Safe Group Riding Requires Planning and Preparation by Both the Individual and the Group
Individual Rider Preparation: TCLOCK
T = Tires & Wheels
C = Cables & Controls
L = Lights & Switches
O = Oil & Fuel
C = Chain & Chassis
K = Kick / Sidestand
Before arriving at the riders meeting prior to the ride you should ensure your bike is in top working order. Use the T-CLOCK above to ensure your bike is in order. You should also ensure you have the right equipment to protect your body from the road and environment: helmet, eye protection, motorcycle jacket, full finger motorcycle gloves, long pants, and motorcycle boots. You should also consider carrying other weather related gear to anticipate weather changes such as a rain-suit or spare sweatshirt.
When you were contacted by your group ride organizer, they should have informed you about the time and place for the riders' meeting. Plan to arrive at this meeting with your bike prepped, a full tank of fuel and everything else you plan to bring on the ride. Generally, a riders' meeting will take place about 30 minutes before the ride. At the meeting, expect to receive a final map noting the group's route, itinerary, and the location of fuel, meal, rest or lodging stops. Sometimes, if the ride is large enough, you may be asked to select a buddy within the group so you can watch out for each other.
Often during the meeting, hand signals are reviewed so that you can communicate with the other riders during the ride. Hand signals are a useful tool to keep the group aware and cohesive on the roadway. Your group is free to determine its own set of signals.
Read a Group Riding Guide by Ric Remz, Certified Motorcycle Safety Foundation Instructor
BY RIC REMZ, Certified Motorcycle Safety Foundation Instructor
The views and opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. They are the opinions of the author who is not speaking for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.
I) WHAT IS GROUP/TEAM RIDING
If you have never ridden with a group before, you do not know what you are missing. Group riding is as different from individual riding as night is from day. We have probably all seen groups of motorcycles traveling together on the highways. Some look like totally disorganized hordes. Others are well spaced, organized and move as if they have been choreographed. In fact, they very often resemble a formation of airplanes. When you ride in a group, your actions not only effect you, but the other riders as well. It is important to recognize and remember that group riding is a TEAM effort. To reduce the risks and increase the fun and enjoyment, you must rely on the cooperation of all the riders in the group. Remember, even though you are in a group, you are riding your own motorcycle and are responsible for it. Don't just follow blindly.
Generally, groups ride in a STAGGERED formation (see diagram), with a minimum of one second interval between the rider on the left and the rider on the right. There should be a minimum of two seconds between you and the rider directly in front of you. At night, or any other time visibility is reduced, spacing should be increased to a minimum of two seconds and four seconds. Newer and slower riders should be placed towards the front. Newer, less experienced riders should not be placed next to each other.
Ideally, groups should be kept small, the farther you ride, the smaller the group. Larger groups should be separated into two or three smaller groups, each with their own leader and sweep/tail. Four (4) to five (5) riders in a group is ideal.
Before each ride, including return trips, there should be a pre-ride briefing. This is a meeting, held before the scheduled departure time, with all the riders. The leader and road captain will discuss the destination, route to be taken (distributing route maps is a good idea), planned stops for fuel, meals, etc., and how tolls, if any, will be paid. In some groups, the leader collects the tolls before hand. In others, each rider pays their own at the booth. Either way, the method of payment should be decided at the briefing. Another item for consideration is an emergency phone number at the destination should anyone become separated from the group. The route is preset, everyone should know the route and the final destination. Generally speaking, there are no changes in the route once the ride is under way.
Under normal circumstances, the departure time should be adhered to. Some of the most annoying delays are having to wait for someone to get gas or stopping every half hour because the group wasn't prepared for the trip. Schedule the assembly time one half hour before departure time, for those who forget, are always late, or never ready to go. Remember to come with a full tank of gas, full stomach and an empty bladder. A diner or truck stop makes a great place to meet.
Stops should be planned in advance, based on the shortest cruising range. SEE PRE-RIDE BRIEFING. A good rule of thumb is to plan rest and gas stops approximately every two (2) hours, between 100 - 120 miles. You should also consider planning the first rest stop within one (1) hour of departure. This allows those who need to re-cycle their morning coffee the opportunity and also allows for checking and readjustment of luggage. Remember, headwinds and high speeds will increase gas consumption and decrease mileage.
