Group Riding Etiquette
Hey… don’t you love getting together for a ride with friends… checking out some new twisties, following the coast, trailing through the bush tracks or just off to find somewhere with a bike-friendly atmosphere to have lunch, catching up for a long over-due chit-chat and a few laughs! Riding in a larger group, however, is a whole new concept of riding.
Group riding… can be plenty of fun or one of the most frightening and dangerous rides of your life.
There’re many situations where you may have that opportunity to join into a group ride; there are the various charity runs, the social groups that organise regular rides, or one day… your “few mates” may just end up being a heap more than originally planned…
Whatever the type, it pays to understand group-ride etiquette… it’s not so much about being polite… it’s all about staying safe, surviving the ride, all while having fun.
Some of the larger rides, e.g., toy runs, memorial runs, etc., can get into the hundreds of bikes and can be nightmarishly intimidating if you’re new to it. A decent sized group ride could be about 20 – 50 riders and even if you’ve been on a few previously, they can still feel nightmarishly intimidating.
When the event is advertised, there’s usually a proposed stands up time. Very rarely is this adhered to, so add about ½ hour onto the end of that… but if it says 9:30 am, probably a good idea to arrive by 9:00 am at the latest; be fuelled up and have your tyre pressures checked. Arriving a little earlier gives time for the customary hugs, coffee, general chit-chat and checking out the other riders and bikes. Super important to listen to the pre-ride briefing about the destination and route, who the Ride Leader, Corner Markers and the Tail End Charlie, (TEC) are and how the ride will be paced.
Never, ever start without a full tank… never. Oh… and leave with an empty bladder… always!
The ride formation should be staggered, which is awesome for the highways and main roads, but super crappy for the skinnier, country roads, so… ride your own ride. Whether you’re in the left or right position within the lane, if the surface looks dangerous, use the road space on either side of you to find your own line to ride. You’re not forced to sit on the left or right … put safety first… always!
If feeling intimidated by pushy riders behind or coming beside you… still hold your line; just let them pass if they need to. If you’re aware of a stop up ahead, preferably stay stopped longer, off to the left and wait for most to pass you, which will relocate you toward the rear of the group, where the safer riders usually ride. It really depends on the type of ride, which with experience, you can pick at the pre-ride briefing, by taking note of those around you. If you’re starting to freak out with the pace or the action around you and you need to pull off the road, never just slow down… hold your speed and give plenty of indication of your intentions. No sudden braking! With so many riders still behind you, take your time and control your manoeuvre to safety.
A well adhered to, staggered formation, will keep that space, which is ever so important, for a decent reaction time, between you and the other riders. The desired distance between you and the rider across from you, diagonally, left or right is two seconds… four seconds from the person directly in front. However, realistically, it’s more like one second to the diagonal rider and two seconds for the person in front. Some group rides, there’s no full seconds of anything, between riders; if this is the case and you’re not crazy enough to rely on your adrenalin only… again, proceed to move out of that pack so you can get toward the back to join the more sedate pace.
It’s best to avoid side-by-side formations as you are left with no space for obstacle avoidance, but sometimes during a ride the group will slow right down, for example toy runs, so although still slightly staggered, riders can be a lot closer to each other… so be aware and take extra care when this happens.
If a rider leaves the formation for whatever reason, the remaining group needs to re-form by criss-crossing into the vacant spaces.
So… how does the rider, 58 bikes back, who’s been stuck between a truck and a caravan for the past 15 minutes and those further behind, know where the riders ahead have gone? A well organised group ride will use Corner Markers and a TEC or Sweeper.
The Corner Marker stays whenever a direction changes and points where to go, until indicated to move on, by the TEC. This way, when done correctly, no one gets left behind, as the TEC is the last person in the group.
There are a few different types of corner marking… again depending on the host group and their preferences. They could have a few riders within the group, as designated markers, once moved on by the TEC, they may need to zoom past the entire group, towards the front and ride leader, with the other designated markers, to prepare to mark again, throughout the ride.
