Zen and the Art of Group Riding

For a biker the only thing cooler than seeing a long procession of bikes on the road is being part of that procession. Riding as a group has innumerable advantages and disadvantages. Advantages range from development of an “Esprit-De- Corps”, group or club cohesion, personal protection and a grand show of support for a particular event, cause or rally. The list could go on and on but I think we would all agree, regardless of the premise a group run is an awesome sight. The more bikes there are the better the show.

I believe disadvantages are more numerous than the advantages. Perhaps “disadvantage” is not the correct word here; let’s refer to them as “obstacles”. It can be said the more riders you have the more obstacles come into play; for no other reason than the accumulation of different riding styles and levels of experience. The people drawn to riding are a different breed; a little more independent, a bit more self-reliant and slightly more capable of handling adversity than the average person. Take all these self-reliant, independent people and put them together and the mix can be precarious at best. Some riders enjoy the leisurely ride down a winding road with the occasional stop at the scenic view while others enjoy pushing the limits of the envelope.

While riding with a group all personal riding preferences need to take a back seat for the benefit of the group. A maneuver you do every day and feel comfortable with could create confusion with other riders or create an unsafe environment. Some like to use the 2 second rule while others use 4, still others live on the edge and use the 0.5 second rule. Some ride side by side, others prefer staggered. Some clubs have set rules and are unwavering with regard to these rules. Some understand defensive riding but feel offensive riding is more fun.

Ideas set forth in this snippet of words are personal in nature and do not reflect the opinion of this publication, your club, any state law (unless specified) nor the opinion of that State Trooper who just wrote you a ticket for some seemingly unnecessary reason. If you ride because it is an economical mode of transportation then you may not understand the premise of this article. If you ride because it is your passion, your way of life, your reason for existing then it is possible you will find this article boring because all this information has rolled through your head already while riding that endless road. I would submit to my fellow riders thinking while riding is all there is to do; that and look for State Troopers. I’ll not bore you with group hierarchy or hand signals; these are for the most part universal across this great nation of riders. What I will try to convey to you is a set of ideas that will not only give you a moment of pause (hopefully) but also try and set the stage for a needed sense of urgency for the safe and organized group ride.

It all comes down to “situational awareness”. I went to a public school so I don’t recall who said, “...with every action there is an equal and opposite reaction...” but I am smart enough to know with regard to a group ride what happens to one happens to all; either directly or indirectly. Maintaining situational awareness is the key to a safe, enjoyable, Murphy-free ride. We all know who Murphy is; he’s the guy who ensures if your bike breaks down it will break down far from civilization. Situational awareness is knowing (relative to your position) where the closest rider is, to know the proximity of that cage coming up behind or beside you, to be aware of what the cager in that cage is doing. Are your fellow riders alert, are they aware of you and what you are doing. Is that cager alert or are they taking a picture or texting their friends about the long bike procession they are driving by. For those who may not know a “cager” is the name give by bikers for the driver of an automobile and of course the “cage” is the automobile itself. Another part of situational awareness (perhaps more important) is your ability to know, or at least have a hint, what the rider in front and behind will do with regard to what you may do. Every action has a ripple effect in a group ride. What happens to the 5th rider will affect the 6th, 7th, and every rider following the 7th.

If you ride based on the 1 second rule is it 1 second behind the rider directly in front of you or 1 second behind the staggered rider meaning 2 seconds behind the rider directly in front of you. Do you ride side by side? Some States have laws that require staggered riding. Side by side riding makes for a really cool procession but this style riding does not leave room for error. A rider’s best friend is an escape route. Riding in close proximity with each other will reduce and sometimes completely eliminate your escape route. No escape route means if an escape is needed you will not escape. Granted I just stated the obvious but how many of you reading this didn’t think of the obvious until after you read it? In the grand scheme of things I think a prudent person would agree side by side riding or using the 0.5 second rule is not conducive to a positive outcome were Murphy to enter the mix.

A cager is not your friend. It’s hard enough to outmaneuver them when riding single but riding in a group only means they are in a target rich environment. While riding single the cager must take calculated aim and cater the approach. In a group all they need to do is change lanes and they are going to hit someone without even trying. I’m not privy to the statistic reflective of riders hit by cagers verses rider only accidents but I feel safe in saying the cagers are leading the pack in kill ratio. The driving habits of cagers is probably one of the specific reasons authorities will not allow us to carry a gun. Were it my call not only would we have direct fire capability in the group we would have the ability to call for in- direct fire as well as air cover for tactical support. But we are not to that point yet so suffice it to say keep your eyes on them and maintain situational awareness of all cagers in your vicinity. Take your eyes off of them for one second and they will put you in the ditch. As far as 18 wheelers are concerned I will sum that up in a very short sentence. While passing an 18 wheeler consider yourself knocked down a few notches on the food chain. An 18 wheeler transporting livestock carries its own set of hazards; hazards which should be avoided at all costs.

