The following guide is intended to cover some suggested fundamentals of group riding. It is by no means a definitive source of information on the subject. For every group riding suggestion there are numerous exceptions. Learning to be a better rider or a better group rider is a continuous process that can take a lifetime. And as always, there is no substitute for good judgment.
Notice: NER is not an organization. Ride leaders are not trained experts at planning or leading group rides, but rather just fellow riders who want to share their love of the road with other motorcyclists. As always, each rider is responsible for themselves and the operation of their motorcycle. “Ride your own ride” and “ride within your capabilities” are more than sayings. If you are ever uncomfortable on any ride for any reason, talk to the ride leader or drop out of the ride. You are responsible for your safety.
Why ride in a group?
Simply stated, because it is fun to be in a group of motorcycles on the road. Experiencing the ride with others and socializing during the rest, fuel and food stops builds a camaraderie that is unique with motorcyclists. It also provides safety advantages. A group is more visible (it has “mass”) and is predictable to other vehicles vs. a solo rider. In case of mechanical problems or an accident, there is another biker there to help. But mostly, it’s a lot of fun!
Am I ready?
New riders usually like to get a few thousand miles of experience before taking part in a group ride. Ask yourself if you are comfortable and in control of the motorcycle? Can you negotiate curves at posted speed limits, maintain your lane of travel and stop rapidly? When you’re ready, come join in the fun of group riding. (Note: if you are new to group riding tell the ride leader.)
Then BE ready!
Plan to arrive at the designated ride start location with a full tank of gas. Arrive early enough to rest and use the facilities. Attend the pre-ride meeting, ask any questions you might have, and be ready to ride at the designated start time.
Be prepared for all of the weather conditions you may encounter. A cool rain in
the middle of summer will feel extremely cold at highway speeds if the rider gets soaked
because they are without rain gear. Also, the group may not stop to put rain gear on if most riders are wearing waterproof gear already. Wear the gear you think you will need based on conditions for the ENTIRE ride. When in doubt, ask the ride leader what the plan is for weather contingencies.
There are a few common riding formations to consider when riding with a group. A good ride leader will vary the formation during a ride, based on road type, riding conditions, and the skill level of group members.
Staggered Formation is advocated by multiple sources as the norm – not because it is comfortable, but because it offers the best group safety. Considerations include:
- Spacing – the standard timing is two seconds to the bike in front of you and one second to the bike in the adjacent lane. It provides space and time for avoidance maneuvers, creating a “mass” that is easily seen by other vehicle drivers and keeps the group compact. It is important to keep a tight formation in areas where there are other vehicles. When in rural areas, a more relaxed spacing is fine. It gives riders more time to look around and enjoy the scenery. However, remain close enough to see and pass on hand signals. To determine if your spacing is right, watch the bike in front of you pass an object and then count “one thousand one, one thousand two.” You should reach the same object when you say two.
- Stay in your lane. If riding in staggered formation think of the road as being
split into three lanes – left, center, and right with riders in the left and right
lanes. Drifting out of your lane takes away the time and space safety
cushion. Safety always comes first however, so if you need to maneuver to
avoid a hazard, etc., resume your normal staggard-formation position when
it’s safe to do so.
- Keeping a group all together – it is important for the group’s safety, and it’s
fun to be in a bunch of bikes going down the road. However, there are worse
things than a group getting split up. Use common sense and don’t take extra
risk for the sake of keeping the group together. (i.e. excessive speed to catch
up, not providing a space for other vehicles to exit on a highway, cutting off
another vehicle, etc.) Ride with your head.
- Keep scanning; don’t fixate on the bike in front of you. The longer the rideduration the more important this becomes.
Single File Formation – if the leader knows the road very well he/she may call for single file if
they think that is best for the group. Most riders realize that on a narrow road single
file is appropriate – or they stretch out their spacing – or both. Single file also works
well on entering and exiting limited access highways. It provides the space and time
between bikes that can be needed when negotiating a merge with traffic.
Side-by-side Formation at stop signs & lights – come to a stop, two bikes abreast.
This helps in getting a group of bikes through a stop as it allows two riders to look
for cross traffic at the same time. Start up in the same staggered sequence that you
were riding starting with the lead bike pulling out first. Rolling stops at stop signs
and right-turns-on-red are illegal and are discouraged. Each rider needs ample time
before proceeding through the intersection.
Cornering formation in a group
- In general, try to stay in your formation lane, as it provides the greatest safety
cushion for all riders. When the road narrows, go to single file formation and
chose the cornering line that you feel is appropriate. Certainly, “spirited”
riding calls for single file, much greater spacing between bikes and an
outside-inside-outside cornering line.
- When turning from a stop at an intersection, try to maintain
spacing and if reasonable, staggered formation. Accelerate at a reasonable
pace and try to avoid slowing down as that causes others to have to brake
while in a turn.
Rubber band effect – As groups become longer, there is a tendency for the riders in the rear of
the group to experience a “whip saw” effect, with large openings between bikes. Close up the formation when it can be done safely. Do not speed or take extra risks.
When a bike drops out of the formation – the remaining riders should re-orient
themselves into the standard staggered formation starting first with the bike
following the departed rider – using their turn signals and then changing lanes. The
following riders will do the same in turn.
