A short primer for riding in formation
To the rider who normally travels solo, the whole process of group riding can often seem very confusing. If he/she is not used to riding with others, even the competent, safety-prone rider can become a motorcycle menace the minute he joins friends in a group ride. Yet orderly group riding requires no special skills. It does require the application of a few basic rules, a knowledge of some basic formations and hand signals, and some practice.
Within a few miles, a group of riders who make the effort can learn to maneuver in unison to become, in effect, a flexible, multi-machined, single vehicle.
The highway is not a good place to socialize. Motorcyclists riding in groups do not have any special privileges or rights. If you want to ride with others, you must do it in a way that does not endanger anyone or interfere with the flow of traffic.
By the way, it is illegal to ride more than two abreast in any single traffic lane.
The first requirement of any well-functioning organization is to have somebody who is in charge. In group riding, that leader is the Road Captain. It is up to him/her to see that all the riders are properly briefed on the riding positions, selects the routes and calls the signals. It is his responsibility to organize, command, direct, and maneuver the group.
A good Road Captain is constantly aware that he is not riding as an individual. He must keep in mind the safety and the needs of the group.
Keep the group small
Avoid a mob scene. A large group tends to interfere with traffic, and tends to be separated easily by traffic or red lights. Those left behind tend to do unsafe things in an effort to catch up. If the group is larger than four or five riders, it is usually best to divide it into two or more smaller groups.
Keep the group together
Another way to avoid "catch-up" is to keep the group together. There are several ways to do this.
- Plan ahead: if you are the leader, look ahead for changes. Give signals early so "the word gets back" in plenty of time. Start lane changes early enough to allow everyone to complete the change.
- Follow those behind: let the tailender set the pace. Use your mirrors to keep an eye on the person behind you. If he/she slows down, you slow down some. If everyone does this, the group will stay with the tailender.
- Know the route: make sure everyone know the route. Then if someone is separated for a moment, they won't have to hurry in fear of taking a wrong turn.
Keep your distance
It is important to keep close ranks and a safe distance. A close group takes up less space on the highway, is easier to see and recognize (by car drivers) as a group, is less likely to be separated by traffic lights. However, it must be done properly.
- Don't pair up: never ride directly beside another motorcycle. If you have to avoid a car or something on the road, you would have no place to go. If you have something to say to another rider, use hand signals (see later), or wait until you both have stopped.
- Staggered formation: the best way to keep close ranks, yet maintain an adequate distance is through a "staggered" formation.
The leader rides to the left side of the lane, while the second rider stays a one second behind and rides in the right side of the lane. A third rider would take the left position, a normal two seconds behind the first rider. This keeps the group tight, but with a way out if needed.
Staggered formation can be safely used on an open highway. However, a single file should be resumed on curves, during turns, and when entering or leaving a highway.
Two lane highways: when riders in a staggered formation want to pass, they should do so one at a time. When it is safe to do so, the leader should pull out and pass. When the leader returns to the lane, he/she should take the left position and keep going to open up a gap for the next rider. As soon as the first rider is safely by, the second rider should move to the left position and watch for a safe chance to pass. After passing, this rider should return to the right position and open up a gap for the next rider.
Four lane highways: the procedure would be the same as above, unless there is sufficiently light traffic so that the entire group could pass together, while still maintaining the left-right stagger and one- and two-second following distances.
Hand signals for communicating while riding
These signals do not cover every communication need, but they should fill in a lot of gaps. Remember, these signals must be seen to be understood. Acknowledge comprehension with a nod of the head or a flick of the dimmer switch.
The rider in the rear can flick the headlight to attract the attention of the forward rider; the forward rider acknowledges with a nod or "come alongside" signal, then the rear rider makes the signal.
These signals have been purposely kept left-handed to allow the right hand to remain on the throttle and brake controls for safety's sake.