Wednesday, October 20, 2010

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,



Karina said...

I am really lucky to ride with a group of people who aren't that focused on sheer speed, and are experienced enough to keep up with the leaders or feel secure enough to stop knowing we will wait for them later.

On the other hand my brother and sister-in-law just go trained up and started riding this summer too, and I'd like to include them on our rides as well, so I have been considering the implications of their participation as well.

The only time I've been really serious about setting down ground rules was when we were riding through TN and GA (our awesome group trip blog is here!) and when we had our day planned through the Smokies my partner had planned a pretty technical route, and I made a HUGE point of saying at the beginning: "This is the path we are taking. Don't worry about going too slow, we will wait for you. If we're going too slow, signal to us and we will let you go ahead of us. Ride your own ride today because it's really technical, we are all looking for different joy out there on the road, and I want us all to be safe."

And even after saying that a whippersnapper who hooked up with us just for that day took off on a road that was plainly marked "closed," leaving the rest of the group to wonder if it was ditching him to proceed on, or if we had to wait for him to come through. But we had a rider with us who hadn't as much road experience (and group experience) and she did awesomely, despite being really nervous when she signed up for our big trip.

I hate to say it, but I think a lot of helping out newer riders is to have smaller group rides with a level of mutual respect. I don't know how you get to that point, especially when newer motorcyclists see those mega-group-rides and want to participate to get to know the community without understanding that it's a terrible way to work on your skills or even have a safe ride.

And re: formal training: in a smaller group, it's really easy to lead by example. I'm ATGATT and I've seen how my more experienced rider friends have been wearing more and more gear as I've been riding with them, and I have to take a tiny bit of credit for making it clear that all the funny gloves, helmets, pants, and jackets are really not much extra trouble.

Troubadour said...

How does the group know how fast is fast enough for the slowest rider at any given time?

Our group rides have a trusted, experienced, responsible leader and trusted, experienced, responsible sweep. We talk to the new riders or slower riders before we set off and tell them to ride their own ride, explain that it means to ride at their own pace and confidence level, we tell them they will be followed by a sweep and not to feel pushed or rushed. If a newbie still feels uncomfortable with someone behind them, a sweep will ride ahead of them setting a pace accordingly while keeping an eye on the rider(s) behind them.
The leader leads at a respectable pace knowing the group will usually split into two smaller groups. The sweep is responsible to stay back, watch the slower riders, not push the newbies and expects the group to split, knowing the lead will stop at pullouts or at an intersection until everyone regroups. When we regroup we signal with a thumbs up and we're off again, eventually falling into two groups until the next stop.

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.

We leave our egos at the door, explain that we are there to help them, answer their questions and explain that confidence and experience will come with time. We aren’t in a hurry and tell them to enjoy the ride.

How do we hold riders accountable for riding their own rides even on a group ride? Or educate them on what this means?
We talk as a group before setting out. If a rider gets over their head or becomes a danger to themselves or others we will slow or stop the ride either by radio to the lead or at the next regroup.

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?
We try and talk to the riders, some you reach, others you just can’t. Respect those that listen, are willing to learn and welcome them to the group. We accept and respect the others as individuals and as riders but we distance ourselves from them and only hope they don’t crash, unfortunately it takes a crash or a ticket to slow them down.
I like to think that our weekly gathering helps form respect among peers and make us safer riders. Come join us for coffee some Saturday morning, we’d love to talk to you.

Stacy said...

Just because you're on motorcycles and riding near each other doesn't make you a group.

From your post, I'm not quite sure what The Director's beef was -- did he object to the fact that the "group" broke into two? If so, I find that somewhat disappointing.

You can have a group that sticks closely together, or a group where everyone rides their own ride, but not both.

If the goal is for everyone to ride their own ride, it's unrealistic to expect everyone to stick together. Thus, such a ride needs to start with a meeting to discuss the route ahead, and where the lead will stop and wait to regroup.

It's counter-intuitive, but the group rides that I've enjoyed the most have had the riders lined up in order of speed. Fastest guy first. Scenery admirers in the back. Then again, I was riding with people I know well and trust. Of course, a "pick-up" group ride full of strangers ordered by speed is a recipe for disaster.

Trust. Be realistic. Leave no man behind.

cpa3485 said...

What little group riding I have done involves a local scooter club we started about 1 1/2 yrs ago. We will have usually about 15 riders on our monthly ride and have hit 20riders a couple of times.

