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Group Riding

Blog Date - 17 December 2020

Let me make one thing clear from the start. I enjoy group riding. I know several of the regulars here don't but I enjoy the meeting up with friends, riding with them and then stopping for a chat over a hot brew and a bacon butty. It is a simple pleasure, one which has been mostly denied this year.

However if you've never experienced a group ride let me make one thing clear. It is NOT all fun and laughter and hanging out with your pals. It can be hard work and if not done correctly, dangerous.

First off there's the initial meet-up. "We'll all meet at The Crown, that pub on London Road, at 1100. Be sure to fill up BEFORE you arrive..." One or two will be there at 1030, fully fuelled, motorcycle and kit present and correct and keen to be off. Most will arrive around the 1100 mark but there'll always be that one, the same one, who sends confusing text messages telling everyone they'll be there soon, very soon. They'll arrive at 1130 while everyone else is getting more and more agitated.

While waiting for the tardy individual 2 others who were totally up for it and excited to ride will call to say they're not coming due to some lame excuse. You can increase this number dependant upon the weather conditions, the worse the weather, the lamer the excuses and the less people will turn up. I've been expecting 10 riders and been left with just 2 on such wintry, wet and windy days.

Heavy rain as riders meet up for a ride
You can't do anything about the weather.

Within the first 5 to 10 minutes someone will need fuel, usually the same person who was late. The leader will be left pondering where the next fuel stop is. Surprisingly several riders will also fill up, "just in case".

A morrison's petrol station and a motorcycle
...there's always ONE!... and then some more.

Once on the road the real problems start. Even with the best, most skilled, experienced and safe riders it is absolutely INEVITABLE that the group will get broken up. Traffic lights change to red when half the group is through. A line of cars comes through the junction so 2 riders are left behind. This is where the shenanigans start.

If the leader has spotted the "chop" they can slow or stop to allow the rest to catch up. But where? This road is busy with no safe verges in which to wait. Plus there's another right turn ahead, will the rest of them know we've turned? Some members of the "chopped" group will ride like morons in an effort to catch up, screaming by cars and trucks on blind bends. Others will hold back safely, eyes darting into side roads in an effort to see where the group has gone next. 

If the leader can stop safely, then what? Do you set off when you see the "chopped" group catching up or do you wait until the rest to park behind you? Some will blast into the traffic causing other road users to swerve, others will wait for a gap so large it'll be midnight before the group starts to move as one again.

I've experimented with several systems. "Drop off" is where the rider behind the lead is left at the junction. The rest of the group spots the "dropped off" rider and follows their direction. The "dropped off" rider waits until the allocated back marker arrives then rejoins the group. As such at each junction there should be a rider indicating the next direction.

Yeah. Great. Where do you leave the "dropped off" rider on a BIG roundabout? What about narrow junctions where there's nowhere safe to stop and direct? Motorway junctions? I've been sat on the bike at the roadside waiting to guide other riders and had some terrifying near misses. It works in principle, in practice it's dangerous. Also some riders tend to forget who the back marker is or don't bother to wait long enough.

The best system is "we're going here next..." If, IF you can stick together then great. If not don't worry just keep going to the next agreed destination. This works for fast riders who can rip off into the distance, slow riders who can gently make their own pace to the stop and all skills and styles inbetween. In these days of sat-nav and mobile phones this is much more practical.

Otherwise I'd suggest a maximum group size of 4, yes 4, particularly if you have towns and junctions a-plenty on your route. Even then keeping 4 riders together can be challenging. If your group is cohesive, if you can trust the riders around you, if you are all experienced in group riding and your route of choice is mostly countryside with few junctions then maybe 8, on a good day.

You could of course join a much larger ride-out. Professionally organised events with police support can be fun as 100 or even 1,000 riders all make their way along the road. The police can block junctions and even stop traffic at traffic lights to allow the group through. It's great riding through red lights completely legally with police support. 

A large group of riders wait on the road during an organised event
With police support the Leyland Carnival welcomed the bikers.
Thousands of riders and motorcycles at Manchester's Ring of Red
With police support several thousand riders can get together. Manchester's Ring of Red.

