How to Form Your Own Biker Gang

Get Your Group On

By Jerry Smith, Photography by Kevin Wing & Adam Campbell

If you’ve ever been held up by a long line of bikes riding in tight formation, preventing you from merging onto the highway or taking advantage of a passing lane, you might have sworn on the spot you’d never ride with more people than you can fit on the passenger seat. But hitting the road with a dozen or more of your closest friends doesn’t have to end in frustration––or worse, like when a deer or a left-turning car accordions the entire pack and no one has the time or the room to avoid the pileup. Applying a few common-sense tips makes group riding safer and more fun for everyone.

Split up. Break down large groups of riders into smaller groups with four or five riders each, according to skill level and preferred speed. Send them off at intervals so they don’t bunch up later. Pick a lead rider for each group and another to ride sweep. The leader sets the pace, and the sweep handles stragglers and drop-outs. Riders with first-aid kits and/or medical training are good candidates for sweep riders.

Spread out. On the road, distance equals time. Maintain a safe following distance from the bike in front so you have time to react if something happens. Don’t get impatient and ride up someone’s tailpipe. Pretend you don’t know the rider in front of you, and that the two of you aren’t going to the same place. How closely would you follow then?

Keep in touch. Come up with some simple hand signals for each group leader to use to indicate trouble ahead, a turn or off-ramp, or a gas or rest stop. If some of the riders in the group don’t have cell phones, have someone who does in each group in case of emergency or delay.

Let traffic merge. Ride, pass, and merge as if you were riding alone. A long line of bikes in the slow lane that doesn’t let traffic merge is discourteous to other drivers and creates an unsafe backup on on-ramps, where cars are accelerating up to speed. Move left to let cars onto the highway, then return to your lane.

Check your ego at the door. A group ride isn’t a race. Don’t put yourself and others at risk by trying to be a hero. If you want to impress your fellow riders, buy them lunch.

Chill out. The badass-biker stereotype still runs deep in many non-riders’ minds. And like a sheep surrounded by wolves, some car drivers are intimidated by the sight of so many motorcycles and make sudden, unpredictable moves. Keep this in mind as you pass cars. Leave plenty of room before you blend back into the lane. A little wave of thanks helps humanize you, too.

Think for yourself. It’s almost instinctive to take your cues from the bikes around you, adjusting your speed to theirs and changing lanes when they do. Don’t get sucked into group-think. Ride your own ride, and do what you think is safest for you, even if it means dropping out of the group and riding alone.

Stagger down the road. On straight highways a staggered formation gives each rider a better view of the road ahead and more time and distance to react in case of an emergency. When the road turns twisty, switch to single file. In either case always maintain a safe following distance.

Have a Plan B. A lot can happen on a road trip, even a short one. A few riders might speed up or slow down without realizing it and become separated from the others. Long stretches of urban riding punctuated by stoplights can string out the group over several blocks. A lead rider taking the wrong off-ramp can get an entire group lost. Make sure everyone is familiar with the destination and the route and has a map or a GPS. Decide when you’re meeting up, and leave some leeway in case a rider is delayed––but not too much. If someone is 30 minutes late, it’s probably no big deal. Three hours, and it’s time to send out a search party.

Quick Facts

Arrive at the starting point for your group ride with a clean face shield, full tank of gas, and an empty bladder. You won’t make many friends if you need a bathroom break every 30 minutes of a day-long ride. Avoid caffeinated drinks because caffeine is a diuretic. If it’s hot, drink water and eat a salty snack to help your body retain it.

By Jerry Smith
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