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South Eastern Minnesota Chapter #43
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Group Riding Guide

Table of Contents           To return here, click on the three 's found throughout this page.

Introduction
Safety Considerations
Participating in the Ride
      Before the Ride
      During the Ride
      Participant Review
Role of Road Captain
      Before the Ride
      During the Ride
Role of Sweep
      Before the Ride
      During the Ride
Role of Group Captain
      Before the Ride
      During the Ride
Group Riding Principles
      Basics
      Staggered Formation
      Single File Formation
      Spacing
      Entering Traffic
      On an On-Ramp
      Changing Lanes
      Group Passing - Two Lane
      Group Passing - Multi-Lane
      When Being Passed
      Keeping Together in Town
      Left Turns
      In the Twisties
      Hand Signals
      CB Radio Communications
Closing
Appendix:
      Common Hand Signals
      Route Sheets
      Planning the Ride
            Date and Time
            The Meeting Place
            The Route
            The Stops
            Getting the Word Out
            Ride Day Check-In
            Stated Meeting
            Pre-Ride Briefing
            The Ride
      Rubber-Band Effect
      Acknowledgments

   

Introduction

Group riding is an opportunity to share the open road and wonderful scenery with other like-minded people.  To ride safely, however, all riders in the group must cooperate.  Riding a motorcycle by nature is a solitary activity.  Riding with a bunch of other motorcyclists slows you down, rearranges the rhythm of riding, and gets in the way of the independence that is at the heart of motorcycle riding.  When participating in a group ride, your thinking must be adjusted to that of working together using certain guidelines rather than a group of "solo thinking" riders riding together.  The group's needs outweigh the individual rider's needs.

This guide is intended to be an introduction to group riding for our new members and a refresher in group riding basics for our long time members.  Its purpose is to get everyone on the "same page" when it comes to anticipating the role of each rider/passenger on the ride.  Knowing what to expect relieves most apprehension and heightens the enjoyment of all participants.

It should clear up some of the mystery of what to expect while participating in a group ride.  It will get you started and, hopefully, avoid some of the unsafe "happenings" that you may have already experienced on previous group rides.

Participating in a group ride is an activity that a lot of riders thoroughly enjoy.  However, many riders are somewhat intimidated and reluctant to participate because they are not really sure how it's actually done.  There is a good chance they have participated in a group ride and have become aware that there is a lot more going on than readily meets the eye.  There is also the chance that they have been on some group rides that were conducted by riders who were long on enthusiasm but short on planning and leading know-how.  This may have resulted in an unfavorable experience and left the rider with very little desire to join another such event.  That won't happen here.  The organizing and leading of sanctioned group rides at M.M.C.I. Chapter #43 is done by our Road Captains under the direction of Chapter Officers.  Your only job is to ride your motorcycle safely and enjoy yourself.

E-mail questions or comments to the Chapter Secretary.

   

Safety Considerations

Safety is ALWAYS the first and foremost consideration!  Minimum safety clothing for all riders and passengers on a Chapter #43 ride should be a helmet (although not mandatory, a very good idea), eye protection (windscreen, goggles, or face shield), and hand and foot protection (preferably that cover the wrist and ankle).  Leather chaps are strongly recommended.  Remember, you dress for the "fall", not for the ride.  Road rash, or worse, really takes the enjoyment out of any ride. 

Riding in an unsafe manner just about guarantees much lower turnouts for future events.  Most riders are very quick to recognize when they're in an unsafe situation and will normally avoid them in the future.  Most of the "rules" that are discussed later are really aimed at keeping everyone as safe as possible.

Planning and predictability are the keys to a safe ride.  The "plan" makes the "predictability," and those are the guiding principles for your Road Captains and their crews.

ALL traffic and speed laws should be observed at all times.  There are no "special" laws for motorcycles.  This needs to be repeatedly stressed; There are no special laws for motorcycles.  You would be surprised at how many riders think it's okay (or even required) to blast through a red light, cross a double yellow line, or exceed the speed limit just to stay up with the group.  It is much better to get temporarily separated from the group than it is to end up as a Buick hood ornament.  Methods that will allow temporarily separated riders to rejoin the group will be discussed.  However, being separated and even lost is much better than body casts, stainless steel bone pins, and skin grafts.

Should a Road Captain become aware that an unsafe or hazardous riding situation has developed during a ride, it is his duty to correct it as soon as possible.  Safety is paramount, so if a Road Captain asks to have a word with you concerning your riding habits, please do not "shoot the messenger."  Understand that it is for the overall safety of the group.  If the situation cannot be resolved, he has the authority to remove the problem rider from the ride.

One last safety pointer: Less experienced and novice riders should ride toward the back of the group, ahead of the Sweep, so they don't "feel pressured" by more experienced riders behind them.  Remember, though, it is always better to drop out and go your own way if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe for any reason.  You need to "ride your own ride" and you will read and hear that phrase over and over.  You, and you alone, should be the only authority on whether you feel safe, and you should act accordingly.

   

Participating in the Ride

"What should I expect, and what's expected of me?"
A great way to begin is to view a ten minute group riding video produced by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF).  Then read on before jumping to Group Riding Principles within this guide. 

Before the Ride:

  1. All riders and passengers should familiarize themselves with the Chapter's Group Riding Principles contained herein paying particular attention to the hand signals that we will use.

  2. Riders should ensure that their motorcycles are in a safe operating condition and are generally ready to go (e.g. tire pressure and oil checked, properly loaded, etc.).  It is no fun to crash because of a bad tire on your motorcycle or someone else's machine.  It is also very embarrassing to be asked to leave the ride because you are riding a rolling disaster and constitute a danger to everyone else.

