Group Riding - Safety guidelines

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Group Riding - Safety guidelines

Post by JeffR on Mon Jul 21, 2008 10:34 pm

Group Riding – for safety
It’s important that everyone read this.

A Group Ride is normally composed of a Ride Leader (Leader) and a Sweep or Drag Rider (bringing up the rear) also called Tail Gunner. For organized rides they usually have Radio communication and knowledge of the route including not only the final destination, but also the stops along the route. If more riders in the group have radios, then casual chatter during the ride should be kept to a minimum by the riders of the group so that the Lead and the Sweep Riders can be in instant communication whenever needed. Motorcyclists normally will monitor a preagreed channel

Normal riding as a group is done in a staggered formation. This is, basically, dividing a lane in half with each rider occupying his/her own half of the lane. It is each rider's responsibility to ride in the half of the lane as dictated to by the next rider in front. If the rider in front needs to change lane halves to maintain the stagger, then it is the following rider's responsibility to change lane position on down the line to accommodate this change. The Leader usually starts the stagger in the left half of the lane position. While in staggered group riding, the normal stagger distance is 1 -> 2 seconds, and no more than a 3 second gap, in order to maintain a tight formation and not allow traffic to interrupt and break up the formation. This means that each rider will be 2 -> 3 seconds behind the rider directly in front and using the same half of the lane. When coming to a stop, the group generally forms up two abreast / side by side. When the group starts off, the rider on the left starts first.

One problem that occurs with stagger formation is the second rider – to the Leader’s right – because they have no one in front, tend to creep up until they have an overlap with the Leader. This means if something requires the Leader to dodge to his right, he will likely hit the second person resulting in a disaster instead of a minor annoyance. Keep your spacing.

When riding in sharp curves, the stagger is no longer warranted and a single file type of formation is normal. These changes in lane position should be dictated by the Leader. Holding two fingers in a sort of Victory sign indicates a staggered formation, while the index finger pointing straight up in the air is a direction for single file riding. When changing to single file, the move is almost always from the right wheel track to the left.

There are several reasons for going single line as well as curves. Some of these are an obstruction or person/people on the side of the road. Much of the rides will be in farm country and animals like cattle or horses on the road is possible and even horses and riders.

Note: that in the presence of horses and riders on the road, or to the side of the road, speed will be dropped to almost a walking pace as well as going single file. Sudden slowing for safety will be indicated by the left hand making pushing down motions as if asking a car passing your kids to slow down. Horses can be easily spooked with resulting danger to both rider and bike. Slow bikes don’t usually spook hores.

Single file riding allows the riders more freedom to negotiate the curves and to dodge obstacles while having the freedom to use the whole lane. In single formation the normal distance between riders is increased to 3 -> 5 seconds. For safety, the single file formation should not be elongated to such a distance that the rider in front of you cannot be seen. There are two reasons for this:

1. It is much easier to negotiate around corners by using the next rider's position to "see" further around blind curves

2. The rider can see and pass back hand signals indicating obstacles or other information ahead.

If any rider feels that the group pace is too fast for comfort, then he/she should motion the following bikes to pass until the only one left following is the Sweep/Drag Rider. Then ride at your own pace until the next stop; when you should inform the Leader that you are uncomfortable with the pace. It will then be up to the Lead Rider to either separate the ride into two groups, or go at a slower pace so that all members of the group feel secure. Group riding should not be, and is never, a race!

If a rider in the formation needs to pull out for any reason, the group will close up the gap and reorganize the stagger. Please do not pull off, also, unless you need to do so. The Sweep/Drag Rider of the group will aid the rider who has pulled over. He will also communicate (via radio) with the Ride Leader so as to apprise him of the situation. The next (last) rider then becomes the Sweep/Drag rider until the Sweep/Drag rider returns to the group.

When turning onto another road, if the next rider back cannot be seen, either due to having traffic in-between, or a large enough gap in the group for any reason; the last rider in the line must wait at the turn for the next rider to show up before leaving the turn so as to signal that the route has taken a turn. This will keep the group together on the same route even though there may be unforeseen gaps in the formation.

