What makes a good motorcycle group ride group leader? Is it the fastest, the most experienced, the rider with the loudest pipes, flashiest apparel or brightest headlight …or is it just the obsessive/compulsive motorcyclist?
This is a question motorcyclists often avoid. It’s a little like the subject of actually teaching parenting classes in school. No parent wants to admit that they are not the perfect parent by nature and teaching a course about it to their kids would probably show that most everyone has something to learn about parenting.
To begin with, a motorcycle group leader has to want to be leader because they will take complaints from some of the group riders for one thing or another during the course of virtually every ride. It is definitely a thankless task and a leader is only as good as the group they are leading. Having ridden with many good and bad leaders and keeping in mind that the leader is a guide, not a god, here are some group riding tips, a group riding 101 of sorts on…
A) what makes a good leader
B) a few tips for leaders to increase their effectiveness and
C) some thoughts on how a group rider can assist the leader.
What Makes a Good Motorcycle Group Leader
1) Knowledge of the roads you will ride that day is a good start. Whether the leader has ridden them before, studied a map or programmed their GPS, the ride will go smoothest if the group knows where it is going. No leader’s cred will survive repeat backtracking.
2) Setting the motorcycle group riding speed. Taking into consideration the various riding skills and machine performance in the group, the leader sets a consistent speed that works safely for the road and the group.
3) Mirror time. A good leader spends plenty of time in their mirrors checking that everyone is with them and the group is not holding up traffic.
4) Road hazard ID. A leader can’t cry wolf by identifying every paper scrap or leaf on the road, but if they can safely point to a sand patch, tire fragment or pot hole, they should point it out to give the group a heads up and time to react.
5) Communication. This is a two way street and while the leader should be ready to caution the wheelie guy or the wanderer, they also should be ready to listen to advice or complaints and adjust if necessary.
6) Planning. The stops and the routes to them should be defined for all riders, so if someone gets lost or held up, they know where to go to find the group. Cell phones are overrated as recovery tools for lost riders with widely spaced back and forth responses based on cell coverage and when riders can stop to hear or text.
7) Technical advantages. Though not necessary, it can be nice when the group leader has some combination of a GPS (programmed), radar detector and cruise control. I don’t know if those out-of-human-hearing-range deer whistles really work or not, but it seems they are worth a try. Those deer can be pretty sneaky and stupid.Bikers are not timid about complaining and you leaders will know if you are doing it right or not.
Fine-Tuning Tips for Leaders
These tips make it easier for the group to follow and for the group to be more considerate of other users of the road.
1) On straight roads, pick the side of the lane you want to lead from and stay there so the riders behind you can stagger their position. It’s OK to change to the other side of the lane once in awhile and the group should adjust their staggered position based on yours. Just don’t wander from side to side like a lost dog, leaving the pack dancing back and forth behind you like a team of water ballerinas trying to synchronize themselves.
2) When you get into the twisties, whether you hand signal it or not, roll firmly into the center of the lane, so the riders behind you can stretch out in single file. It’s not a bad idea to communicate to people at the beginning of the ride that this is going to happen so they expect it.
3) Arrange to have a very competent and aware rider in the number two position, as their riding position relative to you reinforces your intentions to the rest of the group.
4) If you see a car or truck tailgating the last rider, pull the group over in a turnout and let the tailgater go by. They may know this road better than you or have diarrhea or something and in no case does it pay to keep them locked back there and impatient.
5) Your group does not own the left lane on the highway. Plenty of car drivers travel faster then bikes, so move over and let them pass. Changing lanes as a group adds a little excitement on a long straight stretch of road anyway.
6) Have a hand signal that communicates to the group that you intend to pass the slow truck on the two-lane road. My favorite is the “forward charge” arm motion as if you have a cavalry saber in your hand. A pass signal puts everyone on alert to a potentially risky situation and the lack of a signal will keep the group patient and in their lane behind you.
7) Keeping your speed consistent makes it much easier for the pack to ride together. A bunched pack might indicate that you are riding too slow and a spread out pack might indicate you are moving too fast.
8) Sometimes groups have more than one leader type and it’s not a bad idea to switch leaders from time to time. At least offer the lead to others, as it puts the complainers into a put up or shut up position.
The Group Riders’ Responsibility
Just because you have given the lead to another rider doesn’t mean you ride with no responsibility. Here are the things you can do to make the leader’s job easier and make you a better group rider.
1) Ride in a staggered riding formation on straight roads. Staggered formation is much easier for a leader to know everyone is still with the group without having to spend a half hour in their mirror trying to count headlights that are hiding behind each other.
2) Ride close enough that the leader can see you and you can see the leader and be ready to respond to a leader’s slow-down hand signal and brake lights.
3) If you have a serious issue, like having to pee, ride to the front and communicate with the leader. (This hand signal is universal for bikers.) Don’t just stop group riding and leave to guess what happened to you.
4) Choose your ride position based on your skill level. Slower riders should not wait to be asked to ride toward the back of the group, so they don’t hold back more skilled riders or get pushed into riding faster than their comfort level.
5) Get all your gear on correctly so when the group finally starts moving, you don’t have to stop and adjust something.
6) Be efficient at the gas stop and don’t keep everyone waiting while you ponder whether to get the Regular, Hot N Spicy or Teriyaki beef jerky. And move your bike away from the gas pump after you fill up, so other riders or cars can use that pump.
7) Be considerate and friendly; you might just get invited out on the next ride.
Life, America and the Road is available in paperback from Jefe’s website for $14.95 and makes a great read for motorcyclists and an even better unique gift idea. You can read our review of Jefe’s book here.
For the more digitally-friendly of us, Jefe’s made the book available via Kindle for only $2.99. The digital download is cross platform meaning it will work on your iPhone, Android phone, tablet, and laptop or desktop provided you can download the Kindle app. You can grab the digital copy here.
Hey, Jefe! Lots of good tips here, thanks.
I would only add one comment to your “4) Road hazard ID. A leader can’t cry wolf by identifying every paper scrap or leaf on the road…….”
I find that, generally speaking, most leaders DO try to identify far too many hazards, resulting in an arm and leg-flailing group that resembles the “Bolshoi Ballet”.
Proper (loose) spacing is the key to everyone being able to identify THEIR OWN hazards…the same as they would do if they were out riding solo. Being the leader doesn’t automatically transfer all responsibility for safe and observant bahaviour into your hands! Not to mention, trailing riders seeing the leader physically dodge a pothole or slow down for tractors and sand patches should telegraph the message just fine.
Thanks and I agree with your comment Mike. The absurdity and accuracy of the Bolshoi Ballet analogy gets me chuckling.
Great list. One more point is a strong ride captain usually confides in a strong sweep. If you are lucky the Sweep and Ride Captain have headsets and can communicate back and forth.
You said it, Brian. A strong sweep can often “lead from behind.” When riding with friends, I would often lead while my ex-girlfriend swept. She knew all of the routes as we would talk through them together, and would often already be in blocking position in the lane I wanted the group to move to before I could hit my turn signals. And yup, we used a comm system as well!