    Hint: It is always bad form to arrive for a ride without having first topped off your gas tank.  The first rule of group riding, start with a full tank and an empty bladder.

  3. Dress and pack according to the weather you may encounter during the ride.  "Layering" of clothes is the key.  Being too hot, too cold, or uncomfortable will make you a less safe rider and can lead to an unfortunate situation not only for you but others on the ride.  However, your protective outer garments are always the guiding factor, keeping in mind that it's more desirable to sweat than to bleed.  Carrying a water bottle is always a good idea.

  4. All riders are responsible for knowing as much as possible about the route, times, stops, etc.  The Route Sheet for a planned ride may be available on this web site, distributed via e-mail or distributed at the check-in station.  You should arrive at the departure point and check in twenty minutes before the departure time to hear everything discussed at the pre-ride briefing and to familiarize yourself with the route sheets, maps or written instructions that may be provided.  This contributes to a safer ride and adds to the enjoyment.  It is less fun just following people around not knowing where you are going, not knowing when you will be able to take care of that last cup of coffee, or where (or when) the next gas stop is.  Speaking of gas stops, the Road Captain will expect you to fill your tank at each gas stop regardless of how much fuel you have remaining.

    Note: If route sheets, maps or ride instructions were electronically distributed, please print them and bring them with you.

  5. Are you new to group riding?  If so, please review this guide carefully and use any other resource you find on the subject.  Even if you are a experienced motorcyclist, please inform the Road Captain or a Group Captain of your inexperience.  The Captain should have you ride near the front of a group, preferably right behind himself.  This reduces the impact that the Rubber-Band Effect may have on you, making this ride much more enjoyable.  Also, please allow others to critique your group skills, we are all out here together and again, safety is the primary concern.  Such instruction should always follow Masonic traditions.

  6. If you have questions, be sure to bring them up in the pre-ride briefing or ask them privately to the Road Captain or a Sweep or Group Captain.

During the ride:

  1. All Riders are responsible for their own safety at all times and will be required to ride in a safe manner, or leave the ride.

  2. Everyone should obey ALL Speed and Traffic Laws at all times.  Additionally, remember that you are representing M.M.C.I. Chapter #43, the Masonic Fraternity and everyone on two wheels during a Chapter #43 group ride.  Be a courteous rider, give cars, trucks, and your fellow riders every consideration.

  3. Drinking and riding is never a good idea.  With Chapter #43's zero tolerance policy alcohol must be totally avoided, on a Chapter #43 sanctioned ride, a until after you lower your kickstand at the end of the day.

    Alcohol and motorcycles are a stupid combination that impresses no one.  Even one drink can seriously affect your judgment and timing.  If you're going to bar-hop, drink root beer.  If you like drinking and riding, ride alone or stay home.  You're not welcome!

  4. The normal riding formation is the staggered formation as described later.  This formation provides the best safety margin of reaction time and space as each rider only uses one third (either right or left side depending on the stagger position) of the lane.  Heavy, very slow traffic may require that you ride in a side-by-side column of twos for a very short distance.  The staggered formation, complete with the proper safe interval, should be resumed as soon as conditions allow.

  5. All riders and passengers are responsible for knowing what the hand signals mean and for immediately passing back all signals to the following riders.  (See Common Hand Signals.)

  6. Riders should not speed up suddenly should a gap develop between them and the motorcycle ahead.  Rather, they should accelerate slowly until they catch up and are back in position.  This will help prevent the riders in back from over reacting and possibly running into the group when they suddenly catch up.  If someone drops out of the group or the motorcycle ahead of you changes position, adjust your lane position to maintain the staggered formation.

  7. Unless you are one of the leaders setting the pace, it is not a good idea to use cruise control or a throttle lock while on a group ride as it is one of the main causes of the rubber-band effect.

  8. Trikes, motorcycles with sidecars, and motorcycles pulling trailers will normally be positioned at the back of the group just ahead of the Sweep.  They should track down center of the lane.

  9. Riders that are inexperienced in group riding will also be positioned rear the back of the group behind just ahead of the trikes and the Sweep.

  10. Riders should signal the Road Captain when they have to pull over for an emergency by flashing their lights or calling on the CB.  All other riders are responsible for passing this signal forward until the Road Captain acknowledges that he has seen it.  Remember that it is normally the Sweep's responsibility to stop and offer assistance and that no more than one other rider should stop to help the Sweep.  The Road Captain will signal the group when it is safe to pull off the road should he/she feel it is necessary.

  11. It is best for riders who decide to leave the group to inform the Road Captain and Sweep at one of the stops. In transit, riders should clearly signal the Sweep if they decide to leave the ride for any reason.  Don't make him wonder if you are having trouble and follow you to see if you need help.  A "Thumbs down" or a "Thumbs up" hand signal will indicate to the Sweep that you do, or do not, need assistance.  Expect the Sweep to follow you should you need assistance.  If it is a problem not requiring assistance (e.g. tightening a storage bag or shedding some clothes) give a "Thumbs up" to groups that pass you so they know you're OK.  Rejoining the group normally should be done at the next scheduled group stop.  This avoids confusion and maximizes safety.

  12. Turning at an intersection, each rider should stay in his/her respective lane position throughout the arc of the turn unless a single file formation is required and signaled for by the Road Captain.

  13. Entering a parking area, all bikes should park together if possible.  Take note of what the Road or Group Captain does (e.g. parallel park, back-in, etc.) and do the same.

  14. An important part of the group riding is "consideration."  Have consideration for each member of your group and all other groups on the ride, not everyone has the same experience and proficiency.  Give consideration to all other vehicles on the road.  RIDE FRIENDLY.  If you are in back of the group, ride with your headlight(s) on low beam, and turn off your spotlights to facilitate the counting of motorcycles by the Road Captains ahead as they keep track of everyone.

