Guidelines for riding in groups
This page was copied from another web site. It is a very good guideline for group riding and includes illustrations showing most often used hand signals. It is a rather long page but worth reading, safety is everyone's concern and you cannot rely on everyone else when it comes to your personal safety.
Quick & Short List
Standard staggered formation. You should be 1 to 1.5 seconds behind the staggered bike, which would put you 2 to 3 seconds behind the bike directly in front of you. DO NOT pass the staggered bike in front of you!
you like to ride slow or are new to group riding get up front. Those
who like to ride fast should ride in the back.
New riders may think they want to ride in the back, but the
reality is just the opposite, they need to be near the front.
Who Needs Them?
The following guidelines for riding in a group are not
gospel. There are situations in which they don’t apply. Some
organizations may have different terms for these concepts, as well.
These guidelines have been tested for many miles, however, in clubs
whose members ride all brands and models of motorcycles, and they
have sound safety rationales to support them.
If you as a rider find yourself in a group which does not
follow these guidelines, you can usually find someone who will
explain what rules that organization follows, if any, or how they
differ from what you learn here. At most responsible group rides, a
riders’ meeting will be held prior to departure, in order to
clarify what is expected of all the riders who are to participate.
If you find yourself uncomfortable with the riding style of a group
at any time, DROP OUT. Your safe arrival at your destination is far
more important than conforming to rules you don’t like or don’t
understand. People who
ride in a group usually appreciate knowing what they are expected to
do, and what to expect from others who are taking part in a
hazardous sport in close proximity to them. Road Captains and those
who frequently ride lead or drag are particularly urged to become
familiar with these terms and guidelines in order to explain them to
other riders who may show up for a scheduled ride without having any
group riding experience.
Common Group Riding Terms
person who devises group riding rules or guidelines for an organized
group ride. And who
communicates these guidelines to the group, and who generally plans
and lays out group rides. The Road Captain may or may not ride lead
for a particular ride.
person who rides in the most forward position in a group and who
relays information to all other riders in the group via hand
signals. The Lead Bike determines the group’s direction, speed,
choice of lane, and formation. He or she often must make quick
navigation decisions in the face of road hazards, changes in road
surface conditions, poor signage, construction and other obstacles
while maintaining control of his or her bike and communicating to
those following. If there are three groups on a ride, there will be
three Lead Bikes.
Tail Gunner: a
person who rides in the last position in a group. The Tail Gunner must
secure a lane for the rest of the group during lane changes into
faster traffic (move first to block oncoming traffic) and close the
door (move to block passing traffic) when a lane is lost in a
merging lane situation. Usually this is the most experienced rider
in a group, for the Tail Gunner is the rider who stops to assist a
rider who has mechanical trouble, loses control, or drops out of a
ride for some other reason. The Tail Gunner should be prepared to
render aid to a downed or disabled rider in a group. If at all
possible, the Tail Gunner should have a co-rider who can assist with
traffic control if a serious problem arises. If there are three
groups on a ride, there will be three Tail Gunners. The rider in this
position is sometimes called the Drag Bike.
any vehicle that
is not a motorcycle, but particularly an automobile.
anyone driving a cage.
formation in which all bikes in a group follow the Lead Bike in
single file into a parking lot, making a U-turn such that they can
all line up next to each other in the space available with the rear
of their bikes against the curb or edge of the lot, the front tires
formation in which all the motorcyclists in a group ride two
formation of motorcyclists in a group in which the Lead Bike rides
in the left track of a lane, the next bike in the right track(slot),
and the next bike in the left track, and so on. Bikes in a group
generally maintain a minimum interval of two seconds travel time
between bikes in the same track, and one second travel time between
each bike in the group. In a staggered formation, a rider still
commands and may ride in the entire width of his lane as needed.
Group riders may also ride single file or two abreast.
The Tail Gunner may ride in the left or right track depending on the
number of bikes in the group. It is preferable for the Tail Gunner to
ride in the left track, so as to have the same visibility line as
the Lead Bike.
formation in which all the cyclists in a group ride in one track of
any position within a group in the right track of a lane, farthest
from oncoming traffic.
the zone of a
lane in which a rider maintains his position in a group. A lane of
traffic is split into five zones: the left track is the second zone
from the left, the middle of the lane (generally not used) is the
third zone, and the right track is the fourth zone from the left.
Two zones on the sides of a lane serve as margins. A rider may vary
his path of travel from his normal track as is required by a road
hazard or by an incursion into the group’s lane by other vehicles.
