Group Ride Questions.
It seems I'm continually either running headfirst into large frying pans or riding with my butt on fire. With a personality like mine, being in some sort of trouble is pretty routine. True to form I stepped into it again recently. This time the person holding the torch to my rear was The Director of our motorcycle safety program. And you thought I was Teacher's Pet all this time, didn't you?
I'm going to share the story but the point of the post is to solicit feedback from you all. This has to do with group riding. What happened with us was symptomatic of what often happens with many group rides. As leaders in motorcycle safety we feel a responsibility to do right by all riders. Group riding isn't something we really address in our classes. We think perhaps it might be time we start. In particular, the question is how to balance the aspect of "riding your own ride" versus the social aspect of riding together as a group.
Briefly, the background is this.
We have a group of about 11 instructors who make up what we currently call the Leadership Council. The objective is to work for the good of the instructor body. We meet once a month. Members are spread across the state so some attend by means of a telephone conference call. Those of us in the Willamette Valley try to ride to a community college in Salem where we use a meeting room. This story is about the ride home after a meeting.
There are five of us. Three instructors and two staff members. One staff member is the Training Manager and the other is The Director. Between us there are three Honda ST1300's, a BMW 1150GS, and Elvira.
It's time to depart and I take off first. We haven't really stated that this will be a group ride. On the other hand, we're all headed South so it's probably presumed.
The night is clear and brisk at 9:30 PM. We've decided to take the freeway home. The freeway onramp from Portland Road is a very large decreasing radius curve. Let's just say I reveled in the experience, closely followed by the other riders. As The Director put it, "The four of you ahead of me on the ramp down to I-5 was a thing of beauty". His next comments wouldn't be so complimentary.
In the interests of saving space in this post, the rest of the story condenses to this.
I set a pace that was brisk but prudent. It ended up being three of us in our own faster group. The Director was riding sweep. The fourth rider in line was a man who has years of experience. He just isn't comfortable riding very quickly at night due to vision problems. So he gradually dropped back, smart enough to ride his own ride. The Director dropped back to stay with this guy. Our group ride ended up being two separate groups instead of one.
The three of us in the lead received an e-mail the next day. The Director was not pleased. Especially with me, having been the leader. This isn't about our particular ride. Like I wrote in the beginning, what we experienced is symptomatic of other group rides.
More and more people are getting into riding for the social aspect. When they ride together, it's because they want to ride together. That means being with the larger group. They don't want to ride alone.
Several problems arise. We've seen cases where riders in a group get so focused on the other bikes they miss hazards. Case in point the big crash involving the Brothers Speed in our neck of the woods. Wanting to be a part of the group, less experienced or less skilled riders tend to ride over their heads and get into trouble.
Our admonition has always been to "ride your own ride". The down side to that is slower riders who try to do this often get left behind. Faster riders tend to not want to always be riding slowly on group rides. There are many different comfort levels and skill levels among a group of any size. Balancing these differences with the social aspect of a group ride often conflict.
There have been those who say newer riders should be at the front. I think this puts unfair pressure on these riders. Sometimes just the riding alone can be enough for the newer riders to deal with. Let alone finding the way and feeling the pressure of holding other riders up.
If the slower riders are at the back they often get left behind. If they are in the middle, the group tends to get really spread out. Then there are those who allow too much following distance. When the group slows down these ones allow more distance. So the group thinks they are losing these riders so they slow down more. Then those who allow too much following distance back off more. You can see where this is going.
When I was a Road Captain ( not HOG ) I would set up an itinerary. It listed the route as well as where the planned stops were located. Riders would often split into smaller groups knowing that the larger group would reconnect at certain times. This allowed riders of like skills and interests to ride together while still maintaining social contact. Nobody felt pressure from feeling like they would be left behind if they didn't keep up.
I also know that many groups want to stay together as one big bunch of riders. In this case, it seems the leader should set a pace that accomodates the whole group. Everyone in the group should be responsible for the following rider and slow as needed to ensure contact is kept. It should be accepted by all on the ride that the pace will be one that is comfortable for the newer riders. Which can often mean it will be slower than some riders might normally ride at. If the goal is to have a social group then this aspect should take precedence.
Granted, that might not always work out. So here are my questions.
Road conditions change. Dry roads get wet. Straight roads turn into curvy ones. How does the group know how fast is fast enough for the slowest rider at any given time?
How do we help newer or riders with lower comfort levels be comfortable enough to be honest about the matter? Pride or risk of embarrassment can cause riders to ride over their heads.
How do we hold riders accountable for riding their own rides even on a group ride? Or educate them on what this means?
Sometimes formal "training" doesn't seem to reach riders. Is there a more effective way to reach riders by means of their peers or leaders like HOG Road Captains?
I'd really appreciate your thoughts on this. Take as much space in the comments section as you feel you need. It's an area that's causing problems and fatalities for riders. It needs to be addressed.
Miles and smiles,