STOLEN FROM THE WORCHESTER H.O.G.® CLUB, SPONSORED BY SHELDONS H-D®. GOOD STUFF
Terms & Techniques Part One
Whether you’ve been riding motorcycles for decades or days, a Group Ride demands special skills and disciplines. These skills are both obvious when pointed out and easily acquired. To travel safely for any distance, each rider must temporarily relinquish some of those cherished personal liberties and assume some measure of responsibility for both self and group. To behave otherwise is to invite great risk and excessive danger. Riding with “the group” is a choice and is never mandatory.
With the continuing rapid growth of our Chapter, much has lately been made of the vast differences between riding in a large group as opposed to putting along solo or with a friend or two. We have members of long standing, newer members with years of saddle time, members returned after years away from motorcycles, members younger and older relatively new to the lifestyle. Knowledge of the terms and techniques of organized riding spreads across the same spectrum.
Based in common sense, and loosely analogous to military formations or cattle drives of the Old West, procedures have evolved over time to enable large amounts of individual motorcycles to travel much like a single unit. A really big run can be an exhilarating experience for both riders and observers.
What follows is a simple “primer” to aid everyone in maintaining the Maximum Fun Level.
The Road Captain (RC) is the ride leader. The RC plans the route and controls the run to assure the safe and pleasurable passage of everyone. The RC stays in the front position and controls the pace and tone of the ride. The RC will plan rest and gas stops, but YOU should arrive with a full tank and an empty bladder. YOU are responsible for your own warmth, dryness and personal comfort and are expected to have your machine in a state of good repair and readiness.
The Sweep Rider remains at the rear of the group. The Sweeper assures that no one gets stranded on the road and tries to maintain the “wholeness” of the group. The group is in effect sandwiched between the RC and Sweeper. The Sweep will signal blockers to rejoin the ride and provides a consistent “last person”. Should you decide to leave the group, it is best to signal with an OK sign and goodbye wave.
Blockers assist in getting the band through intersections safely, quickly, and efficiently. While technically illegal, blocking also eases the effect of the passage on traffic in general. It also helps to avert any rider or riders from making a risky choice rather than chance being separated from the rest. Blockers, when directed to a position by the RC, should activate their flashers just prior to pulling out of formation. The flashers should be shut off after rejoining just ahead of the sweeper. While blocking it is wise to remain in gear and ready to move should another vehicle ignore the request to wait A “stop” hand signal is suggested while blocking and is most easily accomplished by the passenger if present. A “thank you” signal by blockers and sweeper as well is a nice touch and usually appreciated. Since a blocker assumes the responsibility of holding up traffic, plus a remote possibility of a traffic violation, it is of course voluntary. Should you have no desire to block, position yourself toward the rear of the pack. In the event that you later anticipate being called upon, signal rearward riders ahead of you at an appropriate time. NEVER do what you are not comfortable doing.
Lane Positioning is crucial in a large group. The normal and proper formation is two-wide but in a staggered position. Save the side-by-side stuff for when you are profiling with Peter Fonda. The staggered spacing provides an envelope of “space” for each rider to maneuver within. You are spaced properly if you can see the face of the forward rider in his/her mirror. If you can see them, they can see you. You will be neither too close nor too far apart. Of course, this will stretch out to allow for poor road conditions. Avoid the dreaded “rubber band”. Moving forward and backward within your position constantly is annoying to everyone around you.
Many riders have a preferred part of a lane to ride in. Whether you opt for the outer half or the curbside half, plan for that zone when first forming up. Riders are encouraged to avoid changing sides frequently once the group has settled into place on the ride.
SIGNS are the best and often only available means of communication amid a throng of motorcycles in motion. Being observant of them in actual use will readily show the distinctions and confirm their value. Here’s a handful of the most common signs: the standard right / left hand signals are advised in conjunction with the use of directionals. Too often, riders are lulled into complacency by the sheer volume of bikes on a run. And we all know auto drivers often don’t see us, so a little duplication can’t hurt. A warning of debris in the road (sand, roadkill, potholes, construction stuff, etc.) is passed from rider to rider by a downward point. A recent and acceptable variation is using one’s foot to point out the danger.
An arcing point with the left index finger overhead alerts riders to a object or person along the inner shoulder of the pathway. An auto, cyclist. jogger, roadworker, whatever, may require riders to temporarily adjust their “space” to go around. Obviously, if the obstruction is well into a breakdown lane and does not hinder safe passage, no signal is needed. Should the group, or a single rider for that matter, approach someone on horseback, extreme care and respect are mandated, up to and including a full stop and shut – down engines. A “slow down” message is relayed by a downward pushing motion of the hand, while an impending stop is noted by the good old open handed “stop” sign with the arm hanging downward. Subtle but effective. Once again, duplication with the electric message is a bonus.