On our first ride I passed out a handout that had some pages from the MSF instruction booklet regarding group riding. I think that has helped some riders understand the importance of paying attention not only to each other, but to all of the traffic conditions. We usually do a pretty good job of staying staggered and not following too closely.

Some of our riders are very experienced, others not very experienced at all. In addition, one of our challenges is that some of the riders have 50cc bikes not capable of much more than 40 mph while many others have maxi-scoots capable of highway speeds.

Our usual leader does a very good job of watching out for what is happening behind him and on occasion, if we get separated he will turn into a gas station or parking lot and wait for the remainder of the group to catch up. This happens frequently just because of stoplights. At times some of the group will make it through a stoplight while others have to stop.

On most rides, we sort of end up with the more inexperienced riders in the middle of the pack with more experienced riders at the front and at the back. That seems to work well for us.

I have heard it said that breaking into smaller groups of no more than 5 or so is better as long as one person in each group knows the overall route. That can help riders attach themselves to groups that may be more at their own pace. We sometimes end up that way and then catch up with each other at appointed times. For instance, if we have a longer ride, then sometimes we have predesignated meet up places on the route where we all get back together if we get separated a bit.

We generally have few problems, but I think it is primarily because we all are fairly attentive. Group riding has some unique challenges and potential dangers to it.
Good topic Dan, I am looking forward to the comments you get.


Nicolle said...

When my husband and I organize group rides (5-8 peeps usually) one of us takes lead and the other sweep. We both know the route and the is an agreement to meet up at every major intersection. We always wait for the slow riders AND make sure they have time for a break if they need one. There is nothing worse than pushing yourself to catch up to the stopped riders and wanting to switch visors or adjust a vent only to watch them zoom off again as you get close.

Our rule is ride your own ride. We'd rather wait on the side of the road for you than for an ambulance. If the pace is too slow then you are welcome to pass in a safe manor, but you better be waiting at the next intersection. We also make sure the sweep has a full first aid kit, bike repair kit, air compressor etc.

Our usual sweep is also our photographer and has no problem stopping to take a few pics and then catching back up to the slow riders of the group or jumping ahead of the group, getting pictures of everyone as the pass, then catching back up.

Road Captain said...

Thanks for posting on this topic Dan. There is a lack of information on group riding and the best practices for Road Captains. HOG Road Captains learn through experience and by teaching each other. The Road Captains in my chapter meet monthly and we discuss group riding techniques. We share our experiences and give each other tips. We are dedicated to the art of Road Captainhood. We hone our skills at addressing the group and laying down the ground rules before the ride. We develop a feel for the appropriate speed that is best for the group we are leading and when to take a rest stop. Group riding is different from riding by ones self. It is a different sport like speed skating differs from figure skating. Although each rider is responsible for their own safety we must not take "Ride Your Own Ride" literally because in a group you need to ride in a way that best serves the group as a whole. Different groups have different dynamics. A group of strangers is much different than a group of friends. A group of sport riders will be different than a group of touring riders or cruisers. An exclusive group will be different than a group that is open to the public. A young group will be different from a mature or diverse group. Small groups will be much different than large groups. Groups that utilize elctronic communication from bike to bike will differ from those who can only communicate via hand signals. Those who value the law or safety will differ from those who enjoy breaking the law and getting the rush from taking risks. All of these factors combined with current road, weather and traffic conditions will affect the methods employed by the Road Captain to lead a successful ride. No matter what, someone in the group will feel we were going too fast and someone else will feel we were going too slow. I just hope they enjoyed themselves anyway and I hope they appreciate the time we took out of our schedule to plan and lead the ride for their benefit.

Young Dai said...

In the UK many rider groups operate under what we call the marker system.

That is the while the leader will set a legal pace, at every junction where there may be confusion over where the route goes, he will show the rider behind him that he should pull over and stop(where safe) to indicate the route for the rest of the ride.

That rider will stay there until the whole group had gone passed and they can then tuck in, in front of the tail end charlie who always remains the last bike in the convoy.

That way no one should get lost because every junction will be marked and you don't get the worries of : 'have I missed a turning ? Then ride beyond the envelope to catch up or target fixate and forget about your own risks.

You still need a pre-ride brief to explain the system and any additional rules on the day ie is and overtaking or non overtaking within the group ride, etc. Just for safety we also take NoK contact details as well.