Again this is not without pitfalls. The group will usually be moving slowly, 5, 10 maybe 15mph most of the time through town, not much more out on the open road. Despite the police presence there'll be some muppets who want to show off by pulling a wheelie in the middle of the pack. Others will be distracted by waving to friends while running into the back of the bike in front. 

Beware the quasi-organised runs. These tend not to have police support, instead they have over enthusiastic marshals in high viz jackets riding BMW/Pan Euros fitted with flashing orange lights. They will stop the traffic and usher you through red lights illegally as you prey that street cameras can't see your number plate among all the others. 

Speaking of the law. If you're leading a group you are somehow "responsible" for that group. The general gist is that if you're riding quickly this can cause the other riders in the group to also ride quickly. If they break any laws in so doing, or injure themselves or others, you can also be held accountable. I'm not a lawyer and I don't fully grasp all the implications but, well, YIKES! Check out this MCN link for an example.

If you came to me for advice regarding group riding as a novice? You and a trustworthy friend with some experience, that's all. I'd advise against larger rideouts until you've got some experience on two wheels. As an experienced rider I'd suggest very small groups unless it's a professionally organised event with actual bona-fide police support. If you have a large group I'd stick with the "here's the next stop" method. 

When Sharon and I did the NC500 in 2017 the largish group tended to naturally form into small groups. We all knew where we were heading for that evening and the remote, mostly junction free preset route made for very simple navigation. This worked well, but those were exceptional circumstances.

A line of motorcycles in front of various tents on the campsite in Ullapool
Loose organisation and remote roads can make for a great group ride and holiday.


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Reader's Comments

John Scotcher said :-
When myself and friends meet up, everyone agrees where the next stop will be so if the group is separated, they know (or should I say, they should hopefuuly know) where riders will be stopping. Unfortunately, some riders have to be accommodated as they would probably get lost going to their local shops!
18/12/2020 03:46:35 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Don't like it Ed, although I don't mind dropping in behind other riders I don't know whilst on a ride. It's a pleasant enough way to pass a few miles, unless of course you can see they feel nervous about being followed in which case I breeze by.
Obviously when I used to ride for a living we would ride in convoy for a large proportion of the day, either in two's or in larger groups if travelling to and from events, football matches etc. If on a motorway we would probably ride two a breast and two deep in a square format. It was just to fly the flag and look professional I suppose. Kept you switched on for sure but you knew others riding styles inside out so you knew what to expect.
The problem with riding with mates (?) is you can't account for stupid. Or just the different riding styles of each and every rider. I have ridden in mixed groups of service riders and civi's and the civi's hadn't got a clue why we were placing our bikes in advanced positions for potential manoeuvres and it just made them nervous and kind of spoiled the ride. We weren't trying to be smart arses but we could find ourselves on the offside kerb looking for the overtake whilst they were doing the same in the nearside gutter.
I like riding with the pillion and not with other bikes unless as described above and I certainly would not encourage civi's to drop off at junctions or you could find your before his Honour. Can you imagine the civil court claim against yourself if they were injured or worse.
Upt'North.
18/12/2020 07:07:39 UTC
Bogger said :-
When riding for pleasure I'm nearly always in a group. Usually the same group of people and we all know how each other ride.
On the tiddlers we all stay close together. When on the bigger bikes we give ourselves plenty of room.
On the foreign jaunts, we are on the smaller bike, 125cc and under. We have found through trial and error that the ideal group size is five or at most six riders.
Any more is a nightmare. It's either too fast, or usually to slow and not making enough progress. Then factor in drink breaks, fuel breaks, pee breaks, fag breaks etc etc. Getting anywhere is a real headache.
As it's usually the same lads that go abroad we have a definitive riding order. This was not discussed or agreed upon it just transpired and that's what we stick with. Yes we have the odd race at 50mph to break up the boredom or streamline one another up a hill to gain an advantage but generally stick with what we know and are comfortable with.
If I'm riding on my own, To make things a bit more interesting, I'll give myself an average speed for the journey and try to attain it. Harder than you think.

