Home » Motorcycle Advice » Motorcycle Safety

Riding In a Group

by John F. Carr

The following guidelines were developed by the Shades of Gray MC, and were prepared specifically for their annual run from New Hampshire to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. With a few changes, these guidelines can be adapted to any group ride.


A group of motorcycles is a dynamic unit. It constantly changes from second to second as speeds, weather, traffic, and road conditions change, and as rider fatigue increases. When riding in a group you become a part of that unit, and your actions affect more than just yourself, they affect all those riding around you. Be aware of what's going on around you at all times. Stay alert and keep an eye on the Road Captain and those in front of you at all times. You can gawk at the scenery some other time. Be sure your bike is in good running condition BEFORE the run -- otherwise stay home.


Riding side-by-side, in a column of two's, is NOT SAFE. Ride in a staggered formation. Stay one to two seconds behind the bike directly in front of you, and one-half to one second behind the bike to your left or right front. Everyone must maintain a constant speed and distance from everyone else, without falling back and speeding up, to avoid the notorious "Slinky" effect. The Road Captain rides in front. The senior club officer present will ride just behind him and to the side. Behind the Road Captain and Senior Officer come the Members of the club and the Prospects. The first two of these riders will act as blockers to block cross-traffic at any intersections. After the entire column has passed through, the blockers will fall in at the extreme rear. They will make their way back up the column when it is safe to do so, eventually falling in at the rear of the Member/Prospect group. (For liability reasons, only club Members or Prospects are allowed to act as blockers.) Behind the Members and Prospects ride any guests. Guests should keep in mind that the blockers will be moving up through the column, and must make room for them to rejoin the Members and Prospects group. Rear Guards ride last in the column of bikes, followed only by the chase truck(s). The Road Captain sets the pace. If the pace is not to your liking, talk it over with him at the next stop, but until that time, KEEP UP!


Anyone dropping out of formation should let a Rear Guard know if they DO NOT need help. Unless you tell him otherwise, if you drop out of the column, one of the Rear Guards will also drop out along with a chase truck. If you signal the Rear Guard not to stop, you are on your own until you rejoin the column. If your buddy drops out of formation, don't drop out with him unless you have a real need to do so. The Rear Guard and chase trucks will take care of the situation.


Hand signals should be used by all riders, and should be passed along to those behind you. We have adopted a specific system of hand signals that have proven their efficiency in years past. The signals that your group uses don't have to be the same as ours, but EVERYONE in the group must know what your signals mean before you leave your start point.


When the column is moving on the highway and needs to change lanes, the column will do so starting with the REAR of the column and progressing to the FRONT! While this seems backwards at first, once you experience it you'll understand how it increases the safety of such a move. The mechanics of such a change are as follows:
  • The Road Captain signals a lane change by raising his left arm to a 45° angle and pumping it several times, then signalling either to the left or right.
  • When any passing traffic has gone by him, the Rear Guard will change lanes first, in order to block off any more passing traffic from the new lane.
  • When all passing traffic has gone by, the remainder of the column will change lanes from the rearmost rider to the front. The Road Captain changes lanes last. Use your mirrors and check your rear quarter BEFORE changing lanes! Change lanes smoothly and give other riders plenty of space. This is not a race to see who can go sideways the fastest.


Gas up before the run starts, and be sure that you have enough gas to reach the next rest stop. Everyone must stay together and stop at every scheduled fuel stop. On the 535 mile Run to the Wall, stops are 60-90 miles apart, so that bikes with small tanks will not have to leave the formation. If you have five-gallon tanks, you should only have to gas up at every other stop. If this is the case, try to pair up with another bike with big tanks and alternate gassing up. This will keep fueling time to a minimum at any one stop. At each stop along the way, follow the Road Captain into the facility. He will go by the fueling area to the staging area where he has chosen to form up the group for departure after fueling. If you need to fuel up, stop at the pumps, otherwise, fall in behind him and park. If he needs gas, he will go back after showing you where to form up. As soon as you have gassed up, move your bike to the staging area. Keep in mind that you don't need to be in the same position in the convoy for each leg of the trip. When the Road Captain signals to start up the bikes in preparation for departure, raise your hand when your bike is running, and leave it up until the road captain sees that you're ready! When leaving each stop, the column will go slowly until the Rear Guard signals to the Road Captain that everyone is formed up properly. Only then will the column accelerate to cruising speed.


If the Road Captain pulls over to the side of the road STAY IN FORMATION and pull over behind him. If stopped by police, the Road Captain and the senior club officer present will deal with them -- everyone else keep your mouth shut unless specifically asked a question by the officer.

John F. Carr, or "JC", as he is sometimes known, was the Secretary for the Shades of Gray Motorcycle Club from 1990 to 1998. He acted as Road Captain three times for the club's annual "Run to the Wall" - a 1,000+ mile group ride from New Hampshire to Washington DC and back. This ride is held on Memorial Day weekend in conjunction with "Rolling Thunder", a national ride to raise awareness of the POW/MIA issue in America. He can be reached at http://www.nh.ultranet.com/~gryfethr/


  Add your comments

For more Motorcycle Safety articles:
  Page Tools

  Related Items

Copyright 2001 - 2019 WhyBike.com. All rights reserved.
Use of this site contitutes an agreement our Terms of Use agreement.

Get a Free Issue of Rider Magazine - Click Here!