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The Prime Directive
Never Hit The Bike In Front Of You

By: James R. Davis

Group riding has lots of benefits for its participants, and a few new responsibilities.

For example, recently we heard about a group ride that turned sour when the lead bike failed to recognize where he was supposed to make a left turn and drove past that road. The second bike in the group did recognize the turnoff and decided to make it. He turned left and the third bike promptly ran into him.

What went wrong? It was argued that if nobody was following too closely then the actions of bike two would have saved everybody in the group (other than the lead bike) from having to make a U-turn and there would have been no accident.

Probably true, but almost any group rider with experience understands that it is up to the leader to make decisions about when and where the group will change directions. It might well have been that the leader had a reason for failing to make that turn. He could, for example, have realized that the group was going too fast to safely make that turn. (If anybody in the group understands the danger to a group of making sudden moves it is an experienced lead bike.) Further, what if the second bike did not willingly make that left turn - that he had a mechanical problem such as a flat tire that caused it. Since all members of a group are expected to follow the direction set by the lead bike, UNLESS IT IS INTO DANGER, all other bikes in the group (other than the drag bike) should have attempted to avoid bike two and continue behind the leader.

An example: The past State Director for GWRRA in Texas was once leading a ride in which he took a turn too fast and left the road. Not one single rider behind him followed - they were experienced group riders, not just 'chicken'. You are, ultimately, responsible for your own ride from a safety point of view.

Bike two, in the accident described earlier, was way out of line to unilaterally decide to take over lead position - to mutiny, if you will. However, the fact that the third rider ran into the second rider suggests that she was either riding too close to the second rider, or was inattentive, or was so confused by the unorthodox behavior of bike two that she could not react fast enough to prevent the accident. Whatever the reason, bike three broke the prime directive - 'Never hit the bike in front of you!'

When you are riding in a group as other than lead or drag bike your principal activity is 'station keeping' - maintaining proper distance between yourself and the bike ahead of you. Since the vast majority of accident threats present themselves to you from the front, each person should be encouraged to focus their attention primarily in front of them. In other words, it is dangerous to spend too much time watching your rear-view mirrors. Thus, the prime directive.

That said, if you accept the prime directive and assume that all the other riders have done the same, then you are also tacitly acknowledging that you trust the rider behind you. But, of course, you may never have ridden in a group with that person before. You may not have even met that person before. Further, it is common practice to put the weakest and least experienced riders towards the back of a group. Is that not setting up for an accident?

Not at all! The weakest/least experienced riders are in the back because these are the people most likely to have an accident. Thus, they are placed towards the back so that such an accident can put the fewest other people as possible into danger. It also allows the drag bike to observe how these riders handle themselves and to work with them at stops about the little things that they may be doing wrong.

As to their potential danger to the riders in front of them, that can be managed. Let me give you an example of savvy group riding behavior by an experienced rider who became concerned that the bike following was too close to her. She simply used a hand signal telling the bike behind her to slow down.

Even though most of us have CBs, we tend to use hand signals as well - to keep those without CBs informed. While there is a stated rule that all hand signals must be passed back, most individuals in a group ride tend never to originate such a signal thinking that this is just one more job of the lead bike. The exception to this is the case where an individual rider in the group notices a hazard in the roadway and points to it so that all behind will be alerted.

An individual group rider CAN ALWAYS initiate a hand signal telling the person behind him/her to slow down. This is the way to reduce concern about an inexperienced rider in the rear driving too close to the bike ahead of him. On the other hand, nobody but the lead bike is entitled to originate a hand signal telling the person behind him/her to speed up. (This is another way of saying that spacing in a group is usually specified in terms of minimums ('no closer than 1 second') - the riders can individually decide to use a larger space.)

The prime directive, if flawed, errors on the side of conservatism. It mandates that attention be primarily directed towards the front. It mandates that you not follow too closely. It makes you think about what the bike ahead of you (closest ahead of you, not literally 'straight ahead') is doing or might do next rather than what the lead bike is up to. It gives you a modest suggestion about what to do if *you* are about to have an accident. (i.e., if you are riding in the right track, and there is a hazard in the road ahead of you, the prime directive forces you to tend to turn towards the right to avoid that hazard - thus, taking you farther away from the closest bike ahead.)

Copyright © 1992 - 2024 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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