Bogger...living life on the edge
18/12/2020 08:58:15 UTC
Jim said :-
We made the mistake of joining up with a Facebook-organised mass ride and it’s put me right off. 50 odd bikes riding from the Milk Bar at Powmill to the Kingshouse Hotel in Glencoe sounded like a good idea, but it was anything but. So me and TI, ink hardly dry on the licence set off close to the rear of the bunch, quickly found ourselves having to do silly speeds in order to keep up. Wet leaves and mud were everywhere, and by the time we got to Kenmore I was ready to go turn and go home. I spoke to the ride leader and he assured me that the next section was to be much slower.

Indeed it was, as we headed up Glen Lyon and across to Lawers Dam in the middle of the pack behind an old boy on a new Speedmaster. All good so far, until he got overexcited on a bend, dug his pegs in and ended up in a field. Once we’d sorted it out half the pack were long gone and somehow I ended up leading the rest up and over a very high single track road with gravel all over it. Point being that I felt a ridiculous pressure to keep the pace up, whereas I would have been much happier to creep along at 25mph.

Got back down to Killin without incident and decided that enough was enough. So we just made our way to Glencoe without the rest.

So all in all, rather like Upt’, I’m very content to ride two up at a pace that suits me. If we do ride with others, we just agree on the next stop, ensure we all know the way, and meet there. If we occupy the same bit of road en-route it’s a happy co-incidence, but not essential.
18/12/2020 09:32:52 UTC
nab301 said :-
I've done plenty of group rides out in the distant past but just found them stressful . Generally I ended up waiting for the whole thing to depart and would potter along at the back within the speed limit , but even then, watching the ridiculous antics from behind became too much for me ...
I finally stopped attending such events when I involuntarily ended up leading the homeward leg of one such gathering , I had taken the road less travelled which was not the intended route , but despite making my intentions clear before leaving, unknown to me a large group followed me . There was an acquaintance of mine on a Varadero stuck to my number plate for a few miles who then signalled to me to stop , on doing so he said " we've lost the group" Eh? So we turned back to find a Gixer rider ( another acquaintance) had ridden his bike into a ditch . I was riding an Enfield Bullet 350 that day , so I'm assuming it was boredom rather than speed that caused that little off! On another earlier occasion I ended up leading a group of lets say "senior" riders home , again on my ( less then 12 bhp Enfield) only to get calls for a week afterwards from disgruntled old men who felt I had ruined their day by riding at excessive speed , the bike would barely do 50mph flat out , I wasn't riding flat out and they were all on more powerful bikes.
I've done plenty of second man drop off rides out with the REOC and these work well on quiet country roads where the last man always has a different/ contrasting hi viz jacket from everyone else, although I can't imagine doing such a ride out where motorways are involved!
Nigel

18/12/2020 09:46:28 UTC
Bogger said :-
I've been out on a few madly fast rides with a group. Luckily no one died or indeed came off. But the speeds at times were ridiculous. I was on my Fazer600 at the time and I was right on the limit of performance, handling and most definitely rider skill. I only went out with that group twice. It was just plain stupid.
Each time I got home I was mentally and physically drained. Nah not for me thanks.

Bogger
18/12/2020 10:05:23 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I've both enjoyed and endured some group rides, much akin to those you all describe.

With "civis" as Upt' puts it you'll find huge variations in skills, riding style, desires and motorcycles. The poser on the GSXR RR RRRRRRR to the newbie on the dilapidated CG125. The 500 miles is nothing rider to the my ass is sore after 20 miles type. The laid back motorway cruiser to the gnarly off roader. You can't mix such variations and please everyone.

Sharon and I ride together. We do have one advantage though - she's been riding with me right from the start of her two wheeled journey. As such, for better and for worse, her style has inevitably become similar to my own. We've also covered the best part of 50,000 miles together so we're familiar with each other's ways. We try to keep to the speed limits, we don't rush junctions and we only choose to "press on" when both our moods and roads are suitable. And yet there are things I do that winds Sharon up. I'm far too laid back on motorways, Sharon would go faster.
19/12/2020 11:53:23 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
I hate riding in groups - but then I'm known as a curmudgeon.

