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Motorcycle Etiquette

As always - Ride to your own Level of Experience - we were ALL beginners once - 
so don't feel embarrassed to ask questions or ask for help/training. 
We are ALL here to help each other become better and safer riders.

The Quick & Short List

 

Standard staggered formation. You should be 1 to 1.5 seconds behind the staggered bike, which would put you 2 to 3 seconds behind the bike directly in front of you.

If you like to ride slow or are new to group riding get up front. Those who like to ride fast should ride in the back. New riders may think they want to ride in the back, but the reality is just the opposite, they need to be near the front.

Spread out a little around tight corners. Most will need a little extra space. We don’t want anyone riding off into the ditch.

No wheelies, stoppies, etc. People should also not slow way down from the group, then zoom back up to the group. While it may be fun to goof around with your bike when you’re alone, it can create problems with the safety of the group.

 

Group Riding Etiquette Hand Signals
please pass all signals to riders behind you.
       
start left right
START ENGINES:
With your right or left arm extended, move your
LEFT TURN:
Raise your left arm horizontal with your elbow fully extended.
RIGHT TURN:
Raise your left arm horizontal with your elbow bent 90 degrees vertically.
HAZARD LEFT:
Extend your left arm at a 45 degree angle and point towards the hazard.
       
HAZARD RIGHT A:
Extend your right arm at a 45 degree angle and point towards the hazard.
HAZARD RIGHT B:
Extend your left arm upward at a 45 degree angle with your elbow bent to 90 degrees and point towards the hazard over your helmet.
SPEED UP:
Raise your left arm up and down with your index finger extended upward. This indicates the leader wants to speed up.
SLOW DOWN:
Extend your left arm at a 45 degree angle and move your hand up and down.
       
STOP:
Extend your left arm at a 45 degree angle with the palm of your hand facing rearward.
SINGLE FILE:
Position your left hand over your helmet with your fingers extended upward. This indicates the leader wants the group in a single file formation. Usually this is done for safety reasons.
STAGGERED or SIDE-BY-SIDE FORMATION:
Extend your left arm upward at a 45 degree angle with your index and pinkie finger extended. This indicate that it is safe to return to staggered formation.
TIGHTEN UP:
Raise your left arm and repeatedly move up and down in a pulling motion. This indicates the leader wants the group to close ranks.
TICKED OFF:
Extend your left arm straight out with your elbow bent 90 degrees. Carefully extend your middle finger to clearly demonstrate your dissatisfaction with the other guy. NOTE: It is not recommended you do this when you are alone.

Rules: Who Needs Them?

The following guidelines for riding in a group are not gospel. There are situations in which they don’t apply. Some organizations may have different terms for these concepts, as well. These guidelines have been tested for many miles, however, in clubs whose members ride all brands and models of motorcycles, and they have sound safety rationales to support them. If you as a rider find yourself in a group which does not follow these guidelines, you can usually find someone who will explain what rules that organization follows, if any, or how they differ from what you learn here. At most responsible group rides, a riders’ meeting will be held prior to departure, in order to clarify what is expected of all the riders who are to participate. If you find yourself uncomfortable with the riding style of a group at any time, DROP OUT. Your safe arrival at your destination is far more important than conforming to rules you don’t like or don’t understand. People who ride in a group usually appreciate knowing what they are expected to do, and what to expect from others who are taking part in a hazardous sport in close proximity to them. Road Captains and those who frequently ride lead or drag are particularly urged to become familiar with these terms and guidelines in order to explain them to other riders who may show up for a scheduled ride without having any group riding experience.

