The following guide is intended to cover the fundamentals of planning and leading a group ride. It is not a definitive source of information on the subject. For every suggestion on how to lead a group ride, there are numerous alternatives and exceptions. And as always, there is no substitute for good judgment. For additional information you may wish to visit the web sites listed in the back of this guide.
Note: also see the NER “Group Riding Guide” article for more general information on group rides.
Why lead a group ride?
Here are the actual words from a few of your fellow New England Riders when they were asked that question:
“When planning a ride I keep thinking about how much folks will enjoy it…”
“I like to share great roads with friends.”
“I want to give back to the group that accepted me so graciously and with hopes of encouraging other NER’ds to do the same.”
“By sharing the responsibility of finding the roads, places to eat and all else that goes along with putting together a ride, I feel that I have helped more people get out to ride…”
“Leading a successful ride is rewarding and satisfying to me. It’s a nice boost!”
“…morning of the ride anticipation seems greater when I’m going to lead the ride.”
But most of all…IT’S FUN!
It does take a little more effort to plan and lead a group ride but the rewards are great –and
it is fun. After all, it’s all about enjoying the ride and making friends along the way.
Building the Ride
Things to think about when planning rides:
- WHEN – Pick the dates that work for your schedule.
Don’t overly worry if there is another ride planned for that weekend. There are always riders who cannot go on one ride but can on another. Enjoying the ride with fellow riders is what’s important –not the number of riders attending.
- WHERE – You are the ride leader, you get to pick where you want to go.
Maybe the roads you know well are good to start with. Or perhaps, explore new areas, and then take some friends so they can enjoy what you found. Try to pick a start meeting point with a gas station near by so all can fill up.
- WHAT & WHY – What is the purpose or goal of the ride?
There are rides that are just about the riding while there are other rides that are destination rides and yet others that may include stops for special events, museums, music, etc. Again, it’s your ride. What would you enjoy? Chances are some other riders would too.
- HOW LONG – Duration of ride –a few hours, a full day or overnight –the longer it is the greater the planning needed.
- WHO – Number of bikes & co-riders.
- Larger groups may limit your choice of food, fuel and comfort stops as not all
locations can accommodate larger groups.
- In heavy city traffic half dozen bikes is hard to keep together. On a remote
road in New England a dozen or more is easy.
- When the group gets too large it is best to split it into multiple groups each
departing several minutes apart. Some experienced ride leaders suggest
groups of only 6 bikes, but under the right conditions others are comfortable
with 12 or more. Voice communications can help to manage larger groups.
- Limit the number of bikes? For any number of reasons you may want to limit
the number of bikes on your ride – and that is OK. Maybe a number that you
feel comfortable leading or the number of riders that a restaurant can
accommodate, etc. It’s your ride.
- On your first ride as a ride leader you may only want a few bikes. With
experience you may be open to have more riders join you.
- Larger groups may limit your choice of food, fuel and comfort stops as not all
Ride Planning Tools.
Mapping software like Garmin BaseCamp & Microsoft Street & Trips are probably the most comprehensive and feature-rich options for the motorcycling community. Very detailed routes can be created and exported for sharing and use on dedicated GPS devices or even smartphone apps. There are thousands of downloadable routes and Points of Interest (POI) files available on the Internet that can be easily imported, tweaked and followed.
Online mapping sites like Google Maps, Rever, & Bing! Maps are generally more convenient to use than paper, are mobile-friendly, and contain much more real-time information. They require an Internet connection to use, and are often limited in the number of way/shaping points, but can also export GPX route files for GPS devices and phones.
GPS devices usually come with a lot of Points of Interest including in their map files. Though the devices are somewhat klunky and time-consuming to use directly for creating detailed routes, it is possible to come up with something workable in a pinch. Importing routes created elsewhere is much more efficient.
Paper maps have been used to plan motorcycle rides since there were motorcycles. For some, there is still no substitute for laying out a big map to visualize an upcoming trip.
Your riding friends and fellow New England Riders are a good source for ideas on good roads, eats, accommodations, etc.
Some tools enable you to specify the start time and the time planned for each comfort and fuel stop. It then provides the expected time of arrival at each spot along the ride and the ride completion time. It makes it easy for others to join a ride while in progress as it can be predicted when you will arrive at various locations.
It can be helpful to copy and paste the directions into a spreadsheet to edit them and enlarge the type size for easy reading in a tank bag. Click here for an example using MSS&T.
Fuel & Comfort Stops
Most bikes can go at least 100 miles without refueling. When picking gas stations consider how many pumps they have vs. the number of bikes in the group. A typical refuel/comfort stop with 4 gas pumps for 12 bikes is 30 minutes.