Should the RC decide that conditions warrant a “Single-File” formation, he will so indicate with an index finger pumping skyward. This should not be confused with an upraised middle finger, which has a very different message. Riders will then merge into one lane. When it is correct to resume double staggered file, it will be obvious, but the RC will probably signal such with a skyward pinkie and index sign, baseball style. This is to avoid any confusion with a peace or victory sign. Relay this one like all the rest.
Sample Hand Signals
PART II – PHYSICAL PHENOMENA and Assorted Stuff
There a several more minor signals that you may encounter, most of which have evolved for convenience and are fairly obvious with a moments thought. If a rider nearby frantically and repeatedly points down to the space that you are in, the rider is silently screaming “make room, I gotta get there now”, and must for some reason quickly get into your space. A “yak-yak-yak” motion using the thumb and index finger in a pincer-like movement lets a fellow rider know that his or her blinkers are still on, which can send a false message and can get downright annoying to those behind the “blinky”. Pointing to your gas tank indicates you’ll need fuel soon; frantically pointing to the tank means “I need gas NOW”. Pointing to your crotch means a convenience break would be nice; frantically pointing to your crotch area means “I really, really gotta GO”.
An extended arm swung like a pendulum is often utilized to alert others to a crossing hazard of some sort, e.g., railroad tracks, a road repair in progress or one of those nasty steel plates. Of course, there is no need to signal if the crossing requires no special care or concern. Signals, like verbal talk, get turned off when used lightly. A laid back “come here” wave is used to let a fellow rider know to pull up alongside to talk. This is only subtly different from the “you lead” or “please pass me” signal mentioned earlier.
Should a RC ever put both arms up in the air in a forlorn gesture, you are all officially lost because he doesn’t have a clue where he is! (Thankfully, this is a rare signal. We never get lost, although sometimes we don’t have any idea where we are.).
Think of the obvious signals for wanting a drink or food. There are even more such signs, but avoid overdoing all of this stuff so as not to appear like a spastic troupe of monkeys with fleas.
The Slinky happens all the to moving vehicles, but becomes increasingly dramatic as the traffic flow increases. A large group of motorcycles is merely organized traffic congestion, hence we experience the Slinky Effect often. It will happen after nearly every stop, with most changes in posted speeds, and when entering a highway
Whenever the lead vehicle increases speed, the reaction time of each following vehicle adjusting to the increase in speed multiplies the spaces and creates ever-increasing gaps. Whenever the lead bike accelerates, each bike following will feel the need to speed up even more than the rider just ahead. The group mathematically gets more and more strung out. The more to the rear of the pack you are, the greater amount of speed and time will be needed to close the gap.
Don’t worry about that. It is hardly ever anything to be concerned about and the group will close ranks soon enough without having to set any new land speed records from the rear. The lead bike (RC) will adjust for it and can actually minimize the Slinky Effect by accelerating less rapidly in the first place.
The Reverse Slinky happens whenever everyone has poured on the gusto to catch up and all catch up to one another too quickly. Again, human reaction time multiplied by speed. The staccato glare of brake lights indicates that everyone has grabbed on the binders to avoid rear-ending each bike they were trying so hard to catch up to in the first place. To avoid any such unpleasantness, re-read the previous paragraph.
Merginginto traffic, particularly entering a highway, changing travel lanes and similar situations, requires only some common sense and a cool head to maintain safety. The same qualities aid in dealing with other vehicles merging onto “our” highway or cutting into “our” travel lane for whatever reason. It will tick you off, but it will happen, as dumb as it seems.
Remember to always ride as if you are invisible and everyone else not on a motorcycle is legally blind, totally stupid and completely rude. This applies to every time you ride either alone or in a group and is very useful in merging situations. You have to have “An Attitude” to ride in the first place, but don’t “cop an attitude”.
We may feel that we are obviously all together and that every other vehicle should be aware of it and respect that. However, it may or may not be of any concern to some crude moron with an imminent case of road rage or to the entering auto piloted by a late driver talking on the phone or afraid to spill his coffee or to the harried driver whose exit is rapidly approaching.
Simply let the offending vehicle get in and then out. Even the ones who continue to drive in the midst of the group will soon enough feel the urge to depart without any overt encouragement from the riders. A little bit of having a bad reputation can be a good thing sometimes.
A string of motorcycles, even Harley-Davidson®, is not a single vehicle. There will be times when the group will get spaced apart into different pockets, but the RC will make allowances for everyone to gradually re-form. The Sweep Rider may sometimes anticipate such a situation and secure the lane by providing an envelope for everyone to ride into by “closing the back door” if it can be done with minimal risk. In either event, all will get together at some time without any undue heroics. The bottom line is that realistically your motorcycle will always lose in a shoving match with a car or truck, no matter how in-the-right you are. You have greater maneuverability and raw power on your side, but not steel plating.