Here’s a question for you. I’ll give you a scenario and then ask the question. You are riding in a group organized to pay tribute to a fallen friend. There are, we’ll keep it small, 50 bikes going through town. This tribute ride has been published and people are lining the streets to show their respect. The light is green as the first 15 bikes roll through but then the light turns yellow. Can a Road Captain block traffic to allow the remaining bikes to roll through? Absolutely, a Road Captain can block traffic to allow the remaining riders to roll through. Of course that Road Captain is breaking the law and is putting every rider at risk. The ONLY time traffic can be blocked to allow riders to roll through is if a Police Officer is doing the blocking and even then you need to proceed with extreme caution. Remember that cager with the texting machine that does not see the rider, they are not going to see the Police Officer either.

If a Road Captain (or any rider) blocks traffic and a fellow rider gets hit by a cager it is not the cager’s fault; it is the fault of the individual who blocked traffic and the local judicial system will agree with that assessment. If you are planning a procession through town contact the local authorities and request an escort; chances are some of the local Police Officers are riding in the procession and you may be surprised by the support they are willing to give.

For sure and certain passing anything off to a fellow rider while rolling down the highway is stupid. Yes, I said it... STUPID!!! OK, maybe stupid is too harsh a word; let’s just call it a “momentary loss of intellectual clarity”. Think of it this way. If two are side by side handing something off that means there are two riders who have lost situational awareness. The few seconds it takes to jockey the bikes, attain the needed proximity, and hand off the item is all the time Murphy needs to create a situation for the rider in front that requires braking action. Breaking action from the bike in front plus distance between bikes plus distracted riders equal medical attention.

I suspect about this time some of you are thinking, “Well, that’s just your opinion”. You are correct, all this is my opinion and we all know what they say about opinions. I’ve read a number of articles about group riding, talked to numerous people on the subject, observed riders in a group and the simple fact is riding in a group can be risky business. It’s risky for no other reason than the inevitable interjection of an unknown or unsuspected element; like the texting cager. The objective here should be to eliminate or control as much of the unknown as you can. Opinion and riding style plays a key role in the group dynamic. If opinion and riding style mesh together to create an offensive rider then I would submit that rider will degrade the overall outcome of the riding event. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but certainly at some point that rider is going to go down and if they go down in a group they will take someone down with them. Likewise with stunt riders; stunt riders spend hours perfecting their technique. Some will even modify their ride specifically for stunt riding. Stunt riding is an art form and a good stunt rider can mesmerize a crowd. Would you want a stunt rider in your group? No reason not to allow them to ride with you. But would you want them performing stunts while in your group? Probably not. Passing on the right or swerving between riders to change your position in the group will create additional risks; not to mention irritate fellow riders. Veering into the opposing side of the lane while going around a curve will also irritate the riders behind you.

Now here’s something to ponder. Many of us wear a Banner and/or Shield that represents our club or association with like minded riders. Everything we do while wearing the Banner and Shield will reflect on anyone wearing the same Banner and Shield. Would you want to discredit or disrespect your shield? We wear the Banner and Shield with pride. Your riding style will either bring honor to your Shield or bring dishonor. If I see a rider wearing a Shield and they are riding erratic or with disregard for fellow riders then chances are I will steer clear of anyone wearing that Shield. Some would call that a prejudicial outlook and they may be right but I will not take the chance of adding risk or hazard to me, my passenger or the people I ride with whom I have grown to love and admire.

As mentioned with every rider there is an opinion and style. Virtually everything I have read about group riding mentioned “...ride your own ride”; I see no reason to depart from the norm. If at any time you feel uncomfortable with a group, whether that group be a group of 2 or 50, then you should consider the risk. If you accept the risk and stay with the group what value does it add to your ride? If the risk is such that you select to depart from the group will it increase your chances to ride another day; will it enhance your ride?

Can you maintain situational awareness while riding with this group or would your level of awareness increase riding alone or maybe look for a different group to ride with next time.

Our objective is to ride; more specifically our objective is to ride and maintain positive spacing between the ditches while keeping the shinny side up. With that objective comes specified requirements; some by law, others by choice. Specified requirements are identified at every turn; speed limit signs, road signs specific to direction and desired destination, your gas gage and speedometer. Unspecified requirements are the ones that will ruin the ride. It can be said a good ride is one that finds you back home safe and sound at the end of the day. I believe that is only part of the equation. A good ride is when EVERYONE gets to the final destination safely. Your actions while riding in a group will directly affect the overall objective, whether good or bad. Your actions will determine if everyone gets home safely. What you do as a single rider in a group will either add value to the ride or create risk or disaster. What happens to one happens to all.