Comfort stops –time between stops. The more people there are the higher the likelihood that someone could use the facilities in 60 minutes, and that someone is very uncomfortable in 90 minutes. If a rider becomes distracted due to a physical condition they will not enjoy themselves and they could represent a safety risk as they may not be concentrating on riding. Humor aside, think safety and common courtesy when planning stops.
Comfort stops –picking locations. The more toilets the better but hopefully there are at least two. Again, with 12 bikes, some 2-up, it typically takes at least 30 minutes with two toilets before the group is ready to depart.
Check for adequate parking for all bikes at each food, fuel and comfort stop. Give
higher weighting to those with large open areas of asphalt vs. pot holed gravel.
Size does matter when looking for a place to feed a large group. It is easy to find a place to eat for a few people, but when the group is 12 bikes, and half are riding two-up, it becomes more of a challenge. Talk with the management of the eatery you are considering:
- Can they handle a large group of your size?
- Can they set table space aside for you?
- How busy is the establishment at the time you plan to arrive?
- Can you arrive before or after the their busiest time?
- Reservations? It is always a good idea if the restaurant will accept them.
How long does it take for a group to eat? A lunch at a diner for a group of 12 bikes often takes 90 minutes from the time you arrive until you are departing.
NER’s recommended restaurant listings (on this website) for the Northeast and other regions are based on recommendations of your fellow riders, and include ratings for motorcyclist-specific concerns.
Online dining review sites can be helpful and inspirational for finding new eateries:
For multi-day trips, narrow down possible hotels/motels using all the normal resources, including asking folks you know in the area to make recommendations, motel sites on the Internet, or take a ride to the overnight area and scout around for a motel that fits your groups’needs. Small cities and big towns usually have a number of choices. Finding an acceptable motel in remote areas may be difficult.
Check it out on a scouting ride. If you are not familiar with the motel stop in and ask to see the rooms. Would you want to stay there? Would your significant other? Is the parking lot asphalt, well lighted and safe for overnight parking?
Reservations or just show up? Some folks love to tour and as the day is ending find a motel for the night. This is fine for a lone rider but when you need 12 rooms it’s better to have reservations. Most motels will block out a set of rooms for a period of time to allow your individual riders the opportunity to reserve them. Sometimes there are group discounts available.
Check to learn if there are any major events in the motel area during the dates of your ride as rooms could be scarce.
Pre-ride the Route?
If the group consist of a few friends perhaps not. But if it is a larger group, by all means pre-ride! Check the accuracy of directions and check out each planned stop. Getting lost with a few friends can be fun at times. Getting lost with a large group usually isn’t.
Post the Invite
Have most of your ducks in a row before inviting too many others, to reduce the number of corrections that need to be communicated. You can always tweak a few things, but other riders will appreciate having a relatively solid plan to consider before deciding to attend.
For NER rides, you might first gauge interest in your ride and proposed schedule on the Facebook group or forum, then create your detailed Event on Facebook. Ask an admin to add the event to the NER website.
Communicate the specifics of the ride:
- Start & rider meeting location & closest gas station;
- Pre-ride meeting time;
- Ride start time;
- Ride mileage and expected duration;
- Route description and/or GPX files;
- Planned pace (brisk, medium, flower-sniffing);
- Highlights such as twisties, sweepers, scenery, gravel roads, special stops, and points of interest.
- How/when to properly RSVP for the ride, and make any necessary reservations for lodging, etc. Set a deadline for RSVPs so you can provide rider counts to any restaurant(s) in time.
Remind riders to arrive early, have a full tank of gas, use the facilities and be ready
for the pre-ride meeting and departure.
A Note on Weather
Should you cancel the ride? It is your ride and it’s your decision.
After all of your planning and anticipation this can be a tough call. Do you want to ride in the predicted weather? Would others? Would the ride be unsafe? Keep in mind, some folks love riding in the rain while others do not. Some are not deterred by high heat and humidity, others are; and some riders have heated gear and cold temperatures do not faze them.
In the end you make the decision if the ride is on. If it is, each rider will decide for themselves to join you or not. In the summer lightning can be most dangerous for motorcyclists. Consider canceling the ride if predicted or if underway, seek shelter for the group. Be sure to notify any restaurants of major changes to expected numbers so they can plan accordingly and NER rides will be treated favorably in the future.
Leading The Ride
Review and print a copy of NER’s Ride Leader Pre-Ride Meeting Checklist to guide you in conducting the meeting before the ride.
Safety is always the number one priority in group rides.
Inexperienced group riders should be placed in the front of the group – behind and to the right of the lead bike. It is a matter of safety. If there should be an emergency, this is where they will do the least amount of harm should they not be able to maintain control of their bike. Also, if they cannot keep up, the ride leader will be able to see it and adjust the pace accordingly.
Tell riders what to expect on the next leg of the ride if appropriate –gravel, switchbacks, single file areas, scenic views, etc.
