Who Needs Them?
following guidelines for riding in a group are not gospel. There are
situations in which they don’t apply. Some organizations may have
different terms for these concepts, as well. These guidelines have been
tested for many miles, however, in clubs whose members ride all brands and
models of motorcycles, and they have sound safety rationales to support
them. If you as a rider find
yourself in a group which does not follow these guidelines, you can
usually find someone who will explain what rules that organization
follows, if any, or how they differ from what you learn here. At most
responsible group rides, a riders’ meeting will be held prior to
departure, in order to clarify what is expected of all the riders who are
to participate. If you find yourself uncomfortable with the riding style
of a group at any time, DROP OUT. Your safe arrival at your destination is
far more important than conforming to rules you don’t like or don’t
understand. People who ride
in a group usually appreciate knowing what they are expected to do, and
what to expect from others who are taking part in a hazardous sport in
close proximity to them. Road Captains and those who frequently ride lead
or drag are particularly urged to become familiar with these terms and
guidelines in order to explain them to other riders who may show up for a
scheduled ride without having any group riding experience.
Common Group Riding Terms
Captain: a person
who devises group riding rules or guidelines for an organized group ride.
And who communicates these guidelines to the group, and who
generally plans and lays out group rides. The Road Captain may or may not
ride lead for a particular ride.
Bike: a person who
rides in the most forward position in a group and who relays information
to all other riders in the group via hand signals. The Lead Bike
determines the group’s direction, speed, choice of lane, and formation.
He or she often must make quick navigation decisions in the face of road
hazards, changes in road surface conditions, poor signage, construction
and other obstacles while maintaining control of his or her bike and
communicating to those following. If there are three groups on a ride,
there will be three Lead Bikes.
Bike: a person who
rides in the last position in a group. The Drag Bike must secure a lane
for the rest of the group during lane changes into faster traffic (move
first to block oncoming traffic) and close the door (move to block passing
traffic) when a lane is lost in a merging lane situation. Usually this is
the most experienced rider in a group, for the Drag Bike is the rider who
stops to assist a rider who has mechanical trouble, loses control, or
drops out of a ride for some other reason. The Drag Bike should be
prepared to render aid to a downed or disabled rider in a group. If at all
possible, the Drag Bike should have a co-rider who can assist with traffic
control if a serious problem arises. If there are three groups on a ride,
there will be three Drag Bikes. The rider in this position is sometimes
called the tail gunner.
any vehicle that is
not a motorcycle, but particularly an automobile.
The enemy, anyone
driving a cage.
formation in which all bikes in a group follow the Lead Bike in single
file into a parking lot, making a U-turn such that they can all line up
next to each other in the space available with the rear of their bikes
against the curb or edge of the lot, the front tires pointing outward.
formation in which all the motorcyclists in a group ride two abreast.
formation of motorcyclists in a group in which the Lead Bike rides in the
left track of a lane, the next bike in the right track(slot), and the next
bike in the left track, and so on. Bikes in a group generally maintain a
minimum interval of two seconds travel time between bikes in the same
track, and one second travel time between each bike in the group. In a
staggered formation, a rider still commands and may ride in the entire
width of his lane as needed. Group riders may also ride single file or
two abreast. The Drag Bike may ride in the left or right track
depending on the number of bikes in the group. It is preferable for the
Drag Bike to ride in the left track, so as to have the same visibility
line as the Lead Bike.
file: a formation
in which all the cyclists in a group ride in one track of a lane.
any position within a group in the right track of a lane, farthest from
the zone of a lane in
which a rider maintains his position in a group. A lane of traffic is
split into five zones: the left track is the second zone from the left,
the middle of the lane (generally not used) is the third zone, and the
right track is the fourth zone from the left. Two zones on the sides of a
lane serve as margins. A rider may vary his path of travel from his normal
track as is required by a road hazard or by an incursion into the
group’s lane by other vehicles. When
departing from a stop, the rider in the left track normally pulls out
before the rider on the right, returning to a staggered formation.
Group Riding Maneuvers
the Lead Bike for each group sees that all riders are helmeted, sitting on
their bikes, motors running, and ready to depart, he or she will check for
traffic and enter the roadway. Usually the Lead Bike will not attempt to
exit a parking lot unless there is room for all or most of the group to
follow immediately. If the group is split, the Lead Bike will normally
take the slow lane and keep the speed relatively low until the group can
form up in the positions the riders will keep for the duration of the
ride. This may mean traveling slower than surrounding traffic, to
encourage four-wheelers to pass and allow the group to form up.