Participant Review:

   

Role of Road Captain

The Road Captain is the planner and leader of a ride.  He is the individual "in charge."  Road Captains and those who frequently ride as Group Captains or Sweeps should become familiar with these guidelines in order to explain them to other riders as need be.

Before the Ride:

  1. Plan the ride.  Use the Planning the Ride section in the appendix for this and several of the steps below.

  2. Gather your ride leadership team in advance.  Pre-planning will benefit your Sweep(s) and perhaps other Group Captains.

  3. Ride the route in advance to be familiar with it and collect route sheet detailed information.  Invite your Group Captains and Sweeps to ride along, this run will probably be more enjoyable than the ride itself.

  4. Create a Route Sheet and insure that every rider may receive a copy of it.  See Getting the Word Out.

  5. On ride day, conduct a Pre-Ride Briefing prior to departure, in order to clarify what is expected of all the riders who are to participate.  See Pre-Ride Briefing.

  6. Get to know the individuals in the group.  Find out about others riding experience and expectations.

During the Ride:

The Road Captain will be following his ride plan while simultaneously providing clear direction to the group.  He should be constantly monitoring the group for signals being passed forward, trouble, or any situation which could result in an unsafe condition.  Communication with his Sweep via CB Radio would be very helpful but is not required.
  1. The Road Captain always rides at the left front position so that he has the best view of the route of travel.

  2. He will set the pace according to the ride plan that will indicate an appropriate and comfortable speed.  No one should pass the Road Captain without prior agreement, and only then for a specific reason.  Safety considerations make this an absolute must.

  3. The pace, rate of acceleration an braking should be more moderate than the Road Captain may normally employ while riding alone.  If possible, try using proper signals prior to speeding up or slowing down.  All this will alert the group of your intentions and reduce the rubber-band effect within it.  The Road Captain may use a cruise control or a throttle lock to maintain a consistent speed.

  4. He will relay information to all other riders in the group via hand signals.

  5. The Road Captain will determine both the direction and lane of travel on a multiple lane road or highway.

  6. He often must make quick navigation decisions in the face of road hazards, changes in road surface conditions, poor signage, construction and other obstacles while maintaining control of his bike and communicating to those following.

  7. Everyone needs to understand that the Road Captain will continue on to a safe turn-around location should he miss, or purposely go past, a turn in the interest of safety.  Riders should avoid second-guessing the Road Captain and making independent decisions that can put both themselves and other riders in danger.

  8. The Road Captain and Sweep (discussed later) will individually, or divided between them, carry some basic "emergency" equipment such as a first aid kit, flash light, cell phone, maps of the general area, basic tools, and whatever else is appropriate for the particular ride.

  9. If need be, the Road Captain may deviate from the ride plan as covered at the pre-ride briefing if safety considerations so indicate.
   

Role of Sweep

The Sweep, also known as "Drag", "Back Door", "Tail End Charlie", "Road Lieutenant" or "Tail Gunner" is a group ride leader who brings up the rear of a group.  If the Road Captain has divided the ride into multiple groups, there will be a Sweep for each group.

Before the Ride:

If the Road Captain has "volunteered" you in advance, you may assist in the following:
  1. Planning the ride.  Refer to the Planning the Ride section in the appendix for this and several of the steps below.

  2. Ride the route with the Road Captain to become familiar with it.  This run will probably be more enjoyable than the ride itself.

  3. Assist in the creation of the Route Sheet.

  4. On ride day, Be prepared to help clarify what is expected of all the riders who are to participate.

  5. Get to know the individuals in the group.  Find out about others riding experience and expectations.

During the Ride:

While the Road Captain leads the ride, it is often said that the Sweep "controls the ride" because eventually the pace set by the Road Captain must match that of the Sweep (or the slowest rider in the group).  Is is difficult to pass hand signals forward (riders do not look in their mirrors that often) so communication with the Road Captain or Group Captain via CB Radio is very helpful but it is not required.
  1. The Sweep always rides at the left rear position, regardless of the position of the motorcycle ahead, so that he has the best view of the group and route of travel.

  2. No one is allowed to fall behind the Sweep.  Any rider who is not experiencing difficulties and still cannot maintain the established pace should drop out of the group and proceed on his/her own.

  3. The Sweep is responsible for determining when the group is ready to leave the start location and any intermediate stops.  He signals to the Road Captain to proceed, and watches out for traffic until the entire group is underway.

  4. The Sweep is responsible for, and provides assistance to, any rider who encounters problems and has to either slow down or drop out of the ride.  No more than one other rider should stop to help the Sweep provide assistance, as it is generally not safe for a larger group to park along the side of the road.

  5. The Sweep may find it necessary or beneficial to temporarily travel in a different track than normal or even a different lane.  He may better be able the signal the Road Captain from this new position.  Although generally it is not a good idea, he may, for the interest of safety, decide to "close the door" by moving into a lane that group is moving into or a lane of a highway that will shortly be lost.  This can prevent an aggressive driver from trying, at the last minute, to pass part of the group and then be compelled to either cut into the group or have the group forcibly separated by his or her actions.  Even if the riders near the back of the group observe that the Sweep is positioned differently, they should maintain their own place in the group.
   

Role of Group Captain

A very large group may make it advisable to divide the riders into smaller groups and name one or more Group Captains to lead them.  They function under the direction of the Road Captain as leaders of their group.  To contend with very crowded streets and multi-lane highways, Chapter #43 will break the ride down into groups of no more than ten motorcycles each (as a guide) for ease of traffic management and safety.  Should this be necessary, just follow the Group Captain's guidance as the groups are separated.

Before the Ride:

If the Road Captain has "volunteered" you in advance, you may assist in the following:
  1. Planning the ride.  Refer to the Planning the Ride section in the appendix for this and several of the steps below.

