Road Manners In Motorcycle Group Riding Safety
Motorcycle Riding In Formations Can Be Fun If Done Right - But Accidents Happen.
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 with 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 a lot about motorcycle riding, rules, and regulations.
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.
Basically trained riders should already know how to deal with real-time road traffic such as:
- Effective turning.
- Effective braking.
- Obstacle avoidance maneuvers.
- Protective riding attire choices.
- Safe traffic maneuvering strategies.
- Basic vehicle maintenance.
During the pre-ride safety meeting, basically educated and even the 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. We know, 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 of the newer female riders may have different goals. Moreover, they may be seeking different experiences than a one %er M.C., like a sisterhood. There are a lot of 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 the outlaw groups or outlaw motorcycle gangs ("O.M.G."). Together you can enjoy the scenery from the open road and arrive safely to your destination with a few suggested guidelines. As we get into the more serious three patch clubs, we see glaring military similarities in group discipline. At the top of the food chain, we see the O.M.G.s competing on many levels. One is riding is 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 divisions of U.S. Marines. Marines are known for their close order drill, sharpness, and steely discipline for a reason.
We know, for example, that the Hells Angels came from World War Two bomber crews and ended up evolving into the modern Red and Whites. But did you know a U.S. Marine formed the Bandidos? Military vets seem to be drawn to these more disciplined clubs and the unit cohesion and loyalty that is created by the close-order drill. Not all three patch clubs are O.M.G.s, 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 formation passed by other riders without a show of respect.
Below we will talk about riding in groups, as well as formation riding and what greenhorn riders must understand before engaging in such choreographed, group behavior on wheels.
How Do I Form A Motorcycle Riding Group?
Whether you are a hang around, prospect, or just a leisure rider, the first step in group/formation riding is creating a motorcycle riding group. Once you have your gaggle of troops rounded up, you need to set up your formation on paper, so to speak. Most clubs, like the military, will use a rank-based approach, usually based upon 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. And that Gunny can basically 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:
- Road Captain and President - They will usually be the lead bikes. The road Captain could be akin to a Sergeant Major, and the president could be looked upon as the commanding officer, or C/O, maybe similar to a colonel. These two are responsible for overall mission success. The Road Captain is usually the active “pack leader.” Typically, the are the more intelligent of the bunch, and they will plan mapped routes, break and recreation points, as well on the spot road decisions. For example, it remains the Road Captain's job to direct formation lane passing. It's a significant responsibility. As discussed more below, the Road Captain will communicate formation instructions using a simple series of universally understood hand and body movements.
- Sgt. at Arms and Vice President - These men are sort of like your Gunny and Executive officer (X/O).
- Patches - For Outlaws, Three Patch members are akin to lance corporals up to Staff Sergeants, riding in groups of two. For others, it's the same general idea—less experienced riders in the rear with the gear.
- Prospects are like privates or recruits. They are hazed and forced to eat exhaust fumes in the rear of the gaggle. Again, they ride in groups of two in strict formation.
- Supporters, associates, friends, allies, WAGS, and tagalongs, are next in line, also riding in groups of two.
Above is a pretty 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, for safety, it is recommended 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 members of the formation will have some time to react and avoid a crash.
Leadership Remains Key!
As noted above, the group riding leader should be among the most experienced willing to take on the role. The lead rider is generally the first person who will 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 becoming 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. Also, the tail rider should 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 important pre-ride tips and considerations before the journey of group riding.
All veteran riders should:
- Teach other riders not to hog the narrow roadway and maintain a cushion of space. Or driving side by side.
- Pair up a novice rider (someone who has ridden a bike less than 1,000 miles) with a more veteran rider. Imagine a two-person fire team, for example.
- Be alert, scanning for riders falling behind in the group. (More pre-ride safety tips are found here).
Top Safety Tips For Formation And Group Riding.
