Riding on your own is a marvelous and liberating experience for most motorcyclists, but there are times when you will join a group of friends or strangers on a ride or even a tour, and the dynamics of group riding are quite different.
Unlike solo riding, groups of bikers tend to take-on a life of their own, and it is important when riding with others to remember a few basic tips in an effort to minimise the dangers that exist in groups. Here's the first part of a two-part blog on riding in groups.
Perhaps a good place to start is at the ...start! Every group has a lead rider, captain or road leader and that rider has the responsibility of guiding the group to a destination and around obstacles that tend to appear without warning in some cases. The leader sets the pace that the group will ride, based on knowledge of the riders that are joining - or observing the riding style of those behind him. A good road leader understands the need to ride at the pace of the least experienced, and to consider the 'tail-back' of the group that tends to 'accordion' at times. There is only one leader in a pack, so unless that is you, don't assume that role just because you have created a gap between yourself and the guys ahead of you!
Ride the speed set by the road leader. Too often, riders join the group and decide to travel at their own pace rather than that of the group, and this not only becomes irritating for your fellow riders, but it also poses a distinct danger for others in the pack. In the first place, riding at your own pace (fast or slow) inconveniences those ahead-of or behind you and it creates frustration and can lead to others doing stupid things to get away from you. Hogging corners and open roads tends to spoil the experience for other riders and just makes you look a total twat. The second point is that by riding fast, you tend to cause a bunch-up behind the leader (who must ride for everyone and not just as he likes) - creating dangerous conditions, or you fall so far behind the rider in front of you that you are unable to see warning signals that are passed-back from the leader - creating danger for yourself and those behind you. Ride your ride, but be considerate at the same time.
If you are a nervous or inexperienced rider, stick close to the leader or even talk with the road leader beforehand. A good road leader will usually ask inexperienced or nervous riders to tuck-in behind them so that they can set the pace. NEVER fall to the back of the pack because you will very soon find yourself riding outside your comfort-zone and that's when accidents happen. Don't be embarrassed by riding up-front or letting the leader know - we have all been there and we all learn by watching more experienced riders.
Watch your mirrors at all times. If you see the rider behind you has gone missing or is no longer in sight, pull to the side of the road where it is safe to do so. If each rider in the pack does the same thing, very soon the road leader gets the message and he has a chance to turn and check where the problem is. Stay where you are until the rider behind you reaches you and then proceed - but don't turn back unless you see an accident happen because you could be the next accident to happen by doing so!
Ride in a staggered formation when riding in a group. The rider in front rides at the right side of the lane; the one behind him on the left side of the same lane, the one behind him on the right side, etc. That way everybody can see ahead and it is safer in an emergency as it allows you maneuvering space and prevents you riding into the guy ahead. But when you get to a corner, fall into a single-file because everybody chooses their own line through the corner and the rider in front of you may start in the outside of the corner.
If the group comes to a stop, watch your leader for an indication of the action that will be taken next. Only if he dismounts and starts taking his helmet and gloves off should you do the same. Sometimes, he may stop simply to let the back of the group catch-up - or to check with a specific rider, so if you have taken your gear off, you could find yourself rushing to re-mount when the leader moves on. Also, only light-up when the leader stops the group at a fixed stop - you could split the group otherwise.
Riding in a group can be a lot of fun - and it provides company at the end of the ride for those that miss this. Single riders appreciate their 'alone-time' with good reason, but we also become selfish about how we ride, so be considerate and aware of those riding with you.