Group Riding

Club Group Riding Notes (PDF format)

Safety Hints for Group Riding

Riding in a group with the great people who make up our chapter offers some of the most enjoyable riding you?ll every experience.
You?ll find yourself in a number of group situations ? going out to log some miles with a few friends, riding to a chapter meeting with six or seven bikes, heading to a rally somewhere across the country or even abroad with a sizeable group of bikes and maybe a couple of support vehicles. You?ll find yourself in different environments, from trying to get a large group of bikes through congested city, to rural single track roads, to high-speed travel on the motorway. Each of these situations presents unique problems and these notes are meant to help you and your colleagues contribute to the enjoyment of group rides.

Let?s begin with the rules common to all group rides, regardless of the number of bikes or the riding environment.

Preparation in Advance: use the following as a guide when you are going to join a Chapter ride-out or intact any ride:

P Petrol – ensure you have sufficient fuel for the journey.
O Oil – check the oil levels.
W Water – only if you have a V-Rod or the New Street 750.
E Electrics – check lights, turn signals, horn and brake lights.
R Rubber – check tyres, tread, pressure and for debris imbedded in tyre.

If you intend to leave the group during the ride, inform the Lead Road Captain prior to setting off. With all the above done ? you are ready to fully listen to the Brief and then to get on your bike and ride ? now the fun begins.

Safety & Group Riding.

If you have never, or rarely, ridden in a large group of motorcycles it can at first seem a little daunting. However, it is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying aspects of belonging to a Chapter, especially a ?riding chapter, such as Fenlanders. All official Fenlanders Chapter rides will be briefed and led by a Road Captain. The objective of a group ride is for everyone to have fun. However, the safety of the group is paramount and riders must be prepared to ride at the pace of the group.

Here are some detailed outlines of the dos & don?ts of riding with the Chapter; it is well worth reading.

The Ride-out Briefing

The Road Captain in charge of the ride-out will give the briefing to the group ensuring everybody is aware of what will be happening during the ride. The Road Captain will:

The Road Captain will make a point of reading the Harley-Davidson/Harley Owners Group legal disclaimer for personal responsibility during rides:

The Disclaimer is of huge importance to you, the Chapter and HOG; you must understand that you are responsible for your ride and safety, not the Road Captain or the Chapter.

We are fortunate to have a dedicated, well-trained group of Road Captains and Road Crew who strive to offer Chapter Members an extensive ride schedule throughout the year to exciting locations. Each Road Captain is experienced with planning and participating in group rides.

For each ride the Road Captain will:

Group Riding Procedures – The Basics

The basics of group riding are simple; however one must observe the following rules:

The Two Second Rule?Only a fool breaks the 2 second rule?. This is the rule of thumb for leaving enough distance between you and the rider in front. Have a carful look at the diagram later in the notes, its 2 seconds from the rider directly in front of you, not the rider making up the staggered file, who may be to the left or right of you. In extreme weather conditions one should consider leaving a longer gap to allow for the stopping distance. The prime directive in any group riding is not to hit the bike in front of you! The other side of the coin is that to leave too much of a gap in front of you causes two problems; the ride-out becomes disjointed and hard for the Lead Road Captain to control the ride and the second is the riders following somebody who is leaving an excessive gap become frustrated and may lead to incidence of dangerous riding, also cars and other vehicles may try and slip in to the gap, this can have a serious consequence to the following group.

Riding in a large group:

Problem stops:

Staggered Position ? (see diagram A below)

The normal riding formation will be a staggered formation. This formation provides the best safety margin of reaction time and space as each rider only uses 1/3 (either left or right side depending on the stagger position) of the lane. Heavy, very slow traffic may require that you ride in a side-by-side column of 2?s for a very short distance. A staggered formation complete with a safe interval should be immediately adopted as soon as conditions allow.

The lead motorcycle (Road Captain) is not part of the stagger and will take up the best position to view the road ahead. The second motorcycle in the left 1/3 lane, and so on. Each rider should leave enough room for the motorcycle in front of them to make a left or right manoeuvre without danger of hitting the next motorcycle in line.

