So, what are the risks?
- The biggest risk is that the pace that the group set is quicker than you are going to be comfortable with.
- The group may know the roads well and you may not.
- There may be an idiot in the group?
- It may become a race!
- You could become separated from the group.
- Biking tends to have a macho image and it can be difficult to accept that your riding skills are not as advanced as the other group members.
How do we reduce these risks?
- Firstly how well do you know the other members of the group?
- How many are in the group?
- Does the group have rules that everyone in the group understands?
- Is there a plan of where you are going? Agree a route and destination with rest points so that if you become separated, you can make for the next agreed stop to meet up without being under pressure to catch up.
- How far will you be going? Will you need fuel soon?
- Swap mobile phone numbers with a couple of other riders.
- Meeting point and destinations are often pubs. Remember that alcohol and bikes are a fatal combination. NO ALCOHOL.
Obviously any group must have a leader and possibly a tail end Charlie. The leader should set a pace that allows everyone to keep up and should stop from time to time to bring everyone back together especially after passing through a busy area with traffic lights, roundabouts etc that can split the group up or a quick bit of road where speed limits may not have been observed. (Surely not)
Tail end Charlie has a more difficult task, especially if there is a problem such as a breakdown or a rider who is uncomfortable with the pace and is dropping back. Ideally they will be in radio contact with the leader and therefore able to inform of any problems.
Using the second rider drop off system is a good way of keeping everyone on route. If you have not used the second rider drop off it is quite straight forward.
At any junction or round about where a turn is made, the second rider pulls over indicating which way to go and stays there until the last rider goes through. It is important that everyone knows how many are in the group. This way everyone gets to move up to second rider position and then drop to the back. It is not possible to mark motorway exits in this way, so if you are using motorways, it is necessary to pre-agree numbers of junctions where you are planning to leave the motorway. It is a good idea for the lead rider to slow down when approaching a motorway exit to allow everyone to bunch up and reduce the risk of losing someone.
So, you know where you are going and how you will be able to follow the route. What’s next?
The number one rule of group riding is to stay within your comfort zone. Don’t be tempted to try and stay with quicker riders if this means that you are riding quicker than you are comfortable with. If necessary, allow others to pass you and drop back.
You are out to enjoy yourself, not to scare yourself or your pillion. Just because the rider in front is going into a bend quicker than you, does not mean that they will get around it safely. It is all too easy to get into a semi hypnotic state just following the bike in front instead of reading the road and making your own judgements. Don’t be embarrassed by not keeping up with the bike in front. It will be more embarrassing if the other riders have to pull you and your bike out of the hedge or worse.
Sadly there are many reports of how riders have blindly followed the bike(s) in front that are overtaking, only to find that there is an oncoming car or another obstacle there, resulting in a collision. Wait until you can see that it is safe before overtaking. This might sound obvious but unfortunately it was not obvious to the casualties who followed through.
Be considerate of other road users. It is quite frightening for a car driver to look in the mirror and see a bunch of bikes with headlights on sitting right on their bumper. There is a serious risk that they will panic and without thinking hit the brakes. If traffic is congested we can filter past but should not force cars to brake to let us in, this could result in the driver acting stupidly and pulling out in front of the next bike or sitting right on your back wheel. Discourtesy is an unsafe way of riding because it causes aggressive reactions from the other drivers and this increases the risks to us. We are out to enjoy ourselves, let’s not spoil it for others.
One of the benefits of going out with a bunch of other riders is that some of them may be more competent than you and it’s unusual to find someone who will not be willing to offer you some advice. However, there are also those whose abilities aren’t in line their high perception of themselves, so be careful on what advice you listen to. If it is apparent that your skills are not up to those in the group, then why not get in touch with your local BikeSafe group. This scheme is run by the police and they will assess your riding and recommend local trainers as appropriate. www.bikesafe.co.uk
Alternatively, you could contact a local DVSA approved ERS instructor.
You could also contact your local IAM group.
Whether you are simply going out for a couple of hours, a 200 mile, all-day run or a continental tour, set your own agenda, ride at a pace that you are comfortable with, enjoy every minute of your ride and return home safely.