Most group rides are organized under the assumption that everyone who shows up will be experienced riders who have ridden in groups before. Those assumptions make it very difficult for new riders to take the plunge and go on their inaugural group ride.
For those who do get up enough courage, there’s the worry that they will do something wrong, misinterpret a hand signal, or follow too closely. Adding to the anxiety are concerns over proper protocol for fuel stops, whether they’ll run short of fuel before everyone else, whether the group will be taking curves faster than the new rider is comfortable with.And, especially for the male riders, there’s the fear that someone will recognise that they are inexperienced.
Here are a few tips to help prepare you and eliminate a few of those anxieties:
1. WAIT. Don’t go on a group ride until you feel confident. If you are still having trouble with slow speed manuevers, can’t make a right hand turn at an intersection without swinging out of the right-hand lane, and can’t make a u-turn within a 24′ wide street without putting your foot down, you aren’t ready for a group ride. If you still forget and park your bike facing down-slope so you have to exert all your energy backing it up when you are ready to take off again you probably aren’t ready for a group ride. Despite the longing to fellowship with a large group of riders, you should probably get at least a year of riding by yourself or with no more than one or two other bikes in a small group before you attend a larger group ride function.
2. Learn basic hand signals. A good ride captain will use hand signals and expect them to be passed along by the riders behind him. Don’t go on a group ride until you know the basics, like “slow down”, “hazard left”, “hazard right”, and “tighten up formation”. Here is a good list of common hand signals for group rides.
3. Avoid informal groups consisting primarily of young males. Sorry, but it’s a fact of life that the younger guys allow ego to override intellect and they’re thinking more about competing with each other and showing off than the fact that there might be a rider with less skill and less developed reflexes among them. Many motorcycle dealerships sponsor occasional short rides and have experienced ride captain leading them. Folks who exhibit risky behaviour typically don’t get invitations to participate in the group rides once they’ve been identified. The last thing a dealer wants is a bad accident on one of his sponsored rides.
4. Find out ahead of time if the group ride will require any special formations. Riding two abreast is a stupid idea for any group where all riders involved are not confirmed to be very experienced in this type of formation riding. It looks cool, but it’s best left to motor officers and other professionals who have specific training and experience in riding two abreast. Avoid riding with a group that rides two abreast unless you happen to be a motor officer…in which case you have more skills and training than me, and are wasting your time reading this article.
5. Practice, practice, practice. Find an experienced rider to help you. Let them lead and learn to follow at a safe distance. When you’ve learned to ride your own ride, and failing to keep up with a more experienced rider doesn’t hurt your ego or make you anxious, your probably ready to go on that first group ride.
6. Avoid large groups. Group rides of more than ten or fifteen should be broken up into smaller cluster groups with separate ride captains. Large groups trying to stay together puts undue pressure on novice riders and creates a nuisance to other vehicles not associated with the ride.
7. Top off before you join the group. Fill up your tank before you head to the meeting site, and top it off as close to that site as you can. Rider do not endear themselves to a group when they have to hold everyone up fifty miles into a ride because they’ve already run short on fuel. It’s a good idea to carry a couple of MSR fuel bottles filled with extra gas in case your hog gets lousier fuel mileage than anyone else in the group.
8. Leave the group if you aren’t comfortable. The ride captain may tell you not to leave the group under any circumstances. Take that mandate with a grain of salt. He’s only saying that because when someone disappears from the group he has to worry about what happened to them. If the riders in the group are show-offs and behaving in a manner that makes it dangerous or distracting to continue the ride, you are better off breaking away from the pack and riding back home alone. Better to be deemed rude or “not a team player” than to be wadded up with a pile of twisted bikes and bodies on the pavement. If you have a safe chance to signal the ride captain that you are leaving, do it out of courtesy, but by no means remain in a dangerous environment regardless. If your inner voice is saying, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to continue on this ride…” listen to it.
Two killers for new riders are overconfidence and riding beyond one’s skill set. These two factors, mixed with a dose of anxiety over looking like a newbie in a group ride, are a deadly combination.