When departing from a stop, the rider in the left track
normally pulls out before the rider on the right, returning to a
Group Riding Maneuvers
the Lead Bike for each group sees that all riders are helmeted,
sitting on their bikes, motors running, and ready to depart, he or
she will check for traffic and enter the roadway. Usually the Lead
Bike will not attempt to exit a parking lot unless there is room for
all or most of the group to follow immediately. If the group is
split, the Lead Bike will normally take the slow lane and keep the
speed relatively low until the group can form up in the positions
the riders will keep for the duration of the ride. This may mean
traveling slower than surrounding traffic, to encourage
four-wheelers to pass and allow the group to form up. Occasionally
this cannot be accomplished until the group has made a lane change
or entered a freeway, depending on where the entrance ramp may be.
of the Lead Bike’s signals, a rider is responsible for his or her
own safety at all times. Ride
Your Own Ride.
all members of the group are together, the group will take up a
staggered formation and will stay in it most of the time during the
ride, unless the Lead Bike signals for a change or the need for a
change is obvious. Reasons for changing out of a staggered formation
could be a passing situation or poor road surface (single file), dog
or other animal charging the group (split the group), or coming up
to a traffic signal (two abreast while waiting for a light).
a group of motorcycles is changing lanes, many safety considerations
come into play. Should every rider move into the adjacent lane at
the same time? If not, should the Lead Bike go first, or should the
Tail Gunner move first to “secure the lane”? What if another
vehicle sees a gap in traffic and tries to cut into the group? If
part of the group gets separated from the other riders, should
everyone change relative positions (tracks) so that the new Lead
Bike is now riding in the left track? The recommended procedure for
a group lane change maneuver depends on how the surrounding traffic
is moving at the time. The goal for the bike which moves first is to
create a gap into which the other bikes can fit.
of what other riders in the group are doing, each rider must
to see that the new lane is clear of traffic before entering it.
Lanes as a Group
is virtually no time (absent an emergency) when a group of riders
should all move at the same time into a different lane, in regular
traffic conditions. The wide gap required for a whole group to move
is difficult to find in heavy traffic, and if it exists, it will be
an invitation for other drivers to jump into it, perhaps while the
group might be moving.
on less-congested rural backroads, the riders in a group may spread
out to create larger intervals between motorcycles. This allows a
rider to relax a bit, to enjoy the scenery and the ride. If no
four-wheelers are trying to pass the group, this is fine. However,
the riders should remain close enough to each other to be able to
see hand signals being passed back from the Lead Bike.
It is possible that a rider will also “space out” in
terms of losing his concentration and will forget to practice safe
riding strategies. If a rider is not riding safely enough to avoid
endangering others in the group (because of lack of experience,
medical problems, fatigue, or some other reason), the Lead Bike will
usually discuss the problem privately with that rider at the next
stop. If a problem cannot be solved reasonably in this way, the Lead
Bike has absolute discretion to request that a rider leave the group
and is entitled to expect the group to support this decision. In the
case of a mechanical or minor medical problem, it is not unusual for
another rider to accompany the distressed rider to get help.
Sometimes if the Lead Bike just re-assigns the riders to new
positions within the group, this is enough to bring a spaced-out
motorcyclist back to a state of alert awareness.
Out The Curves
any stretch of curvy road and in any corner, a group may ride in
single-file momentarily, to enable each rider to corner at his own
speed and to have as much room as possible for maneuvering.
This is especially important to riders with little experience
in a group, as they may “wobble” or be nervous about making
turns with another bike to their side or riding close behind them.
This is an accepted variance to staggered formation; usually the
Lead Bike will not signal for single-file at each turn but will
expect the riders to choose their own path of travel.
hand signals are optional in group riding: turn signals on the bikes
ahead will usually advise a rider that a turn is coming up, for
example, and hand signals in a turning situation may actually add to
the danger for some. However, other hand signals are extremely
helpful to the rider who has no other means to communicate.
The most important two hand signals are these: pointing to an
obstacle in the road, warning the rider to avoid it; and pointing to
Pointing to the tank: No
matter what your reason, pointing to the tank on your bike, will be
telling everyone that you need to stop as soon as possible. This
may be because needing fuel; to make a “potty stop”; because you
are having a mechanical or equipment problem; because your co-rider
is uncomfortable; because a medical problem; a crisis of confidence;
or for any other reason at all. Such a signal should be relayed
throughout the Group. If possible, the Lead Bike may orchestrate a
stop by the whole group. If not, the affected bike can count on the
Tail Gunner to stop with him to try to help him.
off -- Palm
of left hand shown to group, pushing motion toward rear of bike
to ride –
“Thumbs up” high enough in air to be visible to Lead Bike
One finger points to the sky on top of the helmet
down -- Left
arm is held out straight, then goes up and down
alert (police or emergency vehicles) --
Hand taps top of helmet several times
up or close ranks in formation --
Left arm makes “windmill” sign
First finger and little finger point to the sky on top of the
helmet, also known as the “Hook ‘em, Horns” sign.