Group riding etiquette dictates that the skill level of each rider should be a major 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 major 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 guilt by not wanting to ride at a speed faster than you’re comfortable with remains a heavy burden to carry 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 to the idea that a car that can hear and not just see you shows your dominance and presence in road traffic. Obviously, the hearing protection of a helmet may need to be supplemented for all riders in the group to avoid hearing damage of loss. Moreover, riders with extremely loud pipes like race pipes, or open mufflers may wish to stay in the rear to avoid rumbling and jolting the rest of the riding formation. So if you have open pipes or a race muffler, consider riding at the far back of the riding group.
Most Of All, Preparation, And Planning Remain Key.
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 make sure and prepare at that tailgate safety meeting and to 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 mean beforehand. And make sure to drink a lot of water! Staying hydrated is one way your brain stays healthy.
For Example Riders Should:
- Fuel up their motorcycle tanks.
- Carry a fully charged smartphone with active GPS in case of emergencies.
- Carry a paper road map with the road routes highlighted with a marker.
- Carry a small first-aid kit and toolkit for loose nuts, bolts or brake line adjustments, or repairs, etc.
- Check tire pressure and inflate tires.
- Warm-up tires to grip.
- Check coolant and oil levels.
- Take plenty of road breaks, especially if your pack is new to riding in a group and/or you have some less experienced rider
- Keep the riding group’s size workable - While group riding; cyclists may encounter winding pathways, curvy on-ramps, and straight, open throttle sections of the highways.
- Stagger your riding formation - The road captain rides typically on the left side of the lane in a staggered formation. During the ride, the group will encounter straight sections of road and curvy sections. In the straight section, the lead rider often takes the position in the left third of the formation's riding lane. Because of this, the rider may more easily see around roadway traffic far ahead. Most of all, if an obstacle or oncoming vehicle traffic presents a hazard, a series of signals can be relayed back to the main formation to take evasive safety maneuvers. Timing the distance in seconds is part of the idea here. For example, each rider should make best efforts to travel at least one second behind the other in a staggered formation. Also, most reputable riding clubs suggest that newer riders keep their group sizes down to 7 passengers or less. But even if there are more riders than that, just have them creating a subgroup and hit the streets on your same route. True, more advanced rider and OMG's prefer tight formations. But newer riders should keep a cushion of space to allow for swerving or heavy braking if needed. 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.
- Stay aware of your group’s riders while formation riding - Each biker mast scan the road and their rearview mirrors in a regular fashion. Keeping an eye far ahead in steering and aiming high towards the road captain, allows you to notice upcoming hand signals and other riding behaviors.
- Have a plan for pack separation - Like a good ship's captain, make sure you have an idea in advance to reform if a group riders get separated. Otherwise, the stray rider may try and violate traffic regulation to catch up, which is unsafe. As we say in the Marines, we are as fast as our slowest man. So a good riding group will slow down to allow stragglers to get back into the group.
- Know how to reform the group if a rider must fall out - Let's say that a passenger has plans to peel away from the group at a particular departure point. In that case, the group should have an advance plan to reassemble the staggered riding formation. Leaving a gap is bad because a car can bull in. The best way to fill the gap is to allow the next rider in the chain of succession to move up to the next position. Another advantage to this mode of filling in is that no riders have to pass each other within a shared, single lane.
- Passing vehicles when safe (Overtaking) - Sometimes, there are just slow-moving vehicles that pose a threat to your safety. Because of this, riders must learn how to safely overtake and pass the vehicle traveling in the lane ahead of them. First of all, do not do that in a group. Do it one at a time and only when safe. Afterward, the riders waiting for their turns will need to move up in their position until another shot at passing materializes. After passing, enough space must be left in front of the blocking vehicle behind the motorcycle next in line. So keep your speed up so the next bike can take that space. That gap remains crucial to avoid any rear-end accidents.
- Know the skill level of each group rider - Every group will have variable riding experience. The key is to keep each rider comfortable and safe, so having the least experience toward the middle of the pack is recommended. This position will allow them a visual guide from motorists in the front to indicate oncoming items to note (like traffic and road conditions). More experienced riders behind them will be able to keep aggressive drivers from disturbing them from the rear also. The lead and tail riders should have the most experience as they can adjust to traffic the best and protect the other riders from traffic and road debris. Your most novice riders should also determine when and where to take breaks.
