|I hear a lot of pros and cons for riding in group and I have participated and led more than a few group rides. Only you can decide whether you want the experience or not, but you should determine that for yourself not by listening to others. There are great social aspects of riding in a group but there can be issues. I have seen all sorts of methods used with varying degrees of success, failure, disquietude and happiness. The one that I use I call 'drop and sweep' and I learned it from the group rides that I participated in when riding in the UK. I do not take credit for it at all and I believe the Pan Clan (a group of European ST riders) are the originators. I have made one change to the system - I allow riders to pass. You always have some folks that want to run hotter than others so this solves this problem. And if a rider keeps working his way to the front, I just make a couple of extra turns, and he goes back to the back! It is the only group riding system that I have found that compensates for the wide range of riding skills, traffic, egos, terrain, routing, and about anything else you want to throw into the mix. I've used it on short rides in one area and multi-day rides over a wide area. I have used it with as few a five riders and as many as thirty riders. I have personally found it to be the safest method for conducting a group ride and provides the maximum satisfaction for all riders. If you find yourself in the position of leading a group, I would encourage you to try it and see how it works for you. If you have any questions about it that I did not cover below, just e-mail me at UnclePhilus@hotmail.com and I'll try to be helpful.
The Drop And Sweep
This is pretty much the 'standard' talk that I give before we ride -
1. If your ego is so fragile that you cannot allow someone to pass you, please go ride somewhere else.
2. It is your responsibility to pay attention to your surroundings so that you do not miss a 'marker'.
3. If you will cut the wire that runs from your ego down to your throttle hand, you will improve your chances of you and your bike staying upright.
4. No one controls your throttle but you. In most motorcycle crashes, it is rider error plain and simple.
5. Do not ride past what you can see - cow piles and gravel are slick, deer are big, and farmers do stop their tractors in the middle of the road just over the hill or just around the bend.
6. Familiarize yourself with the types of bikes on the ride so that you do not mistake a noninvolved rider checking his map as a bread crumb.
7. The leader and the tailgunner never change. It is helpful if they wear reflective vests so they can be easily distinguished.
8. When the leader comes to a 'decision point' - a turn, an intersection that might confuse a rider, etc., he makes a signal to the rider directly behind him to 'mark'. I tell them - 'I will shake my finger like I'm trying to shake a bugger off - this means you are to mark'. They usually remember that image! This also assumes if no one is behind you, you have to wait until someone catches up.
9. The 'marker' pulls over in a safe place that will be obvious to anyone approaching this decision point which way to go. Sometimes it is on the side of the road, could be on the sidewalk, parking lot, etc. They may sit there and point, or leave their turn signal on if need be. The key is that they are safe first, visible to an approaching rider, and the way to go is obvious. I usually try to point to where I think a good place would be. But a warning - if the 'marker' pulls too far around the corner, he can be missed if riders are not paying attention.
10. The 'marker' stays in position until the tailgunner comes up, then the 'marker' pulls out in front of the tailgunner, who is protecting the 'marker' from getting run over. If I'm the tailgunner, I'll usually flash lights or beep my horn for good measure.
11. DO NOT ABANDON YOUR
POST AS A MARKER OR I WILL PERSONALLY HUNT YOU DOWN AND SHOOT YOU!
If you do, you have just messed over everyone behind you.
12. When you are 'marking', take the time to pick your nose, straighten up your laundry, smoke a cigarette, read a book, but just be ready cause the tailgunner will be there before you know it!
13. You may pass another rider, but do not pass stupidly or scare the rider that you are passing. If you do and I hear about and it is true, I will ask you to go ride somewhere else. When you want to pass, make sure the rider in front of you knows that you are there. Use your turn signals to indicate your intention and beep your horn (unless you have one that wakes the dead). If in doubt if the rider knows you are back there hold up until he/she does.
14. If you did not come with a buddy, pick out one that you can at least share your full name with. That way if there is a problem, someone at least will know your name.
15. Somewhere on you and/or your bike, you should have your emergency contact information - things like who to call, blood type, etc. This can be critical if there is a problem.
This accomplishes several things on several levels -
1. Nobody has to pay attention or fuss with their GPS - except maybe the leader.
2. Routes do not have to be published and distributed ahead of time. The riders just ride on the road they are on until they come to a 'marker' then they turn. If the leader needs to change the route on the fly, he can with no problems.
3. Nobody is 'pressured' to keep up because you just ride until you see a 'marker'. It does not matter how spread out you get, eventually everybody arrives. With varying levels of skill, each rider can indeed ride 'their own ride'. If too much time passes or you get too spread out to suit me, I will stop at a gathering place and direct a 'marker' to guide folks to stop and wait, then I go back and collect the 'markers' until I find out what has happened.
4. Nobody has to keep looking in their rear view mirror to see if the rider behind them sees them make a turn. This is a major safety improvement, especially in twisty terrain or heavy traffic.
5. You do not have to worry about staying together at traffic lights or other things going through a town. The 'train' just keeps rolling along and you actually cover ground a lot quicker.
6. The size of the group (other than minimum size) does not matter. I've done 5 riders to 20 riders over three days and 800+ miles and we all got there. I've done day rides with well over 30+ riders and everybody enjoyed it.
7. If there is a problem, there is some information available to those dealing with it. Would you like to call a hospital trying to find someone, and you have no name to give them except 'Joe'?
Folks get ride at a speed
that suits them - whether it is fast or slow - which removes a lot of
ego out of the matter. It is the closest thing you can have to a group
ride and yet truly ride your own ride with no pressure. Once you
have used it and have some 'veterans', I usually put them up at the front
of the ride so that the ones unfamiliar with it see how to be a 'marker'.
I encourage you to try it at the next group ride that you lead and let
me know how it worked for you. Hope to see you on the road one day!