Group Riding Etiquette: 10 Rules to Live By

Advice for the having the best experience when riding your motorcycle with others

By Tammy Mathews, Roseville, California

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If you’ve ever ridden your motorcycle in a group before, you may have had a less-than-happy experience where tensions started to rise, and maybe you needed a little time apart from the group after the ride starts. You know the kind of rides I mean … where as soon as you get to lunch you check your phone hoping for some minor emergency so you can exit gracefully and ride back solo.

The success or failure of a group ride largely has to do with the riding etiquette (or lack thereof). While some groups share what’s expected of members when it comes to following traffic laws, riding staggered, hand signals, etc., many times what ultimately determines the fun the group has is decided by the often unspoken group riding etiquette rules.

group riding etiquette 10 rules to live by women riders
Knowing and abiding by the riding group’s rules, both spoken and unspoken, will lead to happy memorable experiences.

The following are the top 10 rules I’ve found that make or break a ride based on trial and, unfortunately, a boatload of error on my part.

1. Be on time.
There is no such thing as being fashionably late when riding with groups. As my hubby is fond of saying, “Early is on time. On time is late.”When riding with a group, especially a new group, its important to be respectful of everyone’s time. Most riders have limited time on their motorcycles.There are few things more annoying than waiting around at a smelly gas station for a straggler. And nothing will get you uninvited to a “private group ride” more quickly than being chronically fashionably late.

2. Come prepared with the route details.
Unless the route is a complete mystery or you’re under the age of 10, don’t ask repeatedly, “Are we there yet?”If you want play-by-play information such as how long until the lunch stop, potty break, or the destination, invest in a GPS or print a copy of the route and bring it with you. Many ride leaders put a good deal of work into creating and sharing the route in advance.

group riding etiquette 10 rules to live by dirt road
Asking for the route in advance will help you prepare for the ride. If you have questions about road conditions and lengths between rest stops, ask before the ride.

3. Know where to ride in the pack.
Rider placement in a group is important and different groups do things differently. Some groups prefer to put the most relaxed or inexperienced rider behind the ride leader and other groups prefer to put her at the rear in front of the sweep.

I showed up to a ride once where I was clearly 35 years younger than everyone else. I saw the AARP cards and wanted to impress the group so I placed myself toward the front. Big mistake! As soon as we got to the first twisty (barely a bend in the road) I was promptly “schooled” and had to wave four riders up or risk getting run over.

group riding etiquette 10 rules to live by parked motorcycles
When riding with a new group ask the leader where she would like you placed. If you haven’t ridden with the group it’s generally better to hang toward the back of the pack. You can move up at a break.

Don’t assume because you’re a fast rider in your familiar riding group that you belong in the front with a new group. Better to be polite than cocky.

4. Gauge break lengths by the leader’s actions.
If the leader hasn’t communicated how long the break will be, observe her actions. If she takes off her helmet, chances are you can take yours off too. Conversely, if she leaves her helmet on thats a good indication it’s a quick regroup or “gas-and-go” break. You should leave your helmet on too or risk getting death stares from your fellow riders as they wait for you so the adventure can continue.

group riding etiquette 10 rules to live by ready
When the group has stopped, be observant of what the leader is doing. When in doubt, ask.

5. Be ready to saddle up at the end of a break.
A big no-no is after the leader has announced it’s time to saddle up, light up a cigarette, run in to get a coffee, or decide you changed your mind and need a mother nature break after all. I kid you not, I’ve seen this on several rides and few things cause angst in a group faster than waiting around for someone to finish their coffee or cigarette.

If you need frequent long breaks then take the initiative to form and lead group rides with other like-minded/like-riding-style gals. And for those with small bladders (like me) try either cutting back on the caffeine or enjoying your coffee several hours before you are scheduled to ride so you aren’t having to stop more frequently than the rest of the group.

6. Don’t get in front of the ride leader.
I have to admit I’ve been guilty of this on a few occasions. In my defense, the twisties are like a siren’s call and before I know it I have a bee in my bonnet and I’m zipping past my buddy leading the ride. Unfortunately, my bee is directionally challenged and often flies the wrong direction.

I actually have some GoPro footage of the head-shakes I got after I circled back and found my group waiting at the turn I missed. I’m lucky my middle-aged gal pals didn’t jump me.

group riding etiquette 10 rules to live by curve
Even if the ride leader waves you forward, if you aren’t confident where you’re going hang back.