- Use your hand signals and other nonverbal communication - All members of the group should know the basic hand motorcycle rider arm and hand signals. And everyone should also understand nonverbal body language in a group riding environment.
- Take adequate rest breaks - Letting people pee, eat, and stretch helps them become more comfortable and happy. Staying hydrated and checking the bike out from time to time is an essential factor in safe riding. Moreover, being fatigued means there is a higher chance of crashing.
What Not To Do While on a Group Ride.
It’s equally important to know what not to do when riding in a group. Here are some behaviors to avoid, according to MSF:
- Don’t ride side-by-side, right next to each other in the same lane. True, the 1%ers and top M.C.s do this. But these are riders who have ridden potentially millions of miles. And if you don't have enough room, forget it, road pizza. So allow room to swerve and avoid hazards like oncoming trucks, buses, and passenger vehicles.
- No hot-rodding or showboating. Don’t toot your own horn. Being a show-off in a group formation can get people killed. This is not Top Gun. Don't play chicken, tailgate others, or act like a dick.
- Don’t forget your safety apparel and equipment. Always select a proper helmet, preferably one with full-face protection. A speck of dust at 70 miles per hour can blind a rider. So always wear eye protection. And never forget your riding boots, chaps, and special padded pants and jackets. Keep your body protected.
Know Your Motorcycle Hand, Arm And Other Signals And Signs.
Hand signals have been used since the dawn of time. Some cultures, such as the Italians, are slowly, culturally reliant 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 a variety of hand and arm signals used in conjunction with unit guide-ons and standards was key 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 safe formation 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 of 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 in the proper use of the hand, arm, and other communication signals.
What Are 18 Motorcycle Riding Hand And Arm Signals All Riders Should Know?
- How Do I Signal A Motorcycle Left Hand Turn? Typically you should use your blinkers. But what if they don't operate properly? What then? If you want to signal a left-hand turn, extend your left arm out straight at a 90-degree angle with your body, with your palm facing down.
- How Do I Signal A Motorcycle Right Hand Turn? This one is a bit different. Motorcycle riders use the right hand to throttle the speed of their motorcycle and to control the handbrake. To avoid a decrease in the rate of speed while using the right hand to signal, which can cause a crash, you will use your left hand to signal. To do so, extend your left arm out and bent it at the elbow joint. Make sure your hand points towards the sky.
- How Do I Signal A Motorcycle Stop? Again, assuming your brake lights are out, you need to alert other drivers of your intentions to stop. Do this by extending your left arm straight down with the palm facing back.
- How Do I Signal A Motorcycle Hazard In The Roadway? If other motorcyclists are riding behind you, courtesy and safety dictate that you try and identify road hazards you come upon to try and save lives. Risks can be a dead animal, a deer crossing the road, oil, grease, water pools, potholes, racks, mud, gravel, or another crashed vehicle blocking the lanes.
- If it is on the left, signal other by pointing out the object with your left hand extended at a 45-degree angle.
- If the hazard is on your right, signal the hazard by extending out your right leg, and pointing your right foot in the direction of the danger.
- How Do I Signal Police Ahead? This is among the most critical signals for riders. For example, speed traps and DUI checkpoints can be spotted and avoided. The way to alert other motorists is to can warn other drivers is using your left hand to tap the top of your helmet a few times. Now others in the formation can make speed adjustments so you can avoid a nasty traffic citation.
- How Do I Signal A Motorcycle Single File? Your arm and index finger will extend straight up.
- How Do I Signal A Motorcycle Double File? Here your arm with index and middle finger remain extended straight up.
- How Do I Signal Speed Up? Your arm will remain extended straight out, with palms facing up, swinging upward.
- How Do I Signal Slow Down? Here, your arm remains extended straight out, palm facing down, swinging down to your side.
