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Motorcycling is primarily a solo activity, but for many, riding as a group -- whether with friends on a Sunday morning ride or with an organized motorcycle rally -- is the epitome of the motorcycling experience. Here are some tips to help ensure a fun and safe group ride:
Arrive prepared. Arrive on time with a full gas tank.
Hold a riders’ meeting. Discuss things like the route, rest and fuel stops, and hand signals (see diagrams on next page). Assign a lead and sweep (tail) rider. Both should be experienced riders who are well-versed in group riding procedures. The leader should assess everyone’s riding skills and the group’s riding style.
Keep the group to a manageable size, ideally five to seven riders. If necessary, break the group into smaller sub-groups, each with a lead and sweep rider.
Ride prepared. At least one rider in each group should pack a cell phone, first-aid kit, and full tool kit, so the group is prepared for any problem that they might encounter.
Ride in formation. The staggered riding formation (see diagram below) allows a proper space cushion between motorcycles so that each rider has enough time and space to maneuver and to react to hazards. The leader rides in the left third of the lane, while the next rider stays at least one second behind in the right third of the lane; the rest of the group follows the same pattern. A single-file formation is preferred on a curvy road, under conditions of poor visibility or poor road surfaces, entering/leaving highways, or other situations where an increased space cushion or manoeuvring room is needed.
Avoid side-by-side formations, as they reduce the space cushion. If you suddenly needed to swerve to avoid a hazard, you would not have room to do so. You don’t want handlebars to get entangled.
Periodically check the riders following in your rear view mirror. If you see a rider falling behind, slow down so they may catch up. If all the riders in the group use this technique, the group should be able to maintain a fairly steady speed without pressure to ride too fast to catch up.
If you’re separated from the group, don’t panic. Your group should have a pre-planned procedure in place to regroup. Don’t break the law or ride beyond your skills to catch up. For mechanical or medical problems, use a cell phone to call for assistance as the situation warrants.
Riding Two Up
Taking a passenger on the back of your motorcycle can be a very pleasant experience or a terrifying ordeal, depending on experience, yours as well as your passenger’s.
Having a passenger on the back of your bike, will affect the way the motorcycle handles. Even a small person will make a difference in how a motorcycle handles, because that is a significant portion of the bikes weight (could be as much as 20% to 30%).
Adding any significant amount of weight will affect how a motorcycle:
- Turns – it will require more effort to get the motorcycle to turn.
- Accelerates – getting up to speed will require more time as well as distance
- Stops – if a motorcycle has more weight, physics dictates that it will require a longer distance to stop from any speed.
Before taking a passenger on your motorcycle, it is a good idea to practice excises such as turning, accelerating and braking (with a passenger), in a controlled environment such as a parking lot; before venturing out into traffic. In so doing the rider can get an indication of how the motorcycle will behave with the extra weight.
A passenger, who has never been on a motorcycle before, might not know exactly what to do; thus it is up to the rider to educate them. What does a passenger have to know? Though a passenger doesn’t have much to do on the back of a motorcycle, there are a few things that they should do to make the ride safer and more enjoyable.
- A motorcycle must lean to make turns, so the passenger should lean with the rider and the motorcycle.
- The passenger should pay attention as the motorcycle accelerates, turns and stops under regular conditions; as well as if the rider has to accelerate, turn or brake aggressively
- Sit as still as possible while the motorcycle is stopped to avoid loss of balance.
One of the most important aspects of riding with a passenger is communication (before, during as well as after the ride). Before the ride it is important to make sure that the passenger knows what to expect and what they should do during the ride. As I said before if this is their first time on a motorcycle they probably will not know what to expect and could do something that can upset the motorcycle’s balance or steering. It is also a good idea to discuss a few simple signals that the rider and passenger can use (i.e. stops for washroom/ rest/ food breaks, slowing down etc.) during the ride.
It also is important that the passenger let the rider know when they are getting on or off the motorcycle, so that the rider can brace them self and the motorcycle to avoid loss of balance. A common mistake that inexperienced passengers tend to make is that they put all their weight on one foot peg as they are getting on the motorcycle, which can cause the bike to tip over. What the passenger should do is slide their leg over the motorcycle first (if possible), and then put their feet on the foot- pegs. In so doing the passenger’s weight does not upset the motorcycle when they are getting on or off.
After the ride it is a good idea for the passenger and rider to have a discussion about how the ride went; was the passenger comfortable with the ride (the speed, the distance/ time between stops, the seat, their overall comfort level etc.) Most riders can go a lot further between stops than their passengers because they are usually more used to riding, as well as the rider seat is usually more comfortable than the diminutive passenger seats offered on a lot of current bikes (some touring/ cruising bikes excluded).
Riding on a motorcycle has some inherent risks that one would not experience while driving in a car, since a car has a steel cage, seat belts, air bags etc. This makes it important that both rider and passenger wear the appropriate gear that will protect them in case of a mishap. It never ceases to amaze me how many riders I see on the road wearing shorts, t-shirt and runners. How much protection would they have if something were to happen? The answer would invariable be, “Not much at all!” If the rider is not wearing the proper gear then what are the chances that the passenger will be? Slim to none!