Because the group is constantly shuffling between from the back to the front, every one gets a chance to ride behind the leader and in front of the sweeper, so quiet feedback can be given if necessary later at the tea/coffee stop.

Yes,sometimes the leader may have slow down if the next bike behind has a slower or newer
rider, but leadership is not supposed to be fun all of the time.

If someone feels they do not want to take part in the shuffle, but instead wants to ride at the back, the system can handle that , tuck them in just in font of the tail-ender.

Funnily enough this has just been posted on by group forum page on the same matter :

" I can say that for me this was one of the most beneficial things I did in my training. Having the opportunity to watch other more advanced riders helped me a lot. It also allowed me to build confidence on the road without having to worry about where I was going. It is much more relaxed than an observed ride and you keep your eyes looking forward and not every few mins in your mirrors to see where the observer has gone. I still feel that after passing the test the rides are just as important in helping re-enforce skills."

I suppose I should say that the really massive ride outs or 50 or more bikes are vary rare in the UK. Generally the ones I have run with had less than 20,

Hope this different perspective is useful.

BeemerGirl said...

Very interesting thoughts pointed out here and great substance for discussion.

I look at it from two different perspectives. One from a member of a much larger group containing people of all skill levels. Two from a member of a very small group of people, wholly friends with basically similar skill levels.

From the latter point, like Nicolle, I am usually lead or sweep. But we are all good friends and a small group and there isn't generally a problem. We decide our route and general speed and we can stick to it.

For the first, that is a huge can of worms. I can't understand people that refuse to truthfully assess their own skill level compared to those around them and determine if this is a ride they should be on.

When I was first learning to ride, the larger group kept trying to get me to come on rides. I flatly refused knowing that even though they claimed they ride to the newest rider...that they lie. Not intentionally, but just from listening to the conversations and ride was obvious. I did not want to put myself in those situations, nor subject any of the other riders. I knew that a ride in the mountains was not the ride I wanted to be on with them.

As I have gained skill and experience I better judge those around me and am disturbed when people cannot be honest with themselves. If you are a slow rider, admit it and that you probably will not keep up with the leader that consistently rides 85+ on the interstate. There again, if you are a fast rider, you will be put out when the slower riders don't keep up. (The problem with this is when the "route" can change suddenly due to weather, et. al. and the second group might not be aware of the change when no one from the first group remains behind. Or if cell contact isn't possible.)

Either split the groups between faster and slower or moderate the rides. Have some rides geared towards higher speeds and discourage slower riders from attending. And you need to be honest with people that would like to attend if you have judged that they don't quite have the skills.

Schedule scenic rides for the people that don't enjoy riding fast and let it be known that any fast riders that choose to attend must abide by the speeds of the group without griping.

In point of this, the larger group scheduled a spirited ride in the twisties...kinda stating that but not emphasizing (or enforcing) it. Someone showed up that isn't experienced in mountainous twisties. Some people dangerously went around her because she placed herself in the middle/front of pack even though she said she would ride in the rear. (She disregarded other rider safety when she started to get nervous.) Then ultimately the leader had to stay behind with her and actually coach her through the twisties when the group voted to take a challenging way home and she never said anything. Also requiring another person to step up as lead for the spirited group.

All that being said...I have also discovered that many people on a group ride don't know how, or aren't prepared, to be responsible for themselves. I am always capable of riding home at any point in any ride (GPS or map), I have the "planned" route programed into the GPS (or printed out), I have tools and gear with me, and I have AAA. It astounds me that people show up to a group ride completely unprepared if they were to become detached from the group. I have literally had to lead people home from a state away because I was breaking from the larger group at a specific juncture, the ride was taking longer then expected and someone decided they needed to get home and wanted to come with me because they didn't know how to get home.

It may be a group ride, each may be riding his own ride, you may be prepared to watch out for each other, but ultimately we are all individuals riding with other people where anything can happen at any time. One wrong person within a group can endanger every one in that group.

BeemerGirl said...

Very well observed and state RoadCaptain!

Bluekat said...

My first group ride was with Stacy, Brad, and some of the Corvallis area group. They did a newbie ride with groups split by speed/skill level. It was my first experience around any other riders, and I think they had it well designed. We didn't ride in tight formation. There was maneuvering room between riders, and a regroup with everyone at designated points. They had a leader and a sweep for each group. It's nice to have a designated sweep and knowing that that person is choosing to ride as slow as needed for that ride. There was no pressure to speed up, and I had an opportunity to watch other riders, see the lines they chose, and to see how they handled different road surfaces/situations. It was a very good first experience with group riding, and I really like how they had it organized.