  2. Ride the route with the Road Captain to become familiar with it.  This run will probably be more enjoyable than the ride itself.

  3. Assist in the creation of the Route Sheet.

  4. On ride day, Be prepared to help clarify what is expected of all the riders who are to participate.

  5. Get to know the individuals in the group.  Find out about others riding experience and expectations.

During the Ride:

  1. The set up is the same for succeeding groups.  That is, there will be a Group Captain and a Sweep for each group with the roles and responsibilities as covered earlier.

  2. You can expect the succeeding Group Captains to maintain a spacing of not closer than one minute nor farther back than five minutes behind the last motorcycle of the group immediately ahead.  The idea here is to break a single large riding group into more manageable smaller ones, not to create several individual rides.
   

Group Riding Principles

Basics

One objective of practicing motorcycle group riding basics is to safely facilitate the use by others of the shared highway.  Too many cycle groups feel they have the "right" to impede other traffic in order to stay together.  This can cause dangerous situations as well as "road rage."  In addition, the better you understand and practice the basics, the more comfortable you will become with group riding and your level of enjoyment will increase.

If you have not already done so, take a peek at the ten minute MSF group riding video

Each rider should be aware of the road conditions in front of his/her motorcycle and anticipate possible moves by others.  It's especially important on poor roads, when passing, or in traffic congestion.  This is the essence of good situational awareness: the art of staying abreast of what is going on around you so that you are ready to react quickly if you need to.  Keep up with your "scan and plan" and always be ready to take evasive action if required.

Note: Anticipation of what might be ahead (e.g. gravel on the road in the twisties or doors opening from parked cars) can pay big dividends in your planning.

Staggered Formation

Like nearly all riding clubs out there, Chapter #43 will use the staggered riding formation.  It will stay in effect most of the time, unless the Road Captain signals for a change to single file or the need for such a change is obvious. 

When coming to a stop at a stop sign or traffic light, consider lining up two abreast to take up less room in traffic.  Proceed more efficiently two at a time with the rider on the left resuming the forward position.  This is the only situation where a two abreast formation is appropriate.

It is always inadvisable to ride two abreast.  Riding in such a way looks cool on that old TV show, "CHiPs," but it is not safe.  It greatly decreases your space cushion and reduces your possible paths of travel and escape routes if there is a hazard.  Sharing a lane with another vehicle is illegal in Minnesota, unless the two motorcyclists agree to do so beforehand. 
The staggered formation begins with the Road Captain who will be in the left 1/3rd of the lane (left tire track); the second motorcycle should be in the right 1/3rd of the lane.  From there on the stagger continues to the back of the group.  The Sweep will always ride in the left 1/3rd of the lane even though he may not be staggered with the rider ahead.

Stay in line with the motorcycle in front of you and do not switch between the left and right tire tracks unless there is a road hazard in your path or you are adjusting position due to the rider in front you having done the same.  The objective is to keep as tight a group as possible and yet have enough separation to allow for required safe lateral maneuvering room.

Single File Formation

There will be times when the Road Captain may signal for a single-file formation.  Reasons for changing to single-file could be a passing situation, poor road surface, entering twisties, merging onto a freeway or just sightseeing.  A change from staggered to single file means that a minimum two-second interval must be established between each motorcycle where a one-second interval may have previously existed.  In single-file formation, the group is spread out over twice the distance of the staggered formation traveling at the same speed.  When you see the single-file signal passed back move to the center 1/3rd of the lane and start to gradually slow down to obtain the two-second intervals throughout the group.  When you again see the staggered formation signal, move to your origional track and be prepared to speed up to reduce your interval back to one-second behind the rider in the other track.

Spacing

The Road Captain rides in the left tire track of the lane with the second motorcycle riding to the right and behind in a staggered formation.  The third rider will strive to maintain a two-second interval between his/her motorcycle and the motorcycle immediately ahead in the same tire track.  This two-second timing will provide a safe distance between motorcycles regardless of speed (the faster you go the more distance the two-second spacing provides because you are covering more ground) as well as providing a margin of lateral safety should it be needed. 

The second motorcycle (right tire track) should "key off" and strive to maintain a one-second interval behind the motorcycle in the left tire track.  The one-second spacing between motorcycles, regardless of speed, provides a safe distance with lateral spacing as well.  Again, the faster you are traveling the more distance the one-second spacing provides.

Each rider will still need that one-second spacing on the motorcycle in the adjacent tire track (to provide lateral maneuvering safety room) even if that rider is lagging a bit behind the motorcycle ahead.

Timing spacing is easily accomplished by choosing something that the motorcycle ahead (the one you are taking spacing on) passes (such as a pavement break, a shadow, a light pole, etc.) then counting your one or two seconds.  If you pass the same place before you get to your count, you're too close.  If it takes longer than your count to get there then you're too far back.  Adjust your spacing accordingly then count again.  The timing exercise should be done, as a minimum, as the group's speed changes, but should also be accomplished periodically to maintain the proper safe spacing.

Entering Traffic

When the Road or Group Captain for each group sees that all riders are sitting on their bikes, motors running, and ready to depart, he or she will check for traffic and enter the roadway.  He will usually not attempt to exit a parking lot unless there is room for all or most of the group to follow immediately.  If the group is split, the Captain will normally take the slow lane and keep the speed relatively low until the group can form up in the positions the riders will keep for the duration of the ride.  This may mean traveling slower than surrounding traffic, to encourage drivers to pass and allow the group to form up.  Occasionally this cannot be accomplished until the group has made a lane change or entered a freeway entrance ramp.

Regardless of the Captain's signals, a rider is responsible for his or her own safety at all times.  Ride Your Own Ride.

