I've been a motorcyclist for many years now, belonging to several bike clubs (Vulcan Riders and Owners Association/Bikers for Christ). During that time, I've enjoyed the camaraderie and excitement of group riding, whether it's six bikes or 160. I've also been involved in the planning of several group rides, including several charity rides that attract bikers from outlying communities. The primary consideration is always the safety of the riders, and there's a lot you can do to lower the odds of an accident. There are also many logistical issues that must be ironed out to ensure the ride goes smoothly and provides the most enjoyment for each biker and rider. Here are a few tips for planning your next group motorcycle-riding event.
- The route. The first consideration should be the route you plan to ride. The most enjoyable routes include twisty country roads (not dirt), but a mixture of country roads and single-lane highways is fine. Multi-lane freeways and turnpikes should be avoided, if possible. Keep in mind that many bikes will have both drivers and passengers, so keep the scenery in mind to provide the passengers with something to look at. Once you've mapped out a route that is long enough (it generally takes a large group about an hour to complete 25-30 miles of back roads) and within your time constraints, grab some biker buddies and ride the route. This will uncover any bad roads or construction and changes can be made on the fly. Also, remember to ride the route slowly to allow for the extra time it will take for a large group of motorcycles. Look for places about every hour along the route to enjoy views, grab a bite to eat, and empty the kidneys.
- The meeting place. The meeting place must first have enough space to accommodate the number of motorcycles you are expecting for the ride. We sometimes meet for breakfast, but this requires a large parking area. Churches and department stores with large parking lots make good places. Remember that you may need permission from the owners.
- Getting the word out. Once you have a route and a meeting place, the next thing you need for a group motorcycle ride is the group. You can advertise your ride in several ways. Traditional media, such as radio and newspapers, work for larger events, but it also can be costly unless you're riding for a charity and can get them to advertise for free. Putting posters around the area at restaurants, gas stations, motorcycle dealerships, and other places where bikers can be found will net some participants. Additionally, there is e-mail. Most local motorcycle clubs have their own websites, so you can easily let large biker groups know about your event by sending the information to these sites.
- The meeting. As bikers gather, have someone to direct them to the parking area. About 15 minutes before the start time, gather all the bikers together for a ride briefing. Here, you should discuss safety, such as the riding formation (see below), emergency procedures, expected areas of concern along the route, and hand signals. We incorporate several hand signals into our rides. For example, if you need gas, you pat you head and point to the gas tank. Patting the head alone means you just want to stop at the next available facilities. It's also a good idea to ask if this is anyone's first time riding in a group. If you have first-time riders, you may wish to place them near the back of the pack until they get used to group riding.
- The stops. Stopping every hour makes good sense. Stopping at gas stations with restrooms and convenience stores makes even more sense. These stops enable everyone to gas up, grab a drink or snack, visit the restrooms, and spend some time talking and getting to know each other better. Plan on about 30 minutes per stop, unless it's just a quick stop for taking in some scenery or a photo opportunity.
- The formation. The primary formation for group motorcycle rides should be staggered formation. Basically, the lane is split in half with every other biker on the left and then the right. This should be explained in great detail during the pre-ride briefing. If the next bike in front of you is directly in front of you, you're riding on the wrong side. Staggered formation enables more reaction time in the event of a biker losing control. You are always responsible to avoid the bike in front of you, and you should always have enough space between you and that bike to easily avoid a problem. Also, your front wheel should never go beyond the rear wheel of the biker riding the opposite side in front of you. Maintaining a safe distance is critical for safety.
The ride should be formed with the leader riding up front on the inside of the lane. Staggered behind the leader, there should be several "blockers" that are experienced group riders and know how to block at intersections (see more below). Following the blockers are the remainder of the riders with the most inexperienced riders toward the back of the pack. Bringing up the rear, you should have one or more sweepers. The sweeper's job is to ensure everyone keeps up with the main body. If a bike drops out, the sweeper drops out with them to assist, and a new sweeper takes over. The sweeper should have a radio or cell phone to contact the leader to pass on information. Also, the sweeper must know the route so he can rejoin the pack at some point in the ride.
- The intersections. The final important consideration is getting large groups of motorcycles through intersections and lights to keep the group together. With large rides of 60+ bikes, it can be a good idea to contact law enforcement agencies in the towns to ask for assistance in getting through major intersections. Otherwise, blockers are typically used to hold back traffic while the group proceeds through an intersection. As the leader approaches the intersection, he signals his blockers to positions where they can hold cars while the group moves through. Always remember that despite blockers being in place, not all car drivers will be accommodating. If cars refuse to yield, stop the group and let the cars pass. The group can reassemble at some point up the road. Also, law enforcement may not side with a biker who tries to hold up cars that have the green light.
These are a few considerations for group motorcycle riding. I'm sure I've only touched on the basics. The key is to make the ride as safe as possible for all the riders. If that is kept in mind during the planning, the ride can be both a success and a great time for all the participants.