Group Riding is, by its very nature a social activity. It is human interaction enhanced by a shared motorcycling experience.
Group Riding is not for everyone and is not for anyone all of the time.
Group Riding safely requires that each rider be a responsible component and adhere to the established protocols.
ALWAYS REFER TO RULE # ONE: HAVE FUN!
RIDING IN A GROUP
A group of motorcycles is a dynamic unit. It constantly changes from second to second as speeds, weather, traffic, and road conditions change, and as rider fatigue increases. When riding in a group you become a part of that unit, and your actions affect more than just yourself, they affect all those riding around you.
Be aware of what’s going on around you at all times. Stay alert and keep an eye on the Road Captain and those in front of you at all times. You can gawk at the scenery some other time.
Be sure your bike is in good running condition BEFORE the run — otherwise stay home.
Riding side-by-side, in a column of two’s, is NOT SAFE. Ride in a staggered formation. Stay one to two seconds behind the bike directly in front of you, and one-half to one second behind the bike to your left or right front.
Everyone must maintain a constant speed and distance from everyone else, without falling back and speeding up, to avoid the notorious “Slinky” effect.
The Road Captain rides in front. The senior club officer present will ride just behind him and to the side.
Behind the Road Captain and Senior Officer come the Members of the club and the Prospects. The first two of these riders will act as blockers to block cross-traffic at any intersections. After the entire column has passed through, the blockers will fall in at the extreme rear. They will make their way back up the column when it is safe to do so, eventually falling in at the rear of the Member/Prospect group. (For liability reasons, only club Members or Prospects are allowed to act as blockers.)
Behind the Members and Prospects ride any guests. Guests should keep in mind that the blockers will be moving up through the column, and must make room for them to rejoin the Members and Prospects group.
Rear Guards ride last in the column of bikes, followed only by the chase truck(s).
The Road Captain sets the pace. If the pace is not to your liking, talk it over with him at the next stop, but until that time, KEEP UP!
Anyone dropping out of formation should let the Rear Guard know if they DO NOT need help. Unless you tell him otherwise, if you drop out of the column, one of the Rear Guards will also drop out along with a chase truck. If you signal the Rear Guard not to stop, you are on your own until you rejoin the column.
If your buddy drops out of formation, don’t drop out with him unless you have a real need to do so. The Rear Guard and chase trucks will take care of the situation.
Hand signals should be used by all riders, and should be passed along to those behind you. The Shades of Gray MC has adopted a specific system of hand signals that have proven their efficiency in years past. The following figures show examples of these signals – Learn them:
When the column is moving on the highway and needs to change lanes, the column will do so starting with the REAR of the column and progressing to the FRONT! While this seems wrong at first, once you experience it you’ll understand how it increases the safety of such a move.
The mechanics of such a change are as follows:
- The Road Captain signals a lane change by raising his left arm to a 45° angle and pumping it several times, then signalling either to the left or right.
- When any passing traffic has gone by him, the Rear Guard will change lanes first, in order to block off any more passing traffic from the new lane.
- When ALL passing traffic has gone by, the remainder of the column will change lanes from Rear to Front.
Use your mirrors and check your rear quarter BEFORE changing lanes!
Change lanes smoothly and give other riders plenty of space. This is not a race to see who can go sideways the fastest.
Gas up before the run starts, and be sure that you have enough gas to reach the next rest stop. Everyone must stay together and stop at every scheduled fuel stop.
On the 535 mile Run to the Wall, stops are 60-90 miles apart, so that bikes with small tanks will not have to leave the formation. If you have five-gallon tanks, you should only have to gas up at every other stop. If this is the case, try to pair up with another bike with big tanks and alternate gassing up. This will keep fueling time to a minimum at any one stop.
At each stop along the way, follow the Road Captain into the facility. He will go by the fueling area to the staging area where he has chosen to form up the group for departure.
If you need to fuel up, stop at the pumps, otherwise, fall in behind him and park. If he needs gas, he will go back after showing you where to form up.
As soon as you have gassed up, move your bike to the staging area. You don’t need to be in the same position in the convoy for each leg of the trip.
When the Road Captain signals to start up to leave each stop, raise your hand when your bike is running, and leave it up until the road captain sees that you’re ready!
When leaving each stop, the column will go slowly until the Rear Guard signals to the Road Captain that everyone is formed up properly. Only then will the column accelerate to cruising speed.
If the column stops for any reason, STAY IN FORMATION!
If the Road Captain pulls over to the side of the road STAY IN FORMATION and pull over behind him.
If stopped by police, the Road Captain and the senior club officer present will deal with them — everyone else keep your mouth shut unless specifically asked a question by the officer.