Riding with your mates, or making new friends through motorcycling, are among the best things about life on two wheels. The only problem is, the people you want to hang out with may not be riding at the same standard as you. They could be slower and more timid than you or, especially if you’ve not been riding long or have had some time away from motorcycling, they may be riding faster than you want to.
And if even one person is feeling uncomfortable and wishing the others would slow down, that’s a recipe for unhappiness. So follow our tips for staying friends with all your riding buddies:
1. Choose your group carefully. It helps to be at a similar level of experience, but it’s even more important to know and trust them.
2. Arrive on time with a full tank of petrol.
3. Hold a riders’ meeting. Discuss things like the route, rest and fuel stops, and hand signals. Assign a lead and a sweep (tail) rider. Both should be experienced riders who are experienced in group riding procedures. The leader should assess everyone’s riding skills and the group’s riding style.
4. Keep the group to a manageable size, ideally five to seven riders. If necessary, break the group into smaller sub-groups, each with a lead and sweep rider. Slower people at the front, faster people at the back. Sounds wrong, but it will avoid newer riders pushing themselves too hard to try and keep up. And nobody will get left behind.
5. Ride in formation. The staggered riding formation (see the image above) allows a safety cushion between motorcycles so that each rider has enough time and space to manoeuvre and to react to hazards. The leader rides in the right third of the lane, while the next rider stays at least one second behind in the left third of the lane; the rest of the group follows the same pattern. A single-file formation is better on a curvy road, in poor visibility or on poor road surfaces, when entering or leaving the highway, or whenever you might need more room to manoeuvre or more time to react.
6. Avoid side-by-side formations as they reduce the space cushion. If you suddenly needed to swerve to avoid a hazard you would not have room to do so. You don’t want handlebars to get entangled.
7. Ride for yourself. Don’t assume because it’s safe for the person before you to pull out, it’s safe for you to do it too. Don’t assume that because they feel in control at this speed, you should too. Ride the way you would if you were alone.
8. Don’t be embarrassed to split up. If you have three novice riders and four people who’ve spent every weekend since 1982 on a sports bike, you’re not likely to enjoy the same kind of ride. The old hands and the back-road pootlers can always meet up at lunchtime and compare notes.
9. Periodically check the riders following in your rear view mirror. If you see a rider falling behind, slow down so they may catch up. If all riders in the group use this technique the group should be able to maintain a fairly steady speed without pressure to ride too fast to catch up.
10. If you’re separated from the group don’t panic. Your group should have a plan in place to re-group. Don’t break the law or ride beyond your skill level to catch up.
11. Be a good advert for motorcycling. It’s easy to get a naughty schoolchild mentality when you’re out in a group, but you’re also very visible ambassadors for life on two wheels. Overtake considerately, respect speed limits and be nice to the locals.
12. Relax. You’re here to enjoy yourself. If it stops being fun, make your excuses and leave.
Advanced training is a great way to get more out of your riding, and improve your technique. Find a good local motorcycle training centre and ask about the DSA Enhanced Rider Scheme. You might even get cheaper motorbike or scooter insurance!