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Group Ride Lane Changes
Orchestrate for Greater Safety

By: James R. Davis

When a group of motorcycles is changing lanes, many safety considerations come into play. Should every rider move into the adjacent lane at the same time? If not, should the Lead Bike go first, or should the Drag Bike move first to “secure the lane”? When the Drag Bike radios to the group that the lane is secured, is it really? What if another vehicle sees a gap in traffic and tries to cut into the group? If part of the group gets separated from the other riders, should everyone change relative positions (tracks) so that the new Lead Bike is now riding in the left track? The recommended procedure for a group lane change maneuver depends on how the surrounding traffic is moving at the time. The goal for the bike which moves first is to create a gap into which the other bikes can fit.

Regardless of what other riders in the group are doing, each rider must personally check to see that the new lane is clear of traffic before entering it.

Changing Lanes as a Group

There is virtually no time (absent an emergency) when a group of riders should all move at the same time into a different lane, in regular traffic conditions. The wide gap required for a whole group to move is difficult to find in heavy traffic, and if it exists, it will be an invitation for other drivers to jump into it, perhaps while the group might be moving. Additionally, such a maneuver could be interpreted as “parading”, which may arguably not be covered under some insurance policies.

Changing Lanes into Slower-Moving Traffic



In most jurisdictions traffic laws prescribe that, on a road in which there are two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction, the lane on the right will be the slower lane. If a group of motorcyclists is going to move into the slower lane from the faster one, the first bike in a group which moves is responsible for creating a gap into which all the following bikes can fit. This is accomplished by maintaining a constant speed in order to enlarge the gap after the first bike moves. Each bike moving in succession should also be aware of this dynamic. Thus, the group moves from first to last. (An exception is the Drag Bike, which may move on its own for reasons explained later.)

The first bike to move under these conditions will be the Lead Bike. The maneuver is accomplished in this way: the Lead Bike signals for the lane change and announces to the group via CB and/or hand signals that the group is moving to the right, front to back. Then, after checking by actually turning the head to see that the new lane is cleared of traffic sufficient for one bike to safely enter it, the Lead Bike moves across the tracks of the current lane, taking up a position in the left track of the new lane where the Lead Bike usually rides. By maintaining the maximum speed which the traffic in that lane will allow, the Lead Bike creates a gap into which the next bike in the group can insert, moving into the right track there. Each succeeding bike follows this pattern: signal right, move right in your own lane, head-check, enter new lane, maintain speed to create gap, and take up regular position (left or right track) in the new lane.

The Drag Bike in this pattern is normally the last to enter the new lane, unless “closing the door” was possible. As the bikes move quickly and re-form their group, it is rare that a four-wheeler will move up into the gap in the new lane. If a cage moves into the gap, the next bike to move must tuck in behind it and wait for the group ahead to slow up, encouraging the cage to pass. When the cage passes the slower forward group, the whole group can re-form into a normal riding configuration.

Breaking Up is Hard To Do

If a lane change results in the group’s changing formation -- the bike which was unable to move into the new lane slows down and becomes for a time the Lead Bike for the left lane, while the rest of group moves ahead in the slower lane -- or, the bike which was unable to move right is forced to PASS the slower group -- should the new Lead Bike take the left forward track?

Ordinarily, no. Only if the group breaks into two obvious sub-groups and becomes separated for a substantial period of time should the “new Lead Bike” move into a new track to the left, if that has not been that rider’s normal position. Otherwise, this will be only a temporary break in formation, and the riders will quickly enter the new lane and re-form as usual behind the Lead Bike, in the positions they had originally.

Why doesn’t the “new Lead Bike” change tracks? Because during any period in which the bikes are changing tracks, the spacing between them is cut in half, drastically reducing the reaction time and space available to the rider in case the bike directly ahead of him becomes a problem. In a lane change, this period is fairly short. If the “new Lead Bike” shifts position and all the bikes following attempt to adapt to the new configuration by changing to a different track, they will then have to change back when the original group re-forms. There is no real reason to put the riders in additional jeopardy this way in order to have the “correct” formation, just for short periods.

Forcing all the bikes in the rest of the group to change track position is especially hazardous in the case of a new group rider who has become accustomed to riding in the protected “slot” as opposed to facing oncoming traffic in the exposed left track position. In most cases, anyone who is riding in a group will quickly adapt to this change of conditions and track positions, but there may be times when a new rider who is trying to learn this whole concept will be very uncomfortable changing tracks. The Drag Bike should pay special attention to inexperienced riders under these conditions.

This pattern may occur not only during a lane change, but also during a passing maneuver or when a group gets separated in traffic because of signal lights and traffic flow.

The Drag Bike will usually notify the Lead Bike and the rest of the group after a brief separation by one or more riders that the group has re-formed by saying, “We’re family.”

Changing Lanes into Faster-Moving Traffic



The same basic lane-changing principle for entering slow-moving lanes also applies when a group is entering faster-moving traffic where at least two lanes of traffic are moving in the same direction; that is, moving from the right lane to the left. The first bike to move creates a gap for the remaining bikes. Since traffic is pulling away from the group as each member enters the lane, this maneuver is done back to front.

The maneuver is accomplished in this manner: The Lead Bike signals for a lane change and announces to the group via CB and turn signals that the group will be moving to the left, back to front. Then the Lead Bike asks the Drag Bike to “secure the lane” to the left to which the Drag Bike should normally respond with “Stand by.” All station-keeping bikes maintain their position while this occurs, putting their own turn signals on to indicate the move to be made. The Drag Bike then moves first when a space in the lane to the left opens up and radios to the Lead Bike and the group, “The lane is secured.”

No one is to change lanes at this point, however! First, each rider must make certain the lane is clear by actually turning his head to insure that there is no other vehicle still approaching the group in the left lane. If a vehicle is still moving up beside the group, the Drag Bike will usually say, “After the red truck,” or “After the station wagon,” etc. Whether or not a warning is given by the Drag Bike (who may have other concerns with the traffic to his rear), each rider must do a head-check before entering a faster-moving lane.

The second bike to move will be the one in front of the Drag Bike. That rider moves across the tracks of the current lane, does a head-check, changes lane and then takes up a position in the track of the new lane where he was originally riding. By dropping to a speed slightly slower than the rate at which traffic in that lane has been traveling, each bike creates a gap into which the next bike forward can insert. Each rider follows this pattern: signal left, move left in your own lane, head-check, enter new lane, maintain (slower) speed to create gap, and take up regular position (left or right track) in the new lane.

The Lead Bike in this pattern is normally the last to enter the new lane. As the bikes move quickly and re-form their group, it is rare that a four-wheeler will move up into the gap in the new lane. If a cage moves into the gap, the next bike to move must wait for the cage to pass, so that a gap appears again. Then the maneuver can be completed and the group can re-form into a normal configuration.

Copyright © 1992 - 2019 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.
http://www.msgroup.org

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

     
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