Tail Gunner – Broken Bike

Standard broken bike procedure is to wait 10 minutes. if the problem cannot be fixed in that time, the rest of the group carries on with the ride, appointing a new tailgunner. The original tailgunner stays with the broken bike to call for a tow, give the broken down rider a ride to wherever they need, and generally support the broken bike.

Passage of Information through Signals

During the ride, the Leader will make various blinker light, hand, and leg signals. These signals indicate lane changes or turns, obstacles, increasing/decreasing speed, or whether to form a stagger formation or a single line. These hand signals need to be passed back through the group from the front rider to the next rider in line. That way each rider only needs to be cognizant of signals from the rider directly in front of him/her rather than everyone trying to keep an eye on the Ride Leader.

Blinker lights should always be used to not only allow everyone to see the upcoming change, but to feed back acknowledgment. Arm signals will be used as well as signal lights. The left arm held up with a finger/hand pointed over the helmet indicates a right turn. The left arm held straight out indicates a left turn. In a group ride, whether it be the Leader or in the middle of the pack, the bike in front needs to see the signal of the following rider before turning in front of the following rider/bike (such as a right hand turn when the bike in the left stagger crosses over in the right stagger lane). This prevents the bike in front from crashing into the (surprised/unprepared) following bike/rider when making the turn. Assuming that the following bike sees your blinker light and arm signal. That way everybody in the group becomes aware that a turn is coming up.

If an obstacle is spotted in the road, it should immediately be signaled to the riders in back for safety. An outstretched leg (indicating which side of the lane the obstacle is located). Some typical obstacles which should be signaled as to where they may lie in the lane are: sand/dirt/gravel/rocks, pot holes, dead animals, road dragons, (pieces of truck tire treads), vehicular debris, range cattle, tar snakes (road tar repairs), furniture, etc. These obstacle signals should always be passed to the rear as soon as possible so as to give those riders the best opportunity to dodge them. Don't forget that the riders towards the rear in a group ride will not be able to see as much of the whole road surface as those in front due to the visual blockage of the front riders.

Other hand signals include stops. (The left arm is held straight out to the elbow while the rest of the arm points straight up. The hand is folded into a fist.) , telling another rider that his blinker light is on unnecessarily, (The left arm is held as in a stop but the fingers are held up and opened and closed rapidly in time to the flashing signal.).

If the ride leader decides the ride needs to pull over, for any reason, such as waiting for bikes that missed a stop light, then the signal will be the stop signal followed by the right turn signal and repeat as often as necessary. When stopped the ride leader will dismount to be able to see behind more easily. Other riders should either stay mounted or if they feel the need to dismount do so only when safe to do so and immediately move to the right side of the bike if possible.

Remember dismounting and getting hit by a car will spoil the whole ride.

Then there’s the most important signal, the left hand folded into a fist on top of the helmet is the EMERGENCY stop signal. The other important one, I hope we won’t need on our rides, but you may see on the road is done two different ways. The signal for a police car in the area – so slow down – is either the left fist put on top of the helmet and moved up and down or the open hand patting the top of the helmet. If you see either of these on your day to day riding it either means a police car is coming or you’re about to go thru a speed trap.


Group Riding can be a lot of fun if all the members are comfortable within the group. If one or more members of the group are not comfortable; then this should be discussed at the next stop so as to accommodate or correct the cause of the problem. It's very easy to take each problem and, with a little tact, teach whom ever might not have a sufficient understanding of these simple rules. We all can then enjoy the fine sport of Motorcycling.

I am hoping that someone with a good bit of experience will bring an FRS/GMRS radio and volunteer to be Tail Gunner.

Ride safe,

JeffR (Admin)

2007 Honda Silver Wing 16,300 miles
2005 Yamaha Majesty 12,500 miles (sold)
2004 Honda Reflex 3,500 miles (sold)

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Re: Group Riding - Safety guidelines

Post by scottj1119 on Sun Jul 27, 2008 9:31 pm

Here's an MSF Safety Video with some good tips on group riding signals, preparation, etc..


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