Another thing...
I really want to know what Katie is thinking in that pic. Her expression is priceless! :)

david said...

irondad, i can't tell you how glad i am to see this being discussed.

I rode home under similar conditions recently, 4 bikes, of which one was a lady who is a "challenge" for the group. With no streetlights, she is limited to under 100km/h, and needs a bike in front of her to follow, but not too close. So as lead bike, i had to keep an average of about 30-40 metres ahead of her, and match her speed, from the front. Challenging to be honest, but really the only way. The others fell in behind her, which is good because being slower, she tends to get a lot pf cars "catching up" with her from behind ... people don't respect following distances, a good sweep is invaluable. So essentially she rode at her pace, with the group adjusting for her. The only way.

My other foray into this is planning the toyrun, same problem, 6 groups between about 3000 and 15000 on november 28th.
I've come up with a few ideas about how it should be done.

When you ride in the group, "riding your own ride" is not an option, you will ride at the group pace. The pace of the group is equal to the pace of the slowest rider in the group. To make it simple, the slowest rider should be in the front, just behind lead.
Also, seperate the slower, less confident riders. I found last year that: older riders don't really feel safe with newbies close to them. Newbies don't feel safe with the older bikers around, not in a mix as it were.
Put the learners together, in front, assign a road captain or 2. That immediately re-inforces their own confidence, as they are "looked after" by the bunch. The older guys don't feel like they're going to trip over a newby either.

Something that also comes through clearly from your article and the comments, it's the guys who want to go faster that create the problems for the group, not the slower riders. Obviously having a "fast group" or "slow group" can help, but often it's not practical. I know riding slower is less exciting, but again as soon as you enter into a group ride the rules change from fun ride first to safety of all in the group first.

I still don't know how to educate people about this, or hold them accountable. What i have found though, is that when a group ride is obviously well controlled, people feel more comfortable and relaxed, less likely to step out of line, and more enclined to "go with the flow", which is exactly what you want the new riders to feel, and to me why i would ride with in a group. So marshalls should have a vest or armband, routes should be on paper at the start. The appearance of order does many good things for people.

So have your leader, have your road captains, have your plan, and ensure that everyone knows that they have been included in the plan.

I look forward to seeing more great comments.

Anonymous said...

Hello Irondad. I'm rather new to your space having been introduced to it from Wendy Moon's website. For the record, I've enjoyed reading your comments. Good stuff.

Okay, group riding. I don't do it as much anymore. When I did the bigger group thing, I liked when the "leaders" would ask very pointed, direct questions of the less known group members. People were expected to "fess-up" about their abilities/comfort level. It was never about making people feel uncomfortable. It was all about safety. If people lied about it, they never rode with us again.

I tell my BRC students to ride in smaller groups to start. Get comfortable with that group and expand (as a group) to larger rides when comfortable.

For the record, I end-up and like the "sweep" position. It's something about knowing I'm doing my share to protect the group. The handful of riders I travel with are guys I've been on the road with since '02. I avoid the 10-plus rider groups as it's too much of a hassle to be thinking about that many people.

Novice riders; be honest about your abilities and stick with smaller groups. Oh, and if you ride with a group that is too reckless for your taste, loose their phone numbers immediately.

Unknown said...


I have been doing group rides for many years with our car club and most of the concepts are basically the same except it is safer on 4 wheels and we have radios for car to car communications. I find that most problems occur by not having enough buffer space between vehicles. We also have rules; not to change formation while underway and it is the responsibility of the person immediately ahead to keep track of the person immediately behind. If we are in congested areas the group leader radios behind to notify of the next regroup point, which would be just out of town or past the business district.

On scooter/motorcycle type rides most do not have radios. We make sure to have a riders' meeting before we depart and let everyone know the route and regroup points and most importantly the meal destination. Again, I find that most riders do not leave enough breathing space. We try to put novice riders near the front the the leader will adjust the speed to suit. No one changes position in the formation while underway. We do not allow for people to "twist the throttle" to get ahead, unless they have previously made arrangements to leave the group. Usually this person would ride behind the sweep and just drop off, otherwise the riders behind would follow "him" instead of continuing on with the group.

