Safe Riding

Safety in Numbers-Group Riding Part 2

Written by  April 30, 2008

In last month’s Cycle Connections Safe Riding column, I shared some group riding tips that were presented at a seminar I attended at Gail's Harley-Davidson in Grandview, Missouri. The session was presented 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 . The focus of last month’s column was pre-ride preparations. This month, we’ll cover a few ideas to make your ride safer as the group hits the road.

Riding Formation

Rather than riding side by side, it is much safer to ride in a staggered formation with a minimum interval of two seconds between each bike and the one directly ahead. This maximizes the amount of maneuvering space and decision-making time available to each rider in the group. Following distance should be increased during inclement weather, at night, and in areas where hills and curves make the ride a bit more challenging. Under certain circumstances, a single file formation is preferable. When approaching a toll both or riding through an area where the road narrows due to construction, for example, the ride leader will signal for the group to shift to single file. Each rider signals, and the group forms a single line, remaining in that formation until the leader signals for the stagger to resume. Very large groups should be broken into sub-groups with some space between in order to avoid impeding traffic.


Intersections are the areas of highest risk for motorcyclists whether they are riding alone or in a group. When approaching an intersection, it is important to remember that each rider makes an individual decision as to the safety of proceeding. At a red light stop it is appropriate to assume a side-by-side formation until the light changes, at which time the group returns to the staggered formation. This practice saves space while waiting and allows the group to move through the intersection more quickly when the light changes. Blocking traffic while a group passes through an intersection should be done by escorting law enforcement officers only. Unauthorized blocking of traffic is dangerous and may be illegal.

Interstate Highways

A tight, staggered formation is usually appropriate for entering or exiting an interstate highway. At times it may be necessary to increase spacing to allow other motorists to cut through the formation. Courtesy is important.


On a freeway or interstate, passing is relatively easy. The lead rider should time the lane change so that as many motorcycles as possible can pass as a unit. Even if the group becomes segmented in traffic, it is relatively easy to re-form when space is available. On two-lane highways, passing requires increased caution. No rider should pass in an area where passing is prohibited according to signs and highway markings. In order to pass, each member of the group should signal, establish position in the left-hand portion of the lane, make sure traffic is clear, complete the pass, resume position in the stagger, and maintain sufficient speed to make room for the following motorcycles.

Leaving the Group

A rider who plans to drop out should notify the lead and sweep riders of his or her intentions. Risk involved in separating from the group is minimized by riding near the rear of the pack. Opinions vary as to whether or not the group should “re-stack” to eliminate the gap created by a departing motorcycle. If the gap is to be filled, each rider, in turn, should signal and carefully switch to the other line. The gap should never be eliminated by moving forward past the rider in the other line to the left or right. My opinion is that the space should remain vacant until the group comes to a stop. This eliminates the collision risk inherent in switching lines.

Becoming Separated from the Group

A rider or riders who are separated from the group should not exceed posted speed limits in an attempt to catch up. If plans have been adequately communicated, riders have information as to the next stop. It is a good idea for each rider to have a “buddy” in the group who can notify the leader if he or she is missing at a stop along the route.

Roadside Emergencies

In any group, there is a possibility that one or more riders may be involved in a crash or be forced to stop due to mechanical or other difficulties. The text indicates that all of the following riders should stop, but that is not the practice that is observed by most H.O.G. groups. The entire group should proceed to a place where it is safe for all to stop off the roadway, with the exception of the sweep rider and anyone in the group who is qualified to assist in a medical emergency if one exists. The driver of the chase vehicle, if there is one, should also stop if it is safe to do so.


If there is a hazard in or near the road, the group leader should signal for the group to slow down. If it is appropriate to form a single line to get past the hazard, the leader gives the appropriate signal, and each rider signals and moves into single-file formation until the leader signals the return to stagger. Obstructions or slick spots are pointed out to following riders using the left or right foot as appropriate. This allows riders to keep both hands on the handlebars.


The leader should select a parking area that permits riders to pull through, if possible. Parking head-in or downhill should be avoided.


During the ride, the leader should attempt to keep everyone informed as to any changes in plan that was presented during the meeting at the beginning of the ride. It is often advantageous for riders of motorcycles equipped with citizens band radios to monitor a common frequency. Members of the group should exchange emergency contact phone numbers, just in case.


Group riding is a great way to share the joy of motorcycling with friends or to meet new riding companions. Every member of the group shares the responsibility for keeping everyone as safe as possible. As a participant in a group ride, you are responsible for adequately preparing yourself and your motorcycle, riding in a cautious and predictable manner, following established procedures, and remaining alert at all times.

I hope you will find these ideas helpful for future rides. Have fun!

Article and photos by Stripe