Motorcycle Group Riding Tips: Formation and Etiquette

Motorcycle Group Riding
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Motorcycle riding gives you an exhilarating feeling of being in the open air while feeling the wind over your body. While riding alone is sometimes the goal, one of the best experiences you can have on a motorcycle is to ride in a group of close friends or family. Together you can enjoy the scenery from the open road and arrive safely to your destination with a few suggested guidelines.

Motorcycle Group Riding Safety Tips

Consider the following safety precautions prior to departing on your motorcycle group riding adventure.

Conduct a Pre-Ride Meeting

Preparation, before you leave your starting point, will allow the group to understand how to get to your final destination or to any stopping point along the way. Getting there safely is the primary goal, so deciding who leads the group is a key factor in the safety of the group. The leader should know the route the group will follow, and that leader should be able to explain it to all group members, show it on a map, and/ or describe directions for the route.

It’s always advisable to provide each member with directions and/or a visual map of the route in case anyone is separated for any reason. Another point to be considered is if there are any tolls along the route. Either the leader should carry the toll amount for the whole group to reduce stops at the booth, or each member should be prepared to quickly pay the toll and get back on the road.

Decide on the Leader

The leader of the riding group should be one of the most, if not the most, experienced riders in the group. They will be the first person to encounter other traffic going in the same direction or oncoming. They should know how to respond to other drivers on the road and be prepared to guide the other riding members safely through any situation the group comes across on their journey. The tail rider, or the last in the group, also needs to be more experienced as they could be separated by traffic conditions, and they can help any other members safely catch up and navigate traffic safely without losing other members of the group.

Restrict the Number of Group Members

The number of riders should stay to a maximum of five to seven riders for safety. Larger groups can easily bunch up on the road and become an obstacle unto themselves. Five would be a good number if the group as a whole was less experienced and seven would be better if the group was more experienced. More riders do not necessarily mean there is more safety in numbers, and having too many riders can become dangerous as the group has limited flexibility to move on the road and navigate road debris and traffic. If the group has more riders than these numbers, consider breaking the whole group into sub-groups for more safety and each group will have the lead and tail rider as mentioned.

Ride Prepared

As mentioned, safety is a primary concern for the journey. Someone in the group should carry a first-aid kit and a tool kit. Preference is that the same rider does not carry both in case that particular rider is separated from the group for any reason. The person carrying the first-aid kit should know first-aid (and preferably CPR also) in order to treat any basic medical condition that could occur. Beyond those two items, every rider should carry a cell phone in case something comes up during the ride.

Motorcycle Group Riding Protocol

Now that you’re prepped and ready to hit the road, consider the following safety guidelines to ensure the smoothest group ride.

Ride 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 should take a position in the left third of the riding lane. This will give them the best ability to see around traffic ahead of the group and to monitor oncoming traffic or debris in the road ahead. The next or second rider will ride approximately one second behind the leader and in the right third of the lane. The third rider continues the trend riding in the left third of the lane one second behind the second rider and two seconds behind the leader. The riders behind that continue the pattern until the group is complete and staggered accordingly.

A birds-eye-view example of a staggered formation.
Video courtesy of

In a curvy section of road, each member should ride in a single-file line approximately two seconds apart. The spacing and lane position can be adjusted accordingly for safety, but this should give each member time to adjust to any other traffic and changing conditions. One thing to note is that riding side by side should never be done as it doesn’t allow either rider the option to move carefully within the lane to avoid other traffic or road debris. There will be too much opportunity for the riders to contact each other. In conditions with limited visibility or other constraints, consider which of the formations (staggered or single-file) will provide the safest condition for the riders and choose it accordingly.

Pass Vehicles Safely (Overtaking)

There will come a time when one will need to pass a vehicle traveling in the lane in front of them. In order to safely pass the vehicle, do so one motorcycle at a time. Obviously, the leader will go first, but each rider successive will need to position themselves in the left third of the lane prior to starting the overtaking maneuver. Riders behind the one making the pass will need to adjust their lane position to keep a proper following distance and in the correct pattern in case the passing opportunity dries up.

If a portion of the group is only able to make the pass, the remaining riders need to adjust their position to assume the correct riding pattern until the next passing opportunity presents itself. As each member passes the vehicle in question, they do need to keep their speed up and allow a gap to form behind them and the vehicle they passed. This gap is necessary for the next rider to safely pass and rejoin the lane with a safe distance to the vehicle.

A birds-eye-view example of the safest way to overtake a vehicle.
Video courtesy of

What to do When You Get Separated

Being separated in a group ride will occasionally happen. It may occur in heavy traffic with other motorists or in an urban setting with traffic lights. The first thing to remember is not to panic. In your pre-journey meeting, you already discussed the route everyone will follow. Continue on the same route as discussed, and if there is an experienced rider in the now sub-group, they should lead until the main group is formed back together. At that time they can take their original place in the main group. The lead sub-group should also continue on the same course as agreed upon and slow down or stop as needed until the latter group can rejoin them.

Be Mindful of All Skill Levels of Riders

Every group will have a 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 riders 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 Hand Signals

All members of the group should know the basic hand signals used while group riding. Communicating through signals during a ride (when voice discussion is not possible) will allow each member to stay in sync with what is happening around them. If you need a refresher on what these signals are, refer here: Motorcycle Hand Signals. Note that these signals should be a quick discussion point and possibly a show and tell during the pre-ride meeting. Ensure all riders know the signals and their meanings.

A rear-view example of 16 essential motorcycle hand signals.

Group Riding Etiquette

  • As mentioned, the skill level of each rider needs to be a consideration within the group and each rider should feel comfortable with the speed that the group will ride during the travel. Some riders will want to ride faster than others are comfortable with. If that is the case, consider splitting into different speed groups to keep everyone comfortable and safe. Feeling pressured and guilt by not wanting to ride at a speed faster than you’re comfortable with is a heavy burden to carry. Choose to ride with those with the same approximate speed in mind as you have.
  • Loud exhausts are great to keep others aware of your presence in traffic, but deafening your riding partners over the course of a long ride isn’t a nice thing to do. If you have open pipes or a race muffler, consider riding towards or at the back of the group.
  • Motorcycling doesn’t just contain two-wheeled motorcycles. Trikes and sidecars are still a popular option, and due to their width, they should always ride at the back of the group. They are wide enough to take up two-thirds of the lane and don’t handle the same nimbleness as a two-wheeled motorcycle. That differential in handling can create a problem in a sudden change of speed or adjustment needed within the lane.

Wrap Up

Group riding brings an added level of adventure to motorcycle riding and with safe and thought-out practices the journey together will only get better year after year. Each ride as a group will change with the scenery, and any addition or subtraction of group members will add new dynamics to the ride. Just keep all the basics in mind, and you’ll enjoy motorcycling as long as you want to.