by Bill Bassett
BEYOND MOTORCYCLE SAFETY CLASS: GROUP RIDING
Swooping through a corner with a group of your motorcycle buddies in pursuit is an invigorating experience. You can ride safely and still enjoy feeling like fighter planes in formation, as everyone twists, turns, climbs and dives from one corner to the next on a favorite ribbon of pavement.
Since I enjoy riding with others so much, I often organize group rides. I plan the route, a couple of stops along the way (usually with a good photo opportunity or two!), a good place to eat, etc. I like my friends to know I’ve taken care of the important stuff, and all we have left to do is enjoy the ride.
I am always on the lookout for new people to join my group rides. Most of the group rides I organize include motorcyclists with varying levels of motorcycle riding skill and experience. Many have not ridden in groups before. Some are new riders looking for an opportunity to ride with and learn from veterans, and some are veterans looking to add yet another ride to their resumes. The one thing all these riders share is an enjoyment of motorcycling, and riding a favorite road for the umpteenth time is more fun when shared with someone who has never been there before.
In an effort to enhance the experience for all of us, I always start the ride with a “Riders’ Meeting”. At this meeting I discuss the route, the planned stops, the expected weather conditions, and how weather may or may not impact the plans for the day. Then, I bring up the seldom discussed subject of rider responsibility. This always elicits some discomfort from the assembly, but, hey, we have to talk about it. Failure to discuss rider responsibility will almost always result in misunderstanding and miscommunication–a potentially disastrous situation in a group of moving motorcycles and their riders.
You see, we motorcyclists change when we ride in a group. By ourselves, we may ride in such a manner that we think we are good, safe riders. When we add other motorcyclists to the equation a wholly different persona sometimes emerges. We can develop competitive spirits, as if there has to be a winner and a loser on a group ride. “First one to the lunch stop gets a trophy!!?”
A little competition never hurt anyone, but it needs to be redirected when riding with others on the street. This is where rider responsibility comes in.
Whether there are two or two hundred motorcycles in a group, one thing is certain. Everyone must be responsible for his or her own ride. That is, we must not ride over our heads trying to keep up with a more capable rider on an unfamiliar piece of road surrounded by other motorcyclists of whose talents and abilities we may be unfamiliar or unsure. This doesn’t just happen to the new riders. Even a veteran rider can be lured into riding beyond his or her skills. I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt!
When I bring up the subject of rider responsibility, I remind my fellow riders to ride at their own comfort levels. I ask them to “ride their own licenses.” I remind them that I am in charge of my motorcycle, and they are in charge of theirs.
My style of group riding makes the ride leader less responsible to keep everyone together. It allows for different skill levels and motorcycle designs. It’s a “modified drop-off system” of group travel. In short, everyone rides at whatever pace he or she is comfortable. If they lose sight of the rider in front of them, they needn’t worry. If the group turns from the current path of travel, the rider in front of them will wait at the turn.
Since we must all keep an eye on the rider immediately behind us, the group stays together, even though it may stretch out for miles. Should someone have a problem, it would have a ripple effect up the line as riders fail to show up at this or that turn. Eventually, someone will come to the rescue. The “safety in numbers” rationale for riding in a group is still present. It is just that the group is more flexible than a tight, compact formation.
This system allows everyone to ride at their own pace, and if we don’t let our egos intrude, everyone enjoys the ride for their own reasons. At the rest stops and food stops, we can discuss the route, scenery or whatever, even though we may not have been together since forming up at the beginning of the ride!
I know that there are other ways to travel successfully with a group of motorcyclists. The motorcycle clubs for touring bikes have great success keeping large groups of riders together in a tight formation when traveling. It works well for them, because they ride together often; the motorcycles are usually of the same type or style (or brand!), and there are many motorcycle safety training class graduates among their members. These club rides also work as well as they do, because everyone implies by their presence that they are willing to “follow the leader.”
My method of group riding is an alternative to this style of group riding. The only time I’ve had problems with this method was when riders forgot my admonishments at the riders’ meeting and tried to ride beyond their skill levels.
So, do what I do. Spend the winter with road maps planning rides for you and your friends next year. Look at all the interesting places those squiggly lines might take you. Do all those things to your bike this winter that you never got around to doing last summer, and pick up some brochures from your local motorcycle dealer to see what’s new.
In the spring, attend a Motorcycle Riders Course (MRC) if you are new to the sport. If you consider yourself a veteran rider, take an Experienced Rider Course (ERC). These classes will go a long way towards insuring your survival and helping you enjoy the sport of motorcycling. Do everything you can do to make yourself a better rider.
Then, call your friends and go for a ride. It’s amazing how much other riders can teach you and how they can help you enjoy your routes.
For information on MRCs and ERCs, contact the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Program (MMSP) at (612) 784-1488 or (800) 407-MMSP.