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Highway Group Riding 'rules' ...
never trump safety

By: James R. Davis

There are some common misunderstandings as to what the 'rules' are for group riding. For example, virtually everyone who has ridden in a group understands that they should try to keep the group together. That has become almost 'gospel' knowledge, yet is absolutely wrong if to do so involves increasing risk.

Said another way, though group riders know that they are to follow the lead bike, there is a caveat to that understanding - unless it is in to danger.

Keeping a group together can never have priority over safety.

Let's look at a common highway scenario to explore this from a realistic perspective. Below is a diagram of a situation in which a group finds itself riding in the right lane of a two lane highway as they approach an on-ramp. The lead biker has apparently failed to notice that a car is about to try to merge into the highway traffic.

Now if the group insists that it keep itself a group then that means one or more bikes in that group are going to have an encounter with a car's bumper. So, what should they do? Well, for sure it is NOT up to the lead bike to determine what actions to take as EACH rider is responsible for his own safety. Each rider in the group must decide for themselves what to do about the threat though there are a couple of things that they can do as a partial group in order to try to keep some semblance of order within their ranks.

For example, the third biker might turn on his turn signal and, after doing his head check, begin moving to the left lane. Group dynamics in that event will probably find that all the bikes behind that third bike will follow him into the left lane.

That is not the best thing they could have done but it demonstrates positive action on the part of at least one of the group's riders. What it leads to, however, is that after they move to the left the group now covers two full lanes and blocks all following traffic totally. Since group riders understand that they are not supposed to under any normal conditions pass the lead rider, the group in the left lane will in all probability not do so. And that leaves the car that entered the highway boxed in - and probably angry!

A second, and in my opinion far more appropriate action to be taken by biker number 3 is to simply slow down and widen the gap between his bike and the bike ahead of him. That allows the car to gracefully merge with traffic and you can be sure that as soon as that driver sees a way to move left into the next lane he will do so. (It apparently is 'threatening' to many car drivers to find themselves in the middle of a group of motorcyclists.)

When the car has entered the lane there are then two independent motorcycle groups in that lane - that is, they are no longer 'family.' The third biker has become the lead biker of the second group and he is then responsible for the navigation of that group. He can decide after awhile, if the car does not move left and out of their way, to move his group into the passing lane and increase speed until they can safely merge back into the right lane behind group one or he can decide to bide his time and simply maintain visual contact with the group ahead of him until the car moves out of the lane.

This has merely been an example of a real world situation in which keeping the group together MUST be subordinated to safety. It points out that though it is often believed that only the lead and drag bikers make decisions for the group, in fact each rider is REQUIRED to do so on behalf of himself, first, and the group, second.

Obviously the first thing that should have been done was to move the ENTIRE group into the faster left lane BEFORE approaching an on-ramp. And though that is not always appropriate it usually is.

Now, please, consider the situation in which the same group is approaching an off-ramp instead of an on-ramp. If there is a car in the left lane that must make that exit there is going to be an accident unless someone in the group is courteous enough, AND SAVVY ENOUGH, to slow down and let that car gracefully (and safety) merge through the group and exit the highway.

One more thing - this example demonstrates one more reason why you should not build your group rides with more than 6 to 8 bikes.

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

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