Safety in Numbers

by Clifford Meier
September 3rd, 2007


Through the course of any riding season, we have one or two incidents that cause us to take pause and say thank you to the Riding Gods. Rider skill aside, whatever you prefer to call it, fate, luck or someone keeping a watchful eye over us, these close calls cause us to reflect and slow down a bit.

Over the last few year’s I’ve had more than a few occasions to say thank you, above and beyond the obvious mishap with Carol. We had a driver in a Blazer fall asleep just ahead of us drifting across all three lanes of I-70 heading for the ditch. Hitting the sound barrier wall and then careening back across the three lanes of traffic slamming into the center median guardrail. Cars going in all directions to miss the Blazer, we're in the middle and very vulnerable.

Maybe it’s another rider going down or a near miss as you are cut off by a merging car. Maybe it’s a brake test as they pull out in front of you when you reach the intersection. Unfortunately there are far too many of these incidents.

Not too many years ago, Carol and I found ourselves in a very dangerous situation, riding in a hard rain on a two lane country road in the left track and cresting a blind hill. Just at the point we can see over the top of the hill, we are surprised with a pickup pulling a trailer crossing the center line. Better than way into our lane and coming deeper, we have no where to go. Left we hit the trailer, right we hit the truck. I have no idea if he was asleep or just swinging wide to turn into a farm. All I know for sure, when we hit the shoulder it was firm gravel and wide enough to allow us to miss him. With a quick nod of thanks to our Angel we continued on.

Hopefully we learn a few valuable lessens from our daily riding and we’re able to develop our skills over the years without too much pain. To this day, every blind hill I crest, you will see me move right. You don’t need to tell me twice!

I also think most of the long time riders develop something else over the years. As we approach the intersection or watch the car in the other lane, you get this tingle and we have an idea of what he’s going to do before he does.  Maybe we just key in on certain signals that most people miss. Call it a sixth sense if you will or maybe it’s an Angel whispering in our ear. Whatever it is that occurs, we listen and soon realize how close we were to disaster.

Knowing the dangers we face while riding alone, the question I have today is simple. Is group riding more, or less dangerous than riding alone? If it’s more dangerous, do the benefits of group riding out weigh the dangers?

Obviously the simple answer for us is this, the benefits out way the danger because we do it on a regular basis. Considering the number of bikes we ride with on a regular basis, (July Event aside) I am surprised that we have never had a major incident. I can recall only three mishaps, Blacktop Cowboy, Dom, and Carol. Knocking on wood and many thanks to those that watch over; we have never had an incident that someone has gotten hurt. Do you know what I find hilarious in all this?  The GIRL is the only one to come back for more!

I think that group riding inherently or just by its nature, if not done properly can be more dangerous. There is the group mentality telling you to ride faster and keep up even above your comfort and skill level. There is the issue of an inexperienced rider within the group causing unsafe situations. You’re rolling along, fat dumb and happy with the VTX smile and all of a sudden the group stops or turns. By the time you realize what the group is doing; you scramble out of your happy place and cut off other bikes or worse yet cars to negotiate the stop. 

A great example of this happened on the Spring Fling in Farmington. Not really sure where the hotel was we pull over to discuss it. After making a plan, the group leaving the parking lot, lines up at the exit and going across a four lane road. A car slows to allow the bikes out or so we thought. The first two pull out without incident but the car had no intention of sitting any longer yet the rest of the group is pulling out following the leader. Cars in the other lane approaching to fast, slam on the brakes and before you know it we’re playing pin the bumper on the bikers. We were fortunate no one got hit.

With all the negative examples we can site about group riding, I actually believe it to be safer than riding alone. You’re more visible as a group; you also have the exhaust factor. More pipes make more noise, therefore they hear you coming. You have the protection factor in a group. If you break down or run into trouble there is someone with you able and willing to help. I also believe the average rider riding in a group has a better skill set and it makes those with skill a better rider.

Group riding can be fun and very safe if done correctly. So, how do we do it correctly? Funny you should ask, I just happen to have some information on that subject.

Here are some group riding guidelines, safety tips and ideas to help make every group ride safe and fun. We probably know most of them but it never hurts to review the principals. If nothing else, it may open discussions allowing us to share our ideas and experiences. And that my friends, is always a good idea.

  • Each rider is responsible for making sure their motorcycle is mechanically sound. Before you meet up with the group, make sure you've got plenty of fuel in the tank, and you've taken care of all those maintenance issues. You don't want to be the reason for stopping the group for something mechanical you could have prevented.

  • When planning the route consider the stamina and experience of the riders as well as the limits of the motorcycles. Have regular stops scheduled to keep everyone fresh.

  • Organize the ride by either standing around in a parking lot with a pre-ride briefing or for longer rides, maybe a meeting to hand out maps and cell phone numbers. Each rider should know the route and plan.

  • Cover hand signals in your ride briefing so you can communicate while on the ride.

  • If it's a larger group, in your ride briefing establish a buddy system among the riders and a plan to handle mishaps. Establish who should stop and help and who should keep moving to the next pull off. That way, if something goes wrong, you don't have motorcycles sitting on the side of a busy road with the possibility of making the situation much worse.

  • Riding in a group never means you give up your decision making process when it comes to safety. As we say, ride at your own pace and comfort level. If the group is riding faster than you are comfortable with, fall back and motion the bikes behind around you. You may reach the destination a few seconds behind the others, but you will get there, and that's what's important. Keep in mind, it's all about fun.

  • If you’re ”Riding as a Group” and trying to stay together, your most experienced riders should lead and sweep the ride, putting the less experienced riders directly behind the leader. This allows the leader to keep any eye on these riders and to adjust the pace accordingly. I know – I know, we don’t do this, we ride with the most experienced taking off with a blistering girly pace and the less experienced to fend for themselves. Not that we try to lose them, we do wait down the road, way down the road. We do appreciate a brisk pace. Again, if the goal of the ride is to keep the group together, the leader should only ride at the pace of the least experienced rider.

  • While riding, don't fixate on the motorcycle in front. Remember your basic training; look well through the turn to where you want to go. A major learning opportunity from our 2008 July Event.

  • As visibility decreases or you run into road hazards, cars in a pull off or a bicycle type hazard, move the group to a single file formation.

  • At intersections where you've come to a stop, tighten the formation to side-by-side to take up less space. At double turn lanes, use both lanes. This helps get the group through the light. As the light turns green, or when traffic opens up, the bike on the left proceeds through first.

  • If possible, make sure there is ample parking at your scheduled stops for your size group. When parking, get the group off the roadway as quickly as possible.

  • For whatever reason, if you decide to leave the group ride, make sure the leader knows your plan. Don’t leave them wondering what happened to you.

These are just a few guidelines I put together. If you’re looking for more group riding information you can find several links on our Event Page or Favorite Links Page. You can also do a search, there are plenty of articles out there.

There is nothing better than riding with a group of bikes out the highway or through the twisties. Group riding to me is an opportunity to share the open road and wonderful scenery with other like-minded people.

Until we ride again…