When the subject of group riding is brought up in polite company depending on the company I either dive for cover and hide, or watch in amusement when people argue the same point punctuating their hypothesis’s with volume. Most people will agree that a group of Gold Wing’s traveling down the interstate flags waving, mascots riding, and trailers towing is a grand sight. The point of contention is often the way to achieve such a harmonious display of individual freedom without trampling on the rights of another or decreeing that “This is the way it has to be.” What most people refer to as group riding is really a form of team riding, as opposed to the Mongol horde arriving on two wheeled beasts of burden with no discretion or skill apparent. Team riding is a conservative method of moving people and machines down the road as a unit with the goals of cooperation and safety prevalent. The skills necessary to successfully move a dozen machines and two dozen people on the highway are just as important as the skills the drill teams use, and require just about as much practice to become proficient. Anytime you place a half a ton plus of motorcycle and riders in close proximity to each other while traveling in excess of sixty miles per hour you need to set up some ground rules and strategies.
Group riding in GWRRA is team riding. Every rider and co-rider is responsible for the safety of the group. If a group of riders wants to go from place to place and just arrive at the same destination they may be better off just following each other at two to three second intervals rather than in the normal staggered formation of two second following and one second staggered we associate with chapter rides. If riders don’t know each other and they misunderstand intentions, with the group in close proximity the time differential to figure out “OOPS” that was a mistake may be very short. If a group of riders do want to ride as a team and show the true professionalism they are capable of there are some very basic parts to safe and enjoyable team riding that can help with the jitters.
The best group rides are planned well in advance of the actual ride. The route should be planned well ahead of departure time with adequate rest and gas stops along the way. Know your people you will be riding with also. A good way to start out a ride is to have the riders meet before any one gets on the bikes to go anywhere. If the riders discuss where they are going, and when gas-stops will occur, the questioning, and on the road discussions of possible stops will be kept to a minimum. During a rider meeting don’t even attempt to exclude the co-riders they are your best investment in not getting lost because the co-rider can read those fast disappearing road signs the rider may miss. Another topic that can be addressed during the pre-ride meeting is positions for each rider in the formation and group. Some riders prefer to be on the centerline and others the fog-line. For a ride-captain having someone where they prefer to ride will make everyone more comfortable and secure. Discussions of how the bikes will be parked at the destination or any stops in between will allow the riders to have a good visual picture of what is expected of them.
Group composition and discussion of measures to be taken during an emergency should be discussed so everyone knows what to do if something happens. An emergency does not have to even involve the motorcycles to require team work. I once heard about a chapter on a ride in the middle of no where when they happened upon an accident. They were properly prepared with first-aid kits, cellular phones and flares so they were able to warn other drivers and aid the injured. With proper planning you can play the “what if” game and prepare contingencies so no one gets surprised, and every one is prepared.
Realistically there is no way communication can occur if it is one way. Communication requires a response from receiver and sender that there is common understanding. This understanding of common ground starts with a pre-ride briefing on the route, and how to address emergencies. Every group has its special signals such as blinking the brake lights might mean hazard ahead, warning of impending slow traffic, back off don’t tailgate, or you might just be turning your cruise control off. The proper signals and CB channel should be discussed during your pre-ride meeting insuring everyone understands the method to communicate. Once the method is understood insuring it is received is another obstacle. Every direction to the group should be (when possible) acknowledged some how so that people don’t get left behind, go straight when they should have turned, or stop when they should go. Proper communication in a professional and courteous manner can salve the frayed nerves of people working very hard at being safe, and it allows the group to move as a team through traffic easier.
There are all sorts of contingencies that can occur during a ride. Most contingencies will be of the benign variety consisting of rest stops and unscheduled gas stops. With proper communication the whole group can be safely stopped just about any where especially with preplanning. Motorcycles break, road debris destroys tires with out warning and these are the less benign, and can be the exciting form of contingency most riders can do with out. Preparedness and communication are the keys to keeping small occurrences from becoming full blown emergencies. The “We’re lost” does not become an emergency until it becomes “We’re lost and out of gas.” Carrying proper safety gear and checking it regularly can give a rider peace of mind when dealing with problems on the road. A good well thought out plan every one knows is the best piece of safety gear a group can have.
After the ride is over and everyone is at the destination there should be a debrief of the ride. Now the idea is not to castigate your best friend for each little perceived error he made, because, that’s not much fun at all and rather rude. The idea is to allow each rider and the ride-captains to discuss what they would do different. The debrief of riders probably doesn’t have to be formal and it should be as comfortable as possible. The debrief should be informal and positive. Each rider should understand that team riding is a group objective and set out goals to ride as safe as possible being responsible for himself and then the group. Communication at the end of a ride about how maybe shorter interim distances, or roads that are more/less challenging would be enjoyed better help the ride-coordinators deliver better rides. After riding third from the front riders may like to move in the formation and during debriefs is the perfect time to discuss this. Some riders may discover a new technique or have questions about technique like “How did you make that nice sharp U-Turn Chapter Director?” Each group has there own way of riding together, but facilitating positive post ride communication between riders & riders, and riders & chapter staff can only make the experience more enjoyable.
With proper preparation and a pre-ride meeting most obstacles can be met with equanimity and patience. When riders know what to expect from other riders feelings don’t get hurt and people feel and are safer. The task becomes more enjoyable and removes the hassle of trying to figure out what the other rider is doing, thus removing the frustration and fear of group riding. Discussions of the maximum number of bikes in a group (seven but five is better) should not over shadow the need of proper planning, and communication.