Mastering the Art of Group Riding on motorcycles
Riding in a group is a captivating experience if done well, if it isn’t done well it’s a nightmare and can be quite frightening for some. It can bring together camaraderie and a shared passion for motorcycling, but it can also put some riders off if it is poorly organised.
It has an unrivalled sense of community that makes the journey as rewarding as the destination. When group riding on motorcycles goes well and everyone knows their role and responsibility, it looks and feels good.
Whether you’re traversing the country roads of the UK or exploring the diverse terrains abroad, group riding opens the door to thrilling adventures that are not just shared but also remembered and treasured.
It Doesn’t Just Happen
However, there is an intricate art to group riding on motorcycles. It isn’t simply a matter of hitting the open road with a group of friends. You don’t just turn up and have a great ride with people you haven’t ridden with as a group before. You must all adapt to a process.
It requires careful planning, someone has to take the lead. It needs clear communication, heightened awareness and above all, a deep-rooted commitment to safety.
This guide aims to enhance your understanding of group riding, covering things like riding formations and communication. It will help to give you a few ideas and enable you to enjoy your riding experience, while ensuring maximum safety for everyone involved.
The Benefits of Riding in a Group
Riding as part of a group can offer several advantages.
It provides an improved level of visibility on the road, as a group of motorcycles is easier for other road users to spot than a single rider. Usually a group is four or more riders and when they ride together they take up a lot of space compared to a lone rider.
This increased visibility can greatly contribute to the group’s overall safety. This is because it’s a head turner when other road users see a group of motorcycles. It could be they enjoy seeing a group of riders, they are bikers themselves or it isn’t seen very often, so they take a longer look.
This all plays into the hands of safety, as you are less likely to have anyone pull out on you.
The downside of riding in a larger group can be that drivers get impatient and don’t want to wait until everyone has passed. Instead they pull out into the middle of the group rather than waiting.
The Importance of Staggered Formation
One fundamental aspect of group riding is maintaining an appropriate formation and the staggered formation is generally the preferred setup. This works by riders positioning themselves in alternating spots within the lane, creating a zig-zag pattern.
This formation when riding helps maximise space between riders. It gives each rider ample room to manoeuvre or adjust their position on the road and react to potential hazards. It is not common to have sudden changes occur but this way of riding gives the opportunity to see well ahead and make changes if necessary. This type of riding position also gives riders the ability to have a good braking distance in front of them.
Avoid Single File
Sometimes you see groups riding in single file, this does not give good vision ahead and reduced braking distances can be dangerous.
Keep the group size to a manageable amount. If you are new to group riding and trying it for the first time, smaller groups are much easier to manage and practise new skills.
Ideally, no more than five riders to start with. This ensures better control, cohesion, and ease of navigation, especially in towns and cities where there may be congestion. As you improve your skills together, you can add more riders to the group.
Taking into Account the Level of Ability
Not every rider in a group will have the same level of experience or skill. It’s crucial to factor this in when arranging a group ride and the order of march (the position everyone goes into.)
Better riders are typically best positioned at the front and rear of the group. By having experienced riders leading the group, it allows those behind to see how it is done and copy their example.
It is also easier for experienced riders to see what is happening behind and control the speed of the group to allow them to stay together. Because they have more knowledge of group riding on motorcycles, they can foresee problems that may occur and can take action to prevent issues.
As an experienced group rider, they can make changes to the way the group performs by reducing speed, changing direction or dealing effectively to the changing road conditions.
At the same time, an experienced tail rider can keep an eye on less experienced riders in the middle and provide support if needed. A little bit of guidance can go a long way.
This approach helps ensure the safety of the group, without making novice riders feel pressured to keep up or exceed their comfort zone. It is important to ride at the speed of the slowest rider and remember that the speed at the back of the group is usually quicker than that at the front.
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Maintaining Appropriate Separation Distances
Even within a formation, maintaining adequate separation distances between each motorcycle is important.
A good rule is to always stay at a two second gap from the vehicle in front, this means that the bikes that are staggered are one second apart but in different positions to the left and right of the central position.
Appropriate spacing allows each rider enough time to react to potential road hazards or sudden changes.
The optimal distance can vary based on multiple factors. This includes the group’s speed, as a slower speed means the distance can be shortened as speed increases so does the separation distance.
Individual riders’ experience levels must be taken into consideration too. If they are riding out of their comfort zone, they become dangerous to themselves and the group. Riders must not be forced or allowed to ride fast that they are comfortable.
The speed and separation distance must change with the prevailing road and weather conditions. One set speed in all situations is not conducive to a pleasant ride for new and inexperienced riders.
The Heart of Successful Group Riding
A group ride is as much about effective communication as it is about riding skills.
Establishing clear and efficient communication protocols before setting off will greatly enhance the group riding experience and contribute to everyone’s safety.
A good pre-ride briefing is essential. This way everyone knows their role and also the riding position before they set off.
Before embarking on the ride, the group should know the route. It should be pre planned and not just made up on the hoof, with planned stops where everyone can meet up if they become separated and what to do if they get lost.
The riders in the group should establish some basic hand signals for common messages. This could be for slowing down, stopping or pointing out a road hazard.
The use of these signals ensures communication for those without a radio. This is valuable for a number of reasons, visual communication that everyone knows is an easy and quick way to communicate. Having radios is an added bonus but has its drawbacks.
The Exceptions to the Rule
Although a riding formation offers numerous advantages, there are specific
times where it’s safer to abandon the formation and allow each rider to ride independently.
This is typically the case in complex road situations. They could be critical points such as merging with other traffic, especially when it is heavily congested. Passing through toll booths is another example and if this is the case, the lead rider can proceed but keep the pace down until everyone has caught up.
In these situations, the information could have been communicated during the briefing. This way new riders won’t become frightened of being left on their own. They will know what to do and will stay calm and relaxed.
It’s crucial that each rider focuses on their own safety first and regroups with the others when it’s safe to do so.
Route Planning and Itinerary Preparation
Effective group riding begins well before the engines start. The success of a group ride is often a direct result of how well the route and itinerary have been planned. This is usually done by one of the experienced riders in the group who has taken charge of this particular group ride.
Riders can take it in turns leading the group. This gives everyone a decent perspective of the challenges involved and if they are involved in creating or helping, they gain more skills and knowledge too.
It’s essential to select a route that suits the group’s skill level and to identify rest stops and fuel stops at regular intervals. Riding 150 miles between stops might be ideal but is it practical for the group’s dynamics? If the route is to last all day and is only 150 miles, regular stops will be required so that the ride lasts the whole day.
Advance route planning allows every rider to understand the journey ahead. This will reduce anxiety, stress and uncertainty. A good plan can always change with the changing circumstances and also helps ensure everyone has a safe and smoother ride.
It helps if anyone gets separated from the group. They can rejoin at the next pre-planned stop or follow the steps given to them at the briefing to get back together again when they are able to.
It might also be beneficial to invest in a good quality sat-nav, then everyone can have the .gpx file sent to them prior to meeting up. This way everyone in the group knows the route, the duration and the planned stops. When this is done, it always helps in route guidance.
By understanding the essential aspects of group riding on motorcycles formations, communication, and route planning, you can enhance your group riding experience and ensure a safe and enjoyable journey for all.
Happy riding, stay safe and Keep it on the Black Stuff!