Typically, at low speeds you should leave a minimum of about a motorcycle and a half length between you and the next motorcycle in your (1/3) lane whenever possible. The group rides in a staggered formation at a safe distance of two seconds to the bike in front of you and one second to the bike to the side of you (see Diagram A below), depending on the conditions. This time or distance interval is, of course, automatically adjusted for speed and wet conditions. When riding in staggered position, each bike occupies ? the lane and note the following:

Even when riding in staggered formation, ensure you adopt the correct road position when approaching a bend i.e. maximum visibility. Return to staggered formation once the bend is exited. Be exceptionally aware of right hand bends and keep away from the crown of the road so that your head is not leaning over the line into the path of oncoming traffic! Oncoming traffic is also often across the line into our side of the road!

Diagram A:

Staggered Formation

Single File Procedure

Riding in single file is necessary depending on the roads we ride:

When single file is necessary, the Lead Road Captain will use the appropriate hand signal.

Other Basics:

Hopefully this serves an introduction to Staggered Riding. We will now look at overtaking and 2nd man drop off.


The general rule is that no rider will overtake another rider on a ride-out. If a rider overtakes the Lead Road Captain then you are deemed to no longer be part of the ride. Overtaking on a single carriageway will be instigated by the Lead Road Captain first. This may be due to a stationary hazard or slow moving traffic. Each following bike will overtake only when safe to do so. If it is safe for more than one bike to overtake at a time they may do so in single file only and not staggered formation. Once you have overtaken the vehicle maintain your speed so that you leave sufficient room for the following bike to come in behind you. Do not slow down hence ?closing the door? and ?leaving him to hang out? in a dangerous position.

Fenlanders have a strict ?No Overtaking Rule? within the group on group rides. The only riders that will overtake are the Road Crew, when required.

Overtaking Other Vehicles:

When overtaking on a motorway or dual carriageway the same rules apply; however be mindful of fast moving traffic in the outside lanes. Fenlanders use the ?Snake? Method of a sinuating curve with single riders overtaking, rather than the ?Stick? where all the riders pull out at the same time and block the road. The Snake operates as follows:

– When the Lead Road Captain overtakes a slower vehicle, maintain your position in the nearside lane until the vehicle you are planning to overtake is within safe overtaking distance. Do not all follow the Lead Road Captain and block the outside lane causing a hazard and un-necessary congestion
– Pre-position yourself for the pass by being far enough behind the vehicle you are going to pass to be able to see clearly down the road for an ?oncoming traffic check?. Signal, mirror check, and then a head check of your blind spot, so make sure no one is passing you. Accelerate and change lanes, (remember that legally you aren?t supposed to exceed the speed limit).
– When returning to your lane, make a mirror check and a head check, to be sure that there is sufficient space between you and the vehicle that you are passing, and anyone else that is also making a pass, before you move. Resume your lane riding position.
-No more than one motorcycle should pass at the same time. Otherwise this could happen: first rider overtakes, but there is not enough room for the second, hence they are left out to dry. Not a nice position to be in!

When Being Passed: Allow other vehicles to pass you safely if need be by slowing down and creating a gap so that they can pass the whole group in segments, rather than trying to make it all at one jump. Remember to keep checking your mirrors.

Be aware that other bikers may overtake, give them room. If you don?t they will still pass when it may not be safe to do so. Passing or getting passed anytime can be hazardous so use common sense and a safe approach.

Watch Your Speed: Never ride beyond your own riding capability and never ride in excess of the speed limits. The Road Captain will ride within the speed limits. If you find yourself left behind due to traffic conditions, traffic lights, etc, do not panic and use excessive speed to catch up.

Second Man Drop Off:

Who is the second man? The second man constantly changes. The second man is the rider immediately behind the Lead Road Captain. The Lead Road Captain will indicate if he wants to ?mark? a junction, turn, roundabout or any other feature by dropping a rider off at a point; the rider stops to show any directional change in the route and at this point the subsequent rider now becomes the new second man and so on throughout the ride out. The second man need only stop when there is a change in direction, however to err on the side of caution it is best for the second rider to stop at any multi-road junction that does not have a clear exit from the approach road. This is explained in greater detail below.

The Group should always progress directly across traffic lights, junctions or roundabouts if they are not marked. It is up to the Lead Road Captain if he wishes to mark on these occasions and if it is safe to do so. Before the ride, listen out for any briefing by the Lead Road Captain ? check whether he is using second man drop off (or the ?buddy? system). When you are the second rider, be prepared to be dropped off to mark junctions etc, but do not anticipate the Lead Road Captain?s decisions as this may endanger those behind you. Stop when the Lead Road Captain asks. Stop where it is safe to do so, without hindering the traffic and make sure you are visible from the approach. Switch your indicator off and indicate the direction the group should follow by raising your arm.