Another safer method, is whoever is riding directly behind the lead rider, stops at the point of direction change until the TEC moves them on. Then they just slip in between the last rider and the TEC, continuing the ride as normal. The next Corner Marker will be whoever is next behind the ride leader and so on. Depending on the size of the group and the number of direction changes, will determine if you’d need to mark again. Also, if there are trikes within the ride, they’re usually excused from marking, as they can take up too much road space at an intersection.
Please note, that there are varying legal aspects to corner marking, so please check your State laws. I understand it’s mostly ok if you are pulled over to the left, off the carriageway and not obstructing traffic flow. Sitting at a set of traffic lights, to the right side of the carriageway, however, is definitely not legal, so not a good idea to go there…
Then… there are rides, where the host members, pause the general road traffic by sitting on their bike in the middle of the road, at intersections, stop signs, roundabouts, etc. to get all riders through together, without having other vehicles butt into the ride. Although absolutely terrific fun when this happens, it is not a legal practice, so be aware of that. Unless there’s police presence or legally arranged traffic management, follow-through at your own risk, coz stop, really does mean STOP and if there is an accident, you’ll most likely be at fault.
When at intersections, especially traffic lights, move up close to each other, so more of you can get through at the next opening, or green light, then stagger back to safe following distance.
One Remembrance Day ride I attended, had riders going through red lights, zapping in and out between us like we were witches’ hats in a speed test, zooming unexpectedly past on the left and just being general dickheads; it was seriously mental. The club had organised a terrific ride and had planned it to flow well; the members doing nothing improper. It was the ring-ins, with an overload of testosterone, showing off, that made it the most dangerous group ride I’d ever been on. There was a heap of us, all experienced group riders, that left that ride after the first pitstop… the risk just wasn’t worth it.
There is never any shame in pulling out of any ride for any reason.
Always a good idea to be aware of what the riding style is like before you commit, even if experienced. If experienced and you’re braving it in the front or middle part of the group, you need to be extra, extra vigilant with your concentration and keep that speed steady within the formation.
If there is any overtaking involved of other road users, once you have passed the vehicle, no matter what position you were pre-passing, immediately move over to the left of the lane and move away as quickly as possible from the vehicle you overtook, to give the rider following you, space to get into the lane. Sometimes a rider will push the limits, so they’re not separated from the group, cutting it fine with oncoming vehicles. That space you’ve made for them, in the right section of the lane, may just save their life.
It’s good to practise when just riding with another person… pass and move over to the left, then form your previous road position afterwards.
Another thing to be aware of is when you slow down by just using engine braking, the riders to your rear, diagonally or directly, or any other road users behind you, won’t realise you’ve slowed, so lightly touch your brake as a warning to them. This is a practice to become familiar with anyway, group riding or not. It’s all well and good flying through the corners using only your gears, but not if those behind you can’t see you’re slowing… very easy to be rear-ended by not indicating your intentions.
Staying super alert is especially important with the group rides… no room at all for losing your line and concentration… you need to be aware of the riders in front, without focussing just on them; you need to be aware of what’s happening ahead, to the sides of the road, the road surface, those behind you, those not playing by the rules and zapping in and out between everyone, cars trying to squeeze in… and that’s just on the straight, wider, smooth roads… get out into the country and it takes it all up a few notches of skill levels.
Some of the skinnier country roads are better off ridden in single file with at least a 4 – 5 second gap from the nearest rider in front. The road is often intermittent shadowy from the bush alongside and the surfaces are often rougher with potholes, crocodile cracking, blow-up areas, being difficult to see and avoid if you’re right up the clacker of your mate in front. By keeping a decent distance, if there’s an accident, there’s less chance of it becoming a pile-up.