I also see cases where the rider is wearing their safety gear, while the passenger is wearing a “safety” tank-top, shorts and flip-flops. If there were an incident the rider would probably escape with minor injuries, while the passenger more than likely would need to take a trip to a hospital for road-rash and other serious injuries.
As a rider I never get on my motorcycle without my safety gear, and I absolutely will not take a passenger if they do not have the proper gear as well! My passenger’s safety (as well as mine) is in my hands, the risk of myself and them getting injured is one that I definitely want to minimize.
One last thing that I want to mention, if you are going to take someone for a ride it is a good idea to do so with safety in mind. This is not the time to show-off or to scare them.Showing of is probably the quickest way to go from “Hero” to “Zero”, not to mention make enemies of that person and their family.
“Bring your passengers back safe and sound!”
12 Tips & Hints For Riding On Gravel
1. Go Slow
Of all the hints presented here 'going slow' is the most important. The time you have to react to your bike and the road itself will increase the slower you go. This means that if your bike does slide out fro under you there will be time to react. At speed you won't have this luxury. Going slow will also bring your legs into play. If you are traveling slow enough you can use your feet to stop your bike from tipping over. If you are traveling at speed this won't be possible.
2. Stay Upright
Your primary focus should be to minimize any slippage your tires may have on the gravel surface. Keeping the bike upright maximizes the surface area of the tire that is in contact with the ground. Once again it also gives you as much time as possible to react if your bike does slide out from beneath you.
3. Corner Gently & Slowly
Basic physics allows us to lean the bike over quite far when we are turning, if we are traveling at sufficient speed. This simple action requires strong tire grip on the ground. On gravel there isn't sufficient grip so we can't lean the bike as much. Therefore our turns have to be gradual and slow.
4. Don't Accelerate Quickly
Once gain a lack of traction with a motorcycle on gravel means the wheels will spin erratically, gripping in patches on the road surface. This means flying gravel with bursts of speed that are hard to control. When accelerating do so slowly and make sure your bike has sufficient grip for you to control the bike. The slower the acceleration the more constant the grip.
5. Use Rear Break
Don't use the front brake when moving on gravel. I repeat, don't use it at all. The front wheel will find it hard to gain traction and when it does gravel will shift beneath it. This will cause your front tire to slide. When this happens you will lose control of your bike. Instead use your rear break and only do so lightly. Your slow speed with hopefully have reduced your need to use a break anyway.
6. Install Crash Knobs (especially with fairing)
Install crash knobs on your bike. These are protective stubby bars that take the brunt of any impact with the ground. Especially consider these precaution if your bike has fairing. I had crash knobs installed on my bike and they saved me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars when I came off my bike.
7. Ride in the Car Tracks.
When cars travel on gravel roads their tires naturally shift the gravel out to each side or compact it beneath the car's weight. Over time this creates tire tracks that are harder and smoother than the surface around them. Aim to ride in these tire tracks. Less unstable gravel means more control for you.
8. Stick your Legs out.
Don't be afraid to stick your legs out when negotiation particularly difficult gravel sections of road. In fact stick them out if you are unsure at all. Of course make sure you are traveling slowly at the time. This means if your bike does tip over or slide you can use your legs to steady your position.
9. Grip Handlebars Lightly
Riding on gravel can be stressful especially if you aren't used to it. Our natural tendency can often be to grip the handle bars too tightly. Over time this can be fatiguing, both mentally and physically. Loosen your grip on the handle bars and you will extend your stamina on long gravel roads and maintain alertness for longer. This technique can also help you control your bike better as the next tip explains.
10. Let The Bike Guide You
Our first tendency when riding on gravel can often be to tense up and over-react to every movement the bike makes. In reality we need to let the bike shift beneath us as the tires find grip on the gravel. This means keeping a light grip on the handlebar and feeling what the bike is doing as it travels on the gravel surface. It sounds 'airy fairy' but we need to let the bike guide us through the contours of the road. Attempting to dictate every movement of the bike can exhaust you unnecessarily.
11. Maintain Speed
Keep a steady speed. Slowing down and speeding up on gravel roads can invite slippage. Maintain speed and you can concentrate on navigating.
12. Keep distance Between Vehicles
Obviously gravel is loose. Spinning tires can collect gravel and spit it in almost any direction. You can't help it if someone is stupid enough to get too close behind you on a gravel road but you can certainly avoid doing the same to someone in front of you. Get too close and you or your bike can get hit by flying debris. It goes without saying that a helmet is a must.
When riding on gravel it is better to be safe than sorry. Don't put yourself in a position where you might have that accident. Avoid gravel in the first place and if you absolutely have to ride on it follow the tips above. Don't feel silly if you feel the need to stick you legs out 'just in case' or if you feel you are riding too slow.