It’s all well and good riding round on your own, but what about when a bunch of motorcycling buddies get together for a group ride? This adds a lot more things to the mix than solo riding and there’s a lot of things to think about and consider in order to make your group ride safe and enjoyable for all. Let’s dive into group riding here.
I generally find group rides fall into two camps. On the one hand, we have ones that are disorganized, poorly run and unsafe. These groups are very daunting for newer riders and usually higher levels of danger / lower levels of safety for the other riders. On the other hand, group rides that are well-run, planned and organized, with an emphasis on safety, make for an enjoyable experience for all participants. Let’s take a look at everything needed for a safe and enjoyable group ride:
Ride Leader – the person organizing the ride. The Ride Leader (RL) should be a very experienced rider, ideally with extensive experience of group riding; someone who is confident calling all the shots and can ensure the ride progresses smoothly.
Planning – the quality of the group ride is always reflected in the planning that went into that ride. The group leader should spend prior days planning the route from start to finish, gas stops and rest points. It should be socialized with the other riders beforehand wherever possible.
Safety Briefing / Riders Meeting – the Ride Leader should kick the event off with a safety briefing. All riders must attend. No exceptions. Items covered in the briefing are the route, gas and rest stops. The pace of the ride should be announced and agreed on (leisurely, fast etc). Formations should be explained (what ones are going to be used and when to use them). Typically riding in a staggered formation for major roads and highways. Single file for canyons and single lane-roads. Any other formations are fine as long as everyone knows what they are and what situations to use them in. Hand signals to be used should be explained. The Ride Leader can decide on what these are and what signals to use, as long as the group understands. Typical signals for stopping, slowing down, speeding up and hazards should be socialized with the group. The RL should also request / remind riders to accelerate and brake smoothly to prevent the group size from yo-yoing or becoming disconnected. Rules for overtaking other group riders should also be explained (when overtakes are allowed and what scenarios they are not).
Tail Rider / Sweeper – the RL should also announce during the briefing who the tail rider is (or Sweeper). Like the RL, this should always be an experienced rider. The Sweeper will ride at the back of the group and watch for stragglers, mechanical issues or anyone doing anything that might be unsafe to the rest of the group. The Sweeper must have direct communication with the Ride Leader (more on Helmet Comms in a moment) and ensures nobody is left behind.
Group Comms – helmet comms systems (particularly Cardo’s excellent PackTalk which connects up to 15 riders together using Dynamic Mesh Comms) make group rides much easier and smoother. The beauty of being connected is any rider can talk to any other rider or the Ride Leader at any time if needed or there is a problem.
Group Formation (experience level) – I see a lot of resources on group riding advising to put newer riders at the front with more experienced ones stacking up towards the back. I actually strongly disagree with this. Newer riders have enough to deal with riding in a pack of motorcycles without experienced riders breathing down their neck. This feels very intimidating and often causes the newer riders to feel they have to speed up, which takes them outside their comfort zone and the level of speed they should be riding at. Since you should have a sweeper, allow the more experienced riders to the front and let the newer, less experienced riders settle in at the back where they can ride at their own pace without all that peer pressure.
Tips for Pack Riding – firstly, stay as disciplined as you can. If riding in staggered formation, keep it tight. If riding single file (canyons or single lane road) don’t go any faster than you feel comfortable going. This is really important in a group of mixed skillsets and abilities. If a rider behind you is faster, pull over to the right where it is safe to do so and wave him through.
Don’t fixate on the motorcycle in front of you. This is really easy to do but keep your eyes up on the road ahead and where you’re going.
Have fun! As with most things in life, you get out what you put in. Be a good group member. Keep the pace, watch out for slower, less experienced riders, pass hand signals on and relax and enjoy the ride.