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When I ride, my preference is to ride alone.

No, I’m not the strong silent type who was such a quiet neighbour and then turns out to be a psycho killer; I just prefer my own company. Really.

Having said that, I have also gone on group rides. Some I liked (with other educated riders); others I didn’t (with uneducated bone-heads who passed within the group and disregarded the rules of elegance). It’s not something I do everyday.

Just because you don’t do something every day doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know how to do it. And group riding is one of those somethings: Understanding the expectations will enhance the experience.

There are essentially three places one can ride in a group: The beginning, the middle and the end. Each has a certain set of expected behaviours.

At the front, we have the road captain. She or he is expected to know the route and the signals for communicating back to the group. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has an excellent flyer at www.msf-usa.org.

The road captain needs to be a strong, confident rider who is very familiar with lane dominance. The unsophisticated rider often errs in thinking that the left portion of a lane is always dominant. The sophisticated rider understands that lane dominance is how you ride to dominate the entire lane, not where you mechanically ride within it.

This experienced leader sets the example, riding at a slightly slower speed and choosing lane position in curves to ensure that no metallic or fleshy bits hang over the centre line. Many novice riders make the mistake of aligning their wheels with those of a car, but really, they should be aligning their bodies with those of the car driver and passenger.

A good road captain reviews the timing, and a good middle crew keeps the group together by sticking to strict formation timing and positioning.

You will always position yourself based on the person you are staggered behind. If they ride in the right lane position, you ride left; if they ride left, you go right. If the group falls out of formation, it’s not your job to correct it. Your own safety is maximized if you maintain your staggered formation.

When you ride as a group, you ride in close proximity. This increases your safety. As you spread out, other vehicles might think you are giving them permission to cut into the group. Your front tire should be a two-second count away from the motorcycle riding immediately ahead of you in your lane position, and only a one-second count away from the person riding in the other, staggered lane position.

Do not succumb to group-think. If the riders ahead of you move off from a stop, make sure it is safe for you to go before you proceed.

If you think you’re better positioned in the centre lane for these twisty winding roads, drop back a second and reposition yourself. And do a shoulder check before changing your position within your group.

In the middle of the pack is where the novice riders should be placed. In case of mechanical failure or wavering uncertainty, novice riders can always drop out and know that a more experienced rider behind them will come to their assistance.

Lastly, and most importantly, is the tail gunner. This person is the ultimate resource for anyone in the middle who needs to drop back or who has mechanical problems. Also, this person is responsible for knowing the route, as well as the travelling complexities.

For instance, when merging onto a highway (or otherwise changing lanes), it’s the tail gunner’s job to secure the lane for the riders ahead of her by moving into the new lane as soon as the Road Captain indicates a change. The tail gunner is the group’s safety net. As such, at least in my mind, they are most important person.

Group riding can be fun, it can enhance your personal safety in case of mechanical failure, and it definitely increases your visibility. It’s a great way to start with bigger trips, and even if you don’t give the biker’s wave, it’s a fabulous way to build a sense of community.

– Britt Santowski

Britt Santowski is a former chief instructor with the Vancouver Island Safety Council, where she trained instructors and taught riders for almost a decade. Britt is also a keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, speaker, consultant and author.

britt[at]imallowed[dot]com

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