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Whether it’s getting together with your friends, going on a ‘poker run’ or as a guest with a motorcycle club, group riding is a fun experience. If you’re a beginner keep in mind some basic motorcycle group riding protocol that will help you and others stay safe.
Part of the fun of owning a motorcycle in first place is to be able to get out with your friends and other like minded people and go for a ride.
Even if you don’t have friends that do ride, you can look around in your area and find some local clubs and planned events that you can participate in.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to a planned group ride or event I encourage you to give it a try. Just know that there are some basic rules and etiquette that you’re going to be familiar with when ride with a group.
These 11 tips aren’t an exhaustive list, but should be enough to get you prepared to either join a group ride or get your buddies together for a nice weekend ride.
1. Get Information on the Ride
So, your buddy told about an upcoming event they’re going to ride in or maybe you were down at the cycle shop and saw a flyer.
Or maybe you’re going to organize a ride with friends.
In any case, make sure that you understand some fundamental information about the ride.
If you’re participating in a planned event or ride, make sure you read the flyer (if there is one) carefully.
Usually, I use my phone and take a picture of the flyer so that I can look up the info up later.
If it’s for a charity or other organized event, there may be an entry fee so be prepared accordingly. That fee can anything from cash to canned food or whatever- Just make sure you know what the fee may be.
Make sure that you understand the ride route, specially going riding through any urban areas that you may not be familiar with.
Motorcycle riding with friends
Try to have a destination and travel route in mind and maybe even a purpose;
Are you riding to meet for breakfast? Going to see a particular site etc.
Make sure that you have a firm understanding of what the route will be. If you don’t, consult with your friends and get their input.
Either way, make sure that you’re familiar with the planned route by studying a map or asking someone.
2. Prepare properly
Before you head out to your ride, make sure you get yourself prepared. Sounds simple enough, but I’ve been on rides where we’re waiting for people for one reason or another.
You can prepare yourself the day of the ride, but I recommend that you take some time the day before if possible.
Preparing the day of the ride can get problematic if your supposed to meet the group early in the morning.
Me personally, I do my ride prep the day before.
Ride preparation things may include:
Wash your bike. If you haven’t done it a while or since your last ride, you may want to get your motorcycle cleaned up. For obvious reasons, this something you probably would do the day before. You’ll want to show up to the party looking you’re best!
Fill the gas tank. It should go without saying, people forget to do it. Make sure that you put gas in the tank or top it off even you’re down just a quarter of a tank.
Check your tires. This is a simple maintenance thing that people don’t do enough of.
Bust out your tire pressure gauge and your owner’s manual and check your motorcycle tire pressure.
Safety Check. Beyond just checking the tires, You should go through a safety check on your motorcycle and check things like your lights, fluid etc.
Bring food and drinks. There are probably plans during the ride to stop at various locations to grab something to eat, but it’s always best to bring your own.
I have a small cooler that I pack snacks and plenty of water in. There’s been times I’ve had to help out a fellow rider giving them something to drink when they needed it.
Having your own food and drinks helps a lot if the group takes a break where there are no services available.
Check your gear. Make sure that you have the proper riding gear that you’ll need onboard, and that your prepared for the weather.
You should have the following basic gear:
- Riding jacket; Good riding jacket, not a sweat shirt or windbreaker.
- Trousers; Proper riding trousers or leathers if you have them. No shorts.
- Gloves; Good riding gloves made of leather or protective material.
- Boots; Riding boots or other strong style footwear.
Cell phone. Make sure your cell phone is charged and bring a charging cable with you.
I also bring portable cell phone chargers with me in case of an emergency.
Once simple thing that you can do to help your battery life while on the bike is to place the cell phone in airplane mode. This prevents the phone using unnecessary battery power for certain functions that could drain the battery.
Bring extra cash. You never know if you’ll need to purchase an emergency item or you just want to buy a souvenir.
Tools. Make sure that you have your tool kit with you. If the ride requires anything special you and a buddy can split up who carries which items to take.
These can be items like motorcycle jumper cables, electrical or duct tape, first aid kit etc.
Aspirin or Ibuprofen. I’ve dealt with many a headache on my rides without having any kind of pain reliever with me. This is must for any kit.
3. Attend the Pre Ride Meeting
On many motorcycle group rides there is often a pre-ride meeting or briefing to give everyone a heads up and talk about the upcoming ride.
If it’s a planned event you’ll be introduced to the leader of the ride and other personnel on hand who are organizing the event.
Typically, they will go over the riding route and pass on any changes that may have been made.
On the group rides I’ve been on there is almost always some kind of route change that occurs during planned event rides. These are not necessarily the fault of the event coordinators.
This is usually due to things like construction, car accidents or even other non-associated events that may be taking place at the same time.
Remember that traffic conditions are fluid and can change at any time.
Make sure that you listen up for any important ride information and ask questions if you don’t understand the motorcycle group riding protocol.