-- Left hand
makes circle in air over head
to Normal Guidelines
often-heard rule, “Ride Your Own Ride,” means that any guideline
for group riding can and should be ignored when it doesn’t make
sense. Determining whether this is the case and acting prudently is
each rider’s individual responsibility at all times.
Under normal circumstances, the Lead Bike will choose a lane,
will determine the speed at which the riders are to travel, will
suggest the formation which makes maneuvers most safe, and will
exceptions to these guidelines occur with a rider who is not yet
experienced with group riding. If a maneuver looks too dangerous or
awkward for the new rider to complete safely, he or she should do
what he needs to do to protect himself and avoid an accident. This
may mean passing up a turn or taking it very slowly, or parking
somewhere not with the group, or going more slowly through a curve
than the riders ahead of him.
rider commands his entire area within a lane and may move to left or
right in it as required.
exception: the Tail Gunner may not travel in the same path as the rest
of the group. If, for example, a two-lane road is narrowing so that
a lane is about to be lost, the Tail Gunner will frequently “close
the door” by moving out of the group’s staggered formation into
the lane which is soon to disappear. This is to prevent a
four-wheeler from trying at the last minute to pass part of the
group and then have to cut into it when the pavement runs out. Even
if the riders near the back of the group observe that the Tail
is no longer in the position where he has been riding most of the
time, they should maintain their own place in the group.
time for a motorcyclist when confronted with an unexpected threat
is, on average, about one second. If the need to react is
anticipated (such as when a turn has been announced), then riders
can usually react within about half a second after the bike ahead
begins to react. When a group of riders change speeds very
gradually, however, it usually takes two or three seconds for a
rider to recognize this and begin to change his speed to maintain
his position in the group.
doesn’t sound like much time, but experienced group riders manage
their risks reasonably well with a minimum one-second interval
between each bike and a minimum two-second interval between bikes
that are traveling in the same track. When the group has more than
six bikes in it, however, gradual changes in speed within the group
can become tricky.
a Lead Bike begins to accelerate, the second bike doesn’t
instantly start to travel at the faster rate. Instead, a gap grows
between them while the second bike is reacting -- and it continues
to grow until the second bike is fully up to the increased, stable
speed of the Lead Bike. Clearly, once the speeds are the same, the
gap will remain the same size. However, since most groups prefer to
keep a one-second minimum interval between bikes (two seconds
between bikes in the same track), the new gap caused by the Lead
Bike’s acceleration may be larger than is desired. When this
occurs, the second bike must go faster than the first one for a
brief time in order to “catch up.”
we assume that the Lead Bike speeds up from 60 to 70 mph over a
period of two seconds, the second bike will have to ride at 75
mph for two seconds (after his reaction time passes) in order to
close the gap. Then he will take another one second to decelerate
back to 70 mph to create a gap of the proper size. If there were
only two bikes in the group, this example is easy to follow. But
when the group is larger, and the bikes involved are riding further
back in the pack, the “rubber band” effect can be especially
dangerous to all bikes from the middle of the group to the Tail
example, the third bike in the group has this problem: About two
seconds after the second bike has begun to accelerate, the third
bike responds. Now, however, the second bike is moving at 75 mph
rather than at 70 mph like the Lead Bike. The third bike must use
even more effort to catch up to the second bike than the second bike
did to match his speed to the Lead Bike’s new speed, if the gap is
to stay relatively constant. He will have to move at 75 mph for four
seconds, not two, to catch up. The fourth bike will have to
accelerate to 80 mph!
a group of only six motorcycles, the last one will find the gap
between himself and the fifth bike has grown to 143 feet before it
begins to close, once he starts to speed up, given these average
reaction times. And it will be at least 11 seconds after the Lead
Bike first began to accelerate before the sixth bike does so.
imagine what happens in the group if, while this is taking place,
the Lead Bike must apply his brakes! This rubber-band effect becomes
extremely important if the Lead Bike happens to make an abrupt and
major change of speed at certain critical moments, such as when
approaching a sharp turn or a tricky curve.
Those who ride as Lead Bike, or near the lead bike for their
group should be aware of the importance of avoiding sudden changes
in speed if at all possible, so as to reduce the risks to those
rubber-band effect can be reduced by following these guidelines:
Bike changes speed more gradually
All riders watch farther ahead than just the bike immediately
in front of them in order to notice and to react quicker to changes
All riders restrain the impulse to “crank it up” in order
to quickly re-establish normal spacing.
Lead Bike does not increase speed within 15 seconds of
entering a curve which may require braking or some slowing down to
maneuver it safely.
All riders abandon the one-second spacing rule when riding twisties.
Credit: Barry Sonius