7. Be flexible.
Some of the best times I’ve had have been when things haven’t quite worked out the way we planned. Whether it’s finding out the lunch spot is closed, the route gets detoured, or someone gets a flat, attitude is everything when riding with a group.

group riding etiquette 10 rules to live by roadside repair
Two of my favorite rides involved bikes breaking down and my friends and I springing into action to help each other. Staying flexible will enhance your fun.

8. See something, say something (privately).
As much as us moms and grandmas like to believe we have eyeballs in the back of our head, when leading big groups it can be hard to see all the way to the last rider.If you see something the ride leader needs to know, pull her aside and share it with her privately.

For example, if you notice that some riders are having a hard time with spacing or maintaining their speed, it could be an indication that they’re fatigued and the group needs a break. The leader needs to know.

And by all means if you see something that impacts the group’s safety such as drug or alcohol consumption, speak up. You never want a group excursion to end with an ambulance ride or worse! Tact and diplomacy are the key; how you say something is as important as what you say.

9. Ride your own ride.
Remember you’re not on a bus. Set your own pace and ride your own ride. Unless you’re being held hostage by a rogue motorcycle gang, you only have yourself to blame if you find yourself riding above your abilities. If you fall behind many groups have a policy of regrouping at designated spots or waiting at turns so most of the time you will not be left behind.

However, if I’m joining a new group I make sure I’m familiar with the route and know where the ride ends. One time I didn’t do this and got separated from the group and missed a great dinner and worried the ride leader.

10. Saying thank you goes a long way.
A lot of work goes into organizing a ride, creating a route, producing GPS files and maps, picking lunch destinations, promoting the ride, and leading it. Expressing your appreciation for the organizer’s hard work is one way to be invited again. Be sure to thank the sweep as well. Done right, the sweep’s role is a tough job.

Critique privately but give accolades publicly whenever possible. Even if the ride didn’t quite meet your expectations, thank the leader and keep your criticism to yourself. As moms are fond of saying, “If you don’t have something nice to say then don’t say anything at all.”

Great riding groups are a gift. Here’s wishing you lots of presents!

Special thanks to my fabulous riding buddies, “No Drama Mamas,” for their contributions and humorous material.

Now share your tips for a good group ride in the comments below. 

Do you have a story to share? Please send it to us, but follow these submission guidelines.

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38 thoughts on Group Riding Etiquette: 10 Rules to Live By

  1. On smaller group rides, it would be good to know the riding style of the organizers. For example, someone mentioned “low and slow” in a comment—I love that! It would be the a great ride for me, as opposed to speedy and rambunctious (can’t think of another description). I’m a relaxed rider and am in it for the wind and the scenery and I like to take my time and stay within the speed limits. Great article!

  2. Great article. I lead lots of group rides and your advice is excellent. Always a chat prior to departure so expectations are voiced is so important. Also who has the smallest gas tank will be the gas stop gauge. Fun and safety are most important for a great ride.

  3. Another detail is if you are joining someone else’s ride, don’t try and change the ride details to suit your own agenda. I’ve been involved in group rides for more than a decade and in that time I’ve lost count when ride participants show up for a planned ride and try and change the route on the lead rider. Planning rides takes a lot of time and energy. Gas stops, distances, group experience are all considerations for a group leader when planning the route. Plus, it’s just plain rude to try and subvert someone else’s ride.

  4. Thanks! I’m a newbie and appreciate all the tips I can get. I was fortunate to ride two up before my first group ride. Now to learn hand signals.

  5. I enjoyed this article and wish more people who ride in groups would read it and take it to heart. I rode with a women-only group once. It was awful. Aside from typical female bitchiness, they wanted to ride way too fast, too close, and left people behind and didn’t care. Then my partner and I moved and tried a local group (affiliated with a certain brand) and it was awful. It’s amazing how superior women who don’t ride their own can act! Way too fast in deer country for our comfort. We found a group that we loved to ride with back where we used to live and are thinking of moving back to ride with them again! Group riding is a blast…with the right group!

  6. Top off your tank during the fuel stop, even if it isn’t near empty.Carry a bottle of octane booster for those times when the gas station doesn’t have hi-test (for those needing high octane.)Learn the hand signals!

  7. I recently went on a ride with 22 other riders and passengers to Mystic, Connecticut. The ride out was almost a disaster. There was no real plan or even route. This article was really a good article for me to pass on to my club. Thank you.

  8. Great article. I shared it to our Facebook riding group.

  9. Well stated, and applicable to us scooter-riders too!

  10. If you need to stop, other than an emergency, you need to notify the leader. Simply pulling off and stopping goes against the group effort and it’s dangerous. A little bit of common courtesy goes a long way.