Once all members of the group are together, the group will take up a staggered formation and will stay in it most of the time during the ride, unless the Captain signals for a change or the need for a change is obvious.

On an On-Ramp

Entering a highway or freeway from an entrance ramp and merging into traffic cannot be done as a group.  Riders should change to single-file formation while on the ramp and proceed to merge into traffic as individual riders.  If the group has been split up while merging, each rider can proceed to regroup with the Road Captain.  But such regrouping should be done from the front of the group to the back, as no group member should pass another rider.  Attempts to pass other group members can produce unsafe conditions while changing lanes on a highway.

Changing Lanes

There is virtually no time (absent an emergency) when a group of riders should all move at the same time into a different lane.  The wide gap required for a whole group to move is difficult to find in heavy traffic, and if it exists, it will be an invitation for drivers to jump into it, perhaps while the group might be moving.

When a group of motorcycles is changing lanes, many safety considerations come into play.  The recommended procedure for a group lane change maneuver depends on how the surrounding traffic is moving at the time.  Highway lane changes are directed by the Road Captain and he should be the first to make the move.  Riders following the Road Captain should move in sequence from the front to back of the group.  The Sweep will be the last to make the move.  The goal for each rider which moves is to create a gap into which the other bikes can fit.  But regardless of what other riders in the group are doing, each rider must personally check to see that the new lane is clear of traffic before entering it.

Group Passing - Two Lane Roads

The title of this section is a misnommer since passing is not done as a group but as individual riders.  Before passing, move to the tire track of the side you want to pass (usually the left).  If you can see the driver's face in his rear view mirror, this should alert him that you intend to pass.  When you have determined it is safe to pass the vehicle or vehicles ahead, perform all the precautions that you would do as an individual rider.  Signal your intentions (turn signal and hand), check your mirror, turn your head to clear your blind spot then pull out into the passing lane and accelerate as required by the situation.

When passing, spend the shortest amount of time possible in the passing lane.  Once well past the vehicle don't "dive bomb" it by pulling back in too soon.  Repeat your earlier actions of signal, mirror check, head check, and then pull back into the travel lane. 

Continue the overtake speed for a few moments to give riders behing you a gap to pull in to.  Make sure you do not leave those riders passing behind you to "hanging out to dry" by not allowing them sufficient room to re-enter the travel lane.  Resume the normal travel speed when appropriate.

Note: All of the above holds true, too, if the need arises to pass another rider in the group.  Never pass another rider in the group using the same lane that he or she is traveling in.

Group Passing - Multi-Lane Roads

When the group needs to pass a slower vehicle it should be done as a series of individual rider passes using the same techniques discussed in above.  This allows the safest possible way to advance with the greatest safety margin between vehicles.  It is also the most expeditious method regardless of the number of lanes on the road.

Sometimes it may be prudent and safer to slightly delay a pass.  The "rule" here is that if there's not enough room to safely pass, then there's not enough room.  Don't attempt it.

When viewed from above, group passing would resemble a snake slithering around the vehicle then returning to its original lane.

A rider at the rear of a group or the Sweep must not pull out into the passing lane thereby "blocking" the passing lane to traffic from the rear.  This is not looked on kindly by other drivers or by law enforcement.  Remember, there are no special laws for motorcycles.

When Being Passed

Allow the vehicle to pass you safely.  The gap created by the two-second spacing (accompanied by a little adjustment on your part) should allow the passing vehicle room to pull in ahead of you and, if necessary, to pass in segments rather than trying to make it all at one jump.

Passing or getting passed anytime can be hazardous so use common sense and a safe approach.  Keep your mirrors in your scan and watch for vehicles that try to crowd you during their pass.

Keeping Together in Town

The two-second rule for spacing normally takes care of itself as you slow down in town.  The slower you go the closer the two-seconds puts you to the rider ahead in your tire track.

Don't worry too much if you get stopped at a traffic light or stop sign, separating you from your group.  Pulling to one side and waiting or continuing at a reduced speed are viable options for your Road Captain, so you can expect that.  Knowing the route or having a route sheet really helps here.  If you do become separated at a traffic light and the Sweep is with you, the Sweep may assume the lead position until the group reforms.  The Sweep would then fall back to the rear of the group.

Getting a yellow light when part of the group is through an intersection can be a real safety issue.  You do not know what the rider in front of you is about to do until he or she brakes or accelerates and it does not work if you decide accelerate when that rider starts to brake.  Again, procedures are is process to keep the group together so ride on the conservative side things and brake for those yellows when you can make a safe stop.  By all means do not go through on a red light.

Left Turns

Making left turns in traffic is yet another way you may be separated from your group, but again you can expect that the Road Captain will take the appropriate action when he is past the turn. 

At controlled intersections, when you have the "Green Arrow" use a tight staggered formation to proceed through the turn (you may already have been stopped two-abreast).  Through the turn, if possible, riders should give extra room to the riders in to opposite track.  Riders on the outside of the turn should make a wider than normal rurn.

When having to yield to oncomming traffic, use a tight staggered formation to get as many of the group stopped in the intersection as possible.  Remember, if the light changes those vehicles already in the intersection have the right of way.  Proceeding through the turn however is done one rider at a time as individuals.  Take all your usual safety measures when making the turn.  "Blocking" or proceeding through a red light may not be done on sponsored Chapter #43 rides.  Remember, there are no special laws for motorcycles.

Blocking (a rider stopping other traffic and taking away others right-of-way) for the purpose of keep the group together happens to be illegal unless the group ride is being escorted by law enforcement officers.  Even then, the blocking will normally be done by law enforcement with their vehicles.  Escorts for major charitable motorcycle rides are commonly honored, but Chapter #43 is not as yet organizing those types of events. 