If you’re not comfortable with asking a question in front of the group, just pull aside one of the event planners and ask your questions.
The leader may also go over any hand signals that may be used. Again, make sure that you’re familiar, and ask questions.
4. Decide the riding order
Generally, the leader of the ride will decide the riding order.
There are a couple of schools of thought on assigning a riding order during a group ride of motorcycles.
One idea is to put the new riders in the middle of the group to help keep them from falling behind.
Another placement for new riders is behind the leader with seasoned riders behind the newbies to help keep an eye on them. This is to help prevent the experienced riders leaving the new guys behind.
If you’re on a planned event you may be assigned a position within the group that you should try and stick to.
If you’re not comfortable with the position in the motorcycle group, ask your leader if you can be reassigned.
5. Know the riding formation
You need to know the riding formation that’s going to be used during the ride.
Typically, groups use a standard staggered formation.
Using a staggered formation will allow a good space cushion between all of the other motorcycles and allow for good reaction time in case there is a hazard.
You’ll want to be approximately 2 seconds or about 2 bike lengths behind the motorcycle that’s riding in your track and about 1 second behind the motorcycle in the opposite track.
DO NOT ride side by side.
The staggered formation should be held at all times unless there is debris or a problem in one of the tracks that causes the group to ride single file.
What about imminent hazards in my track?
You can also break the staggered formation of you have a hazard in your track like a pothole, sand or oil.
Signal the riders around you with your lights or hand signals to let them know what’s going on.
Make sure that you return to your original position as soon as you can and try and maintain a constant speed.
Many times in a staggered formation the experienced riders will stay in the left side of the pattern and novice riders will stay to the right.
6. Stay behind the leader
Stay behind the leader means exactly that. Time to put all of those grade school follow the leader skills at work!
The leader is the guy who knows where the group is headed and is responsible for the group’s safety.
Don’t be a jerk and pass the leader he or she is there for reason.
7. Stay with the group
That’s the whole point of group riding, is to ride with the group!
Try to stay with your group as best you can, but things can and do come up that cause you to get separated from the rest of the pack.
Due to red lights, not being able to pass cars in traffic and other road hazards you may not be able keep up with the group.
If it happens, don’t freak out!
The worse thing you can do is ride beyond your capabilities trying to play catch up. There should be a plan in place to deal with this situation. Usually one of the more experienced riders will wait until you catch up.
8. Pay attention to the rider behind you
Keeping an eye on the rider behind you does a couple of things.
First, you can adjust your riding as necessary (or cushion) and balance that with the rider in front.
Secondly and most importantly, it helps in case the rider has any kind of problem mechanical or otherwise.
During group rides some riders can be left behind easily, since the leader can’t keep an eye on everyone.
If each person in the group keeps an eye to rider to their rear, it helps keep the group together and respond quicker to render a fellow rider assistance.
9. Don’t fixate on the motorcycle in front of you
It’s easy to get a bit hypnotized and start staring at the back of the motorcycle in front of you.
What can have a tendency to happen is that you start to fixate and speed up and slow down when the rider in front of you does.
Remember that each motorcycle and rider are different. Your bike may not slow down or stop as fast as the bike in front.
In doing this, you can also create some frustration (and even a hazard) for the person behind you. When you make abrupt changes (like hitting your brakes) you cause them to have to hit their brakes.
If it’s sudden enough, they may even have to take a bit of evasive action to avoid rear ending your motorcycle.
Make sure you’re riding your own ride, lift your eyes up and look down the road and maintain a complete picture of what’s going on.
10. Signal road debris and potholes
Remember during the pre-ride meeting when you paid attention to all of those awesome new hand signals you get to use?
This is where you can use them to help out your fellow riders.
You should be paying attention to road conditions continuously as your riding and have your head up to spot problems.
You’ll want to let your fellow riders know about any road hazards or conditions that you may see before they do and signal them.
Here’s just a few:
- Potholes on the road or in your track
- Ruts or severe grooves in roadway
- Road gators. Theses are the caps off of commercial vehicle tires that are large and heavy pieces of rubber. Hitting one of these will more than likely cause a crash.
- Debris in roadway. Debris can be just about anything you can think of from leftovers of auto accidents to rock you name it.
- Animals on or near the highway. Should go without saying – If you hit an animal on your motorcycle you may not live to tell the tale.
11. Have fun and enjoy the ride!
This is the most critical step and what brought us here in the first place!
There is no point to any of this if you’re not enjoying the ride.
Riding a motorcycle is largely an individual experience but there is lot of fun in sharing that experience with other like minded people.
I’ve met some of the nicest people from all over that ride all kinds of different motorcycles and that’s one of the things that I like about riding in the first place.
Remember that if you’re not comfortable with how the ride in being run or feel unsafe with the motorcycle group riding protocol being used, there’s no sense in putting your butt on the line.
There is always the next ride!