A group of bikes does not have special rights on the road. Although thoughtful drivers will sometimes yield to a group of bikes, and allow them to pass through an intersection as a group – it is not our right-of-way. In addition, blocking a lane of traffic (sometimes done while a group gets underway) is not only illegal but also dangerous. If a group is well organized and everyone knows where they are going, they can get into formation while underway.
Unless all bikes have radio communication, using hand signals is a good communication method while underway. Pointing out hazards and indicating upcoming turns are particularly useful in conducting safe group rides.
Suggested Hand Signals for NER Group Rides
It happens and it’s OK, the group will not abandon you. At stop lights or signs, or in heavy traffic, it may not be possible for the group to stay all together. When safe, a good technique is for the group to continue but if they make a turn the last rider stays to the side of the road and waits for the rest of the group. It’s like leaving bread crumbs to mark the route.
Remember, the group will pull over and wait for you when it is safe to do so. Besides, you should have printed out a copy of the route prior to going on the ride or gotten a copy from the ride leader –so you could find your way to the next stop if needed.
Pulling Off & Parking
When a group is leaving the road for a food/gas/rest stop it is important to keep the group moving into the parking area until ALL bikes have exited the roadway. This usually works best if the lead bike goes to the far end of the parking lot. Don’t race into the parking lot but keep moving; don’t leave the end of the group stopped in the roadway.
Passing should be initiated only when necessary and when it can be done safely.
Two lane roads –the ride leader accelerates and passes the vehicle first. Once he is
past he will maintain a higher speed to create space for others to follow. Only then
will the next bike pass the vehicle, again maintaining speed to create space for the
following bike. Each bike will pass in turn one at a time until the whole group has
Multi-lane roads and highways – If voice comms are in use by the lead/sweep, the leader will typically request that the sweep secure the lane. Once the sweep changes lanes and no cars are between them in the new lane, the ride leader will activate turn signal, wait a few seconds, and then move to the open lane. Without comms, the ride leader must determine when there is enough room for the group to change lanes, put his turn signal on, wait a few
seconds and then move to the open lane. An alert sweep should mimic the lane change as soon as safe to do so. The rest of the group looks, and then moves.
Safety Note: Each rider should determine for themselves when it is safe to perform maneuvers like passing other vehicles. Use your head and ensure you have a clear view of the roadway ahead before changing lanes. Don’t feel pressure to catch up before it is safe to do so. That said, If you find yourself too uncomfortable with the passing required to stay with the group, discuss with the ride leader at the next opportunity. Based on the group, they may choose to dial it back, or may suggest you drop out of the pack and meet the other riders at the planned stops along the route. No hard feelings, see next section.
Ride Your Own Ride
Ride within your capabilities. Someone else may be leading the ride, but they are NOT responsible for your safety – you are. Furthermore, guidelines for group riding should be ignored when they don’t make sense or jeopardize your safety. Determining this and acting prudently is each rider’s individual responsibility at all times.
In group rides the primary reason to use voice comms (e.g. Bluetooth, CB) is to help move the group safely. It is advisable for all who have a CB to stay on the channel designated by the ride leader so they know what is going on. With Bluetooth, it is possible to get four to eight riders linked together, but signal quality can degrade with more connections, and the link dependencies can be frustrating to manage when riders click in and out. The Lead and Sweep may want to keep their link private and clear of chit-chat.
Here are sample exchanges between a ride leader and sweep:
Lead: Left turn at the light
Sweep: Thank you (the thank you is just a confirmation of hearing the sender – it is
assumed that all other CB users got the message)
Lead: road kill center of lane
Sweep: thank you
Lead: very tight right turn
Sweep: thank you
Sweep: five bikes got caught at the light
Lead: thank you
Sweep: we are through the light but two cars are between us
Lead: thank you
Sweep: We are all together again (once we rejoin and are one continuous group)
Lead: thank you
Lead: bicycle on the right
Sweep: I didn’t get that, say again please
Lead: bicycle on the right
Sweep: thank you.
Sweep: There is a big gap in the group. Please slow down 5 mph.
Lead: Slowing 5 mph
Sweep: We are all together again
Lead: thank you
Lead: turning right onto route 27
Sweep: thank you
Sweep: all made the turn, we are together
Lead: thank you.
Another exchange between the lead bike and sweep –this time on the highway. Ed is the
lead bike & Bob is the sweep:
Ed: Bob, secure lane one please (lanes are numbered from the left)
Bob looks and moves to lane 1, then lets Ed know he occupies the lane
Bob: lane secured
Ed: thank you
Ed puts his turn signal on and the group moves into the lane.
Bob: we are all in lane 1
Ed: thank you
Bob: Ed, the group is riding well together, very tight.
Ed: It looks that way from up here too.
Note: unless all riders have a CB, hand signals should also be used for group riding
Put a Fork in Me
When you’re done and need to leave the group, it is common courtesy to inform the leader and/or sweep of your plan. Make every effort to do this at a rest stop prior to your departure. The sweep may suggest you ride in front of him/her to avoid disrupting the group’s formation when you leave. At the very least, pull out of formation to the side of the road when safe to do so, and inform the sweep you are leaving, when they ride up to you.
The information in this guide was originally compiled by Bob Fesmire, 2006.