For those riding in the Group:

– Do not make any signal to the rider stopped at a junction. They might think you are the last rider.
– If you approach a junction where there is no rider waiting, and you have any doubt, continue along the main road you are on. Do not change direction or deviate from it. Go straight on!
– If you break down stay with your bike; the last rider will get word to the Lead Road Captain, and ensure that you can arrange assistance.

2nd Man Drop Off ? Detail:

This technique is a tried and tested way of getting a large or small group of bikes to a destination without anyone getting lost. This technique is used to mark the route at junctions and roundabouts to inform those who are following the direction the Lead Road Captain has planned. The technique only works if riders obey the rules of the system, so do not panic and move off, before being instructed to do so by the Tail End or Sweeper.

Once the Lead Road Captain is satisfied that the group are ready he will lead off, with the group behind him forming up into the staggered formation. The rider immediately behind the LRC is known as the 2nd Man. The Lead Road Captain is not part of the staggered formation and will usually takes up position in the centre of the carriageway or just to the left of the central road markings. The 2nd Man takes a position to the left of the Lead Rider. The rest of the group position themselves in staggered formation from the 2nd Man.

The Lead Road Captain, on the approach to a junction or roundabout, will clearly indicate to the 2nd Man where he would like that rider to stop and take up a position to mark a deviation of route. The Lead Road Captain will usually signal this manoeuvre using his left arm and point towards a curb where he expects a 2nd man to drop off. It is your decision to stop at a safe position on the road. If in your opinion you feel vulnerable then select a position where you feel safe, however make sure you are still able to give directions to the rest of the group. Whilst in the drop off position stay on your bike with the engine running, switch off your indicators, signal the direction the group are to take and look out for the Sweeper who will give you a signal to move off.

During a ride-out the 2nd Man can expect to be dropped off at one of the following places:

– Left Turn Junction: The simplest drop-off is the left turn junction. The Lead Road Captain, when he wants the ride-out to take a left turn, will, as he approaches a left junction, point towards the curb using his left arm. The 2nd Man will indicate left and pull over, placing himself in the required position that is clearly visible to the ride-out members and other traffic and points to the left with an extended arm to confirm that the ride has turned left. This is the important bit. The 2nd Man will keep this position until he sees the Tail End or Sweeper who will give them a signal to move off in front of him. On occasions the group will be strung out due to traffic lights, busy town centres etc and it may be that the 2nd Man will wait for 5 or 10 minutes before seeing another rider come past.
– Right Turn Junction: As the Lead Road Captain approaches a right turn junction, he will indicate a turn right and then, using his left hand, will point once again to the curb. The 2nd Man will pull over to the curb if safe to do so, and then point to the right so that the ride-out can clearly see that the ride-out has taken the right turn at the junction. Alternately, if the right turn junction is open and has no visible obstructions, then the 2nd Man will take the right turn and then immediately pull over allowing the rest of the ride-out to see that he has taken the right turn junction. Wait for the LRC to signal your drop off point.
– Traffic Lights: Traffic lights are treated in the same way as regular road junctions. Should the route for the ride-out be straight through at traffic lights, cross-roads, etc., there is no requirement for a 2nd Man to drop off; however it is good practice, and reassurance for the ride-out to have a man drop off if practicable.
– Roundabouts: The Lead Road Captain as he takes an exit off a roundabout, will once again point to a curb. The 2nd Man will pull over where it is safe to do so and in sight of the oncoming ride-out and traffic to indicate which exit was taken off the roundabout by the ride-out. The rule is that on entering especially large roundabouts with numerous exits, (some of which are out of your sight), keep going round until you see the 2nd Man.
– Ghost Islands: At traffic lights, roundabouts and some large road junctions, ghost islands are used to control traffic. It is rare but on occasions, where safe to do so, a Lead Road Captain may utilize the ghost island as an early indication marker for the ride-out as they approach the junction/roundabout. Note that the ghost island can only be used provided there are broken white lines surrounding the ghost island. Be aware that ghost islands may have loose debris accumulated on them and can be slippery hence the use of ghost islands is not encouraged.
– Forks in the Road: The rule of thumb on ride-outs is if you are at a junction such as a crossroads, and the ride-out is travelling straight through the junction, then there is no requirement for a drop-off. It is good practice to give assurance to the ride-out to drop off someone; however, sometimes this is not practicable. Should you arrive at a road junction crossroads with no 2nd Man drop-off, continue through the junction on the same road that you approached on. Confusion can arise where there is a fork in the road however. The Lead Road Captain will indicate a 2nd Man drop off to indicate which forked road is the desired route for the ride-out. If no 2nd Man is dropped the group have kept to the main road so be aware of the road number you are travelling on and watch for signs which show the main route as the larger part of the fork.
– Multiple Drop-offs: Where there is a complex road configuration or busy road traffic, the LRC may choose to drop off more than one person. An example may be a large roundabout where the Lead Road Captain will indicate a 2nd Man drop off on the approach to a roundabout (perhaps utilizing a ghost island) and then another drop-off at the roundabout exit road.
– It?s Your Choice: Remember, your safety is your responsibility. The Lead Road Captain will always consider road safety and drop off options, however road conditions are continually changing and a planned drop-off might not be as originally thought. Always make sure that you stop in a safe position and are well visible to all traffic and the ride-out. If necessary, park up the Harley and stand on a pavement and point to oncoming ride-out to show direction of drop-off route.
– Patience: In heavy traffic or built-up areas, the ride-out may become heavily fragmented and split up. Be patient and wait for the Tail End or Sweeper before leaving your designated drop-off point. If you leave too early the ride-out will get split up and the latter part of the ride-out will miss the turn and get lost. If the ride-out does get split up, stay at your drop-off point. The Lead Road Captain will eventually stop and wait for the ride-out to regroup. If the ride-out has split, the Lead Road Captain will organise a Marshal or experienced rider from the group to back-track along the route and pick up the stragglers en-route.
– It is not a rare event to lose part of a ride-out, and 99% of the time, the ride-out is lost simply because ride-out members do not follow these simple rules of dropping off when requested and waiting for the Tail End/Sweeper.