Occasionally this cannot be accomplished until the group has made a lane
change or entered a freeway, depending on where the entrance ramp may be.
of the Lead Bike’s signals, a rider is responsible for his or her own
safety at all times. Ride
Your Own Ride.
all members of the group are together, the group will take up a staggered
formation and will stay in it most of the time during the ride, unless the
Lead Bike signals for a change or the need for a change is obvious.
Reasons for changing out of a staggered formation could be a passing
situation or poor road surface (single file), dog or other animal charging
the group (split the group), or coming up to a traffic signal (two abreast
while waiting for a light).
a group of motorcycles is changing lanes, many safety considerations come
into play. Should every rider move into the adjacent lane at the same
time? If not, should the Lead Bike go first, or should the Drag Bike move
first to “secure the lane”? What if another vehicle sees a gap in
traffic and tries to cut into the group? If part of the group gets
separated from the other riders, should everyone change relative positions
(tracks) so that the new Lead Bike is now riding in the left track? The
recommended procedure for a group lane change maneuver depends on how the
surrounding traffic is moving at the time. The goal for the bike which
moves first is to create a gap into which the other bikes can fit.
of what other riders in the group are doing, each rider must personally
to see that the new lane is clear of traffic before entering it.
Lanes as a Group
is virtually no time (absent an emergency) when a group of riders should
all move at the same time into a different lane, in regular traffic
conditions. The wide gap required for a whole group to move is difficult
to find in heavy traffic, and if it exists, it will be an invitation for
other drivers to jump into it, perhaps while the group might be moving.
on less-congested rural backroads, the riders in a group may spread out to
create larger intervals between motorcycles. This allows a rider to relax
a bit, to enjoy the scenery and the ride. If no four-wheelers are trying
to pass the group, this is fine. However, the riders should remain close
enough to each other to be able to see hand signals being passed back from
the Lead Bike. It is possible
that a rider will also “space out” in terms of losing his
concentration and will forget to practice safe riding strategies. If a
rider is not riding safely enough to avoid endangering others in the group
(because of lack of experience, medical problems, fatigue, or some other
reason), the Lead Bike will usually discuss the problem privately with
that rider at the next stop. If a problem cannot be solved reasonably in
this way, the Lead Bike has absolute discretion to request that a rider
leave the group and is entitled to expect the group to support this
decision. In the case of a mechanical or minor medical problem, it is not
unusual for another rider to accompany the distressed rider to get help.
Sometimes if the Lead Bike just re-assigns the riders to new
positions within the group, this is enough to bring a spaced-out
motorcyclist back to a state of alert awareness.
Out The Curves
any stretch of curvy road and in any corner, a group may ride in
single-file momentarily, to enable each rider to corner at his own speed
and to have as much room as possible for maneuvering.
This is especially important to riders with little experience in a
group, as they may “wobble” or be nervous about making turns with
another bike to their side or riding close behind them. This is an
accepted variance to staggered formation; usually the Lead Bike will not
signal for single-file at each turn but will expect the riders to choose
their own path of travel.
hand signals are optional in group riding: turn signals on the bikes ahead
will usually advise a rider that a turn is coming up, for example, and
hand signals in a turning situation may actually add to the danger for
some. However, other hand signals are extremely helpful to the rider who
has no other means to communicate. The
most important two hand signals are these: pointing to an obstacle in the
road, warning the rider to avoid it; and pointing to the tank.
Pointing to the tank: No
matter what your reason, pointing to the tank on your bike, will be
telling everyone that you needs to stop as soon as possible. This may be
because needing fuel; to make a “potty stop”; because you are having a
mechanical or equipment problem; because your co-rider is uncomfortable;
because a medical problem; a crisis of confidence; or for any other reason
at all. Such a signal should be relayed throughout the Group. If possible,
the Lead Bike may orchestrate a stop by the whole group. If not, the
affected bike can count on the Drag Bike to stop with him to try to help
off -- Palm of
left hand shown to group, pushing motion toward rear of bike
to ride –
“Thumbs up” high enough in air to be visible to Lead Bike
formation -- One
finger points to the sky on top of the helmet
down -- Left arm
is held out straight, then goes up and down
alert (police or emergency vehicles) --
Hand taps top of helmet several times
up or close ranks in formation --
Left arm makes “windmill” sign
formation -- First
finger and little finger point to the sky on top of the helmet, also known
as the “Hook ‘em, Horns” sign.
-- Left hand makes
circle in air over head
to Normal Guidelines
often-heard rule, “Ride Your Own Ride,” means that any guideline for
group riding can and should be ignored when it doesn’t make sense.
