When you’re learning how to ride a motorcycle, there are a few things you can know will eventually happen to you. Like death and taxes, there’s some things in the culture that are pretty much unavoidable. Hopefully the first is having the time of your life. If you aren’t enjoying yourself out on the road then chances are you are dead inside. The second is catching a flat. It will happen to you sooner or later and the better prepared you are to deal with it, the less painful it will be. The last one is being asked on a group ride. Unless your regular Sunday run is through the middle of the Sahara Desert, sooner or later you’ll find yourself riding with other motorcyclists.
And while it may seem pretty innocuous at first glance, you may be surprised to learn that they have their own set of challenges, and that the more prepared you are for them, the easier and more pleasant they will be. To be sure, they too can be as magical—if not more so—than solo rides, but unlike solo rides, you’ll have other riders with their own sets of wants, needs and challenges to contend with. Here’s our tips on how to do it.
The Pros of Riding Motorcycles in Groups
Getting Riding Advice
Motorcycling is a skill that can take many, many years to perfect. And you can take the word “perfect” there with a large grain of salt. Hell, even the riders in the MotoGP are still constantly improving, and they’re within the top 1% of riders globally.
Yes, it’s you and you alone that will have to get better, but like many things in life, the right advice at the right time can save you a large chunk of trouble otherwise spent trying to figure things out all by your lonesome. Like a golf swing or a guitar chord, sometimes all it takes is for someone to say, “Maybe you could try something a little more like this,” and you’ll make a breakthrough.
For motorcycles, things like learning how to countersteer, your position on the bike, how you brake, and even little things like how you grip the throttle and where you put your feet on the footpegs can be instantly improved by one small helping hand. It’s exactly the thing that riders might pay hundreds of dollars for with professional coaches, and here you are getting all these nuggets of gold for free.
Just make sure that before you take a piece of advice, you check that it’s legit. Some riders might think that they are king of the hill and that every word that falls from their lips is like manna from heaven, but even the best riders can hold onto bad habits and keep doing things that are just plain incorrect—or at least not the right advice for you and your skill levels.
Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone
Even the world’s best biker won’t improve their skills if they do the same thing over and over. As the quote from Einstein goes, expecting that is the definition of insanity. But humans are humans and we often take the easy way out. Besides, when the choice is a quiet Sunday ride after a long and stressful week or learning something new, you aren’t a bad person if you take the easy, more relaxing way out.
But what if you instead decided to try something different? Even if it’s a new route or extending your normal on-road time, riding in a group can help you learn just by the fact that you have more than just yourself to accommodate.
Unlike above, I’m not talking about pushing your limits here too much. This is more of a “doing a few extra sets at the gym” kind of situation. If you find yourself straying into the “I’m riding beyond what’s safe” as in the above example, it’s probably best to give yourself a sense check or just quietly bail at an opportune moment.
But if you find that you are comfy yet challenged, then ride on. Tackling new stretches of road, riding in different weather conditions, or even riding at different times of day than you are used to call all be valuable learning tools. It’s what trainee pilots have to do by law, so it more than figures that it’ll be a valuable experience for us young road pilots as well.
Getting Technical Help
I used to have a hell of a time with motorcycle tyre maintenance—specifically when it came to keeping my bike’s tyre pressures in range. Without boring you with all the details, the bike’s wheel design meant getting one of those generic service station’s air filler doohickies in between the spokes and behind the brake discs was nigh-on impossible.
Add this to the fact that plenty of public air filling stations are hopelessly inaccurate or just plain broken and you’ll start to see how something as important as correct tyre pressures can all too easily become a “I’ll do it later” task like proper chain maintenance that could put you at increased risk of an accident. I tried Google. Nada. I asked a few friends. Thay hadn’t experienced anything similar, so they just shrugged their shoulders and smiled. Damn.
Then on a group ride, I had a friend of a friend drop a tidbit of advice that changed my tyre pressure world forever. What’s that? Had I tried a certain handheld, battery-powered air compressor with USB charging and a nifty little flexible hose that lets you get into hard-to-reach valves? Why no, kind sir. I haven’t tried it. But do go on!
Now I laugh at checking tyre pressures, safe in the knowledge that it’ll never be an issue again. And all this from a chance encounter on a group ride. Thank you, God of Group Rides. Thank you very much. Also consider that there may be a regular group ride near you that caters specifically to your make and model of bike, too. How handy would that be for tech tips?
The Cons of Riding Motorcycles in Groups
Dealing with Egos
If there’s one negative thing above all else that you need to look out for during group rides, it’s ego. And I’m not just talking about the riders around you. It’s your own ego as well. Let me explain.
As the age-old adage goes, the first motorcycle race probably happened about five minutes after the second motorcycle was made. I don’t care how mature a rider or sensible human being you are, everyone wants to know if their bike is faster than someone else’s and who’s the more talented rider. One minute it’s a leisurely cruise and the next minute you’re tearing away from the traffic lights going at it neck and neck.
Speed is exhilarating and most modern bikes have it on tap in truckloads. The only thing stopping you from turning it on is your common sense, and egos are the mortal enemy of common sense.
Mob mentality can also play a part here. You’ve started the day with a double shot coffee. Everyone’s excited. Someone next to you gives their engine a little rev and bounces it off their limiter. Cool, huh? Not to be shown up, someone else decides that producing a little smoke from the back wheel would be a fun thing to do.
Pretty soon, you’re all feeding into each other’s excitement and things can get dangerous quicker than a landmine jumping competition. The catch 22 in these situations is that even if you stand back and are 100% well behaved, all it takes is for someone to go down in front of you and the rest is history.
What’s more tempting to a police officer than one speeding motorcyclist? The answer is 25 speeding motorcyclists; the bigger the target is, the easier it is for them to hit. Even if they are down for some defect notices or to kill some time, they can be sure that they’ll have more luck with a bunch of us at the end of a radar gun than just one of us.
And even if it’s only a single rider in a group of bikes that’s misbehaving, you can bet that any police officer with a bit of experience will paint you all with the same brush. I’ve even heard stories of officers catching one bike in a group speeding and then handing out tickets to all the riders, saying “what would you rather have; me canceling the speeding rider’s license or you all getting a smaller slap on the wrist?”
No, I probably don’t have any real way of verifying that, but I do think the basic concept is sound. If there’s one police officer and 25 of you, they will treat you en masse as a matter of course. Even if it’s just a small fine, I’m pretty confident that no rider with any remaining neurons intact wants to take the fall for some jerk they’ve never met doing burnouts or wheelies and being caught by the fuzz.
Conveniently, the answer here is the same for my point above about ego; if things start going south and you’re not comfy with it, just bail (on the group, not off your bike). Or if your relationship with the group is tight, then maybe mention to the rider getting jiggy with it that you’d prefer if they toned things down a little bit.
Riding Beyond Your Abilities
When riding by yourself, you have nothing to prove. If you mess up a corner or stall your bike, no one will know except you. But do the same thing on a group ride and suddenly you are worried what “other people” will think of you. Are they laughing inside their helmets? Maybe you should show off a little bit to impress them. And the next thing you know…
Another big challenge is the “keeping up with the Joneses” effect. Group rides usually involve way points, destinations and, well, riding in groups. But what if you realise that everyone else in the group is faster than you?
Do you let them tear off and ride at your own leisurely pace? Or—more likely—do you try and keep up wanting to save a little face and to show them that you’re just as skilled as they are? Suddenly you’re in a corner going way too fast and learning the hard way that arriving a few minutes late at the cafe for lunch is always preferable to ending the ride in a ditch with a broken leg. It’s a tricky trap to avoid, too.
Even the fear of getting lost on a route that you aren’t familiar with can spur you on. Or having a bunch of other reuters overtake you. A big giveaway here is how the ride is organised. Was there a pre-ride briefing? Does the ride have markers including someone at the back to guide stragglers? Or is it just a free-for-all? Now try and guess which one is the better, safer option.
Are Group Rides Worth the Risk?
So in the end, are group rides worth the risk? They sure are—as long as you know how to set boundaries for yourself and prepare for the situations you might encounter. Now that you’ve had the full briefing, you’ll be in a perfect position to negotiate their best and worst aspects. Stay safe and see you out there.