  11. I’m a relatively new rider; double-whammy with some groups—they think my Spyder belongs in the back; however, my lack of experience makes me a very poor choice for sweep, but they still relegate me to the “back of the bus.” Next group ride, no way!

  12. I obtained my motorcycle endorsement in 2007. I just recently started riding in groups. It is so much fun. I enjoyed the article.Can you suggest the best way for a group to pass a semi truck?I tell the leaders that I appreciate accommodating me. I realize that it is an extra concern to take on someone who is inexperienced. I find people to be fun, helpful and encouraging.

    1. Great question, Linda. We will put it out to our readers, who surely will have plenty of opinions and ideas about how a group should pass a truck.Ride safe!

  13. As a ride leader, I spend a ton of time planning special routes, rest stops, making reservations, etc., and making sure that everybody is safe. It is a big burden, but getting a thank you or comments such as “I have never been on the road before,” makes it all worth while. Great tips. Thanks for sharing.

  14. I no longer go on group rides — they are way too dangerous and I have had some pretty awful ones. There were no accidents, thank God, but I’ve known of a few people who had some pretty bad wrecks, one from a group ride staged from the town I reside in a few weeks ago. The ride was organized by people who do not ride and had no idea how dangerous getting more than 100 bikes to ride in a group really is.I stick to riding with just a few friends.

  15. Show up with a full tank of gas.

  16. As someone who has spent a good deal of time over the last three decades leading riders around the North American continent, permit me to offer a couple more suggestions. A good leader will always know who the least experienced rider is and keep the group ride within that person’s comfort level. A good leader will also invite those with medical issues such as hypoglycemia to speak with that leader in private so that the leader knows when proper breaks can be taken and for how long. A good rider, who doesn’t hear the leader ask that medical question, should go out of their way to make the leader aware.

  17. Great info. I was recently in a motorcycle accident on April 1. Spent four days in the hospital. Me and another rider. Everything in this article was pretty much broken. Me and my husband are great riders in groups. My husband always leads, and I follow staggered. Two of the guys we were riding with started racing and passed us up, blew through two lights. We started coming down a hill, in the middle of the hill the two who took off decided to wait for us in the middle of the road and lit up cigarettes, coasting no throttle. Me and my husband come down the hill and notice they aren’t moving. He waived for me to slow down as he hit his brakes. I hit mine. We both started sliding because of the gravel from a side street road construction site hauling gravel in and out! He went left. I went right. The gravel threw me into a fishtail and I gained control of my bike. The rider in front of my husband moved. He was watching his rearview mirror, The guy in front of me almost stopped and looked back at me. I yelled at him to go and I then had to swerve to miss him. My crash bar clipped his back fender and we both went down! We both were taken by ambulance. Both of us are recovering. It’s so important when you group ride to follow these rules to avoid accidents!

    1. This is a perfect example of an accident that could have been completely avoided. I will go on record and say that there are many jerks on motorcycles. Steer clear of them. Do whatever you can to ride a different route or avoid them at all costs. I’ve had close calls riding in a group because of these “rogue” riders who do their own thing apart from the group. Thank you for sharing what must have been a harrowing experience for you. You will be a better rider for it even though it wasn’t your fault. I will pray for your continued healing.

  18. I enjoyed the article. I do like to go over these rules and answer questions at the meet up before the ride. I also would add that everyone shows up with a full tank and if there are gas stops on the ride, all get gas at the same time. I need gas about every 160 miles and my riding partner can go farther, but when I have to stop for gas, she tops off, too, so we don’t have to stop again in another 50 miles. As a ride leader, asking tank (and butt!) distance of each of the riders will help keep all the bikes together! Happy group riding! Thanks for all you do.

  19. I’m a new rider and I’ve only been in a group of four on a 150-mile ride. We took the back roads because of that and also had to make more gas stops because I had the smallest bike. The sweep (a man) put me last after the last gas stop because I was negotiating my turns too slowly and cautiously for him. I hate to say it but I actually enjoyed my ride better knowing he wasn’t behind me. This article came just in time because I’m going to go out of my comfort zone on the 6th and participate in a “blessing of the bikes” and then a group ride for International Female Ride Day. Thanks again for the timely article.

