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Riding in groups of friends is a great experience, but the importance of planning and understanding the rules of riding in groups must be recognised. Riding in large groups is statistically more dangerous than riding in small groups or alone. However with some simple precautions and rules of the run, the experience can be much safer and more enjoyable for everyone.
Tips for safe riding in groups
- Maintain a safe distance between riders. In normal conditions allow at least two seconds of gap between you and the vehicle in front, and at least double that in the rain.
- Allocate a position to each rider and stick to them.
- Put slower riders and those less experienced, close to the front to take the pressure off trying to keep up.
- Alternatively make sure the whole group knows the route and where the stopping places are to re-group.
- Ride slightly off-set from the rider in front of you to become more visible to motorists and also have clean air to ride in.
- Always ride within your own capabilities and exercise your own judgement.
- Exchange mobile phone numbers at the start of a ride.
Plan your route
Include plenty of variety so that the run isn't continually challenging, and take into account the ability of all bikers on the trip. Think about whether the route is suitable for the time of year and always have a plan B! Everyone should have a copy of the route with a map, be informed of stopping places and rendezvous points, and the mobile phone numbers of others in the group.
Plan rest breaks
Arrange to make a stop at least once every 90 minutes. Regular breaks also allow the riders to stay together and can act as meeting points and refuelling stops. Remember that if a rider has caught up while the others are resting, they will need a break as well. Please use the following link for biker friendly cafes and stops.
Plan the return journey
Planning the home run shouldn't be overlooked. If riders wish to make their own way back, or will be splitting off from the group on the way home, they should let the others know their plans. Decide on a point where the run will officially finish and then one rider has the responsibility of a head count to make sure all riders have made it back (taking into account any who made their own way back).
Organisation of the run
Let everyone know the general route, each other's mobile numbers and where the rest stops will be. Agree which junction you're getting off the motorway, if applicable. Ensure all bikes have enough fuel to get them to the next refuelling stop, everyone has done a maintenance check and is wearing appropriate gear. Ask whether anyone is feeling unsure of the distance or route before setting off.
The running order
Allocate a leader or navigator at the front to lead the way. They must be familiar with the route, have the riding skills and bike to make reasonable progress and have a mobile phone. At the back there should be a 'sweeper'. They have the same requirements as the leader, and their role is to look out for slower riders and breakdowns and ensure no-one gets left behind.
Rules of the road
There are two golden rules of group riding, and they need to be agreed by everyone before setting off.
- No overtaking each other without prior planning
- Ride to the bike behind you, not the one in front
One of the main causes of collisions is when the riders in the group play 'follow my leader' and constantly try to keep up with the bike in front. By doing this, unnecessary risks are taken that put the riders in danger. It is worth remembering that between 2003 and 2010 nearly 20% of all riders killed on Cornwall's roads were riding in groups at the time.
This can be avoided by 'riding to the bike behind': make sure you can keep the bike following you in your mirrors most of the time and only slow down or stop if you lose sight of them for an extended time. Never turn left or right without being sure that the follower has seen you.
By following these simple rules group rides can be enjoyed by every member of the group and there will be no need to take risks.
If you are taking part in a larger group ride, a slightly different approach is required known as the Marker System which allocates a Lead rider, a Tail and a Marker.
- plans the route, taking into account people's capabilities, experience, the conditions and so on.
- briefs all riders.
- sets an appropriate pace.
- signals to the Marker rider where to stop.
- always stays at the front of the group.
- leaves a reasonable distance behind themselves and the penultimate rider, ensures that slower riders at the rear are under no pressure.
- watches out for any rider who has stopped and pulled over.
- always stays at the rear of the group.
- follows instructions from the Lead as to when to stop.
- finds a safe place to stop when signalled to do so.
- remains at this point until the Tail rider has caught up.
- rejoins the group safely.
- rotates their position within the group as the ride goes on.
It should always be assumed that the group will take a "straight ahead" route unless advised differently. When the group are going to alter from the main route, the rider travelling directly behind the Lead is signalled by the Lead to pull off the road in a safe position. This stationary rider now acts as the Marker to the remaining riders, showing which direction the group must take next. This rider will then rejoin the group in front of the Tail rider (if it is possible and safe to do so), knowing that the Tail will have already made sure they are the last rider in the group.
Therefore, as the ride continues, each rider in the group behind the Lead will take their turn to act as the Marker rider for the group. This system allows each member to ride in a style and a manner that suits them, always knowing that they are going to stay with the group and confident that they will always know which route the group is following.
To ensure that this is as effective as possible each rider must be aware of the system, understand the signals that are to be used that makes them the next Marker, and know who the Lead and the Tail are
Riding on Motorways
Stopping on the hard shoulder or near a turn off just to let the rest of your group catch up is illegal. Therefore plan ahead to decide at which junction you will be leaving the motorway and ensure that the group knows this.
A good way to keep everyone together (or at least in sight of each other) on motorways is to give the lead rider a strict speed limit which is well within the reach of everyone else in the group. By combining this with both the no overtaking rule and riding-to-the-bike-behind rule, no-one should have too much difficulty staying in touch with the group.
Town and City Centres
Riding in large cities, or even smaller towns where there are intricate traffic management systems, can be difficult, and especially so when you're trying to stay in a group. The best way to combat this is to get organised into smaller groups of three of four and to ride in a staggered formation to make it easier to stay together, less experienced riders may want to practise this in familiar towns before the trip.
Familiarise yourself with the rules of the road in the country you're visiting. Simple web searches such as "road signs Spain", or "highway code France" can provide good information. Make sure you have the correct insurance cover before leaving the UK and take a look at the websites of British Embassies and Consulates which can also be useful sources of travel advice. When riding abroad it is useful to have a substantial landmark as a rendezvous point in case the group gets split up. Even in a country where you don't speak the language you can usually get directions to major places of interest, which should ensure you can all regroup if anyone gets lost.
- Plan the route - prepare copies for others.
- Identify the rest breaks.
- Brief the riders: explain the rules, the breaks and swap mobile numbers.
- Explain the riding system you're using and identify the Lead and Tail riders.
- If you're using a Marker system, make sure everyone knows how it works and the signal from the Lead that would make them the next Marker.
- Maintenance and fuel check before the start - you could avoid a breakdown.
- Make sure the group wear the right gear. Be prepared for changes in weather.
- Tell the group to ride within their own ability and don't try to "keep up".
- Identify hazards like tractors in the country or caravans in the summer.
- If someone leaves the group make sure they know who to tell.
- Make sure everyone is accounted for at the end.