Riding Safely in a Group

By John M. Stafford (Eric Essen and Chris Hyatt-Hyder also contributed to this article)

"You thought the rides were organized? I must have gone on the different ride where nobody blocked traffic and 200 scooters had to pull over onto a busy street to wait for all the groups that were behind."

For some people a scooter ride means daily solo rides to work, never interacting with other riders. But for the vast majority of people this is no fun. A ride means RIDE. Moving down the street alongside other scooters, not waiting for stragglers, not standing around watching breakdowns get fixed, and most certainly not getting into accidents with cars and other riders. A successful group ride requires preparation on the part of the ride organizers and common sense on the part of the participants.

Organizing the ride

In an ideal world every time a group of scooters travels down the street, the cross streets would be closed off and the police would provide an escort. When the annual Rolling Thunder ride brings a parade of 100,000 motorcycles and scooters to the National Mall every Memorial Day that is just what happens. For three hours 10 miles of road in downtown Washington, D.C. are closed down by the police. And in a parade the standard rules about helmets, registration, and insurance are thrown out the window.

Getting police cooperation for a ride that covers a long distance, crosses jurisdictional boundaries, or for a ride with a relatively small number of bikes is probably too much hassle. And the police are liable to dictate your route to you as well.

So how do you successfully organize a ride?

Planning. While it is helpful that everyone on a ride know (and have a map of) the entire route, it is more important that a few key people know the route well. In a ride of a dozen or fewer bikes, experienced riders should be at the front and tail end of the group. The ride leader can then watch for presence of the tailender to ensure that group is together. Also if the group does become separated the tailender can then become the leader of the second, smaller group.

In larger rides, other experienced riders must be recruited as traffic blockers. These riders will block each intersection to ensure that the entire ride makes it safely through each intersection regardless of traffic lights and stop signs. Technically blocking traffic is illegal (and is dangerous for those blocking traffic), but it is far better option than having cars sitting in the middle of a pack of bikes.

The ride leader must be familiar enough with the route to be able to anticipate the traffic signals. If it is at all possible (especially in these days of red light cameras) to avoid having anyone in the group violate a traffic law then do so, even if that means stopping at a green light.

When the group makes a turn, the group should stop to ensure that all riders make the turn. The ride leader must be aware when the group is becoming too stretched out and come up with logical stopping points to allow the group to coalesce again. The group is not safe when it becomes separated..

Safety first

The Prime Directive of any ride is the safety of all riders. A ride is not successful if all riders don't get home safely, health intact.

Thus don't drive drunk. It is okay to have a beer with lunch, but it is also okay (and is probably preferred) to have a soft drink instead. Don't show up for a ride drunk or high or tired. We all want each ride to be as large as possible, but if you're not capable of riding safely, stay home.

Bring the proper safety equipment. This means a full-face helmet, gloves, jacket, and jeans. That half-shell helmet may look fashionable, but as someone who has been in an accident that landed him on the face shield of his helmet, I can say from experience that a full face helmet saved my life.

When the group is moving, it is imperative that you maintain a safe following distance. This means riding in a staggered formation, each bike two seconds behind the one in front of it. Don't pair up next to another bike (especially the ride leader), if you do you neither you nor the bike next to you will have an "out" to avoid road hazards and you may miss an upcoming turn.

Allow other riders to pass you. While it is best if everyone stays in the same position consistently throughout the ride, there will be occasions where the traffic blockers need to return to the front of the pack, or where fast riders with good tires want speed through a curve.

I have led rides up on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mountains of Virginia, on this beautiful stretch road with no traffic lights or stop signs, I have instructed each rider to ride as fast as their skills allow. This puts the faster riders in the front and the slower bikes in the rear. Each bike then meets up a specified overlook so the group can coalesce at regular intervals.

In a city ride with lots of traffic signals, it is better to put the slower riders up front so the experienced riders can keep an eye on them. The ride leader must do his best to keep the ride together, but the other riders must also keep up. There is nothing more irritating than riding with a group of fast bikes, maintaining the speed limit, while pulling away from the pack. A pack that is stretched-out encourages cars to insert themselves between bikes. Not only does a car in the pack limit the leader's vision of the group, it also dramatically increases the chances someone will get hit.

If, god forbid, a scooter does go down, the entire ride should immediately stop, and tend to the injured rider(s). Some riders may need to give first aid, someone may need to call for help, and the other will need to signal approaching vehicles of the accident.
You're an adult, act like one

If you are capable of doing wheelies or other stunts, great. Just don't do them in the middle of a group of bikes. Showing off is child's behavior and is more likely to injure your fellow riders than impress them.

Prepare for the ride before the ride. The time to adjust your cables, your tire pressure, and ensure your brakes work is before you get to the ride. It is not fair to any other rider to have to sit around and wait for you to fix stuff. Don't be publicly embarrassed by being sent away from a ride because your scooter has safety issues.

Carry tools and spares with you. We understand that plugs foul, tires flatten, and cables break. But it is not up to other rides to rescue you. Make sure you have the necessary wrenches, screwdrivers, spark plugs, and usable spares to fix any problem.

Gas up and carry oil (with a mixing cup if necessary) before you get to the meeting place.. On a small ride it is quite possible to make that first stop at a gas station. But consider the time it would take for the 275+ scooters that attend Kings Classic to gas up at one station at one time. A gas stop would not be fair to any rider.

If you have a scooter that is a pain to start, don't be the last one to start your bike. When everyone else dons their helmets, you should already be kicking. Again it's not fair for everyone to have to wait around for you.

