10 Tips for Group Riding
by Jim Meunier - Flash


As a long-time motorcyclist, I have gone on many solo rides and have also participated in a great number of group rides ranging from two to 120 riders.  While the occasional solo ride is a welcome interlude, I really prefer the company of other riders who share the enthusiasm of riding and the sharing of good stories over a good meal.

Each of us who have participated in a group ride has observed a number of different riding styles, techniques and skill levels.  Some riders who have not been on a group ride probably have a good idea of how to ride in the group, but might like a few pointers on what to expect and what may be expected of them.  The following guidelines are a compilation of ideas from personal experiences, insights from experienced riders, and clarifications from books and articles.  While these guidelines are not exhaustive (and may be somewhat controversial depending on the reader), it is my hope that you, the reader, will benefit from them in some manner.  For more extensive reading and additional explanations of skills and techniques related to group riding, there are many other publications you might enjoy, two of which are shared below:

Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well by David L. Hough (Bowtie Press), and

Guidelines for Group Riding for Street Bikes by James R. Davis (The Master Strategy Group), available online at www.msgroup.org.

So, with the best interests of enthusiastic riders at heart, here is a list of ten suggestions to help you understand what you will experience when participating in a group ride in your near future.

1.  The Ride Team

Your Ride Leader, Ride Crew and Tailgunner (or Sweeper) are all part of a team that has helped put your chosen ride together.  Care has been taken to scout the routes and look for good points and bad places.  On some rides, there may be a Chase Crew to accompany your group.  Generally, the responsibilities for the Ride Team and Chase Crew are described as follows:

The Ride Leader starts and stops the group, sets and changes the riding pace, sets and changes the riding formations, navigates the ride route, keeps the riding schedule, selects the fuel and picture stops, and usually initiates the hand signals for changes and road hazards

The Ride Crew keeps the group together, keeps trailing riders on the right route, passes hand signals to the group, assists riders who need to stop for some reason, and communicates with the other Ride Team members regarding any problems that are encountered.  Members of the Ride Crew may also help secure a new lane when a lane change is needed.

The Tailgunner is the last rider in the group and has the same responsibilities as the Ride Crew members, except he or she will stay with a stopped rider when needed.  The Tailgunner will appoint an alternate if necessary to follow the group, and will communicate any problems to the Ride Leader and Crew.

If we are fortunate enough to have a Chase Vehicle (and crew), it may carry such items as water, tools, tire repair kits, first aid kits, and a trailer for a bike that can’t continue.  There may be a skilled Emergency Medical Technician and/or First Aid person with the Chase or Ride Crew.  (Since the Chase Crew consists of good-hearted volunteers, we usually chip in to buy their lunch!)

2.  Hand Signals

Hand signals are a quick and effective means of relaying simple information through the group when no radios are being used.  They are especially handy (pun intended) for relaying information regarding road conditions and upcoming changes to the group.  Here are ten of our favorites:

1. Ready:  Left arm up, thumb up

2. Go or Increase Speed:  Left arm up, tomahawk motion with hand

3. Slow Down:  Left arm out, waving up & down (pat the dog’s head)

4. Stop:  Left arm up, hand up, fist clenched

5. Back Off:  Left arm down, hand down, palm facing back

6. Road Hazard:  Left arm down, hand closed, index finger pointing  down towards road, OR left or right foot pointing towards hazard

7. Need Gas or Personal Stop:  Left hand pointing at gas tank, left arm waving emphatically

8. Single File Formation:  Left arm up, index pointing to sky (we’re #1)

9. Staggered Formation:  Left arm up, index and middle fingers pointing to sky (victory)

10. U-Turn:  Left arm up, index finger pressed to thumb, hand rotating counter clockwise (lasso)

3.  Track Riding

Imagine the lane you are riding in is divided into five sections: the left track, the right track and three neutral zones (left, center and right).  The tracks are the depressions in the pavement which are caused by heavier 4 wheel and 18 wheel vehicles.  The neutral zones are the areas in between the tracks, the center line and the road edge.  The neutral zones generally contain most of the road debris like gravel, oil, and automobile parts, while the tracks are usually better to ride in, but may contain bottomless pits called potholes.  While riding in the group, each rider is encouraged to ride in the left or right track, staying a safe distance from the riders in front, and spending as little time as possible in the neutral zones.  Remember that each rider commands the entire area within the lane, from center line to road edge, and may find it necessary to move from one track to another to avoid road hazards.  This movement may need to be done suddenly and without signaling, so be prepared for this.  We would discourage riders from weaving impulsively between the tracks as this creates a safety hazard and makes it difficult for others to maintain speed or anticipate safe stopping distances.

