Safe Riding

Safety in Numbers - Group Riding Tips

Written by  March 31, 2008

It’s often said there is safety in numbers, and it’s an indisputable fact that a group of motorcycles has much greater visibility than an individual bike. However, there is a different set of risks inherent in group riding that must be addressed in order to maximize safety for every member of the group.

The staff and management of Gail's Harley-Davidson in Grandview, Missouri, are strong believers in motorcycle safety through education. In association with the American Heartland Chapter of the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.), the dealership regularly hosts seminars that are open to the public and cover a broad range of safety topics. On the Saturday before Easter, a group riding seminar was presented in Gail’s H.O.G. Room. The course was lead by former chapter Head Road Captain Bob Rippy and featured a 15-minute video produced by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. A 10-minute excerpt from the video can be viewed on You Tube . For $7, course participants received a 65-page, pocket-sized Group Riding Handbook from Harley-Davidson’s Rider’s Edge Academy of Motorcycling and M.S.F. Also included was a Rider’s Edge Group Riding pin. About 40 riders and one dog were in attendance.

Numerous great tips were provided by the course materials as well as through open discussion among Bob and the course participants. I would like to use this column to share some of this information with Cycle Connections’ readers.

Responsibilities of the Group Organizer/Leader

The organizer alerts group members to the time and place for the start of the ride. Information as to the length of the ride and the distance between stops should be made available in advance. If practical, the leader should conduct a pre-ride of the route so that the group can be informed of hazardous areas and places of special interest along the route. To the extent possible, the group leader should assess the skill level of the group to make sure that riding speed is comfortable and safe for the least experienced riders. Prior to the start of the ride, the leader should conduct a meeting to provide information concerning the route and any known hazards, review safety procedures, and answer questions from the group. If practical, the members of the group should be provided with a map and/or route description. At a minimum, this information should be provided to the sweep rider (the last rider of the group who is responsible for assisting anyone who stops along the route due to mechanical or other difficulty) and a few additional experienced riders who can take the lead of any group segment that becomes separated due to traffic flow. The leader and sweep rider must establish a means of communication such as cell phones or c.b. radios in the event that the sweep rider must stop to provide assistance to someone.

Responsibilities of Group Members

You, the group member, must assess the limits defined by your own riding skill level and the capabilities of your motorcycle. If you exceed either during the ride, you compromise your own safety and that of the other riders in the group. Each rider must assume total responsibility for the safe operation of his or her own motorcycle. You must not assume that you can safely pass or enter an intersection just because the rider in front of you did so. Each rider must prepare mentally and physically for the ride. Motorcycle riding always requires an alert mind. You should never operate a motorcycle when your alertness and judgment are impaired by the effects of alcohol, drugs, high stress levels, or lack of sleep. Even prescription medications and excessive caffeine consumption can negatively affect concentration.

If the trip is long, each rider must assess his or her own physical stamina to endure long stretches of exposure to heat or cold, wind, rain, or other conditions. Each group member should wear appropriate riding gear to provide comfort and protection. Be aware that your motorcycle handles differently when it is burdened with the extra weight of the baggage that a long trip requires. Know the universal hand (and foot) signals . used by motorcyclists to communicate with other members of the pack. During our session, Bob pointed out a few points where the American Heartland H.O.G. Chapter chooses to differ from the recommendations of the video. For example, the video shows the leader pointing back toward the pack before giving certain hand signals. The Chapter considers a two-part signal unnecessarily confusing and omits pointing back. The Chapter’s standard procedure for alerting trailing riders of the presence of a hazard in the roadway is to point with your foot on either side instead of pointing with your hand if the hazard is on the left. That keeps both hands on the handlebars either way.

In addition to rider readiness, motorcycle preparation is an important consideration. The T-CLOCK checklist serves as a handy reminder of the items to inspect prior to a group ride.

T = Tires and wheels
C = Cables and controls
L = Lights
O = Oil and fluids
C = Chain and chassis
K = Kickstand

It’s always a good idea to equip your bike with a toolkit and first aid kit. Now that rider and bike are ready, it’s time to rendezvous with the group and get the ride started. Next month’s column will pick up where this one leaves off and will provide tips on safely conducting a group ride once the wheels are rolling.

Article and photos by Stripe