- How Do I Signal to Follow Me? In this signal, your arm extends straight up from the shoulder, palm forward.
- How Do I Signal You Lead/Come? Here, the arm extends upward 45 degrees, palm forward, pointing with the index finger, swinging in an arc from back to front.
- How Do I Signal High-beams On? Here the rider taps on top of the helmet with open palm down.
- How Do I Signal Fuel Stop? In this case, the arm goes out to the side, pointing to the tank with a finger extended.
- How Do I Signal Comfort Stop? Here, the forearm remains extended; fist clenched with short up and down motion.
- How Do I Signal Refreshment Break? Stop fingers closed, thumb to mouth.
- How Do I Signal Turn Signal On? Open and close hand with fingers and thumb extended.
- How Do I Signal to Pull Off? Arm positioned as for right turn; forearm swung toward the shoulder.
- How Do I Signal "Asshole" - Curl fingers back and raise the middle finger in an angry fashion? (See below info-graphic)
Learning these above necessary signals when riding will allow you to communicate with other roadway users on the road and hopefully avoid any dangerous collisions or crashes. Moreover, this can become a great way to develop confidence as a motorcyclist on the 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.
Common Injuries In Group Formation Riding Accidents.
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 the back of your motorcycle means a whole different set of circumstances and risks that become increased in formation riding. Common injuries in motorcycle formation riding include:
- Wrongful death.
- Facial fractures.
- Wrist fractures.
- Arm and leg fractures.
- Frictions burns, road rash, and permanent scarring.
- Spinal cord injuries.
- Broken teeth.
- Crush injuries.
- Puncture wounds.
- Burn injuries.
- Brain Injuries.
Common Causes Of Formation Accidents And Who Is At Fault?
Formation riding comes with many safety benefits. But it also comes with many risks. For example, a loose or poorly maintained party flying off of a motorcycle can pierce or impale another member of the group. 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 other automobile is a severe risk to each rider.
The plaintiff has the burden of proving each element of his or her cases. A rider hurt by the fault 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 led to the injury or death. In that case, the defendants are deemed to be 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 defendants owed a duty not to place the plaintiff in harm, that defendant breached the duty. That plaintiff suffered actual damages caused by the breach, resulting in injury to person or property. Damages are the monies paid out to a personal injury plaintiff.
Who Can Be A Defendant?
True, even members of your own riding group could be partially or wholly at fault for any formation riding incidents. Below is a list of some possible defendants depending on the facts.
- Road Captains? What if they were negligent in directing your riding group into harm's way.
- CalTrans/State. Think poor or negligence maintenance like open utility hole covers and potholes.
- Other Riders In The Gaggle? Think about loose parts flying off, or hard braking,
- Other Vehicles Bullying Into The Formation. Think about cars or road racers trying to get in between the riding formation and cutting riders off at intersections, etc.
- Show-offs. Show-offs and rogue riders in your formation are a major accident waiting to happen. Weed these people out, or you could be pushing up daisies.
- Manufacturers of motorcycle and motorcycle parts.
- Mechanics and re-manufacturers.
- Private road maintenance crews.
What Can A Rider Or Survivor Recover For Motorcycle Rider Personal Injury Or Death Claims?
- Special Damages: A fallen rider or their survivor has the right to seek money damages for medical bills, ambulance expenses, long term medical care and lost wages on contracts, etc.
- General Damages: Injured riders have the right to seek money damages for intangibles like past, present, and future pain and suffering.
- Punitive Damages: In extreme cases of intentional conduct or recklessness, plaintiffs can seek extraordinary damages to punish the defendant.
How Do I Know If I Have A Viable Motorcycle Formation Riding Injury Case?
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 lays ahead. Group riding brings a level of excitement and adventure to motorcycling using advanced planning and veteran rider experience to make the riding journey safer. Just keep all the basics in mind, while always understanding the accidents can happen out of the blue.
If you were injured in a group riding accident or suffered the death of a loved one, you will be faced with 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 personal injury claim. Let us help get you money! Call us now at (213) 596-9642.
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