Determining whether this is the case and acting prudently is each
rider’s individual responsibility at all times.
Under normal circumstances, the Lead Bike will choose a lane, will
determine the speed at which the riders are to travel, will suggest the
formation which makes maneuvers most safe, and will navigate.
exceptions to these guidelines occur with a rider who is not yet
experienced with group riding. If a maneuver looks too dangerous or
awkward for the new rider to complete safely, he or she should do what he
needs to do to protect himself and avoid an accident. This may mean
passing up a turn or taking it very slowly, or parking somewhere not with
the group, or going more slowly through a curve than the riders ahead of
rider commands his entire area within a lane and may move to left or right
in it as required.
exception: the Drag Bike may not travel in the same path as the rest of
the group. If, for example, a two-lane road is narrowing so that a lane is
about to be lost, the Drag Bike will frequently “close the door” by
moving out of the group’s staggered formation into the lane which is
soon to disappear. This is to prevent a four-wheeler from trying at the
last minute to pass part of the group and then have to cut into it when
the pavement runs out. Even if the riders near the back of the group
observe that the Drag Bike is no longer in the position where he has been
riding most of the time, they should maintain their own place in the
time for a motorcyclist when confronted with an unexpected threat is, on
average, about one second. If the need to react is anticipated (such as
when a turn has been announced), then riders can usually react within
about half a second after the bike ahead begins to react. When a group of
riders change speeds very gradually, however, it usually takes two or
three seconds for a rider to recognize this and begin to change his speed
to maintain his position in the group.
doesn’t sound like much time, but experienced group riders manage their
risks reasonably well with a minimum one-second interval between each bike
and a minimum two-second interval between bikes that are traveling in the
same track. When the group has more than six bikes in it, however, gradual
changes in speed within the group can become tricky.
a Lead Bike begins to accelerate, the second bike doesn’t instantly
start to travel at the faster rate. Instead, a gap grows between them
while the second bike is reacting -- and it continues to grow until the
second bike is fully up to the increased, stable speed of the Lead Bike.
Clearly, once the speeds are the same, the gap will remain the same size.
However, since most groups prefer to keep a one-second minimum interval
between bikes (two seconds between bikes in the same track), the new gap
caused by the Lead Bike’s acceleration may be larger than is desired.
When this occurs, the second bike must go faster than the first one for a
brief time in order to “catch up.”
we assume that the Lead Bike speeds up from 60 to 70 mph over a period of
two seconds, the second bike will have to ride at 75 mph for two
seconds (after his reaction time passes) in order to close the gap. Then
he will take another one second to decelerate back to 70 mph to create a
gap of the proper size. If there were only two bikes in the group, this
example is easy to follow. But when the group is larger, and the bikes
involved are riding further back in the pack, the “rubber band” effect
can be especially dangerous to all bikes from the middle of the group to
the Drag bike.
example, the third bike in the group has this problem: About two seconds
after the second bike has begun to accelerate, the third bike responds.
Now, however, the second bike is moving at 75 mph rather than at 70 mph
like the Lead Bike. The third bike must use even more effort to catch up
to the second bike than the second bike did to match his speed to the Lead
Bike’s new speed, if the gap is to stay relatively constant. He will
have to move at 75 mph for four seconds, not two, to catch up. The
fourth bike will have to accelerate to 80 mph!
a group of only six motorcycles, the last one will find the gap between
himself and the fifth bike has grown to 143 feet before it begins to
close, once he starts to speed up, given these average reaction times. And
it will be at least 11 seconds after the Lead Bike first began to
accelerate before the sixth bike does so.
imagine what happens in the group if, while this is taking place, the Lead
Bike must apply his brakes! This rubber-band effect becomes extremely
important if the Lead Bike happens to make an abrupt and major change of
speed at certain critical moments, such as when approaching a sharp turn
or a tricky curve. Those who
ride as Lead Bike, or near the lead bike for their group should be aware
of the importance of avoiding sudden changes in speed if at all possible,
so as to reduce the risks to those following.
rubber-band effect can be reduced by following these guidelines:
Bike changes speed more gradually
riders watch farther ahead than just the bike immediately in front of them
in order to notice and to react quicker to changes in speed
riders restrain the impulse to “crank it up” in order to quickly
re-establish normal spacing.
Bike does not increase speed within 15 seconds of entering a curve which
may require braking or some slowing down to maneuver it safely.
riders abandon the one-second spacing rule when riding twisties.