I have been experimenting with group position and have found that the best way for more experienced riders to accept a slower pace is to drop back on straight stretches to allow more distance to the rider ahead and then accelerate through the corners. By then you will have caught up and then coast again to allow more distance . . .
This allows everyone to ride their own ride and still have fun in the process, within their abilities.
I think the dynamics are the same no matter who you ride with. On our trip to Oregon last July where Troubadour was the group leader I was sweep and had a radio where I could communicate with him. I could relay info about making or not making the stop lights etc and we had no problems. It was as if we had always ridden together, though it was our first time .

Wet Coast Scootin

Anonymous said...

From the frying pan into the fire?
Tell your director to sit on a hot frying pan for a while.
Use PAM first so his ass doesn't stick!

Might make him realize everybody including instructors and underlings ride differently, under different condtions!

And I might add, that vision impaired person riding slower at night was probably one heck of a lot safer too!
'Cause the worst sound any body riding in a group hears is the contact of motorcycle on terra firma, at speed.

The old adage:
one is happy, two is a pair, three is a crowd, four is a mob and five is a riot.

I may not have it oright, however the point remains[ if I was still riding, the MAXIUMUM number in my group would be three (3) ((cinq)).

If you're leading, the other two are more than enough tail behind you the head leading the trio.

Any more and too many stupid things can occur.

Belated anniversary greetings to you and your beloved, and also belated birthday greetings to you too Dan.

Damn it I miss riding however a four wheel walker is far more controllable, these days. Now if I could just rig a small motor to it...

Anonymous said...

That should have been trois noi cinq...too much French wine today methinks...

RichardM said...

A great post and equally great comments. I generally avoid group rides as much as possible. Most other riders seem to choose to ride too close behind me. (IMHO) But I do enjoy the company at the stops.


RichardM said...

BTW, I actually have one of those giant frying pans that I used for cooking over a campfire at a summer youth camp. You would be amazed at how much fits in one pan.


Orin said...

Before I rode in groups, I drove race cars. I was always in a race group with cars of widely varying performance potential (and I usually drove a car on the extreme lower end of that scale).

In my very first race, I was going at a speed my brain stem was telling me was utterly insane, yet I was passed as though standing still, even by cars that on paper were slower than mine. It was obvious that if I didn't step up my pace, I'd get trampled by the herd.

I found the same to be true on my first group scooter rides. I simply made peace with the fact that my job was to stay with the pack, no matter what.

But an interesting thing happened--on the way home, by myself, I realized I was feeling much more comfortable riding by myself. I found I could take corners faster, carve when necessary, and things that scared the crap out of me (like bridge grating) were really not as big a deal.

When asked, I encourage people to go on group rides. In racing, the mantra was always "seat time, seat time, seat time." Same deal riding. You have to deal with traffic sometime...

Scootin' Old Skool

Darren said...

Oh, boy, group riding...

I read the section about group riding in the MSF manual before I ever rode with a group, but took the following distance, spacing, etc. recommendations there to heart.

I think how the rides are conducted greatly depends on what kind of rides they are.

Small rides with friends - everyone knows how and is used to riding with the others, so there's no particular need for an order, everyone knows how fast the others ride so no one gets lost or goes too fast for the group, and no preplanning is really necessary.

Mid-level (quantity) rides - 10-15 people, or rides with unfamiliar people - the leader needs to keep the pace relatively slow until it's obvious everyone is keeping up, and to increase it only gradually so that he/she can still make sure everyone's following. More experienced riders need to give feedback to the leader throughout.

Large groups - the leader needs to have someone he/she knows and trusts riding sweep and spaced throughout the group to keep things on track, so no one gets lost.

From personal experience, I can tell you that what I get out of a ride definitely depends on the quality of the other riders, as well as the scenery, etc.

On long, straight group rides - going to an out-of-town rally, or any route that isn't very technical - I like riding near the back, both because I'm very happy to waive back drivers who get too close and because I don't need to worry about anyone following too close.

On more technical rides I prefer to be towards the front since I tend to ride faster than the average bear, and will pass other riders as conditions allow me to do so safely - a clear stretch of road, and plenty of clearance to pass.

On large rides where I don't know most of the riders I prefer to be in front where I can get away from the scary inexperienced riders, or in the back where I can let them get away from me. I've been at rallies where groups of us decided to find our own way back, or not even go on the group ride rather than deal with the clusterf*ck we were fearing would result.

