Group Riding - Rules and Tips

A "source" close to an advanced motorcycle group has been telling me a sorry tale of things going wrong on group rides. Three rides, three crashes bringing the rides to an unplanned halt. On a well-organised ride, with proper rules and sensible riders this shouldn't happen. I've been on numerous group rides and have only seen a couple of spills, one potentially serious and one very minor.

Group riding brings some special problems. The first one is organising it. You have several decisions to make, such whether or not you ride as a single group or split up and meet at intervals along the route, how you mark turns for following riders and deciding whether or not to allow overtaking. It's best if the last rider in the group knows the route too.

Whatever you decide, it's a good idea to have a briefing at the beginning of the ride, so that everyone knows the rules, and to clearly identify the leader and designated sweeper (last bike on the run) - there is little point in doing what happened on a run I joined last summer. "Bob will be sweeper, there's Bob for those of you who don't know him". Bob duly stands up, in jeans and pullover and smiles all round. Yeah right, that's going to make him very easy to spot when he has his gear on and is riding the bike. It's a good idea if the sweeper wears something obvious like a glo-belt or a fluorescent vest.

There are several ways of organising the ride. The simplest is to put the slowest or least experienced rider behind the leader. That way, the pace is set for the entire group and noone will be left behind. The only problem with that is that it can be frustrating for the faster riders.

An alternative system uses the rider following the leader to mark a turn, who waits for the entire group up to the sweeper to pass, and then goes to the back of the group. If no overtaking is allowed, the group slows one by one to the pace of the slowest rider till he reaches the front, marks a turn and goes to the back. If you allow overtaking, it can become a game, leading to the faster riders hacking back through the group time after time to get to the front. I'm not a great fan of this method as in my experience it results in inevitable scary moments for slower riders taken by surprise by the quicker guys, and dodgy overtakes by the faster riders.

When running group rides I use a different system. Each rider marks a turn only until the next rider in the group appears. He is then free to ride ahead to the next turn. If you allow overtaking, the faster riders soon work their way to the front of the group, and stay there - overtaking within the group is minimised. There is one problem with this - you must make sure that the bike behind is part of the group - I had a major foul-up once when I spotted the red bike behind with the black leathered rider appear in the distance, and carried on, only to discover that it was someone else who had merely got into the middle of the run... ooops!

There are particular problems for individuals. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of not looking any further ahead than the tail light of the rider in front, which points up the three main problems of group riding:-

1) Ride Your Own Ride

Don't ride in the wheeltracks of the bike in front! If he stops suddenly, you might not! Ride staggered to one side where you can safely close up such as wide, fast roads or in traffic (this makes the group shorter and more compact, so it takes up less room on the road, discouraging car drivers from trying to insert themselves into the group). On narrow twisty roads, sit back and observe the two second rule (four seconds in the wet).

Don't simply follow the guy in front blindly! Your eyes are drawn, as if by magnet, to the bike in front. He speeds up, you speed up. He slows down, you slow down, he cocks up, you follow him over the cliff etc.. If you need to, drop right back and give yourself space. It takes a lot of practice to be able to ignore the rider in front and concentrate on the road for yourself, picking your own speeds, braking points, lines and most importantly dealing with hazards for yourself.

This also applies if the rider behind catches you up - by all means move aside and let him overtake, but make sure you only do it where it is safe. Hold your line where there are bends, junctions or other vehicles - it is upto the guy following you to overtake safely, not for you to make things easy for him.

2) Ride at Your Own Pace

A frequent problem of riding with other riders is that you try to keep up either with the rider in front or you find you are pushing to stay ahead of the rider behind. In common with riding too fast in general you start to suffer tunnel vision. As you begin to get anxious, you stop scanning ahead and to the sides, stop looking ahead round bends, over hedges etc, spotting the line of telegraph poles, trees etc.. In short, you concentrate on the next bend and you fail to get an overview ahead of the road, so you are not planning ahead. Things like an S bend can catch you out. You also fail to see situations to the side of you, like cars approaching a crossroads from a side road, road signs warning of bends or junctions etc. The moment things start to surprise you and scare you, slow down!

3) Don't hassle other riders

OK, you're faster than the guy in front. You'd like to pass him and enjoy the ride. Sit well back and wait for a safe overtaking opportunity! If he's half on the ball, he'll spot you in the mirror, and move aside to let you pass. Don't hassle him, inexperienced riders will often try to let you past in the silliest places and end up watching you in the mirror more than the dangers ahead. In particular, be careful if the rider in front is in turn trying to pass another bike or vehicle.

I've already mentioned my bad hair day with Keith. Normally we are pretty well matched but on that day he was riding better than I was... I was riding too fast trying to keep up with Keith - result, I kept making minor mistakes and losing 10 yds then having to ride faster still to catch up. I'd be the first to admit I was ragged and riding like a drain on that occasion and it's important to understand that it happens to us all but if the guy you are following or in front of is faster than you, let him go.