SPECIFIC MEMBERS OF THE GROUP:
Now that we're ready to go, let's look at some of the specific members of the group and just what their roles and responsibilities are to the rest of the group.
1) LEADER: rides at the front and sets the pace for the group based on the ability of the weakest rider.
2) CAPTAIN or SAFETY: act as the sweep or tail, rides at the rear of the group and monitors the group. They may also critique after the ride, giving constructive tips based upon their observations. Helps to control the group by communicating with the leader. Also watches out for the group at entrance ramps, since he has the best view of the ramp and can signal the leader if vehicles entering from the ramp are trying to cut into the formation.
3) ROAD LIEUTENANT(s): rides in the middle of the group and acts as a second leader in case the group becomes separated or divided. They act as additional leaders and sweeps for additional teams if the group is too large and has to be divided. One may also act as a scout or road guard to direct additional groups that are following.
4) NEW MEMBERS OF THE GROUP: These riders are generally placed in the middle of the group, next to a strong rider. They must understand that they have to follow the directions of the leaders.
The leaders, road captain, tails/sweeps and lieutenants should have C.B.'s or some other form of radio communication. They are also helpful when making lane changes or alerting the group to potential situations.
II) METHODS OF LEAVING/DEPARTURE:
Entering or pulling onto a highway from an assembly point or rest stop can be confusing and frightening to both the members of the group and the other traffic sharing the road. The best method is for the leader to pull out and each member then pulling out when it is safe, assembling into formation when possible.
Another method that is commonly used, but is illegal, is for the tail to pull out first and secures the lane. The leader then pulls out with the group following and then forms into a staggered formation.
III) TRAFFIC LIGHTS and STOP SIGNS:
When the group stops at traffic lights or stop signs, it should close ranks by forming a double file. Be sure to go only when the light is green and do not block the intersection -- this is dangerous and illegal. The group should know to reassemble after crossing the intersection (discussed ahead of time at the pre-ride briefing).
After the traffic light has turned green, the leader moves out slowly to allow the group to reassemble on the other side. No rider should pass another bike while doing this. If the light changes again before the entire group has made it through, the leader should either proceed slowly until the rest of his group joins up, or pulls over on to the shoulder, where it is safe, to allow the group to catch up.
At stop signs each bike must stop at the sign and then proceed. Regroup as in stop lights. After the group has gone through the intersection, the last bike, which should be the tail or sweep, notifies the leader that everyone is through and he can pick up the pace.
IV) TURNS AT INTERSECTIONS:
When making turns at intersections, everyone maintains their lane positions or staggered formation. The same rules apply as for Stop Signs and Stop Lights.
REMEMBER: IT IS DANGEROUS AND ILLEGAL TO BLOCK INTERSECTIONS TO ALLOW THE GROUP TO GO THROUGH.
*note here* if the police are doing the blocking, that's different.
As the group approaches the toll plaza, form into a single file, even if leader is paying for the group. This allows the toll taker to count the vehicles more easily. REMEMBER to watch out for the oil and other fluids like antifreeze that accumulate in the middle of the lane at toll booths, (pay special attention to where you place your right foot if you are stopping at the booth).
If at all possible, avoid using unmanned toll booths that have gates, they can drop unexpectedly, causing damage to your motorcycle and injury to you. Unmanned booths cannot accommodate more than one vehicle at a time, so the leader cannot pay for the group. They can also take longer than a human.
When approaching curves the group forms a single line and maintains a two (2) second following distance through the curve. By forming a single file, your line of sight increases and the single file formation allows each rider more maneuverability in picking their own path of travel.
VII) CHANGE OF SPEED:
When the leader wants to pick-up or increase the speed, he announces it over the radio or signals for the change of speed by hand signal with each rider in turn passing the signal down through the group.
VIII) LANE CHANGES AND PASSING OTHER VEHICLES: TIME AND SPACE MANAGEMENT
When more than 1 motorcycle or any other vehicle for that matter, attempts to pass another vehicle, it takes a tremendous amount of time and space. Above all else remember that PATIENCE IS A MUST!!