In the Twisties

On any stretch of curvy road and in any corner, a group should ride in single-file formation, to enable each rider to corner at his own speed and to have as much room as possible for maneuvering.  This is especially important to riders with limited experience in a group, as they may be nervous about making turns with another bike riding close behind them.  This is an accepted variance to staggered formation.  Usually the Road Captain will not signal for single-file at each turn but will expect the riders to choose their own path of travel.  The Road Captain should signal for single-file if he knows that the group is entering a series of tight curves (after all he knows the route). 

Especially on less-congested rural back roads, the riders in a group may spread out to create larger intervals between motorcycles.  This allows a rider to relax a bit, to enjoy the scenery and the ride.  It also allows each rider to take each corner in the manner he or she is accustomed to depending on their training, experience and type of motorcycle.  Riders should remain close enough to each other to be able to see hand signals being passed back from the Road Captain.  Resume the staggered formation, when the road straightens out. 

Ride Your Own Ride.  Do not try to out ride your riding skills.  If a maneuver looks too dangerous or awkward to complete safely, do what has to be done to protect yourself and avoid an accident. 

Hand Signals

It is very important to be well aware of the common hand signals and what they mean.  As soon as you see a signal given, you and/or your passenger should immediately repeat the same signal so the rider(s) behind you can see it and have the maximum amount of time to react.  Also, note that for safety reasons all signals are given with the left hand so as to allow the right hand to have full control of the throttle and front brake.  Even if the hazard is off to your right side, you would still point down to the left indicating a hazard.  The following riders should then be aware that a hazard exists and that it could be on either side.  Alternatively, pointing to a hazard on your right side with your right foot, or with your left hand pointing to the right over your helmet, is perfectly acceptable (See Common Hand Signals.)

CB Radio Communications

If you have a CB radio, Channel 2 is the standard channel for all Chapter #43 rides.  Important information can be relayed in minimum time with it's use.  Extraneous transmissions by riders should be kept to a minimum so as not to block more critical information being passed between Captains and Sweeps.  If you want to chitchat, go to another channel.  Be alert, however, for hand signals. 

Every rider should listen closely and be attentive to instructions and information from the Road Captain.  Situations can develop in seconds that can affect your safety. 

   

Closing

We hope that this guide has been informative and helps you to understand what you can expect while participating in a Chapter #43 group ride, and just as important, what is expected of you.  Ride Safe.

E-mail questions or comments to the Chapter Secretary.

   

Appendix

Common Hand Signals

Please pass all signals to riders behind you.
START ENGINES:
With your right or left arm extended, move your hand in a circular motion.
LEFT TURN:
Turn on your bike's left turn signal and raise your left arm horizontal with your elbow fully extended.
RIGHT TURN:
Turn on your bike's right turn signal and raise your left arm horizontal with your fore arm vertical.
HAZARD LEFT:
Extend your left arm at an angle and point towards the hazard or extend your left leg and point to the hazard with the toe of your boot.
 
HAZARD RIGHT:
Extend your right arm at an angle and point towards the hazard or extend your right leg and point to the hazard with the toe of your boot.
SPEED UP:
Raise your left arm up and down with your index finger extended upward. . This indicates the leader wants to speed up.
SLOW DOWN:
Extend your left arm at an angle and move your hand up and down.
STOP:
Extend your left arm at an angle with the palm of your hand facing rearward.
 
SINGLE FILE:
Position your left hand over your helmet with your fingers extended upward.  This indicates the leader wants the group in a single file formation. . Usually this is done for safety reasons.
STAGGERED FORMATION:
Extend your left arm upward at an angle with your index and pinkie finger extended. This indicate that it is safe to return to staggered formation.
TIGHTEN UP:
Raise your left arm and repeatedly move up and down in a pulling motion. . This indicates the leader wants the group to close ranks.
PULL OFF TO SIDE:
Extend your left arm upward at an angle with your elbow bent and motion to the right over your helmet.
Certain hand signals are optional: turn signals on the bikes ahead will usually advise riders that a turn is coming up. Hand signals in a turning situation may actually add to the danger.  Other hand signals are extremely helpful to the rider who has no other means to communicate.  The most important hand signals are pointing to an obstacle in the road, warning the rider to avoid it and pointing to the tank.  Some signals not demonstrated above are described below.
  • Pointing to the tank -- No matter what your reason, pointing to the tank on your bike, will be telling everyone that you need to stop as soon as possible.  This signal is not only for fuel.  Such a signal should be relayed back to the Sweep allowing him to inform the Road Captain on the CB.  If possible, the Road Captain may orchestrate a stop by the whole group.  If not, the affected bike can drop out of the group and count on the Sweep to stop with him unless the "I'm OK" signal is given to the Sweep.
  • Back off -- Palm of left hand shown to group, pushing motion toward rear of bike.
  • Ready to ride - "Thumbs up" high enough in air to be visible to Road Captain.
  • Smoky alert (police or emergency vehicles) -- Hand taps top of helmet several times.
  • U-turn -- Left hand makes circle in air over head.
  • Cancel Turn Signal -- Left hand opens and closes several times.
  • I'm OK -- "Thumbs up" given to the Sweep.

   

Route Sheets

Everyone on the ride should know where it begins, goes, stops, and ends.  Many groups use a traditional map. However, a simple route sheet, handed out before the ride, can help ensure everyone has fun and no one gets left behind.  A tank bag is a perfect place for a Route Sheet while riding.  Route Sheets in the hands of passengers is even better.  Not everyone can easily carry and make use of a Route Sheet while riding.

Route Sheets are also a great way to permanently document a ride plan.  After all, a very enjoyable ride may want to be repeated in the future.  Chapter #43 will retain all Route Sheets in the archives of the Chapter as a memorial of our good times.

