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Motorcycle riding is an exhilarating experience for many veteran riders and newbies alike. Riding a rumbling steel horse in the open air with winds whipping about and bugs smashing into your goggles or eyeglasses reinforces oneness with nature and the other groups of vehicles near your bike.
Many independent riders enjoy the fun and excitement of riding alone, while others prefer the safety and camaraderie of group and formation riding. I am attorney Michael Ehline. As a Los Angeles motorcycle lawyer for over 15 years, I know much about motorcycle riding, rules, and regulations. I became a car accident attorney upon passing the Bar in 2005, quickly finding most of my cases involved military personnel, especially Marines, as my clients.
Whatever the goal is, learning motorcycle basics and conducting a pre-ride safety inspection and huddle can help chart out targets and what everyone will do in the case of an accident. By the time you are ready to ride in a group, you will already have taken a motorcycle safety course and obtained a California motorcycle license or rider’s permit at a bare minimum.
Trained riders should already know how to deal with real-time road traffic, such as:
During the pre-ride safety meeting, educated and even advanced riders must be warned about the dangers of left-hand turns, lane sharing, and intersection collisions. They need to fall back on their knowledge and training, and this refresher helps riders recall their prior teachings. For example, the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club™ is famous for staying with their fallen brothers at the hospital ER if a rider goes down. Some clubs have a supply train reminiscent of a military force that includes cars, motorcycle trailers, vehicles with tools and medical equipment, food, water, and other survival necessities.
Of course, hardcore bikers are into the rough and ready lifestyle more so than a doctor or lawyer may be. Less serious motorcycle enthusiasts and many newer female riders may have different goals. Moreover, they may seek different experiences than a one %er MC, like a sisterhood. There are many theme-based, non-three-patch clubs, perhaps with enduro-type cycles used by close friends or family to cruise through tundra and back to their cabins or homes. In other words, not everyone rides a Harley. We see a lot of this in places like Alaska and Montana.
But in Los Angeles, we see a lot more street rider clubs that include Japanese motorcycles, called “rice rockets” by purists in outlaw groups or outlaw motorcycle gangs (“OMG”). Together you can enjoy the scenery from the open road and arrive safely at your destination with a few suggested guidelines. As we get into the more three-patch severe clubs, we see glaring military similarities in group discipline. At the top of the food chain, we see the OMGs competing on many levels. One is riding in formation. When it comes to close order drill formation riding, if regular AMA riding associations were Air Force or Army, then Outlaw 1%er clubs would all have to be competing U.S. Marines divisions. Marines are known for their close-order drill, sharpness, and steely discipline for a reason.
For example, we know that the Hells Angels came from World War Two bomber crews and evolved into the modern Red and White. But did you know a U.S. Marine formed the Bandidos? Military vets seem drawn to these more disciplined clubs and the unit cohesion and loyalty created by the close-order drill. Not all three patch clubs are OMGs, yet even some law enforcement member-based clubs emulate the strict formations made famous by 1%ers. The main distinction is that most top clubs do not stagger formations. They ride nut to butt. And they don’t like having their appearance passed by other riders without a show of respect.
Below we will talk about riding in groups, formation riding, and what greenhorn riders must understand before engaging in choreographed group behavior on wheels.
Whether you are a hang-around, prospect, or leisure rider, the first step in group/formation riding is creating a motorcycle riding group. Once your gaggle of troops is rounded up, you must set up your formation on paper. Like the military, most clubs use a rank-based approach, usually based on time in grade, prior training, and missions.
For example, a US Marine supply officer typically will not be leading a MARSOC Team. No, that will likely be a non-commission officer like a Gunny. Gunny can instruct that supply officer to “get lost” if he attempts to interfere with tactical success or planning.
A typical rank structure for a successful formation ride is as follows:
Above is a typical formation with the most experienced at the lead in a structured pecking order behind following in groups of twos. Most clubs utilize hand signals to communicate turns and other commands. Again, so very military. How many in the formation and rider experience will dictate how advanced and disciplined you want to ride as a group.
For example, it is recommended for safety to ride in a staggered formation alongside each other but with one rider a bit fore and another a bit aft, similar to how a chain’s links might look. That way, if another biker runs into trouble, other formation members will have some time to react and avoid a crash.
As noted above, the group riding leader should be among the most experienced and willing to take on the role. The lead rider is generally the first to encounter other vehicular traffic, coming and going. The leading rider must know how to respond to erratic and distracted drivers appropriately. And the lead rider must respond, react, and avoid problems carefully before other passengers in the group become seriously injured or killed.
The next most prominent and experienced rider remains the “tail rider.” Often this is the rider who plays catch up after making sure the other riders made it safely through a traffic signal or intersection. The tail rider should also keep an eye on stragglers and bikes with mechanical breakdowns, so they don’t become stranded or abandoned in some desolate location with no phone signal, for example. Most of all, the riding group should look out for each other and take personal leadership initiative when called upon.
Here are some essential pre-ride tips and considerations before group riding.
All veteran riders should:
Group riding etiquette dictates that each rider’s skill level should be a significant factor in forming a motorcycle riding group. Timid and green riders need a mentor to teach them the ropes until they are more comfortable with the situations that can pop up. A significant factor in group choice is how fast the riding formation intends to travel. Some more veteran bikers may like the thrill of speed. So they can ride up front and break away as point men.
Novice riders may want to join a group that wants to ride at a slower pace. There are a lot of people with bagger bikes who choose these groups. Feeling pressured and guilty by not wanting to ride at a speed faster than you’re comfortable with remains a heavy burden for many. So join a group of like-minded individuals.
