The link above on a pack of wolves and their roles & behaviour got me thinking about group riding and roles played by different bikers in a group. Group riding too, when done correctly, has well defined roles, there is a lead who decides the pace of the ride depending on the road & weather conditions, capability of fellow riders etc., and then there is a sweep also called the tail, one who ensures that group rides as a group and that no one gets left behind. These two roles are played by the best and strongest riders in the group. In fact there is a whole science dedicated to this. Internationally, group riding training is one of the last segments of mandatory advanced motorcycle driver education program, saving the toughest training for the last. But, in India, where even basic training is not mandated by law, training sadly is not taken seriously enough. This leads to comical situations, including those of bikes being ridden like mopeds, with both feet down!
This article also brings us to a more basic question – are you a wolf in a pack or a lone wolf? This depends a lot on what biking means to you, and, don’t be surprised, it means a lot of diverse things to different people. There are some meanings that drive (or is it “ride”) one closer to a group riding rather than being a lone wolf. Here are some of them that I could readily think of, and it is not water-tight either-or compartments, it could well be a mish-mash of more than one below. Also welcome your thoughts if different from the ones listed.
- Building familiarity with a new bike: Most people get their new bike through its paces starting with group rides. Apart from the usual bonding and brotherhood reasons, one is curious to know what one can do with his/her bike, general biking knowledge like service centres, accessories, customisation, tips and tricks.
- Extreme riders: These are riders with a penchant of touring unchartered territory, places where they are unlikely to find any help in case of emergency. That’s when having a co-rider is critical. These typically are very small groups and consist of very like-minded people with similar skill-sets.
- Riding for a cause: More frequently than not, various entities organise rides for a cause. It is a great reason for riding together and for expressing your solidarity.
- Once-in-a-lifetime ride in exotic location: There is always a special place in the bucket list of most riders which is either too far/expensive to take their own bike or too extreme or involves too much of paperwork. To tick this place off the list, going with tour operators is an option. While all in the group are likely to be strangers, having a veteran organising things, taking care of logistics (including bikes, hassles of paperwork et al) with a security of back-up vehicles is logical alternative.
- Wanting to socialise: And then there are folks who are inherently gregarious and just love company, meeting people. Riding a bike is their other love and they use it as an opportunity to socialise.
- Building connections: These are guys who love biking so much so that their occupation is directly related to biking as well, say owing an accessories/mods outlet or being tour organisers etc. They ride in groups, whether they like it not, so as to build connections with other bikers, an opportunity to garner new clientele.
- The humble-brags and not-so-humble-brags: These are the typical show-offs in any group. They are out there to advertise their achievements and/or their bike/mods and or their skills/knowledge. There also end up being the leaders in the said groups, deciding where to stop, when to stop, what to eat, bordering upon being a #SmallDecisionMaker.
- Show-piece collectors: These have-money-will-spend guys would have spent a lot more time talking about their bikes than on it. Their social media handles will be a-flush with photos of them with their bikes at various locations, so what if they shipped it there or got someone else to ride it there.
And then there are prime motives that tend to make you choose going solo over a group. Over the years I’ve finally come to understand that, to me, biking is akin to meditation, a tool to attain temporary freedom, a moment of solitude with my gurl. This has inadvertently translated to going solo for most part. It lets me be the boss, deciding when to take a break, when to push on further, where to stop, etc.. It also helps me get a place to stay without much ado.
Contrary to what it sounds like, the objective of solitude can be met even if it is not solo ride, theoretically at least. End of the day, one is alone on one’s steed during the ride. I therefore have been part of a few group rides as well, but they would account for less than 10% of all my rides. My favourite peeves of a group ride are one too many:
- Rides never ever start on time, the punctual ones end up getting penalised, always.
- IMHO, biking in a mismated and contrastive group is a sure-shot invitation to disaster. Diverse riding skills, pressure to keep up, frustration of slowing down/waiting for others seem to play a magical spell on one’s mind, adversely affecting one’s ability to ride. More the number of bikes bikers, greater the probability of a slip-up.
- Group rides of say 5 people over a distance of 100km, as a rule of thumb, will slow down the ride by at least 15% (if not more). This percentage only increases with more members and/or distance. There are gazzilion reasons behind this – random and uncoordinated stops for clicking photos, smoking, fuel, bio-breaks, tail-enders taking a wrong turn etc., leads to a lot of riding time compromised.
- And then there are the clashes of ego, what somebody else is deciding for the group need not necessarily be what works for you.
To some, these peeves are no biggies and that these are small compromises one makes to ride in a group. To me however, it seems to go away from the basic need of solitude. If at all, I would team up with one or utmost two like-minded people. But then again, that’s me. What do you see yourself as, a lone wolf or a pack animal?
To sum up, if you are a pack animal, please remember the nine points below. These are things that help you and the rest in the group:
- Always come prepared – tank up in advance, wear the right gear, remember the acronym ATGATT – All The Gear, All The Time.
- Ride plan/route should be discussed before start. Just in case one gets separated, the modality of regrouping should be known to all to avoid frustrating waits for everyone else.
- Never ever ride right behind the rider ahead of you. A 5 second gap (please note the unit is time and not distance, that way you are in the safe zone no matter what speed) should be maintained at all times, and if the road is wide enough a 2×2 staggered formation is preferred.
- Look beyond the bike in from of you, ALWAYS. It is very easy to get fixated at the tyre of the bike ahead of you and this target fixation is also the easiest way of stealing valuable seconds of reaction time in case of an emergency.
- Make a note of the kind of bikes others are riding in a group. All bikes should have similar capabilities. For instance, taking a modern classic to a group full of super-bikes is like taking a knife to a gun fight.
- There are some universal hand signals, or if your wallet permits you could even opt for multiway communication equipment. www.motorcyclelegalfoundation.com
- Usually, mistakes occur when one goes outside the comfort zone under a pressure to keep up. It is not worth it. Push yourself outside the comfort zone in a track or in a private cordoned off area. public roads are not for pushing it. Here’s where knowing the ride plan comes in handy. You can regroup at the next break location.
- Your ride is as safe as the weakest in your group. Always look out for them, give them their space and if you think you are the weakest link, there’s no pressure to keep up.
- Finally, remember, it is a ride for pleasure, and not a race. It is all too easy to confuse one for the other. Save races for a track day.
About the author:
A biker | A blogger | An adventure junky | Animal lover
Tries to fit all of the above whilst working as a brand marketing professional. His blog is a product of contemplations, reflections and an unquenchable thirst for self-deprecating humour. It is the world as seen through the eyeballs of a salt-and-pepper *sixteen year-old* fighting off #MidLifeCrisis. No doubt perspectives will be different when seen by others and those are equally welcome in the comments section.
- This is written with a sole intention of laughing at and with the author, no offence meant to anyone else.
- No bikes or animals or bystanders were harmed while writing this.