Many years ago I had a phone call - it was Suzi Perry - you know, the one who is on the telly at the TT and stuff. No idea where she got my number but she invited me on a charity ride out with a number of then-celebrated riders like Steve Nation. I decided against my better judgment to attend - it was up in Cheshire somewhere.

When I arrived there were probably a couple of hundred riders there, including Nation on a Norton rotary race rep and several of his mates. We set off in an orderly gaggle but as soon as we were in open countryside the racers took off and shot past everyone in sight round blind bends, over hump backed bridges and all. That was bad enough but various of the "ordinary" riders tried to follow suit. I've rarely been so scared and left the pack after a few miles to make my own (sedate) way home wondering how many of the riders would spend the night (or longer) in hospital beds.

One problem with groups is that if the front rider makes an overtake, those following also tend to go for it. This means that the ones back down the line need to do silly speeds just to keep up.

We used to use the second man drop-off for the "Colonial" pre-65 trials run by the Midland Classic club but they were much more civilised affairs (apart from the sections themselves which could be quite dramatic). We even used to have a lunchtime pub stop - often needed as the trials were held midwinter and riding for hours through frozen mud does nothing much for your core temperature. Struggling back into frozen belstaffs afterwards wasn't much fun.
19/12/2020 11:53:26 UTC
Upt'North said :-
The fastest rider in any group ride is the last bod.
Upt'North.
19/12/2020 01:39:14 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Ed me lad, in these days of technological advancement surely there's kit out there to get around these hurdles. I still wouldn't personally want to be involved in group shenanigans or technology but there must be a way of dropping routes onto personal communication devices and then all could travel merrily to the agreed destination.
I'll give you that one Ed, you could be a millionaire this time next century.
My problem with "tech", is generally it's tiresome often unreliable. Sounds a bit like me.
Go on young Ed, dip ya bread.
Upt'North.
19/12/2020 04:57:16 UTC
said :-
Upt'North said :-
The fastest rider in any group ride is the last bod.

That is a very true statement.

Bogger
19/12/2020 08:37:03 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
There already is tech out there to share routes Upt'. GPX files seem quite common but not all devices (sat-navs and phones and the like) can use the files simply. It's the usual IT compatibility problems. I'm sure a digital wizard could install, update, translate and reformat a digital route for everyone but ain't no-one got time for that. There must be a way, hmmmm....

As you say too, tech ain't for everyone. While it is pretty common for folks to have a phone or nav mount there's still plenty out there who prefer the solid tactile reality of a real map. Mind you as I look out the window here the rain is tipping down, paper maps ain't fun in this weather.
21/12/2020 09:21:07 UTC
Upt'North said :-
The first point to make is I'm not a technophobe........well maybe a little.
That maybe comes from early home PC's that spent more time crashing than working.
I still hate turning on a new piece of IT.
But this is the frustration with technology, this sharing of files should be so easy. Yet, it most definitely isn't.
I do like a map, preferably dry and new.
Upt'North.
21/12/2020 03:47:04 UTC
Bogger said :-
I quite like a map. But they are difficult to read whilst riding on a bike.
I did come up with a solution. Four years ago I coerced Mrs Bogger onto the back of the bike (BMW not the Cub) for a trip around Scotland to tour the NC500.
I didn't have a bike Sat Nav. Far too expensive. I did have a phone but no mount for the bike. Again, too expensive. So what to do then, as I didn't fancy getting Mrs Bogger Lost in the middle of nowhere.
Basically I got hold of a clear plastic credit card box, drilled two holes straight the way through at the upper and lower ends. Then cut a pencil in half. One half of the pencil through each hole. These were joined together on the outside of the placcy box with a couple of rubber bands.
Wrapped around the pencils on the dry inside of the box was a till roll onto which I could write my road map for the days riding.
So start the ride and keep scrolling the till roll as you go along. I surprised myself as it worked a treat. I didn't take one wrong turn.
It took about twenty minutes to write out the next days ride on the till roll whilst consulting the map.
Ed, you would have been proud of me. It cost nowt and was a proper cheapskate bodge that worked brilliantly. I even got a few compliments and knowing nods when we stopped and got chatting to people along the route.
I think they were compliments anyway.

