BECOME A GROUP RIDING EXPERT
Rapid Technical Series information sheet
Riding with mates is one of motorcycling’s greatest pleasures. But it’s also one of the most dangerous aspects of riding. Rapid Training’s boss Gary Baldwin tells John Westlake how to reduce the risks.
John Westlake is one of the UK’s most experienced motorcycle journalists. The former editor of Bike and Ride has road tested almost every bike made since 1991 and is a contributing editor for Bike and Classic Bike.
Gary Baldwin is a crash investigator, ex-motorcycle cop, former racer and director of Rapid Training. He’s a blisteringly fast road rider and the man behind Rapid’s no-nonsense approach to fast, safe road riding.
JW: Is group riding a factor in a lot of crashes?
GB: When I arrive at a bike crash scene, about half of the time there are other motorcyclists waiting. Group riding is involved in a significant number of crashes. But there’s nothing inherently dangerous about it providing everyone knows what they’re doing.
So how do I avoid the problems?
Tip number one is don’t ride with loads of people you don’t know. I’ve gone to lots of crashes and when I’ve asked other riders what’s gone on, they tell me they hadn’t met the crash victim before today. People often meet other riders off the internet from a forum, but just because they’ve got the same bike doesn’t mean they have any idea how each other will ride. So they all shoot off and hope they have a good time because they’ve got the same bike. It generally doesn’t work very well.
Why do these kind of groups cause crashes?
The main problem is they don’t set down any ground rules, which results in people desperately trying to keep up even though they’re out of their depth.
So how should I avoid chasing the leaders?
You need to take responsibility for knowing where you’re going. Lots of riders don’t do this so there’s a pressure to keep up so they don’t get lost. Simply knowing where you’re going can take the pressure off.
Any other rules for groups?
No overtaking within the group. You’ve got enough to think about without wondering if another bike is going to come past you. The order you set off in should be the order you arrive, and if you want to change the order, you do it when you’ve stopped for a break. I’ve seen crashes between two bikes where one has gone to overtake a slower rider just as that rider has moved out to overtake a car. Those types of crashes tend to be pretty messy.
Where should the most experienced riders go in the group?
With most groups it’s generally the person at the back who has to travel fastest because they’ll inevitably miss an overtake and then have to catch up. It’s these people who are most likely to crash, not Mr Speedy out in front, so it’s not a good idea to put the least experienced rider at the back.
What about the size of the group?
Try and restrict the size of the group to reduce the variables. Three is enough for me. Any more than that and there’s only one person that’s really happy – the guy at the front. Everyone else is compromising everything – their view, speed, enjoyment. Split into smaller groups if there’s a load of you. I have to say though that there are some club ride-outs that are well organised, dropping riders off at junctions so people can ride at their own pace. It’s not my cup of tea, but some people love it.
You mentioned being compromised. What do you mean?
I mean that the guy at the front blocks the view of the riders behind, and he determines their speed – either holding them up, or egging them on. Riding in a staggered formation maximises your view and space to brake, plus it takes up less space, and it looks professional to other road users, which could prove useful if something goes wrong.
Why bother looking professional?
It’s worth bearing in mind that even if you’re not involved in a crash, it can still end badly for you. If there’s a crash involving a big group, there are likely to be a lot of witnesses in cars very keen to give a statement saying all the bikes were going fast. People always remember a group of 10 bikes going past them. And then you’re all in deep shit because the whole group will be charged with dangerous driving. And you really don’t want to get involved in that. If you look professional – as opposed to a rabble – drivers tend to think better of you.
So should you ride slower in a group rather than faster?
There’s a lot of sense in doing that. If you’re riding in a group, you need to adjust your expectations. If you want to go for a thrash, go on your own, or with one mate. If you want to go in a big group to the coast, you’ll have to make compromises and go at a gentler pace. If you try and go at the same speed as you would on your own, it could easily end in tears.
Any other tips?
Always keep the bloke behind you in your mirrors. And if you can’t see him, don’t turn off until he’s in sight – just wait at the junction until he appears. That way none of the group gets lost and people don’t feel pressured to ride too fast. We use this on our courses and we’ve never lost anyone. It’s very easy.