Camaraderie, freedom, fun, and beautiful scenery – this is the draw of the group motorcycle ride, an activity that is more popular now than ever before. But this one-of-a-kind experience is not without risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motorcycle-related deaths have increased by 55% since 2000, killing 4,502 people in 2010 alone.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro, or planning to hit the highways and byways for the first time as part of a motorcycle ensemble, it’s important to review the basics of motorcycle group-ride safety before heading out.
Here are some tips to get you started:
Safety guidelines for group motorcycle rides
Anyone attempting a group motorcycle ride should already have at least some experience operating a motorcycle. Riding as part of a group is very demanding mentally and places certain limitations on the individual rider in terms of speed, control, and riding style. It is absolutely essential to have a clear, focused, stress-free state of mind before and during a group ride.
Plan ahead: A week or so before you hit the road hold a meeting for everyone who plans on participating in the group ride. Plot the course you will take, noting the length of each segment, rest stops, gas stations and other possible stopping points such as for food and lodgings. Set a departure time and location and an estimated time of completion. Make sure everyone is on the same page as far as expectations, hand signals, and safety.
Take a test ride: Prior to the departure day, everyone in the group should take a test ride to make sure their motorcycle is in top working order. Also, because group rides can be longer and you may be carrying more on your bike than usual, be sure to pack your bike for the test ride as you will be for the group one. This allows you to notice changes in your bike’s performance. Check that the suspension, tire pressure, foot rests and exhaust pipes are all set accordingly for the difference in weight.
Leave competitiveness in the dust: In group motorcycle riding there’s no room for showing off. Avoid aggressive cycling maneuvers such as tailgating, speeding ahead, swerving in and out of other vehicles, etc… If just one person gets hurt during a group ride, everyone goes home feeling bad.
Know you’re formation: Although MN law states that two motorcycles can ride abreast, it isn’t a good idea on a group ride because it limits maneuverability. Instead, use a staggered formation with the most experienced rider in the lead in the left lane. The least experienced riders come next so they don’t feel the responsibility of either leading or keeping up in the rear. The second rider should be positioned in the right lane with a two second following distance from the lead. Then it’s back to the left lane for the third rider, with a four second following distance from the lead, etc… The last rider, known as the sweep, should be the second most experienced. He/she sets the speed for the group. Note: some roads, such as twisting mountain routes, are better suited for single file riding.
Take turns passing: When passing, do so one at a time and in order, returning to formation as soon as you can. Never pass in a group except in the case of an extreme emergency.
Take breaks: Although group rides are a lot of fun, the level of concentration required to maintain formation and keep your mind alert for hazards is tasking. Plan to take a lot of breaks at rest stops, overlooks, and to eat. This gives you some downtime to recharge before the next leg of the trip.
Use your least experienced rider as a gauge: How long should you make the group ride and the individual segments? Your answer lies with the least experienced rider in the group. You don’t want to push them beyond their limits and leave them struggling to make it through safely.
Pack a first aid kit: You should always have a first aid kit on your bike in case of emergency. This is even more important on a group ride when risk of injury is higher. It is also recommended that at least one person in the group know CPR.
Wear a helmet: To date, helmets are only required by riders under 18 or those with a learner’s permit in the state of Minnesota. However, the statistics don’t lie (see below) and it highly recommended that all riders wear a helmet along with eye protection, which is required under MN law.
Avoid alcohol and drugs: It should go without saying, but the consumption of alcohol or drugs before getting on a motorcycle is prevalent. Be careful even with prescription drugs and caffeine as they can also adversely affect some rider’s ability to focus.
Motorcycle crash risk factors
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety states that, “80 percent of motorcycle crashes result in death or injury, compared with less than 30 percent in auto crashes.” The CDC offers the following insightful statistics regarding motorcycle collisions:
Age: Young people are not the only ones dying in motorcycle crashes. In 2010, more than half the people killed in motorcycle crashes were 40 or older, up from 25% in 1995.
Sex: While only 10% of riders killed in motorcycle crashes in 2010 were women, almost all passengers (89%) killed in motorcycle crashes were women.
Helmets: Forty-one percent of motorcycle operators and 50% of motorcycle passengers who died in 2010 were not wearing a helmet.
Location: More people are killed in motorcycle crashes on rural roads now than 20 years ago. Roughly half of all crashes take place on rural roads.
Alcohol: When people drink and ride, they are at much greater risk of crashing and dying. Twenty-eight percent of motorcycle riders who died in 2010 had a blood alcohol concentration that was at or above the legal limit of .08 g/dL.
Motorcycle Type: The majority of people who die in crashes are riding sport motorcycles with mid-size engines designed to maximize speed and agility.
Want to take part in a group ride but don’t have a group? The Office of Traffic Safety, a Division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, has an extensive list of riding clubs and motorcycle organizations throughout the state.
Need to brush up on MN’s motorcycle laws? Let the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) break it down for you.
For a more in depth look at group-ride safety (and MN motorcycle law in general), the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services Division has a comprehensive manual available here.
Happy (and safe) riding!