Bogger
21/12/2020 08:03:59 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
What you're talking about bogger is a simplified version of the image below? Home made too? And yes, I'm proper proud of you and you are my hero! Thing is with such a system, let us say you miss a turning then the scroll and instructions become defunct until you can re-find your route. One of the good things about modern digital navs is their ability to re-route quickly. This can be valuable when you're in town and the correct lane is not obvious, the roundabout exit is vague or there's several junctions close together.
Posted Image
22/12/2020 09:52:26 UTC
Upt'North said :-
I write the route out too Bogger and just slip it into the tank bag window.
It would go a bit like,
R J16 M6 A500 Stoke
15M L M6 S to J10
Etc.
I can usually fit all of a long day's ride on one piece of paper.
Although I do carry ear pieces for the phone if all else fails.
Upt'North.

22/12/2020 10:27:25 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
When I used to do the National Rally I did something similar but wrote out each leg between the checkpoints on index cards - one per leg. The pack was held together with a binder type clip and the whole lot in a plastic bag. I rigged up a light from an old speedo bulb holder. It worked fairly well. When I arrived at each checkpoint I just had to put the current card to the bottom of the pack.

I did once have something like that illustration but it was a cheap bit of rubbish and never worked properly.
22/12/2020 02:20:36 UTC
Henrik said :-
I do solo-rides, and so it will always be,.. I set the route, the time, speed, POI's, the brakes, the food

If I fell like making a unplanned stop, using two hours for a photo-session, or whatever, then I do :-)

Anything else would be terrible, and make no sense


22/12/2020 11:08:16 UTC
Pedro said :-
Group rides, not for me. During all my years of riding ,first bike 1972, there were only two mates I enjoyed riding with. We always rode with each other, not against each other. If we came to a slow moving line of traffic the front rider would work his way past without the other two feeling dragged along, because the other two knew he wouldn't disappear into the distance. After the other two had picked their way past at their own pace, the first one would be riding about hundred yards past the hold up leaving room for the others to re group behind him. If we were separated at lights, first one or two would continue until they found a safe place to pull over, and when the others approached, they always left room for them to re join in front. We rode together for hundreds of miles, and a few camping trips, and never one incident.
Once I was invited to join another two mates, and attempted to apply the same practice, and it didn't work. I was at the front, and came to long line of slow moving traffic. After picking my way past without any stupid risks, I settled about a hundred yards in front of the slow car driver who was holding everything up, and waited, and waited. Fearing the worst I pulled over, and after watching all the cars, which I had overtaken, drive past, they were still sitting there at the back. They pulled over and one of them began complaining that I had cleared off and left them. So I suggested he should take the lead. We soon caught up with the slow moving cars again, and there we sat mile after mile at 40 mph. It soon became clear he would never overtake anything.
Another time I arranged a ride out with others, and straight away one of them took off at about 60 mph in a 30 mph zone, and wondered why I didn't follow.
The two mates I enjoyed riding with don't ride any longer. so I will continue to enjoy riding alone at my own pace.
On the topic of navigation, I use a cheap phone holder, with a small piece of plastic clipped into it. I write directions on it with a fine tip marker pen. Its easily wiped clean with a drop of methylated spirit, and if it's raining, a piece of cling film can be placed over it. I still prefer written directions.
Posted Image
23/12/2020 11:12:40 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I think the little "whiteboard" is a smart idea Pedro, I might be stealing that, maybe not just for navigation either.

We are all quite different individuals and this is one reason group riding can be a nightmare. If you're lucky you might possibly find a few other folks who's desires, riding styles and pace is similar enough to your own to only frustrate you from time to time. Riding alone does have some considerable advantages too as has been pointed out. I suppose the main thing to be thankful for is that we all have that choice.
24/12/2020 08:52:00 UTC
Upt'North said :-
With regards the white board or even writing on the tank, a Peel Off Chinagraph Pencil works a treat and quickly wipes off with a bit of furniture polish.
Upt'North.

24/12/2020 12:29:51 UTC

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