Whether it is a ride out to the local bike night, a week on the Continent or the overland trip of a lifetime, riding your bike with others can be a ticking time bomb. When it comes to group riding, even the best of friends can end up heading off in opposite directions over things like speed, daily distances, riding styles, the frequency of breaks. It doesn’t stop when you’re all off the bike either: choosing hotels, setting budgets, what and where to eat, can all be flashpoints. We’ve led groups of riders around the world and across continents, so here are our tips for maintaining group harmony.
In our experience, you have to recognise the type of riders who are in your group in order to keep a happy team. The most fundamental difference is 1) those who want to use whatever country they’re in as their personal riding playground and 2) riders who use their bikes as a traveller’s tool, allowing for interaction with the locals and using it to get off the beaten track where tourists are few and far between.
For the former group, the thrill of the ride is the important bit: bugger the Mayan ruins to your left or the glacier on the right, they want to ride hard and “get there”. To others that’s not the point at all, they want to use their bike to see what’s around them, as a catalyst to get the locals stopping and chatting: pulling into a local eatery to consume an unimaginable speciality, or parking up to try the mangos and watermelon being sold at the side of the road.
In between the two are the ‘Steady Eddies’, who love their riding, but not more than 55mph and generally more regimented in their riding style and cosy on their bikes. Try and mix one type of rider with another and make them ride together and it can be a disaster.
Once away from the bikes, the group can morph into heavy and light drinkers, late night stop outs and early risers, those with money and those on a tight budget. It’s very rare indeed for everyone to see eye-to-eye.
Here are our tips for helping maintain harmony and keeping you safe riding in a group:
- If you’ve got the time, ride together before you head off on a trip and iron out any differences on home turf.
- Agree your budgets before you go for hotels and meals; camping or 4-star hotels? McDonalds or gourmet restaurants?
- Agree on a lead rider, your riding positions and your riding system. The leader tends to be the most experienced rider.
- We always use staggered formation, with the leader out to the centre of the road, changing it for bends when everyone should move to the appropriate position.
- If you’re not prepared to lead and want to follow, don’t criticise the lead rider if they make a navigational mistake. If you think you can do a better job, then you lead!
- Remember that everything takes longer in a group – say you want to leave at 9 am; the bigger the group the less chance of it happening. The same with settling bills, choosing places to eat and fuelling up. It all takes time, so factor this into your riding day.
- Be clear on how long you all want to ride before taking a break – be aware that smokers or coffee fiends may slow the day down with more frequent breaks
- Racers and chasers! In a group, never be tempted to ride beyond your ability; it happens even to the most strong-willed, sometimes with harrowing consequences. We always have a rule that you do not overtake other riders within your group.
- Each rider must ride for themselves. When the rider in front overtakes other traffic, never blindly follow. Always keep your distance by following the two second rule.
- There’s a tendency when riding in groups for the followers only to focus on the number plate of the bike in front of them – it’s called “tunnel vision” or “target fixation” and it means you are much less aware of what’s going on around you. Be mindful of this and be active about your observations.
- Within your team, consider riding in smaller groups of similar riding styles (so a group of six may split into two groups of three / three groups of two etc / or some people riding solo) and meeting at agreed coffee stops. This way you ride your own ride, but still have the company when you’re off the bike. Smaller groups of similar riders will mean less peer pressure and riding solo within a group gives you the freedom you want. Your fellow riders only need to be 5 minutes ahead or 5 minutes behind and you feel like you are on your own, yet still part of a larger but “looser” group.
- All fill up with fuel the night before, so you are ready to leave the next morning. There’s nothing worse than being raring to go to find one person has to ride around town looking for fuel before you start.
- Agree on a contingency plan if someone does get lost, or something worse happens. At a minimum, swap phone numbers.
Hopefully you’ll be safe and all remain friends and make plans for the next ride before your current tour is over!
Kevin and Julia