The Darwinian model of group rides

During a small ride, if a scooter breaks down, all riders should stop while the situation is assessed. If the problem is a simple one and can be fixed in less than 10 minutes, then by all means do the repair.

If the ride leader feels compelled to fix a difficult problem, he should ensure that there is a back-up ride leader to keep the ride moving. Nobody wants to leave a friend behind, however if the problem can't fixed on the side of the road or is recurring then the owner of the faulty bike needs to be prepared to sit and wait. Your friends want to ride with you, but you can't ride when you're all standing on the side of the road.

Larger rides with chase trucks should allow the chase truck to handle the breakdowns. The whole point of the chase truck is to prevent the bulk of the riders from being affected by a breakdown.

On rides the size of Kings Classic or Rolling Thunder, you're own your own. Rides of this size are just too important to be inconvenienced by a breakdown.

If you can't keep your bike running properly, tough luck. Be realistic about how reliable your scooter is, if it is problematic, if cannot make the entire ride without a breakdown, then stay home. You don't want your problems to ruin everyone else's day do you?

These Riding Tips are from Michael Moore on the MV Forum:

I thought I'd pass along some tips from the Ducati board I moderate - they're applicable to scooter riding too!:

If a deer runs in front of you, slow down as much as possible. There are probably one or two of his friends right behind him.

If you're trying to decide if it's time to put on the rainsuit, see if the cars coming your way have their wipers on. People leave on wipers long after they're not needed.

If you see debris in the road, increase the distance between you and the car in front, and watch for more. The morons of the world who don't secure the loads on their trucks will often deposit several "presents" over the course of a few miles, so stay alert! Note that this doesn't hold true for mattresses. The brain-dead fools who tie these to the roof of their car with twine usually only have one to kill you with.

If you're behind a truck that looks like it has a bunch of loose stuff blowing about, get as far away as you can. Don't wait for that trashcan to blow out of the truck bed.

The worst time to lanesplit is when traffic is just beginning to slow. This is when everyone abruptly decides the lane *next* to them is going to be the one that doesn't slow down. Wait until the realization that they're trapped rats fully sinks in before you go between them.

If there's a breakdown on the highway, get at least two lanes over. There will always be someone who doesn't see the stopped car, comes abruptly to a halt, then pulls out at three miles per hour into the next lane, where traffic is moving at full speed.

Don't just avoid the common blind spot on either rear quarter of a car/truck - try to avoid staying beside the driver as well. Many of them don't have or use peripheal vision. I always try to smoothly pull ahead where I'm more likely to be seen.

Check your brake light with front and rear brakes before every ride.

Test your horn before riding.

Cover your horn, clutch and brake any time another vehicle is in a position to turn in front of you.

Even if you never plan to, try riding in the rain sometime to gain experience. The key is just be totally smooth with every input and never put yourself in a position to have to trail brake into a turn. If you ever get a rain shower at a track day, don't sit it out. You'll be amazed at the experience of riding a wet track.

If something sounds funny or feels different, stop and check the bike over.

When stopping quickly in traffic, go to the edge of your lane instead of being in the center of it (if you're in the far left lane, go to the far right of your lane and vice-versa). most people don't know how to properly drive (in the us), but for the 35% that do, it'll give them an extra bit of space not to crush you. this saved my life on 695 in balitmore.

When you think the guy ahead of you is drunk, sometimes it's best to just pull over and call the police. drunk drivers suck and they can't be trusted in front of you, but they are scarier behind you. getting home is more important than trying to get home quickly.

When stopped at a stop light with no-one behind you, check your mirrors often. As the first car comes up to the light to stop, be sure to grab a brake a few times to flash your taillight.

When approaching an intersection with the potential for a left turning vehicle (in the us, anyways) to turn in front of you, not only cover the clutch, brake, and horn.....but it doesn't hurt to jostle the handlebars a bit side to side to sort of 'flash' the headlight to the person driving.

When approaching an intersection with the potential for a left turning vehicle to turn in front of you (like above), see if there are cages around you whom you can 'buddy-up' with through the intersection by riding next to them. Cagers are MUCH more likely to see other cages, and therefore are less likely to turn in front of you.

Always give yourself an "out." If I'm riding at 80 mph I'm looking for the safest spot to go in case someone does something stupid. If I'm coming to a stop, I always leave room and have a good line on an escape in case the cage behind me doesn't decide to stop.

Remember, cars that leak oil do it at intersections. Nothing worse (or more embarrassing) than putting your foot down on an oil slick...

One of the most important things to remember... LOOK WHERE YOU WANT TO GO, AND YOU'LL GO THERE!! If you get mid turn and fix your eyes on a guard rail, tree, or ditch, you'll more than likely meet up with that object. Look through the turn.

Keep an eye on the front wheel of a car you're concerned about. Even if its just with peripheral vision, I've found that I can tell if/when the car is going to move earlier that way.

Watch out for road crack filler (black sticky tar sometimes known as road snakes or tar slurry I believe). In the summer heat, the tar softens to the point where its very slippery, and its almost like riding on banana peels. Its fine if you are riding in a straight line, but if you happen to lean a turn over this stuff, you will feel the bike slide out from under you. Scan the road ahead and plan a line around this stuff if at all possible.

Use other road users reactions as an early warning system. Following a car round a blind bend. He can see the exit you can't. Do his stop lights come on?

Leaves on the road are slippery. Wet leaves on the road are like ice.

Be very, very careful when lanesplitting up to the front of a light if there are pedestrians around. A lot of folks will decide that it's simply faster to run between the stopped cars than it is to go over to a nearby crosswalk. So be extra cautious when you're splitting past any vehicle you can't see over.