4.  Following Distance

While in the group, be aware of the other riders nearest you, both in front and behind.  Ride safely and leave enough space for braking and stopping.  I recommend a minimum of two seconds distance behind the rider in the same track, and a minimum of one second distance behind the rider in the opposite track.  If a following rider is too close, use a hand signal to indicate you would like more space.

5.  Formations

Single File:  Due to road conditions, your Ride Leader may signal the group to begin a single file formation.  Upon observing the signal, riders are encouraged to begin moving into the track directly behind the Ride Leader.  Remember to signal your change, check the new lane or track, and maintain a minimum of two seconds distance behind the rider in front of you.

Staggered:  When more favorable road conditions allow, your Ride Leader may signal the group to begin a staggered formation.  Upon observing the signal, riders are encouraged to move into the track opposite the rider in front.  Usually, the Ride Leader will occupy the left track, the second rider will occupy the right track, the third rider will occupy the left track, and so forth.  Each position in this formation is called a slot.  If there is an empty slot near you, a rider may move into it.  If you are uncomfortable riding in the slot you are in, drop back a little and motion a rider around you.  You may then signal your intention to move into the vacant slot in the opposite track.  Please remember to check the new track before moving and to maintain the recommended distances for following.

6.  Intruders

If a vehicle is attempting to pass the group, the driver may find it necessary to move back into the lane to avoid oncoming traffic and before clearing the entire group.  It is the responsibility of each of us to be prepared for this condition and to react quickly and safely for everyone.  You can help minimize the risk of a mishap by moving to the track or neutral area furthest away from the intruder and reducing or increasing speed to give the intruder as much space as possible.  The Ride Team may signal the Ride Leader to slow the pace to encourage the intruder to pass the rest of the group.  This technique may be used several times until the intruder has moved beyond the group.

7.  Yo-Yo Effect

For those who have ridden with a group before, you have probably noticed a tendency of the group to stretch out or bunch up depending on speed, road conditions, traffic conditions, curves and straight-aways.  The group may even become divided under certain conditions.  This effect is referred to by many names (rubber-band, bungee, yo-yo, etc.), and is a very natural phenomenon that can occur in any large or small group.  The effect is planned for by your Ride Team so the group can regain its cohesiveness as quickly and safely as possible.  If the group becomes stretched or divided for any reason, your Ride Leader may slow the front portion of the group down until the remainder of the group can catch up.  By doing this, the Ride Leader is taking away the need for the trailing riders to scramble to rejoin the group in an unsafe manner.  Once the trailing riders have caught up, the Ride Crew and Tailgunner can pass the signal to resume the ride.  When approaching a reduced speed zone, set of curves or road hazard, the Ride Leader may give a hand signal to begin slowing the group.  Once the Ride Leader is past the obstacle, he or she may retain the same pace or increase it moderately to allow the rest of the group to catch up at a safe pace.

8.  Fuel Stops

The Ride Team has likely made several scouting runs for the ride they will be leading.  Among the items on the list to be checked are gas stations somewhere in the 80 mile range.  While this may seem like a low number, remember that some bikes have smaller gas tanks and others may have performance modifications which reduce their overall running range.  Where possible, fuel stops have been selected with more than one gas station close together.  Fueling for the entire group can be accomplished in a shorter time by splitting the riders between the gas stations.  The Ride Team will communicate with each other to resume the ride when everyone is done fueling.  Riders need only watch for the group to know when to rejoin.  Please remember to bring cash for your gas.  We have had experiences where too many credit cards have seized the computer system of the gas station, which effectively shuts down the pumps.

9.  Alcohol

For all participants, remember that alcohol and riding, especially group riding, DO NOT MIX.  When coming from lower elevations to Denver, the amount of alcohol it takes to get you intoxicated is greatly reduced.  When riding from Denver over passes in excess of 9000 feet, the amount is reduced even further.  Please keep the safety of each of us in mind and save any drinking until we get back to the hotel.

10.  Ride Your Own Ride

Each rider should ride their own ride.  We suggest that riders should not ride in situations they feel are above their riding skills or they feel are unsafe.  If you are uncomfortable riding in close formations with other riders at any speeds, we suggest, for your safety and the safety of others, that you select a self-guided ride or a ride with a very small group.  If you become uncomfortable with the riding pace or any other aspect of the group ride you are on, please pull to the side of the road and stop.  One if the Ride Crew members will stop to assist you.  Remember, we want everyone who has made the effort to come to Denver to have a GREAT time and return home safely.

If you would like to comment on any of the tips, please send a personal message to mtnman9k@yahoo.com.  Ride Safe!