Some Common Group Riding Terms

Normal Group Riding Maneuvers

Entering Traffic: When the Lead Bike for each group sees that all riders are helmeted, sitting on their bikes, motors running, and ready to depart, he or she will check for traffic and enter the roadway. Usually the Lead Bike will not attempt to exit a parking lot unless there is room for all or most of the group to follow immediately. If the group is split, the Lead Bike will normally take the slow lane and keep the speed relatively low until the group can form up in the positions the riders will keep for the duration of the ride. This may mean traveling slower than surrounding traffic, to encourage four-wheelers to pass and allow the group to form up. Occasionally this cannot be accomplished until the group has made a lane change or entered a freeway, depending on where the entrance ramp may be.

Regardless of the Lead Bike’s signals, a rider is responsible for his or her own safety at all times. Ride Your Own Ride.

Once all members of the group are together, the group will take up a staggered formation and will stay in it most of the time during the ride, unless the Lead Bike signals for a change or the need for a change is obvious. Reasons for changing out of a staggered formation could be a passing situation or poor road surface (single file), dog or other animal charging the group (split the group), or coming up to a traffic signal (two abreast while waiting for a light).

When a group of motorcycles is changing lanes, many safety considerations come into play. Should every rider move into the adjacent lane at the same time? If not, should the Lead Bike go first, or should the Drag Bike move first to “secure the lane”? What if another vehicle sees a gap in traffic and tries to cut into the group? If part of the group gets separated from the other riders, should everyone change relative positions (tracks) so that the new Lead Bike is now riding in the left track? The recommended procedure for a group lane change maneuver depends on how the surrounding traffic is moving at the time. The goal for the bike which moves first is to create a gap into which the other bikes can fit.

Regardless of what other riders in the group are doing, each rider must personally check to see that the new lane is clear of traffic before entering it.

Changing Lanes as a Group

There is virtually no time (absent an emergency) when a group of riders should all move at the same time into a different lane, in regular traffic conditions. The wide gap required for a whole group to move is difficult to find in heavy traffic, and if it exists, it will be an invitation for other drivers to jump into it, perhaps while the group might be moving.

Spacing Out; Especially on less-congested rural backroads, the riders in a group may spread out to create larger intervals between motorcycles. This allows a rider to relax a bit, to enjoy the scenery and the ride. If no four-wheelers are trying to pass the group, this is fine. However, the riders should remain close enough to each other to be able to see hand signals being passed back from the Lead Bike. It is possible that a rider will also “space out” in terms of losing his concentration and will forget to practice safe riding strategies. If a rider is not riding safely enough to avoid endangering others in the group (because of lack of experience, medical problems, fatigue, or some other reason), the Lead Bike will usually discuss the problem privately with that rider at the next stop. If a problem cannot be solved reasonably in this way, the Lead Bike has absolute discretion to request that a rider leave the group and is entitled to expect the group to support this decision. In the case of a mechanical or minor medical problem, it is not unusual for another rider to accompany the distressed rider to get help. Sometimes if the Lead Bike just re-assigns the riders to new positions within the group, this is enough to bring a spaced-out motorcyclist back to a state of alert awareness.

Checking Out The Curves

On any stretch of curvy road and in any corner, a group may ride in single-file momentarily, to enable each rider to corner at his own speed and to have as much room as possible for maneuvering. This is especially important to riders with little experience in a group, as they may “wobble” or be nervous about making turns with another bike to their side or riding close behind them. This is an accepted variance to staggered formation; usually the Lead Bike will not signal for single-file at each turn but will expect the riders to choose their own path of travel.

Hand Signals

Certain hand signals are optional in group riding: turn signals on the bikes ahead will usually advise a rider that a turn is coming up, for example, and hand signals in a turning situation may actually add to the danger for some. However, other hand signals are extremely helpful to the rider who has no other means to communicate. The most important two hand signals are these: pointing to an obstacle in the road, warning the rider to avoid it; and pointing to the tank.

Exceptions to Normal Guidelines

The often-heard rule, “Ride Your Own Ride,” means that any guideline for group riding can and should be ignored when it doesn’t make sense. Determining whether this is the case and acting prudently is each rider’s individual responsibility at all times. Under normal circumstances, the Lead Bike will choose a lane, will determine the speed at which the riders are to travel, will suggest the formation which makes maneuvers most safe, and will navigate.

