Movies like Marlon Brando’s 1953 classic The Wild One and the ‘not so’ iconic John Travolta’s 2007 Wild Hogs may show group riding to be easy. In reality it’s not. It is certainly enjoyable riding with friends, however group riding takes effort and coordination. Even though there is a strong sense of belonging for bikers who ride together, sometimes you may be called upon to ride with strangers.
This is where the universal code of group riding can help. There is a lot of work that goes into organizing a group of riders. You have to consider the amount of road you are covering, the varying skill level of different riders and the chaos that could ensue if the formation does not work out.
Clearly, to ride safely – ‘safely’ being the operative word here - in a group, you need a set of ground rules to make your group riding experience pleasant for everyone.
Here are 10 tips that will help you when riding with friends or strangers:
1- Hold a Pre-Ride Meeting
This meet can help you decide many things. Where you will stop, how long will it take you to get from point A to point B, what route you will be taking and what to do in case someone gets lost etc. If you are confused about any of the above, this meet will be a good opportunity to clear everything.
2- Decide on a Riding Order
The first thing you need to do is choose a lead rider, who will ride upfront and a sweep rider, who will bring up the rear. The leader will be responsible for letting everyone know what to expect ahead in terms of traffic jams, rainstorms, road closures etc. The sweep rider, on the other hand is responsible for setting the pace of the group. Everyone besides these two should also have a predetermined spot in the formation, with the more experienced riders at the back and the less experienced ones lined up right behind the leader.
3- Be Prepared
Preparation would include keeping simple items with you that could make your journey comfortable. For instance, come with a full tank of gas, and keep your cell phone with you at all times. Also make sure that someone in the group carries a first-aid kit and bike tools. Keep your driving license handy as well.
4- Don’t Go Rogue
It is very important for the group to stick together and hold their positions. There is no chequered flag waiting for you which means there is no need to boast how great you are on your bike. Showboating is not only frowned upon, it can also seriously jeopardize the safety of your fellow riders. Be a team player and also don’t stop anywhere without letting your group know.
5- Stagger the Formation
This one is tricky. You want your group to stay in formation, but you also want comfortable space in between riders. If you ride in a single file, it limits your room to maneuver. The best way to go about this is to stagger: maintain an alternate side formation.
For instance, if the lead rider is on the left side, the one behind should be slightly towards the right. And the third rider should be a little to the left, and so on. On curvy or roads blessed with potholes, you might want to stick with a single file formation. Also, a single file would be much easier to manage when getting on a highway, going through an underpass or turning at intersections.
Make sure that the space between individual riders is comfortable. A 1-2 second gap in between every two riders in the group should be enough.
6- Passing in Formation
When you are on a highway, or in traffic, you should pass by other vehicles one by one. Make sure everyone gets back in formation once the road is clear.
7- Take Lots of Breaks
Group riding is meant to be a fun activity. To make sure it does not become unnecessarily exhausting, you should take plenty of breaks in between. This will help you maintain your concentration and energy levels and help you savor every moment.
When riding, it is highly probable that one or two members might get left behind - in traffic or may be due to a red light. In such a situation, everyone must be aware of the rest spots. And as soon as a member gets left behind, the entire group should go up to the next rest spot and wait for them to catch up.
9- Be Considerate
You should try and make the riding experience fun for everyone in the group. Not all riders may have the same level of experience and expertise when it comes to riding. You should plan your speed and formation according to the least experienced rider in the group, so that no one gets left behind.
10- Know Your Signals
This might vary with different groups. You need to agree on signals and make sure that everyone knows and understands them.
For instance, you will need a signal to
Start engines – Extend right or left arm and move the index finger in a circular motion
Left turn ahead – Raise left arm horizontal with the elbow full extended
Right turn ahead – Raise left arm with elbow bent at 90 degrees vertically
Stop – Extend left arm downward at a 45 degree angle with the palm of hand facing backward
Single File – Position left hand over helmet and extend fingers upward (specifically for lead riders)
Tighten Up – To close ranks, raise left arm and repeatedly move up and down in a pulling motion
With these signals in mind, you can make your riding experience more fun and stress-free. Make sure everyone in your group is well aware of the rules to avoid confusion or worse accidents. Riding in a group is all about discipline, make sure you trust your fellow riders and not leave anyone behind.