Route Sheets must be provided to Group Captains and Sweeps, and should be provided to all riders.  Route sheets should be simple, clear (with large type), and kept relatively small.  Alternate lines of text with different font or use different backgrounds to ease readability.  Click on the button below to view and perhaps print a blank Chapter #43 Route Sheet.

Below is a sample route sheet:

Go
Direction*
On
Road
For
Miles**
Cumulative
Miles***
R North MN-101 0.9 0.9
L West CR-144 (141 Ave)1.2 2.1
R North CR-116 3.1 5.2
S North CR-121 7.712.9
R East CR-B 4.917.8
* Stop *Hales Corners, address
* Direction; R = "Right," L = "Left," S = "Straight"
** Incremental mileage on this road.
***Cumulative mileage can be used, but most riders prefer the incremental method for long rides, where vehicle differences and other errors can add up significantly.

How to read this route sheet:

Leave on Minnesota 101 heading North for 0.9 miles.
Turn left and head west on County Road 144 (also marked as 141st Avenue.)
At 1.2 miles, look for your right turn on County Road 116, which will change to County Road 121 at the county line.
Follow 116 and 121 for a total of 10.8 (3.1 + 7.7) miles, then turn right and go east on County Road B for 4.9 miles arriving at Hales Corners the first stop.

An Alternative

If you don't want to use a route sheet, or if you want to plan a "Mystery Ride" there is an alternative to Route Sheets.  You can set up the practice to have each rider wait at turns for the next rider.

It works like this: you are responsible only for the rider behind you.  The leader is the one who knows the route and waits for the next rider at every turn.  When the second rider has seen and acknowledged the leader, the leader continues.  The second rider then waits at that turn until the third rider sees and acknowledges them, then continues.  And so on.

This is a great method for an informal group outing, but you may want to keep your groups rather small.  You will find that keeping a consistent pace and distance from other riders will allow you to conduct a group ride without ever stopping to wait at a turn.

   

Planning the Ride

This is a guide for Chapter #43 Road Captains.  It outlines the efforts involved in good ride planning. 

The author could only complete this section of the Group Riding Guide after planning and executing an MMCI Annual Conference ride on August 2nd, 2011.  That ride started at Treasurer Island near Red Wing and proceded to Rochester Lodge 21 in Rochester for lunch.  It went on to Pleasant Grove Lodge 22 in Pleasant Grove to tour that building and finally returned to Treasure Island.  Due to marginal weather only 30 bikes participated.  The positive participant feedback prompted the completion of this section and the posting of this entire Group Riding Guide.

Date and Time

Ride dates can usually be set at a chapter meeting early in the year.  Times should be set by Road Captain at least two weeks in advance.  Remember to set both an "arrival time" and a "kickstands-up time" that are at lease 20 minutes apart.  The date, arrival time and meeting place must be made known to all potential participants well in advance.

The Meeting Place

The meeting place must first have enough space to accommodate the number of motorcycles you are expecting for the ride.  We sometimes meet for breakfast, but this requires a large parking area.  Churches and department stores with large parking lots make good places.  Likewise, gas stations make good starting places as at least one rider will arrive with a tank half empty.  Remember that you may need permission from the owners or operators.

The Route

The first consideration should be the route you plan to ride.  The most enjoyable routes include twisty country roads (not dirt), but a mixture of country roads and single-lane highways is fine.  Multi-lane freeways and turnpikes should be avoided, if possible.  Also avoid crossing over four-lane highways at uncontrolled intersections, they can be dangerious when riders are attempting to stay with the group. Keep in mind that many bikes will have both drivers and passengers, so keep the scenery in mind to provide the passengers with something to look at.  Once you've mapped out a route that is long enough (it generally takes a large group about an hour to complete 25-30 miles of back roads) and within your time constraints, grab some biker buddies and ride the route.  This will uncover any bad roads or construction and changes can be made on the fly.  Also, remember to ride the route slowly to allow for the extra time it will take for a large group of motorcycles.  Look for places about every hour along the route to enjoy views, grab a bite to eat, and empty the kidneys.  Record your route turns, road ways, road marks and incremental distances on a blank Route Sheet.  One last thought, remember that summers in Minnesota is "road construction season" and you may find your planned routes closed or full of detours.  Suggest you ride the route just a few days in advance.

The Stops

Stopping every hour makes good sense.  Stopping at gas stations with restrooms and convenience stores makes even more sense.  These stops enable everyone to gas up, grab a drink or snack, visit the restrooms, and spend some time talking and getting to know each other better.  Plan on about 30 minutes per stop, unless it's just a quick stop for taking in some scenery or a photo opportunity.  Record your stops on your Route Sheet.  Include an address or cross roads for each stop to provide a GPS locate capability.  Complete the entire Route Sheet.

Getting the Word Out

Once you have a meeting place, the route and the stops, the next thing you need for a group motorcycle ride is the group. The way we get the word out for Chapter sponsored events is through this web site and perhaps through e-mail alerts issued by the Chapter Secretary, other officers or yourself.  If the above planning is done weeks in advance, this is easy.  Get the completed Route Sheet and any other information to the Chapter Secretary for electronic distribution.  The Secretary will create a PDF file with your route plan and make it available on this site.  He may also attach it to e-mails sent out to Chapter members.  Chapter members are encouraged to print scheduled ride Route Sheets on their local printer.  The Secretary should also supply printed copies of the Route Sheet for distribution on the day of the ride.

