Every time a group of Gold Wing riders get together for a dinner ride, poker run, or just to ride they use the techniques of group-riding. Group riding is a description of a particular riding activity that allows us to socialize and travel as a single complex unit. Many riders have a significant amount of time riding in groups and have discovered the special needs and tasks required to operate a Gold Wing with the least amount of risk in a group situation. Some riders still have some trepidation at the idea of riding a thousand pounds of motorcycle in close proximity to others. There are no specific laws of the universe to tell us about group-riding, so we all must do what we can to do it right. Every group does things a little different then another and this is fine, but each person should know how that group does things specifically. All activities involving a motorcycle have some risk, and group-riding also includes specific hazards that a rider needs to be aware of at all times. There are several parts to group riding and here we are going to discuss the generalities of group dynamics.
Each group should be made up of a lead-bike and a last-bike with an odd number of individuals in-between. The number of individuals should always be kept an odd number (3, 5, 7) to keep the group compact and the lead-bike and last-bike in the same lane path (more on that in a minute). A traffic lane has three significant areas of interest; the left third, the center, and the right third. The standard formation of motorcycles should have the leader in the left third with bikes alternating all the way to the back of the formation to the last-bike in the left third. Formations should be kept as small as possible to limit the interference to other road users. The two-second following, one-second staggered formation will provide a compact unit approach to organizing the motorcycles. This particular formation style with five riders will take up over a hundred yards of space on the free-way at sixty miles per hour. Keeping the group small impacts traffic less, and allows the overly aggressive driver an “easily seen out” at the ends of the formation rather than the through the center.
There are special cases where the riders will have to work as a team to move the formation through traffic. The first problem that we confront when working as a group is passing other traffic on two-way traffic roads. As we follow the slow moving vehicle down the road the leader of the formation needs to make a few decisions on when to pass and how. The first bike should already be in position to see on-coming traffic and able to decide when its safe to pass. After the first bike has made its pass that rider should continue on leaving an appropriate space for the rest of the group to enter. I could never figure out what it is about drivers, but at about the time the second bike gets ready to pass the driver of the large-slow-moving vehicle will suddenly speed up. You could consider this to be one of those unwritten rules of traffic behavior, and you can be sure that as each successive bike passes the “passed” motorist will drive significantly faster each time. This is the reason that the bikes passing should leave a large enough gap for every body to fit into, and maintain a higher speed then the passed vehicle.
Passing other vehicles in a group will occur just as often as it does when alone. You will always have the vehicles you don’t want to be behind. Examples such as the garbage truck, tarpaulin loosing pick-up, teen-age-filled beer can tossing car, and the ever passable slow-moving cattle truck fill the mind. As a group on the free-way you may have to change lanes to exit, avoid road-construction, or just get out of the way of something bigger. The best way to move a group from one lane to another is as a group and failing that beginning from rear to front. Remember the lead-bike and last-bike are in the same area of the lane. The lead bike should signal a lane change letting the last-bike make the change securing the lane. Everybody ALWAYS makes head-checks prior to changing lanes EVERY TIME! A proper head-check is the only way a rider can be sure that a lane is clear of traffic. The lead bike makes the move to the new lane and everyone follows moving the entire group one lane in the preferred direction. When traffic becomes heavy, or encroaching vehicles are constantly filling the new lane the last-bike can still move to the new lane and the formation fills in again moving from rear to front as the other vehicle passes. Be very careful on multi-lane interstates that other traffic from adjacent lanes is not moving into that same space your headed for.
One of the strongest opinions I will ever utter is the absolute belief that group riding in any type of staggered formation in twisty (multiple unknown radius turns), or narrow winding roads is not safe. The group as a whole should be expanded to a full two-second following distance or more ,and a single file arrangement. Each rider is always in charge of how a corner should be accomplished, and we do a disservice to riders by forcing them to stay in a particular lane path for the formation. Attempting to ride narrow mountain roads using only a third of a lane to position for corners is not fun, or in keeping with managing risk to our best ability. Other areas leaders of groups should consider expanding the group to single-file is construction zones, or areas where the road is extremely rough. All of the activities we enjoy on our Gold Wings should be fun, so try not to make group riding a chore.
When I first started riding I considered cities to be obstacles with open wonderful highway on the other side of them. I have since learned that cities contain some of the best things in motorcycling. I have enjoyed zoos, theaters, museums, and restaurants in some of the largest cities. Groups traveling together will find some of the most difficult tasks of group-riding in cities. Keeping the group together, and using the best risk management techniques will keep everyone busy. To lessen the anxiety of group riding have a plan to either wait for a rider at the next parking lot if separated at a traffic signal, or to meet on the other side of the town. As with any plan make sure every one knows what to do and understands it. When you arrive at your destination be it your favorite park, mall, or restaurant the terrible time (for Area Directors) occurs. I have heard the parking of motorcycles many things, but my favorite is “Parking Lot Maneuvers”. PLM’s occur when no one knows what any one else is doing. The lead-bike is lost, the last-bike can’t be found and parking is at a premium. How can riders accomplish the goal of successfully parking their bikes? The best advice to be offered is for everyone to enter the parking area together as a cohesive group and then WAIT while the lead-bike searches out an appropriate parking area then signals for the rest to follow. Other options for finding parking is to designate the final destination, and then allow everyone to find parking for themselves. Both techniques cure the endless circling in the parking lot while the leader tries to find a place to land his group.
There has been no discussion for the use of CB’s, hand-signals, specific methods of moving through traffic, or rules. As all organizations are different; each chapter is different; each group will be different. Each individual group must get together and discuss exactly how the different situations will be handled. Play the “what if” game while socializing trying to construct scenarios that need to be solved. Talk to each other about how the ride habits of the group could be changed. Discuss the specific tasks required to group-ride, become familiar with the techniques used by your team-mates, and practice.