide maps. Make sure everyone in the group knows the end destination, where rest breaks will be, and what to do if someone becomes separated from the group. Take some time to go over hand signals so all riders know the signs. Establish rider positions within the group, specifically: The lead rider, the tail rider and where to position the least experienced riders.
2. Limit the Number of Riders
Restrict number of group members to 10 or less. If the group is larger than this, break into smaller sub-groups or "pods," each with its own leader and tail rider or "sweep." Larger groups can be intimidating to other traffic. They can also be dangerous themselves with group mentality or peer pressure that pushes less experienced riders to keep up with the more experienced, thus riding above their skill level.
3. Ride Prepared
All riders should carry the basics (a cell phone, spare cash, tools, flashlight, spare fuses and a small first aid kit) in case they do become separated from the group. Within the group, there should be a designated rider to carry a more thorough list of supplies. Make sure you arrive with a full tank of gas, ready to ride. There is always the possibly that you need to care for other riders who might not be as prepared. Good things to carry are ear plugs, sunblock, glass wipes for visors, a phone charger, pain relievers and water...just in case.
4. The Lead Rider
Designate an experienced rider as the lead rider. The lead rider functions as the "EYES" of the whole group watching out for road hazards and/or traffic issues. The last rider, known as the tail or sweep rider, also should be an experienced rider. Their job consists of looking out for riders who struggle because of less experience, health issues or mechanical problems. Tail riders can also protect less experienced riders from aggressive drivers. The lead and tail riders may even have communication devices to keep one another informed of what the whole group is doing/up to.
The rest of the group rides between the lead and sweep. Place less experienced and new riders up towards the front. These riders should set the pace of the group, the frequency of rest breaks and the ride duration. The group should be willing to change plans if the safety of the group becomes compromised from any impaired riders.
5. Ride Formation
The best riding formation is staggered with the lead rider on the left third of the lane and the next in line on the right third of the lane. The subsequent riders will continue this staggered formation. The rider on the right should be one second behind the staggered rider in front of them. The third rider in the formation should be one second behind rider number two and two seconds behind rider number one. These are minimum distance recommendations for perfect conditions. Certain conditions may suggest more following distance. Some of these include reduced visibility, higher speeds or poor weather. Riding side-by-side limits space cushion, eliminates an escape route and gives no room to maneuver around hazards. There will be times that the group would want to "break" formation such as breaking into smaller sub-groups to accommodate other traffic or riding single file while cornering.
6. Passing Slow Vehicles
If the group needs to pass slower moving vehicles, they should pass one bike at a time with each rider evaluating the safety of the pass for themselves. If the passing opportunity evaporates, be prepared to return to your lane and wait until it is safe to make the pass. This may cause a separation in the group, therefore, those that have made the pass should slow down until the rest of the group can pass.
There are many reasons members of the group might become separated including heavy traffic, traffic lights and passing a slow-moving vehicle. If the larger group separates then each group becomes its own sub-group with its own lead and tail riders. Attempting to return to the group at all costs may cause unsafe actions.
Three wheeled vehicles and motorcycles with side cars are wider than motorcycles. They will need more room to maneuver and are best placed towards the back of the group.
7. No Peer Pressure
Peer Pressure could be as simple as riding too fast for the less experienced riders in the group, causing them to ride above their skill level. It might also be as dangerous as having a beer during the group lunch before riding home. There can be an unspoken pressure for all members of the group to partake in a beer or to even continue riding with the group after they have been drinking.
Most people are aware of alcohol or drugs as being something that causes impairment. Other things that can cause impairment might be the length of the ride, hunger, dehydration, or drowsiness, to name just a few. It is important to recognize when impairment affects you and let the other group members know as soon as possible.
With all the variations in the make up of each group of riders, the routes chosen and length of the ride, each group-ride will be a different experience. With a little preparation and common sense, going on a group ride can be a relaxing and enjoyable pastime.
Lorri Carney has saddled up since 2006 and in that time owned six motorcycles, her current ride a 2015 Triumph Tiger 800 named Gwendolyn. After five years of riding she joined Team Oregon as an instructor, one of the best decisions she's ever made.