Pace – It is always a good idea to ride the “as advertised”speeds. Some riders may feel comfortable at or +5 mph above the speed limit but not at a spirited pace going through twisty roads. Others may be bored moping along at the speed limit when there are great twists in the road.
Three-wheelers – Due to relative stopping distances, trikes are best placed at the back of the group, just forward of the sweep rider. Hacks (sidecar rigs) on the other hand are usually behind the ride leader as they often have longer stopping distances. Each of these vehicles utilizes the whole lane –they do not use staggered formation.
Stop at stop signs. Come to a complete stop and wait for all in the group to catch up and stop. It is best when riders stop side by side. These two steps help keep the group compact and together when you pull out. It also minimizes the rubber band effect.
Steadily accelerate from stop signs or stoplights to within 5-10 mph of the speed limit. Do not slow down as this can jam up riders in the intersection and cause them to brake while turning. Once the group is all together resume full speed.
Stop at yellow lights when safe to do so – it helps keep the group together.
Re-unify a divided group due to stop lights or traffic:
- Keep going but reduce the speed until the group is all together, using voice comms with the sweep to keep track of the group’s progress, and/or
- Pull over when safe and wait for the rest of the group.
Specify single-file formation when you know upcoming road conditions warrant it, using hand signals and voice comms, so the group can change formation and be prepared.
Tighten formation in congested areas to avoid separation. Observe if the group is riding in a tight 2 sec. –1 sec. formation. If not, call for the group to tighten up by using a hand signal (and voice comms).
Exiting the roadway – Pull all the way through when pulling into a parking lot to avoid leaving the end of the group exposed to traffic.
- It is helpful if the group is in single file formation before exiting roadways.
- Keep the group moving into the parking lot by leading them to the far end of the lot before stopping (see Group Riding Guide).
Interstates, under light traffic conditions, are an easy and safe way to travel in a group. Under heavy traffic it is still relatively safe but it can be more of a challenge. Depending on a number of factors, riding in the left, middle or right hand lane could be the best, safest choice:
- Consider, how long will you be on the highway, how much traffic is entering/exiting, the speed of traffic, etc.
- As with an individual bike traveling on the highway, look for a “pocket” within traffic that provides ample distance to other vehicles, as this may be the safest location to position the group.
- Single file is usually best on highway entry and exit ramps as it provides riders with the greatest amount time and space for maneuvering and merging with other vehicles.
Passing other vehicles should be done with caution.
- Know your group. Are there any riders in the group uncomfortable with the maneuver, or perhaps with lower horsepower bikes that will have difficulty making the pass?
- Will the entire group have room to make the pass?
- How soon is the next major intersection coming up?
- Make your intentions clear to the group with turn and hand signals (and voice comms). Try to tighten up the formation and give riders a chance to be in the correct gear for passing safely.
- After making the pass, keep your speed up to allow riders behind to come back into the lane after their pass. Keep an eye on your mirrors.
- Stay in comms with the sweep to know when the group is back together after a pass.
Note: see the NER Group Riding Guide for more on group passing and voice comms.
Minimize the Rubber band effect:
- Accelerate smoothly and change speeds gradually.
- Announce speed changes beforehand with hand signals, voice comms, or both.
- Remind riders to keep looking beyond just the bike in front of them
- Slow the pace until the group is together again.
- Suggest that when the group is split, riders smoothly accelerate to rejoin the group.
- Limit the number of bikes in a group.
Work with the Sweep rider:
- He/she is there to keep an eye on the group and lend assistance to any rider who encounters problems. Typically, when a bike falls out of formation, one other rider will stop with the sweep rider to help or to act as messenger to the ride leader. The ride leader will pull the group over when it’s safe, then wait.
- Rides often flow more smoothly when the lead and sweep use real-time voice communications (BlueTooth, CB). The sweep can keep the ride leader informed of the group’s status and of any issues during the ride.
- Lead and sweep should exchange cell phone numbers prior to the ride, to aid in regrouping in case the sweep needs to stay back with a rider and the group gets out of voice range.
Giving Credit to Great Organizations
Some of the information presented here has been drawn from materials from the following organizations. It is fortunate that so many fine organizations put their group riding information on the Internet so that all riders can benefit. It saves lives as it helps all motorcyclists ride safer. Additional information on group riding can be found at their web sites:
Sunset H.O.G. – Beaverton, OR
GWRRA –Gold Wing Road Riders Association
Sunshine Chapter H.O.G.
Motorcycle Safety Foundation – Guide to Group Riding
The Master Strategy Group
“Group Riding Guidelines for Street Bikes” has some different ideas.
Information originally compiled & presented by Bob Fesmire for www.newenglandriders.org on April 12, 2006.
Updated 2019 by New England Riders