Re-joining the Ride-out: The Road Crew (Tail End and Runner) will wear yellow hi-vis waistcoats to indicate that they are the rear of the Chapter ride. As the Sweeper approaches the drop-off point, they will slow down to allow the 2nd Man to re-join the group in front of the Sweeper. You should rejoin directly ahead of them, if safe to do so otherwise join the group behind them and then overtake when safe and regroup to the rear of the pack. DO NOT leave until the last rider arrives. The rider will then stay at the end of the ride-out taking his place in the staggered formation at the tail end until he is superseded by the next drop-off rider who re-joins the group at the next junction. If, however, traffic conditions do not allow this, then you must re-join the carriageway when safe to do so and re-join the ride-out. The Tail End/Sweeper will slow down to allow you to catch up. Once safe to do so, overtake the Tail End/Sweeper and re-join the Ride-out.

Stay at your post for as long as it takes for them to arrive; someone might have broken down so this could take sometime on a long ride with large numbers. It should not matter how long you wait, but you must wait for the last rider. If you do not, you will cause everyone behind you to get lost. If there is a long delay, take comfort that the rider in front will be waiting for you. Do not worry about being left behind, you won’t be.

Eventually, if the ride-out duration is long enough and there are ample junctions then the tail end riders will make their way back to the front of the ride-out to become the 2nd Man once again.

Points to Remember: When the second man is dropped off the new second man will hold his position on the road. Remember the lead Road Captain is not part of the staggered riding formation, he will normally ride in the middle of the lane. The rider who is riding now as second man will have a gap of one second between them, so no matter which side of the formation you are on, you will be able to see his signals.

The lead Road Captain will signal in plenty of time to indicate he is approaching a drop off point. The second man, when seeing the be ready signal will, if he is riding on the right move across to the left to be ready to stop at the required location.

Buddy Ride

This is a system we use with smaller faster groups of riders that are happy with their respective riding buddies.

Basically you look after the guy behind you. Whilst riding you watch the rider in front to see which direction they take at a diverging junction, remember they will be watching for you too. As you approach this same junction you ensure that the rider behind is familiar with the direction change you are about to make. If the following rider has dropped back you will have to wait and mark the turn at this point. If you see the rider behind you has dropped back slow down so you keep in visual contact, the rider in front of you should see you slow and do the same. This now should work up to the front, where it may be necessary for the lead rider to find a place of safety and stop to wait for the other riders to rejoin the group.

Remember for this system to work, you must watch the rider behind you as well as the one in front.

The Lead Road Captain may still decide to drop a 2nd man off if he thinks it necessary.

Overall this is a system used by friends and small groups out for a ride and it makes for a more progressive type of ride-out.



Thank you for taking the time to read these notes. If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact the Chapter Safety Officer for advice.