Cornering in a group can be super fun… or super dangerous… there’s a different type of mentality that takes over you if you’re not aware of it. The adrenalin pumps and suddenly you’re Mick Doohan… into that corner, but it’s is too tight and you’re heading for an oncoming vehicle… or you’ve lost control and wiped out the person in front of you. Back off and give yourself extra room, to move around the lane as you need to; be aware of how close the rider is behind you also.
Group rides aren’t just about safe riding technique and following the leader… there’s some hand and body signals, that have been around for eons, that are worth learning.
Great not only for group riding, but for various uses, e.g., your electrics may be on the blink and you need to signal by hand, you’re warning oncoming vehicles or just your riding buddy. Most are common sense and some of us already know them, but hey, easy to forget when not regularly used.
If you see anyone doing some of the following, no they’re not doing the John Travolta disco dance in their seat, they’re trying to communicate something to you:
The palm will be forward and arm extends up.Stop
This should be continued by everyone throughout the entire group. Bend your elbow to 90 degrees with your palm open and fingers pointing down to the road.
The leader lets the group know to all turn left, or a rider within the group is making an exit. Have your left arm extended out straight and palm faces down.
The leader lets the group know to all turn right, or a rider within the group is making an exit. Bend your left elbow to 90 degrees with a clenched fist toward the sky.
This is a signal for another to take over the lead. Move alongside the rider and point to their bike, then swing your arm forwards, pointing in front of you; you may need to do this a couple of times if they don’t understand. Maybe back of a little too to encourage them to set the speed.
If there’s something to the left on the road, e.g., dead wildlife, loose gravel, bike-swallowing pothole, point with left index finger, arm angled down. If on the right, use your right leg and extend it toward the hazard. This is a 2 in 1 symbol, don’t do both at once… Continue through the entire group.
From shoulder height extend left arm out with palm down, pointing towards the ground then move up and down.
Extend your left index finger and arm toward the sky.
Left-handed peace sign toward the sky.
This is often used if the leader feels the group is lagging a bit… hey someone may have missed seeing a speed change sign, but if you don’t wish to go any faster… don’t! You’ll most likely catch up at the next intersection or pull into the destination as peeps are still pulling off their helmets.
Remember ride or own ride, as you feel safe.
Usually used to get off the road unexpectedly, immediately or at next exit. With left arm on upwards angle point index finger either left or right, depending on situation.
Aaahhhhhhh, we’ve all done this at some stage, left our indicator on… left arm out on angle, open and close fist.
…or a friendly copper is ahead. Tap the top of the helmet with your palm.
If someone does this to you, check your high beam isn’t on; if not keep an eye out on your speed. Keep our police officers and emergency responders safe… pull over to let them get through.
Running out of fuel is not much fun, especially with a group of people, so communicate you’re in need of a top-up with left index finger pointing to the tank.
Use your left thumb to point towards your mouth like it’s a straw to drink from.
Left arm out on an angle and shake your fist in a short, up-down action. Ensure there’s plenty of room to pull off the road if you can’t wait to the next rest area.
There are some terrific groups formed through social media, that specifically support women riders, encouraging their members to join group rides. Within the reader involvement articles, of each edition, there will be some groups showcased to help you find some in your area, that may be of interest. Also in the Business Directory under Empowerment and Rider Support, there’s a list of groups, throughout Australia and New Zealand. They will all have the opportunity to be showcased at some stage.
Often with these women only groups, there will be various rides tailored for the less experienced. The best way is to encourage the learners and less confident, is to place them upfront, behind the ride leader, so they can ride to their ability… and the rest of the group following behind. That way the group stays together, keeping the same pace and supporting those who need the encouragement.
Other days, the learners will bring up the rear at their own pace, so the experienced can go at a quicker pace, especially if it’s a full-on curvy ride. There’ll usually still be the Corner Markers and a Tail-end-Charlie to ensure no one gets lost or left behind.
Group riding is terrific fun when well organised and done safely… and to socialise at the end of the day or if it’s a weekender event… is a great way to make new friends.
See you out there…
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