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
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
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.