Riding in a Group
Riding with a group can be one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences you can have. It is important, however, that you consider your experience level. If you are a beginner and still learning to negotiate turns & the concepts of straight line breaking and breaking in a turn along with maintaining balance while riding slow, group riding is not a good place to learn how to ride. For the safety of yourself and others, please be proficient at basic riding before you join a group.
When riding in a group, whether its with 3 or 4 other motorcycle riders, a dozen, or several hundred, it is very important to understand the different type of riding formations, and your responsibilities to the other riders to help ensure everyone's safety. The two most common riding formations are described below, the Stagger formation, and the Side-by-Side formation.
Preparing for a group ride
Before we describe the two common riding formations, we'll cover some basics. You should talk to one of the leaders and learn the route and destination of your ride. In the unlikely event that you get separated from the group, all will not be lost and you can catch up or meet the group at the destination.
IMPORTANT: Be prepared to ride at the specified departure time with a full tank of gas and an empty bladder.
IMPORTANT: If you have special needs or concerns be sure to tell the leader of your group. Lesser experienced riders should be at the FRONT of the group behind the group leader, NOT at the BACK. The back of the group is constantly exposed to a slinky or whiplash effect and is most likely to be separated from the group at intersections.
IMPORTANT: If you plan on dropping out during the ride, PLEASE tell the group leader. They tend to get pissed off if they have to look for you only to find out that you went home.
The Stagger Formation
As with most things there are many ways to do it. Group riding is one thing that needs control and planning so everyone has some idea what the others are doing and where they are. Most of the group will not ride together enough so they can be comfortable with the reactions of the rider in front, back or beside them on every ride so on many occasions our chapter will use a stagger formation.
The lead motorcycle should be in the left 1/3 of the lane, the second motorcycle should be in the right 1/3 of the lane, one second behind the first rider and so on. Leave enough room between each motorcycle so that any rider can maneuver to the right or left without hitting anyone else. Always stay in line with the bike in front of you. Do NOT switch between left and right side of the lane. If a rider should fall out of formation, the next rider on the same side of the lane where the vacancy exists should move up to fill that spot and so on down the line.
It is important to maintain your lane, and not switch from side to side, If a gap should open up to one side of you, the rider behind the gap should carefully motor ahead to fill the gap. The bike behind him/her will then move up to fill the new gap, and so on.
If you want to ride with someone, the best advice is to stay in the same lane together, one in front of the other. That way during the ride if the pack re-adjusts to fill open gaps, then you will still be with your riding buddy.
Following MSF guidelines, the following distance used within the formation is based on the "2 Second Rule" of thumb. That is you should be 2 seconds back from the bike directly ahead of you and 1 second back from the bike either ahead left or ahead right in stagger from you, within the lane. This following distance is designed to provide a space cushion around each rider that gives each one in the formation enough time and distance to brake and/or swerve in case of a sudden, unexpected hazard that requires evasive action by any part or all of the group, while keeping the group tight enough for group safety.
REMEMBER! Too much following distance can be just as bad as, and frequently is WORSE than too little following distance. If the formation lacks uniformity in what we appear to be doing, then we don't "look" like we are "together" as group. And we become regarded as random individual vehicles in the traffic pattern, and not like a group or unit trying to function as one vehicle. Too much following distance INVITES cars into the formation, splitting it up in traffic. And if we don't control our lane space the cars WILL take it away from us. Be prepared! Non-motorcycling car drivers really do NOT understand what we do when we ride as a group or why. So, if a car starts to blindly move into or through the group LET THEM IN. We can always re-form the group a little later down the road.
If you are new to group riding or are uncomfortable riding in a group, please let the lead and /or sweep rider(s) know. Excessive following distance defeats the purpose of maintaining an equally spaced stagger formation. It is much better for your safety and the safety of the group, that you ride individually 1/4 mile behind the group. And we want to encourage you to be comfortable about making that choice.
The Side-by-Side Formation
Whereas, the stagger formation is preferable in situations where there is limited road surface, such as country roads with narrow lanes, roads with no shoulder, or in the tight winding turns of many of Colorado's mountains.
The side-by-side formation (or parade) is used by many riders when riding in a group. The same spacing applies as in the stagger formation with each rider 2 seconds behind the motorcycle directly in front of him/her.
Again, it is important to maintain your lane and not shift from right to left side and visa-versa. If a gap in the formation should develop, riders should motor straight ahead in their lanes to fill the gap.
Passing on a freeway into a faster lane
As a group, it can be difficult to pass a slow moving car on any road with two or more lanes of same-direction traffic. This is especially true with moderate to heavy traffic. Often there is not enough room for the entire group to get between cars in the faster lane.
The way to accomplish this is for the last bike to pull over one lane to the left and hold his position. Each rider should move to the left lane as the cars in front of the rear biker pass them. You can then pass the slow car as a group after the lead rider moves to the left lane.
The lead rider should move back to the right lane after passing the slow car by a safe distance. It is very important that the lead rider maintain speed to make room for all the other riders. Each rider should move back to the right lane one at a time once safely cleared the slow car. This can be a real slick choreographed move for other motorists to observe.
Parking in an orderly method substantially reduces the time for all to get off the road and out of traffic. There is risk of injury for the last bikes that may be blocking the road in an attempt to stay with the group.
A good way to park, if there is room, is for each bike to pull ahead of the intended parking place and then back up into your spot. You can see how this is done on the image below. This can be done very fast because you don't have to wait for the bike ahead of you to finish the job.
If you find yourself at the end of the group and can't get off the road while waiting for others to park, GO AROUND. Come back a minute or two later when things have settled down and take your time.
General Group riding tips
Have a full tank before arriving at the departure point.
Tell the group leader if you have any special concerns, i.e. speed, sharp corners, etc.
Tell the group leader if you plan to leave the group before the destination. Also tell the persons riding in front and behind you so they don't think you are having a problem.
When a rider leaves the group while in staggered formation, the best way to compensate for the hole made my his absence is for each rider behind the missing bike to change lanes. Doing this eliminates passing in a single lane.
Tell the group leader if your bike has an unusually short fuel range or if your bladder has a short range.
It is not unusual to start out on a ride when it is fairly warm and have the temp cool down a lot before getting home. Riders often wear a light jacket because it felt fine at the time of departure and really be freezing after it got dark. This frequently happens on dinner rides.
When exiting a expressway, keep up the pace so the riders behind you aren't forced to slow down while still on the expressway and become a traffic hazard.