Before initiating a pass, each rider must ask themselves three (3) questions:
1) Is it NECESSARY ?
2) Is it SAFE ?
3) Is it LEGAL ?
It is illegal to exceed the posted speed limit to complete a pass.
In most states, solid lines mean no passing and broken lines allow passing. Yellow lines are usually found dividing lanes going in opposite directions, while white lines divide lanes going in the same direction.
A) Passing vehicles with two (2) way traffic.
One (1), rider passes at a time. As each rider completes the pass, the next rider moves over into the left third of the lane (this places them in the best position to see oncoming traffic), and gets ready to make the pass. Position #2 becomes position #1, position #3 becomes position #2 and so on.
The leader must leave enough room for the rest of the group to complete the pass and the sweep should signal the leader when the pass has been completed. If the whole group has not completed the pass before reaching the end of the passing zone, the remaining bikes wait for the next passing zone to complete the pass.
NEVER ATTEMPT TO PASS ON HILLS OR THROUGH CURVES, YOUR LINE OF SIGHT IS LIMITED.
B) Multiple lanes in same direction, lane changes.
When traveling on highways and the leader wants to change lanes or pass a slower moving vehicle, the best method is to use the following sequence.
The leader signals the tail/sweep of the lane change by either using the radio to communicate or hand and directional signals for those in the group without radios. Each rider in turn makes the same signal and waits for the sweep to secure the new lane. This prevents other traffic from passing him and creates the space for the rest of the group to move over. When the sweep has secured the new lane, he signals the leader and the lane change is initiated by either of two (2), methods:
1) Riders move one (1), at a time from the rear to the front into the new lane. This is the BEST METHOD, since it allows each of the riders to make the change by themselves. It can take place in less time than the second method, since the whole group doesn't have to wait until there is enough space for the whole group to move as one.
NOTE: STANDARD PASSING TECHNIQUES ARE USED, i.e., head checks, mirror checks, directional signals, etc.
2) On command (by leader), all bikes move together. This looks very sharp, but takes a lot of practice. This is a precision exercise and takes more time and space to execute.
When riding in the extreme left lane of a multi-lane highway, the leader should move directly in front of position #2, after the lane change has been completed. Remember to allow for a two (2) second minimum following distance. The rest of the group maintains their original positions in the group. This is done for several reasons, 1) gives the leader a better view of the other lanes of traffic. His/her line of sight is not as obstructed 2) Gives the leader more time and space to react should a vehicle on the right decide to change lanes and move in front of the group, they may not see the leader in the left third of the lane, forcing the leader against the divider or onto the median.
C) PASSING LARGER VEHICLES, trucks, buses, motorhomes
Aside from following the same directions as in when passing regular sized vehicles (cars, pick-ups, etc.), special care must be taken when passing larger vehicles such as tractor-trailers, buses, motorhomes and other R.V.'s. This is due to the large amount of air that these vehicles push in front of them. When you come around them, your vision is restricted as well. There may be another, smaller, vehicle in front of it that you weren't able to see until you passed the front of the first vehicle. This situation might not leave you with enough time and space to get back into the lane.
As you reach the front of the vehicle, there can be tremendous air turbulence. This can throw a motorcycle off balance, especially those with a windshield or fairing. With motorcycles commonly called "Dressers" or "Tourers", the windshields and other bodywork may act as wind sails and the motorcycle can literally be pushed into another lane of traffic. There have been reports of handlebar mounted windshields suddenly bending or collapsing from the blast and almost knocking the rider off the bike.
THIS IS CAN ALSO HAPPEN WHEN PASSING ON MULTIPLE LANE HIGHWAYS.