Common exceptions to these guidelines occur with a rider who is not yet experienced with group riding. If a maneuver looks too dangerous or awkward for the new rider to complete safely, he or she should do what he needs to do to protect himself and avoid an accident. This may mean passing up a turn or taking it very slowly, or parking somewhere not with the group, or going more slowly through a curve than the riders ahead of him.

Each rider commands his entire area within a lane and may move to left or right in it as required.

Another exception: the Drag Bike may not travel in the same path as the rest of the group. If, for example, a two-lane road is narrowing so that a lane is about to be lost, the Drag Bike will frequently “close the door” by moving out of the group’s staggered formation into the lane which is soon to disappear. This is to prevent a four-wheeler from trying at the last minute to pass part of the group and then have to cut into it when the pavement runs out. Even if the riders near the back of the group observe that the Drag Bike is no longer in the position where he has been riding most of the time, they should maintain their own place in the group.

Rubber-Band (“Yo-yo”) Effect

Reaction time for a motorcyclist when confronted with an unexpected threat is, on average, about one second. If the need to react is anticipated (such as when a turn has been announced), then riders can usually react within about half a second after the bike ahead begins to react. When a group of riders change speeds very gradually, however, it usually takes two or three seconds for a rider to recognize this and begin to change his speed to maintain his position in the group.

This doesn’t sound like much time, but experienced group riders manage their risks reasonably well with a minimum one-second interval between each bike and a minimum two-second interval between bikes that are traveling in the same track. When the group has more than six bikes in it, however, gradual changes in speed within the group can become tricky.

When a Lead Bike begins to accelerate, the second bike doesn’t instantly start to travel at the faster rate. Instead, a gap grows between them while the second bike is reacting -- and it continues to grow until the second bike is fully up to the increased, stable speed of the Lead Bike. Clearly, once the speeds are the same, the gap will remain the same size. However, since most groups prefer to keep a one-second minimum interval between bikes (two seconds between bikes in the same track), the new gap caused by the Lead Bike’s acceleration may be larger than is desired. When this occurs, the second bike must go faster than the first one for a brief time in order to “catch up.”

If we assume that the Lead Bike speeds up from 60 to 70 mph over a period of two seconds, the second bike will have to ride at 75 mph for two seconds (after his reaction time passes) in order to close the gap. Then he will take another one second to decelerate back to 70 mph to create a gap of the proper size. If there were only two bikes in the group, this example is easy to follow. But when the group is larger, and the bikes involved are riding further back in the pack, the “rubber band” effect can be especially dangerous to all bikes from the middle of the group to the Drag bike.

For example, the third bike in the group has this problem: About two seconds after the second bike has begun to accelerate, the third bike responds. Now, however, the second bike is moving at 75 mph rather than at 70 mph like the Lead Bike. The third bike must use even more effort to catch up to the second bike than the second bike did to match his speed to the Lead Bike’s new speed, if the gap is to stay relatively constant. He will have to move at 75 mph for four seconds, not two, to catch up. The fourth bike will have to accelerate to 80 mph!

In a group of only six motorcycles, the last one will find the gap between himself and the fifth bike has grown to 143 feet before it begins to close, once he starts to speed up, given these average reaction times. And it will be at least 11 seconds after the Lead Bike first began to accelerate before the sixth bike does so.

Now, imagine what happens in the group if, while this is taking place, the Lead Bike must apply his brakes! This rubber-band effect becomes extremely important if the Lead Bike happens to make an abrupt and major change of speed at certain critical moments, such as when approaching a sharp turn or a tricky curve. Those who ride as Lead Bike, or near the lead bike for their group should be aware of the importance of avoiding sudden changes in speed if at all possible, so as to reduce the risks to those following.

The rubber-band effect can be reduced by following these guidelines: