Lessons Learned: Group Rides

Discussion in 'The Perfect Line and Other Riding Myths' started by ricky racer583, Aug 9, 2021.

  1. ricky racer583

    ricky racer583 Adventurer

    May 21, 2021
    Recently a friend of mine asked me to join him and some of his friends on a motorcycle trip down to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It would be a 4 day trip and would include his brother and nephew (I know both really well) and a few other guys. Now that I'm retired, I have the time available to do stuff like that whereas before, I never had the extra time available to make a trip like that.

    Anyway, the group was going to total 10 guys but at the last minute 2 cancelled out leaving 8 to go on the ride. Brad, the nephew was the organizer of the trip. He selected the route, made the hotel reservations etc., and all was well done and well thought out.

    Now where things started to go south for me is I'm pretty much a loner when it comes to riding unless it off road or participating in a race. My experience riding in a group on the road is minimal. This group, for the most part, always ride in a group and they like to ride in a staggered formation. I was expected to fall in line and take a position in the formation, which I did. Within 5 miles I could tell that this is not for me. My position was in the right hand side of the lane and about the 6th rider back from the leader. Prior to this experience I didn't realize that this is how they always rode.

    I continued with the group but was not liking it nor having any fun. The riders were all grouped together too closely for my comfort, they always rode within the speed limit regardless what the traffic around them was doing. If the speed limit was 60 we went along somewhere between 55 & 60 miles per hour even though traffic was moving around us at 70 mph. I felt we were a
    "rolling speed bump" on the road.

    After the first day I told one of the guys that I was going to ride in the rear where I could control the distance from other riders and ride in the most optimal portion of the lane. They had no problem with that so that helped out my comfort but I still had to contend with the slow speeds.

    So, we make it down near the Blue Ridge Parkway onto some really great twisty roads and the group continued to ride in their formation at a painfully slow pace. "How slow did they go" you ask? The first really good tight twisty road was up an mountain, really tight with elevation changes and just overall great switchbacks. Because it was going up a mountain, the uphill lane had both a slow lane and a fast lane so people driving cars or pulling camping trailers wouldn't hold up traffic and faster traffic could easily pass them and traffic wouldn't be held up. The leader of our group took us up the fast lane but at such a slow pace cars and trucks were stacking up behind us and eventually they started moving into the "slow lane" and passing our group!! I was so embarrassed and wondered what was wrong assuming that there surely was an issue causing such slow going.

    The issue seemed to be a combination of all the other bikes except mine being cruisers (mine is an R1200GS) and the overall skill level of the riders being apparently pretty low. The leaders cruiser, a Honda Shadow has aftermarket floorboards that hit the ground with just the slightest lean angle and none of the others were much better. Because of this, we literally crawled through the twisties. I started dropping back a hundred yards or so then would charge through the twisties usually one or two before almost running over the rider in front of me. I only did that a few times before I quit doing that as to not make the rider feel like I was pushing him and trying to make him ride faster than he felt comfortable.

    Now if these were just guys that I hooked up with, I would have left the group and just gone on my own but 3 or 4 of them are good friends and it wasn't worth loosing friends to crank it through the twisties.
    The lesson I learned was: Ride by yourself unless you really know who you are riding with, are near the same skill level and have similar riding tastes. Ask a lot of questions about how the group rides and what they are looking for in the ride. If I were to do it all again, I'd want to meet the guys at the motel to hang out with, eat together etc., but go on my own rides at my own pace and meet up that evening once the riding was done.

    What lessons have you learned when dealing with a group?
    Brtp4, Scoozi, AwDang and 17 others like this.
  2. racermx66

    racermx66 Suzuki

    Mar 21, 2006
    New Jersey
    I always ride alone. The 2 times I went riding with a friend on a Yamaha R6 turned out to be a nightmare. He would take off without notice weaving between cars at high speeds. I spent the whole day trying to catch up to him. He ended up getting rid of the bike after a year. Needed money to get the transmission on his car fixed. Good thing too. No way he would have made it to his next birthday.
  3. Sal Pairadice

    Sal Pairadice Captain Obvious Supporter

    Feb 2, 2018
    My experience was similar to yours. I went out with a big group that all had the same brand of cruiser motorcycle and they were painfully slow and even had one or two low speed tip overs. Eventually I rode ahead to the destination and awaited their arrival where our " road captain" mentioned that my " fast riding" didn't fit with the group. I bet they all said I wouldn't last with my wild ways but decades later they have all pretty much given up and I still ride.

    So , the only type of group ride I would do is where we ride our own ride and meet up , either at the end of the day or at the next junction.

    OTOH I rode with a NYC group of Triumph riders and that was a totally different experience. All were very fast, competent motorcyclists. They did maybe 15 over out in the back country ( maybe a little more) but more mellow in towns or around other drivers.

    And I have ridden with a couple of guys from work who are very good sport riders and that was a joy. Especially fake "racing" my Bonneville against my buddies Ducati 916. Of course the Bonny is no match for that bike but we just had fun passing each other safely and riding good lines in the corners. No one took it seriously. Just fast enough to make it fun. Those guys rode 10 mph over in deserted areas, an maybe had a couple of higher speed passes all day. But its hard to find really good riders like that, ones you can trust.
  4. tessalino

    tessalino Long timer

    May 17, 2014
    I stopped going to family reunions about the time they started exchanging gun fire.
  5. High Country Herb

    High Country Herb Adventure Connoiseur

    Apr 5, 2011
    Western Sierras
    Group rides with cruisers are often like that. They are called "cruisers" for a reason. Those guys aren't in a hurry. In some cases, they consider it giving all motorcyclists a bad name if you break the speed limit. Unfortunately, they don't realize they are doing just that by camping out in the fast lane.

    That isn't always the case. A friend of mine has a Street Glide, and the group of Harleys he rides with rail their bikes at 110% the whole time. He says it's nuts, and can barely keep up. They do adhere to the formation stuff as well, riding 2-feet apart as they haul ass.

    I almost always ride solo or with my wife, who rides a much slower DR350. I like to ride spirited, but not crazy. I try to keep it between 80-90% depending on traffic. I had a group of friends I rode with, but they have all gone to track riding only. In that group of 4 riders, one was a squid on an R1, two were skilled riders on 600s, and one was a slow rider on a 600. I generally stayed 2nd from last, allowing me to keep my preferred pace. All of us are skilled enough to keep very tight formation, but find it tiring and limiting to do so.

    The best thing is to agree on the destination, and keep distant sight of each other as you spread out along that route. If the group is following the leader through a series of turns, wait for the rider behind you to make sure they see the turn. Even with a big difference in speed, all riders will arrive in a few minutes at the end.
  6. jacktwitch

    jacktwitch Teasing the thin line between lost and exploring

    Sep 9, 2016
    Northern AZ
    I almost went on a group ride, until they mentioned something about "not having that many crashes last year"

    Im not here to see and be seen, I want to get out and explore.

    I ride solo or with a buddy most of the time. Group of 3 or 4 max.

    All it takes is someone to whiskey throttle behind you or wreck in front of you and now you are screwed, no thanks
  7. Guano11

    Guano11 Stop me if you've heard this one....

    Mar 26, 2007
    Pacific NW
    I know one Harley rider who's weekend activity was participating in a very large & disciplined formation around the local area. He's a former Marine and it's likely a lot of his co-riders share that military dress & cover mentality as well. They took the riding pretty seriously and even coached each other in parking lot drills every couple of months or so. I'd say that even though their riding "style" wasn't my bag (at all), they were pretty good, mature riders. Must say that when done this way, it's actually pretty impressive to witness. No squids, open-pipe revs, burnouts, etc.... just a massive formation of rolling thunder in strict formation snaking its way along the highway.

    I eventually relocated and wound up riding with some new co-workers who'd been riding together for years. Their "formation" is allowed to sprawl, sometimes over a couple of miles if the speed differentials warrant it. Everyone rides their own ride and what keeps everyone together is the main rule: You're responsible for the person behind you. In other words if the route takes a turn onto another road, you're supposed to slow or stop until you have positive confirmation that the rider behind you is following accordingly. Only the lead rider (can be anyone) needs to know the routes and the planned stops; if you don't know the route or stops, don't take the lead. Eight is a good number of riders; more than a dozen gets to be a bit cumbersome. It also helps that the organizer is very clear up front with expectations -- in this case, lots of riding & not a lot of sightseeing or selfie-taking, breakfast after the first 100mi or so, lunch in the tank bags, hotel well before dark, and a good meal to cap the day. Lather, rinse, repeat...

    We did have one guy once who was a almost exclusively a solo guy. He even got the nickname "Lone Wolf" because he just wasn't a follow-the-group kind of guy....but I suspect that had to do just as much with his personality / social skills as it did with his riding preferences.

    Anyway since you asked, the lesson learned is that it's very possible to have a solo-like experience yet still enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded riders at the end of the day. :ricky

    The BRP ride you describe sounds miserable, frustrating and -- your word -- "embarrassing".:fpalm
    Scoozi, willibauer, Mrstig and 4 others like this.
  8. steiny

    steiny Been here awhile

    Mar 8, 2012
    I have found the same problems with group rides .

    Now I only ride with a small (3-4) group that I know and have rode with before .
    isaaczrx likes this.
  9. clogan

    clogan Been here awhile

    Oct 29, 2012
    Rockvale, TN
    I've reached the age where riding alone has one MAJOR benefit: it means I can take a restroom break as often as I need to and not worry about holding up anyone else, LOL!
  10. VX Rider

    VX Rider Long timer

    Dec 11, 2015
    I've only ridden with groups in a limited way.

    I'm not a hard person to get along with IF

    IF you show up on time
    Prepared to ride
    with fuel
    no bike issue you knew you should fix weeks ago
    Ride with reasonable caution
    Ride at a reasonable pace

    Most group rides turn into cat herding exercise, and or exhibitions of ignorance
    Brtp4, Scoozi, frazman and 2 others like this.
  11. professorkx

    professorkx Been here awhile

    Dec 18, 2013
    My wife rides on my bike behind me, and we have over 100,000 miles on Harley's and Adventure bikes. I learned early to stay out group rides. The primary issue is the variability in skill set. I just don't trust that the guy next to me has the skills to avoid a crash...and not crash me...when something weird happens.

    I've hit deer and just kept riding without stopping, same for my son, but we have the skills from racing for decades to keep the bike upright.
    Barry and Tmaximusv like this.
  12. Ray916MN

    Ray916MN Dim Mak

    Apr 23, 2011
    Orono, MN
    I've organized and done hundreds of group rides. They work fine when an organizer provides a route sheet and/or a GPS file. The key to riding in a group is to ride you're own ride. When everyone in the group can navigate the route independently, then no one needs to keep up or keep behind. A good group ride organizer makes sure everyone independently has a way of knowing where the ride is going and can ride their own ride. Compatible riders in the group ride together because they want to, not because they need to. Anyone relying on the ride leader to figure out where the ride is going because they can't follow a route sheet or don't have a GPS to follow the route gets what they deserve.

    I no longer organize rides or do much group riding as I'm tired of leading people who seem bent on getting what they deserve. The group riding I do these days is with people who know where the ride is going and take turns leading.
    Brokein2 and Traxx like this.
  13. BetterLateThanNever

    BetterLateThanNever Nice, until you're not.

    Dec 31, 2014
    Somewhere in Canada
    Ride alone, or ride with people who are such good company that it doesn’t matter how fast or slow they are. I would have found that ride miserable too, if they weren’t good friends.
  14. ddavidv

    ddavidv The reason we can't have nice things

    May 10, 2009
    Elizabethtown, PA
    The "ride your own ride but wait for the guy behind you at the next turn" philosophy is my favorite. Joel does this for his Retro Tours. He provides everyone with route instructions but I've never even glanced at them.

    We have a Spring ADV Ride local to me that I used to go to but it's turned into a parade of bikes. So much dust most of the time it becomes unpleasant. Meh, I'll go solo.

    Not meaning to pick on H-D groups but I often get behind one of their organized rides and FFS...why can't these guys properly tune their bikes? I can smell the raw fuel and my eyes start to water. I remain stuck behind their parade as they wallow through turns, trying not to scratch all their chrome accessories. I just don't see how that is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
    Schlug, flei, Brokein2 and 5 others like this.
  15. Snowbird

    Snowbird Cereal Killer

    Mar 19, 2008
    Between the Great Lakes and Appalachia
    My last-- as in final-- group ride was in Florida. Long line of bikes from a local HD dealership, led by a guy with experience. None the less, approaching an intersection, multi-lane traffic slowed and the leader passed on the left of a dual-wheel pickup truck pulling a fifth wheel camper trailer. Not long after, this leader decided he should pull into gas station for a stop, but not all the long group of riders had passed the camper. But they all pulled in front of it, forcing it to stop while they all went into the gas station. That's when I lost it over being a hazard to themselves and others, left the group and never returned.

    I would still ride with a group, but I'd have to be certain of ground rules. I once agreed to go with a group of local riders, meet at 11:00 am. First stop was within five miles at a tavern. Now, I don't mind stopping for ONE to socialize at the END of a ride, but really wasn't into stopping at 11, at the START of a ride. Once inside, the leader called several people he said didn't show up, who told him they'd be right there. On and on the bullshit continued, delay after delay, as I waited far too long, ordered and ate lunch, finally leaving before too much of the day passed, never to ride with that group again.

    Speaking of parades, I used to faithfully attend a charity dice run held by a world famous brand that every one of you have heard of, probably have owned one of their products. At the start of the run, all the motorcycles were supposed to ride through the city at parade speed so the children could come out to wave. I don't do parades. Ever. So, I went out the back gate and rode directly to the first stop and waited patiently for the group. Somehow, after that I no longer got the notification for the ride and no longer attend. Another rider who will do the parade, ALWAYS gets the notice, even though he only attends sporadically. Meh.
    TonyKZ1 likes this.
  16. cmfireman

    cmfireman Adventurer

    Jun 16, 2017
    I've participated in 3 group rides this year, after being a loaner for 5 years. The experience is always varied and interesting, but I find there's usually a few guys I "mesh" with, and try to just hang with them. One guy was pulling wheelies at every chance, one was taking the oncoming lane going into sharp turns, a few couldn't keep up etc. What I have found is it introduced me to a few guys I genuinely enjoy riding with, and in the future when time allows I plan on hosting my own group ride and just inviting those guys. It's definitely a learning experience for an introvert such as myself.
  17. Barry

    Barry Just Beastly

    Oct 4, 2002
    Fredericksburg, Va.
    @OP… your first mistake was going on a multi-day trip with riders you’ve never ridden with. Recipe for suck. Sounds like you were riding with unskilled idiots.
  18. GPD323

    GPD323 Been here awhile

    Jul 11, 2012
    Spanaway WA
    Same experience as yours. I ride alone now. No more drama. Last group ride I did years ago, after the group meeting a guy came up to us and said he wanted to ride FAST! He crashed not more than 10 miles up the road.
  19. Johann

    Johann Commuterus Tankslapperus

    Feb 11, 2006
    My experience with group rides is that the larger the group the more mixed the range of abilities so for better or worse the pace tends to dictated by the slowest rider. There is also a greater likelihood of some minor breakdown/drama stopping/slowing the ride.

    In smaller groups with riders that are competent (again just my experience) I´ve always found that there is a tendency to wick up the pace compared to how I would ride solo. I like making good progress when I´m in the mood but only when I decide I want to, if the speed you are riding is dictated by the people you are riding with, which is by definition what happens when you ride in a group then I don´t see how that is compatible with the "ride your own ride" mantra so often quoted here. If you are truly "riding your own ride" and just meeting up at the far end then you aren´t riding in a group, so what is the point?

    I´ve found two bikes can work OK, three can be OK depending on shared levels of ability and attitude but my preference by far is to ride alone. Every time I give in once every few years and try a group ride that just reinforces my opinion and reminds me why I hate riding in groups.
  20. telejojo

    telejojo Long timer

    Feb 2, 2010
    Huntsville Ala. foothills of the Smokey's
    I have a few riding buddies I will ride with but I know how they ride and trust them. Almost every time I have ridden with a big group whether dual-sport or street it's always a race to see how fast most can go. I rode sportbikes for years and tried to kill myself many times but I don't ride like that anymore so I ride alone or with a couple of buddies I know.