IX) ENTERING AND LEAVING HIGHWAYS, ENTRANCE AND EXIT RAMPS
A) ENTRANCE RAMPS, Entering a highway:
Various situations call for different methods. Ideally, the group merges together. In the real world, this is a difficult task and is not always possible. Have as many riders merge as is legally and safely possible, with the remaining riders entering as they can. The group then reassembles after they have all entered the highway. Remember, the leader stays in the right lane until the group has reformed. It may take until the exit ramp you are going to before the group will be able to reassemble. Reassemble after making the exit. The rationale is that there is no extreme situation that requires the rider/s to speed up or commit other unsafe acts that would put themselves or others at risk to reassemble.
B) EXIT RAMPS, Leaving the highway:
All riders move to exit lane as a group if possible, using the lane change procedure. Exit ramps generally have a deceleration lane, use it to brake and downshift before entering the actual exit. As the group enters the deceleration lane they should preferably form a single file, due to the changes in road configuration. Special attention should be paid at cloverleaves or combination entrance and exit ramps. The exit and entrance lanes intertwine or weave together, causing exiting and entering traffic to intermingle.
Be alert for vehicles that want to exit or enter the flow of traffic and cut through the formation. It is not always possible to maintain the formation at exit ramps or when passing entrance ramps. Pay close attention for vehicles that may cut into your formation.
Now that you have reached your destination or are making a rest stop, you need to maintain order. The leader pulls in and locates adequate parking for the entire group. This may require the group to either circle the parking lot or have the group pull off the road into the parking lot and stop where it is out of the flow of traffic. The leader or his designee then scouts the lot for adequate parking. Another method that is frequently used, if there is radio communication or a preplan, is to have one bike go ahead of the group find parking and lead them in at the lot. If there is no space large enough for the entire group, then park as you can.
Be alert to the type of surface in the parking lot: soft, unpaved, gravel, newly paved or hot macadam. Remember to use a kickstand plate when in doubt.
Remember to park backed in, or be able to go forward to get out (unless of course you have a GoldWing with reverse).
XI) BREAKDOWNS OR INDIVIDUAL PULLOVERS:
In the event of a breakdown or, if an individual pulls over to the side of the road, the tail/sweep is generally the only rider to stop with him to find out what's wrong. The leader will stop the group when and where it is safe for everyone else to pull over. In large groups, a Road Lieutenant may be designated to stop and assist the stopped rider.
Once the group has safely pulled off, the leader may designate one (1), rider to go back and find out what is wrong. THIS IS ANOTHER REASON FOR RADIO COMMUNICATION BETWEEN THE LEADER , ROAD LIEUTENANTS AND THE SWEEP.
If there are more than the leader and tail that have radio communication, the radio should remain silent unless it is absolutely necessary to communicate. *********IT IS NOT FOR IDLE CHATTER************.
XII) PULL-OFFS / DROP-OFFS
If a member of the group is going to be leaving before the rest of the group or plans to drop out before the final destination, let the leader know before hand.
XIII) Medical conditions of individuals, i.e., allergies, emergency medications, etc., should be made known to either the leader or someone else in the group. If carrying emergency medications, these people should know where it is kept and how to administer it, if necessary.
The group should always have first aid kits, flares and flashlights. It's also a good idea to carry a cellular phone for emergencies. The Road Captain and Lieutenants should also have had first aid training.
THIS IS NOT MEANT TO BE, NOR IS IT A SUBSTITUTE FOR, FORMALIZED RIDER EDUCATION. IT IS RECOMMENDED THAT ALL OPERATORS OF MOTORCYCLES PARTICIPATE IN THE MSF RIDER EDUCATION PROGRAMS.
The author would like to thank Lori Taube and Gaspar Trama of TRAMA'S DRIVING SCHOOL in Woodhaven, NY,for their technical assistance and input during the development of this article.
Ric Remz is certified Motorcycle Safety Foundation Instructor and has been riding for over thirty years. He is a paramedic lieutenant with the New York City Fire Dept. and is also known for his Motorcycle Injury Management Seminars which he has conducted at Americade East and West, Honda Hoot, the Rider Rally at Great Gorge, NJ, for H.O.G., AGWA, GWRRA, Women on Wheels, A.B.A.T.E., CMRA, MMA of Mass. and others.For further information on either his Group Riding Seminar or the Motorcycle Injury Management seminar you can write to Ric at 89-02 250 St, Bellerose, NY 11426.