The largest ride I've led was probably the Saturday ride at this year's Chicago scooter rally - a city ride on a holiday weekend with a large group of not all local scooterists - and even the locals weren't very familiar with the route. There was a fair amount of waiting to regroup before most of the turns to be sure people weren't lost, but I've found that even with the leader going 30-35 miles an hour, the group gets pretty stretched out. Having a sweep rider and chase vehicle made a big difference too. All the feedback was that the ride was pretty good.

When riding in rural areas, it's often best to allow people to proceed at their own pace for the challenging segments and then regroup at a predetermined point before continuing.

These days, to get me to go on a large group ride, I have to know that the route will be phenomenal or that there's no other fun way to kill time and choose to ride in the back and relax.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear IronDad (Dan):

My friends and I do group rides all the time. Here's what works for us:

1) Never ride with anyone whose title is "Director." They generally prove to be real douches in the long run and can kill a good time in a flash.

2) The best number for a group is three; four tops.
If eight people show up, make it two groups of four. If nine people show up, make it three groups of three.

3) Choose riders of like ambitions and skill groups.
• We have no problem when a rider says, "I want to go slow." Then we put a couple of slow guys together.
• "Slow" does not mean "inexperienced."

4) Inexperienced riders seeking help are asked to just state their needs and preferences, and somebody will also come forward and say, "Sure... I can help you with that."

5) Fat, crippled riders (who say "fuc*" a lot) seems to get extra consideration from my group.

6) It isn't a group ride until it is announced as a group ride. Never assume that people know the rules, the route, or each other's cell number.

7) If somebody shows up on a bike that is an absolute death trap, piece of shit (i.e. bald tires and obvious signs of neglect), somebody has to say something.

8) There is sme contention on the best formation for a group ride. The late Larry Grotsky argued that the standard staggered formation is as dangerous as riding in sawmill. A single file, with plenty of passing room and escape routes, was much better in his opinion. (I agree.)

9) I ride to get out in the country, not to follow the bike in front of me in a precise formation with the rider on my right or left.

10) The best social aspects of riding occur when you get off the motorcycle. Biking is a solitary pursuit, where you must be ready to make snap decisions, without consensus.

11) In the scenario you provided, someone should have asked, "Are we riding in a group under group rules?" I would have said, "I'll see you guys there."

Dan, if this is your idea of getting into big trouble, you're gonna be just fine.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

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Michael said...

So does this mean that mom is going to make me some pancakes for breakfast now? :)

Krysta in MKE said...

"It isn't a group ride until it is announced as a group ride"
Yes! I think that should a similar opportunity arise again, the 5 of you should agree amongst yourselves on what the rules are. (And they won't be imposed from On High, either.)

"How does the group know how fast is fast enough for the slowest rider at any given time?"
I've only been on a couple of real group rides, one with about 15 people, the other with more like 40. On both, the slower folks were put up front, behind the lead, and the faster folks were in the back. They could adjust their speed to drop back a bit to have room to play, go faster in the twisties, whatever, without pushing the newbies beyond what's safe for them.

That being said, on the larger group ride I had lots of conflict... it was all of 2 months after my crash, I was still in pain, but I wanted to be riding & show myself I could do it. I didn't push myself, really I didn't, but I went a lot slower than some other people were comfortable with. I got passed a lot. We went through the curve where I crashed, & that time I didn't crash! Yea!!
When we regrouped for dinner, I explained the problem & apologized to them for being such a pain. They of course said it wasn't a problem... I didn't believe them, but it was polite.

"How do we help newer or riders with lower comfort levels be comfortable enough to be honest about the matter?"
That's hard. Do everything you can to make it very clear that they can catch up at the next corner, they won't be left behind, there's a sweep rider behind them, etc., so they can ride however is safe for them. Whatever you do, DON'T show any sign of being upset, mad, or impatient simply because of their being slower. I hate to say this, but that goes double if they're female. (If a rider has done something stupid & unsafe, then yeah, let them have it.)

This is one I had to watch as I was learning & riding with Karl, 'cause he's so much more experienced & skilled, and I didn't want to be a drag on him. Many times I told him to go on ahead through a fun part, but wait for me at the next turn. Sometimes he ran it forward, back, & forward again while I was doing it once!

"How do we hold riders accountable for riding their own rides"
I've been stuck on this one for several minutes. I think the answer is that you can't.
They have to accept responsibility for themselves, and realize that while they're with other people, they have to watch out for themselves. It's an internal thing, not an imposed idea.