Even experienced riders can make rookie group-riding mistakes. When five of us met in Haliburton for the CMG Days of Summer Tour, Job One was to head to the local general store to buy beer for the evening, and we easily fell into proper formation for the speed and road conditions. Even Matt, who was our token newbie. Things went a bit sideways when the directions we were given proved incorrect. We improvised and managed to get there, but not without some frustration and confusion.
It was clear that better communication and planning would be needed the next morning, when we’d set off for a 400-kilometre ride through some remote wilderness, with spotty cell service.
Arriving back at Sir Sam’s Inn, our home base for the tour, Matt sheepishly pulled me aside to ask what the deal was with the various hand and foot gestures we were making. I realized we’d inadvertently broken essential rules of group riding by making certain assumptions and not communicating properly. We each took a turn demonstrating a signal and when it would be used. Good of him to ask, otherwise he would have been completely in the dark on the next day’s ride.
Ride like a Captain
Last summer, I attended a HOG Road Captain Course through the Rider Training Institute to brush up on my skills, so I should have known better. Not only does the program demonstrate the subtle nuances of riding in a pack, but also helps avoid issues that can arise on a group ride, like getting lost or running out of gas.
Quick Summary: Top 5 Road Captain Tips
5) Proper Formation
Ensure riders are keeping the right formation and pace for conditions and riding ability. Consider the traffic, road and weather conditions, along with ability and comfort for all riders.
4) Pre-ride Meeting
Be familiar with the riders in your group and their bikes. Summarize hand signals and the plan for the day so there aren’t any surprises.
3) Be Prepared
Charged phone, tools, tire sealant kit, duct tape, and Tylenol are never a bad idea.
2) Plan Ahead
Outline the route and have a contingency plan should the group get separated.
1) Communication is Key
Use radios to communicate with Slot and Sweep riders and use hand signals often to keep the group informed. Have contact information accessible for all riders in your group.
The majority of my riding adventures have been done solo – most of my buddies sold their bikes over the years to buy engagement rings or patio furniture. The only group rides I tend to participate in are media launch programs and those are a whole different kettle of fish entirely.
Starting off the training day with some exercises to ensure all participants were able to safely maneuver their machines, we practised various slow-speed exercises and emergency braking. After that, instructors Steve and Shawna explained the various roles and responsibilities of the Road Captain who leads the ride, the Slot who follows second, and the last rider in the formation called the Sweep. Steve stressed that large groups can be cumbersome and challenging to control, so it is better to break off into smaller, more manageable ones.
The lead rider should know the route and is tasked with keeping the proper pace based on weather, road conditions and the ability of the group. The Slot position provides an extra set of eyes to anticipate potential hazards and situations that could interrupt the procession. The Sweep can identify issues that arise and ensure nobody gets left behind. It is also important to share cell numbers and emergency contacts in case the group gets separated, or worse.
A Road Captain’s responsibility, we learned, goes well beyond simply riding first in line. It is important to map out a route with considerations for fuel, restrooms and of course coffee. Prior to the kickstands being raised, it is recommended that they greet each rider, gauge their experience if necessary and casually evaluate the condition of their motorcycle. This includes fuel levels and range.
Ride like a CMGer
While our CMG group in Haliburton had discussed the range of each model over dinner and beverages, we discovered that we shouldn’t have taken Mark’s word that the CB1000R didn’t need fuel when the rest of us stopped for a top-up. Humming along Highway 62 east of Maynooth, Jeff was surprised to see the gas light come on after switching bikes. It didn’t make much sense to backtrack, so he rolled into Barry’s Bay on fumes. As we enjoyed lunch on a patio in the sunshine, a debate commenced over whose responsibility it would have been to push the Honda to the fuel station had it run out of gas. I think we all know the answer. [Of course – it would have been Jeff. – Ed.]
Proper lane placement for groups seems to be a highly contentious topic, but the consensus is that it varies depending on the size of the group and the roads being driven. It is safe to say that the tight staggered formation we were comfortable with on the quiet open roads of rural Ontario would immediately descend into chaos when navigating cities like Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, or New York, where it would be every rider for themselves.
Assembling a group of misfits from different backgrounds to ride an assortment of bikes did create some challenges, but it was also a fun way to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each motorcycle through a variety of lenses. I’m sure all the lessons we learned will be long forgotten when we get together to do it again next year.