Planning a Group Ride
For most riding a motorcycle is a personal form of expression, but at times, lot of us find ourselves riding long distance in a group, the group can comprise of personal friends, office colleagues or biker friends. There are many articles on the web explaining the technicalities of a group ride and group riding tips etc.
We are adding our two bits which have come from several long distance group rides we have undertaken, i am putting them the way i see how a group ride should happen, no talk about sign language, technicalities, it's mostly about how to plan a group ride and execute it where in each and every individual enjoys the ride to the fullest, tips on how a group of bikers can go on a long ride together and act as an individual.
Group ride offers all the riders a net of safety, security and share of common jokes, but at the same time a badly planned group ride can leave a bad taste - arguments, attitudes, accidents, different riders with different riding styles etc. It's best not to jump into a group ride just for safety reasons if one is not known to others and others not known to you. Especially if the ride is a long distance ride.
A group ride should have a goal, it can be - ride as fast as possible to a certain place, eat lunch and ride back as fast as possible, it can be - ride, stop, take pictures, ride, stop, take pictures. goal, probably is not the right word, but there are different types of riding and different types of riders, so what is the reason for the ride? To explore, to have fun, to off-road, to ride fast or just to impress the girlfriend.
If you have one rider who wants to ride fast, another who wants to ride faster to impress his girlfriend, another who is stopping and clicking pictures everywhere, another wanting to explore all the small roads is not much of a fun ride, it's a ride where everybody is having their own separate fun and not as a group, it can't even be called a group ride, if everybody is doing their own thing which is bothering others. A group ride without a goal is a disaster, even footloose wandering has a goal, that is to go just about anywhere, no plan in this case is the goal itself.
A group ride is about all riders looking at the ride in the same way, group of bikers having individual fun without disturbing others or their ride. This happens when all riders know the ride plan, the route plan, the pace of the ride, the fun part in the ride, things to watch out for and most importantly know each other.
A group ride should ideally have a road captain, he can be an experienced rider, or someone who has been to the region of the ride, or someone who has done the maximum planning for the ride and knows all the details.
The road captain can lay down the basic rules for the ride, the day wise distance to be covered, rough night halts, the weather condition, the kind of terrain, once all interested riders go over the details, each one will have a fair idea of how the ride is being planned and if that's the kind of ride they would enjoy being part of. It is at this stage that all confusions regarding the ride plan and day wise breakdown should be cleared, discussions about the same on the road are irritating.
Before the ride starts, all bikes should be in a condition to negotiate the terrain of the ride, breakdowns not only delay the ride but are also irritating, some can't be avoided but a basic service and change of old spares should avoid repairs on the road. Each rider should carry basic tools and spares with him.
Depending on the region of the ride and the time of the year, each rider must carry "The trip essentials" for e.g thermals, warm clothing for North, rain gear waterproofing for ride down south etc.
Blood Groups, emergency contact numbers of all riders and their co-riders should be known to all. Sometimes we only have cell numbers of fellow riders which is of no use in an unlikely case of an accident.
Once on the road, either the road captain or an experienced rider should lead the pack, the rider leading should have a fair idea of the route. The pack should ideally be tailed by another experienced biker who has loads of patience and some mechanical knowledge, he comes handy in times of breakdown.
To avoid confusion, none in the group should overtake the lead or stay behind the biker on the tail. The biker tailing should keep the bike's headlight switched on at all times during the ride. This helps the rider leading the pack to take a turn or diversion knowing very well that none of the riders in the group are missing. If the head and tail bikes keep on changing in random order, it gets difficult to keep track of all riders especially in a large group.
Another way of riding in a pack is - to decide after how many kilometers the riders would meet, this system allows all riders to ride separately and the way they want to and meet with the rest of the group at a pre-determined spot. In a day's ride three places can be marked on the map with a certain time frame and each rider can work his way around the schedule taking brief stops where ever he likes, but reaches at the pre-determined spot/ meeting point in the given time frame.
Lot of theories about the safe distance one should have from a fellow biker on the road, it depends on the speed you are travelling, the road condition, traffic and most importantly how well tuned are you with the rider ahead of you. I'll rather use a bikers instinct than a theory here, each rider knows about this space through experience or instinct, but a good 20 feet of distance is ideal.
I don't vote for hand signals to co-riders for overtakes, each rider has his own judgment and others shouldn't influence it, let them negotiate an overtake or a corner using their own judgement and skill. This also ensures that the rider in front does not break his concentration to make a signal. However hand signals should be given to alert the co-rider of a pothole or an obstacle on the road.
On a long ride, distance to be covered in a day should be according to the terrain, weather conditions and the speed of the slowest rider in the group. There is no point in stretching a day's ride to keep up with the paper schedule made before the ride. Covering 700 Kms in a day, waking up late the next and only covering 300 doesn't make sense, dividing 500 Kms over two days is a better option. Start early and finish the ride at sunset, riding in a pack in the night is again a confusing affair, practise it only if the situation demands.
For knowledge about the road conditions, traffic and places to stay always ask the locals, if the locals take 2 hours on a particular stretch, you'll take more unless you're in a rally. Judgment of time on strange roads should be calculated using local experience.
Never force a rider who is tired or sleepy to ride on, a 15-20 minute rest, a hot cup of tea or cold soda sprayed on the face should make him feel better. Even after that if he's not up to it, let him rest and call it a day.
Night halts should be chosen carefully, places with enough parking space for the bikes, safety of vehicles and luggage. A place with ample rooms for all riders especially one bathroom for 2-3 people or a open space to accommodate all :o) If staying in a strange city, inquire about the exit route to the highway in advance as there might not be many locals to guide you early in the morning. Also tank up fuel before the night halt.
Keep atleast one rest day for every 4-5 days of riding, fatigue levels increase by each passing day, no one's is as fresh as they were when the ride started, a day away from the bike and the road helps one unwind, relax and raring to go the next day.
In India, best time to ride is early morning, best and swift ride plan for a group ride is to start early and finish the day's ride before dark, keeping a tab on fellow riders in the dark is confusing, finding a place to stay and eat in certain regions of India after dark is again a problem.
To sum it up group rides are best enjoyed when all riders know very well about the ride plan and the pace of the ride, avoid joining group rides just for the sake of safety and security, instead ride alone, in worst case scenario, u'll have nobody to help you in case of a breakdown, but that experience will teach you more about travel and biking, it is any day better than riding with complete strangers without knowing why we as a group are on the road.
A ride is not about sitting on the motorcycle and riding it to different places, if we say riding is about freedom, breaking free, then riding is about the mind and not the body. A well planned group ride can give you a lifetime of memories through common jokes, incidents and moments of crisis, on the other hand a badly planned group ride or a ride with strangers will be irritating. The difference between the two is what the mind going through, cos wheels are turning in both the rides.
We have not included the usual stuff here as we are presuming that everyone here knows what pointing at the tank and lifting the pinkie means.
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