Ride Day Check-In

On ride day, as bikers arrive, have someone to direct them to the parking area and to the Check-In station.  All riders and passengers are expected to check in to insure that the Chapter's participation requirements are met.  The Road Captain and/or other chapter officers must verify that a signed Liability Release on file for riders and passengers. . At least once every riding season, riders must produce a drivers license with motorcycle endorsement and proof motorcycle insurance.  In addition, there may be other riding restrictions imposed within the By-Laws of M.M.C.I. Chapter #43 that must be enforced at this time.  For Chapter members, the required information may be provided in reports supplied by the Chapter Secretary.  When the ride group gets large, to ensure compliance, it may be well to have a means to identify all those that have checked in.

At check-in riders should receive a copy of the Route Sheet if they do not already have one.

Stated Chapter Business Meeting

On ride day, the Chapter President may decide to hold a Chapter Business Meeting prior to the ride or perhaps do so at one of the stops.  If that is the case, the President should notify the Road Captain well in advance so that meeting and departure times may adjusted before the word is put out.  The Pre-Ride Briefing would then be the last portion of the business meeting.

Pre-Ride Briefing

About 15 to 20 minutes before the departure time, the Road Captain should gather all the riders together for a ride briefing.  First, remind everyone of the check-in requirement.  Next, you should discuss safety, such as the riding formation, emergency procedures, expected areas of concern along the route, and hand signals.  It's also a good idea to ask if this is anyone's first time riding in a group.  If you have first-time riders, you may wish to place them near the back of the pack until they get accustomed to group riding.

If the group is larger then expected, now is the time to break it into sub-groups and assign additional Sweeps and Group Captains.  It is helpful to inform the group of any audio starting signals you may want to use.  Two toots of your horn at two minutes and a single toot at one minute helps get the group started together.

The Ride

When the proper planning is accomplished and the above Group Riding Principles are followed, the actual ride will take care of itself.  To get a large group in the saddle, helmets on, engines started and lined up when you are ready to roll, it is best use two toots of your horn two minutes before your start and a single toot one minute before you start rolling out.  Along the route, be alert to potential safety issues.  Point out road hazzards to the riders behind you.  The lead Road Captain must set a constant pace for the group that may be a little under posted speed limits.  Watch for lagging riders behind you, they may be an indication that your pace is to fast.  Remember that riders behind you are probably less familiar with the road than you are.  The lead Road Captain should accelerate slowly after a turn or stop and slow down well in advance of a turn or stop.  This can do much to eliminate the rubber-band effect as described below.  Start signaling your turns before you would normally do so, allowing those signals to be passed back through the group.
   

Rubber-Band ("Yo-Yo") Effect

Reaction time for a motorcyclist when confronted with an unexpected threat is, on average, about one second.  If the need to react is anticipated (such as when a turn has been announced), then riders can usually react within about half a second after the bike ahead begins to react.  When a group of riders change speeds very gradually, however, it usually takes two or three seconds for a rider to recognize this and begin to change his speed to maintain his position in the group.

This doesn't sound like much time, but experienced group riders manage their risks reasonably well with a minimum one-second interval between each bike and a minimum two-second interval between bikes that are traveling in the same track.  When the group has more than six bikes in it, however, gradual changes in speed within the group can become tricky.

When a lead bike begins to accelerate, the second bike doesn't instantly start to travel at the faster rate.  Instead, a gap grows between them while the second bike is reacting -- and it continues to grow until the second bike is fully up to the increased, stable speed of the lead bike.  Clearly, once the speeds are the same, the gap will remain the same size.  However, since most groups prefer to keep a one-second minimum interval between bikes (two seconds between bikes in the same track), the new gap caused by the lead bike's acceleration may be larger than is desired.  When this occurs, the second bike must go faster than the first one for a brief time in order to "catch up."

If we assume that the lead bike speeds up from 60 to 70 mph over a period of two seconds, the second bike will have to ride at 75 mph for two seconds (after his reaction time passes) in order to close the gap.  Then he will take another one second to decelerate back to 70 mph to create a gap of the proper size.  If there were only two bikes in the group, this example is easy to follow.  But when the group is larger, and the bikes involved are riding further back in the pack, the "rubber band" effect can be especially dangerous to all bikes from the middle of the group to the Sweep bike.

For example, the third bike in the group has this problem: About two seconds after the second bike has begun to accelerate, the third bike responds.  Now, however, the second bike is moving at 75 mph rather than at 70 mph like the lead bike.  The third bike must use even more effort to catch up to the second bike than the second bike did to match his speed to the lead bike's new speed, if the gap is to stay relatively constant.  He will have to move at 75 mph for four seconds, not two, to catch up.  The fourth bike will have to accelerate to 80 mph!

In a group of only six motorcycles, the last one will find the gap between himself and the fifth bike has grown to 143 feet before it begins to close, once he starts to speed up, given these average reaction times.  And it will be at least 11 seconds after the lead bike first began to accelerate before the sixth bike does so.

Now, imagine what happens in the group if, while this is taking place, the lead bike must apply his brakes!  This rubber-band effect becomes extremely important if the lead bike happens to make an abrupt and major change of speed at certain critical moments, such as when approaching a sharp turn or a tricky curve.  Those who ride as lead bike, or near the lead bike for their group should be aware of the importance of avoiding sudden changes in speed if at all possible, so as to reduce the risks to those following.

The rubber-band effect can be reduced by following these guidelines:

   

Acknowledgments

This Group Riding Guide, is to help new or potential M.M.C.I. Chapter #43 members become acquainted with our present riding procedures.  Some of the enclosed information has been obtained from the Black Mountain Motorcycle Club, the Gold Wing Touring Association, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and from various articles written by other motorcyclists.

M.M.C.I. Chapter #43, M.M.C.I. Chapter #43 Officers, and the authors, disclaim any liability for the views expressed herein.

   


South Eastern Minnesota Chapter #43 of the M.M.C.I.
2002 Second Street SW, Rochester, Minnesota 55902