TIP: Loud pipes save lives! Consider custom exhausts or a loud bike. Many experienced riders are keen on the idea that a car can hear and not just see you show your dominance and presence in road traffic. A helmet’s hearing protection may need to be supplemented for all riders in the group to avoid hearing damage or loss. Moreover, riders with extremely loud pipes like race pipes or open mufflers may wish to stay in the rear to prevent rumbling and jolting the rest of the riding formation. So if you have available pipes or a race muffler, consider riding at the far back of the riding group.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Motorcycle accidents, especially in formations, can quickly result in a life-altering event that affects everyone in the rider’s life. Proper motorcycle group riding protocol dictates all riders respect certain customs and protocols. So, prepare at that tailgate safety meeting and go back over the basics often. Moreover, riders should show up ready to ride with no mechanical or bodily impediments.
Clear your bowels and top off your motorcycle tank and stomach tank. Make sure and eat a nutritious meal beforehand. And make sure to drink a lot of water! Staying hydrated is one way your brain remains healthy.
For Example, Riders Should:
CAVEAT: If your group is cruising on curvy roads or in low or poor visibility conditions create poor visibility conditions, consider using a single-file rider formation. Moreover, in these cases, increase follow seconds to two. As noted, there should always be a lead and sweep team.
It’s equal to knowing what to do when riding in a group. Here are equally essential behaviors to avoid, according to MSF:
Hand signals have been used since the dawn of time. Some cultures, such as the Italians, slowly and culturally rely upon these non-verbal cues to communicate emotions and thoughts. In military situations of old, before we had radios and other comm lines, the noise and calamity of battle gave rise to the modern Army Signal Corps. Using various hand and arm signals in conjunction with unit guide-ons and standards was vital in managing both large and small unit formations on the battlefield.
Group riders cannot always rely upon radio communications to dictate riding as a horde. But other nonverbal communication remains very efficient for the safe formation of motorcycle riding. Typically, the riding group formation’s command structure will filter down commands via a series of hand, arm, and other signals, such as leaning a bike or pointing the head in a specific direction. Most of all, these signals can assist riders in avoiding nasty hazards like potholes, pieces of garbage, gravel, construction nails, and other dangerous things ahead. But what if you are having a mechanical problem with your motorcycle?
Or what if it’s not safe to speed up to pass a vehicle? What if the group needs to slow down due to bad weather or a police checkpoint ahead? What if someone needs to make a fuel and restroom call? The good news, there is a human-created signal for each of these situations. So part of group riding means educating yourself properly using the hand, arm, and other communication signals.
Learning these above necessary signals when riding will allow you to communicate with other roadway users and hopefully avoid any dangerous collisions or crashes. Moreover, this can become a great way to develop confidence as a motorcyclist on California roads. Also, remember that motorcycle riding is not always two-wheeled motorcycles. For example, you will experience riders with sidecars, trikes, and others. Because these are less maneuverable and take up as much space as a car, it makes sense to leave these vehicles in the rear of any formations.
As noted below, getting hit by a flying object is a severe risk of formation riding. Don’t forget that riding with a child on your motorcycle means a different set of circumstances and risks that increase in formation riding.
Common injuries in motorcycle formation riding include:
Formation riding comes with many safety benefits. But it also comes with many risks. For example, a loose or poorly maintained party flying off a motorcycle can pierce or impale another group member. If one bike goes down, the rear riders risk a chain pile-up collision and running over each other at high speeds. Death from another rider or automobile is a severe risk to each rider.
The plaintiff has the burden of proving each element of their cases. A rider hurt by the fault of another person is the plaintiff. The person being sued or claimed against is the defendant. Sometimes the acts of many defendants join together in a chain of events that leads to injury or death. In that case, the defendants are deemed jointly and severally liable for the plaintiff’s damages minus the plaintiff’s degree of fault under California’s pure comparative negligence laws.
The burden to prove is that the defendants owed a duty not to place the plaintiff in harm and that defendant breached the duty. That plaintiff suffered actual damages caused by the breach, resulting in injury to a person or property. Damages are the monies paid out to a personal injury plaintiff.
True, even your riding group members could be partially or wholly at fault for any formation riding incidents. Below is a list of some possible defendants depending on the facts.
To recap, abiding by agreed-upon group riding rules helps your entire formation stay on the same page. Now everyone is better prepared for what lies ahead. Group riding brings excitement and adventure to motorcycling using advanced planning and veteran rider experience to make the riding journey safer. Keep all the basics in mind while always understanding that accidents can happen out of the blue.
If you were injured in a group riding accident or suffered a loved one’s death, you would face many challenges dealing with grief and paying bills. This may start to overwhelm you. Don’t let that happen. Ehline Law Firm personal injury attorneys, APLC, offers free phone consultations to explain your legal rights and how insurance claims work.
With personal injury law office locations in Torrance, Redondo Beach, Marina del Rey, and Downtown Los Angeles, we are the go-to attorney for great results, compassion, and care. And we are all over Northern and Southern California as well. Don’t let the 24-month statute of limitations expire in your injury claim. Let us help get you money! Call us now at (213) 596-9642.
Michael is a managing partner at the nationwide Ehline Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He’s an inactive Marine and became a lawyer in the California State Bar Law Office Study Program, later receiving his J.D. from UWLA School of Law. Michael has won some of the world’s largest motorcycle accident settlements.