  20. Great article and a lot of common sense. I would like to add one other item. Once you are in line and in formation, do not pull out and pull ahead of others in front of you, so that you can ride behind your buddy and not behind the one that you were originally behind. This is rude, inconsiderate of others, and very dangerous.I’ve had this happen to me on a ride where two riders did not like being in the back (they arrived late), so they rode up in front of me to get behind the buddy they wanted to ride behind. Only one rider got in front of me and the other tried to push me off the road, but backed off and pushed in behind me and in front of my husband.It is not my fault that you arrived late and were not able to get into line where you wanted to ride. If that’s the case, before the group leaves, go talk to those in the position where you want to ride and ask if you can move up. Respect their answer if it’s no. At the next stop, you can then get in line where you want to be or ask again. When you arrive for a group ride you get in line and that is where you stay until the next stop.

  21. I was the organizer of a large motorcycle group in Phoenix, and we followed almost all of these rules. The only exception was “don’t ride in front of the leader.”But we also told everyone if they ride in front of the leader, they are no longer part of the ride and are on their own, so they better know the route. We’ll keep an eye out for stragglers in the back, but take off and the group just keeps riding.The same was true of police cars. If you take off and get pulled over, we’ll wait for you at the next stop. We didn’t pull in behind police cars and wait, they really don’t like that.The more we rode, the more we discovered that fewer rules are best for the style we had. Common sense and courtesy, which most of the above rules are, go a long way in making a group ride enjoyable. Whether it’s a group of 2 or 200.

  22. Thanks for the read and taking the time to comment on my article. Great additional tips too!And for those looking for a great groups to ride with, check out Women On Wheels. They have chapters in many states and have an emphasis on safe riding. All bike types and skill levels are welcome.Wishing you wonderful, safe, drama free group ride adventures.

  23. In my riders class and the many group charity rides I have been on mostly behind the hubby. I will admit I beg to differ about where a beginner rider should be. Right in front behind the leader. This way they 1) control the pace and do not get left behind, 2) do not try to go faster than they are skilled to do to keep up, 3) can be seen by the leader so the leader can appropriately pace the ride. This of course means you need a good leader. Was on a ride with first time leaders (five women) and they went so fast and our group was divided into several spaced out sections. This was due to 1) they left before everyone was on their bikes, 2) they gave everyone the destination, but not the GPS or address, 3) there were intersections with stop signs and getting through them took time, which they did not allot for and sped up to the maximum speed limit. This in turn had people trying to catch up (my hubby and I were one of these) going 80 mph when the leads only went 55 mph but catch up was a beast. I would add to your list 11) Leaders with a good understanding of how to lead. Thanks for the info!

  24. Show up with a full tank and an empty bladder.

  25. Great article. Should be required reading for riders heading out in a group.nIt’s important to know the riding style of the riders you’re with, and you may only learn through experience. I usually ride with just my husband and sometimes one or two other friends. Through participation in a few very large group rides (Toy Runs and Patriot Guard missions) and a weekend HOG trip with a group of seven, I have learned I’m more comfortable with a small group or better yet, just us two. However, even one group of four was no fun when the hotdog leader and one other rider repeatedly took off on a race on the twisties at 80 mph-plus. On the freeway, he hit 100 easy. My riding style is low and slow, not speed racer. I like to enjoy the scenery, not see it in a blur. No way was I going to push out of my comfort zone to keep up with him, even though he quickly left us behind in unfamiliar territory. He kindly waited at each turn on the twisties, and thankfully my husband had a general idea where we were then and exactly where we were on the freeway, but it ruined what would have been a fun scenic ride. After that unpleasant experience we’ll never ride with hotdogger again. Toy Runs and various large group events have other potential dangers. You don’t know the skill level and habits of the strangers around you, and any one of them can put you at risk. At least one person has been injured, mainly due to due to bad behavior in the rides I’ve been on. And forget about poker runs where the stops are at bars. Drinking excessively and riding don’t mix, regardless of group size, but especially in large groups of unknown riders.The Patriot Guard rides begin with a rider briefing going over the rules and rider etiquette and the route. Hotdogging is not allowed, although on one toy run, we rode by a kid who felt the need to rev his engine often along the route. By the rules, he should have been removed from the group. Generally, I’ve found “pg riders” to be more respectful of others and safer as large group rides go.Motorcycle riding is inherently dangerous. We ride because we love it. Minimizing distractions and avoiding other riders’ bad behavior makes it safer and more enjoyable. Always ride your own ride.

  26. This article makes some great points. One thing I would add to #1: Be on Time means arrive with a full tank of gas if you’re not meeting at a gas station. Or, if you’re meeting at a gas station, arrive early enough to gas up so you’re ready to go on time. This has happened on several group rides I’ve been on. It’s annoying to have to wait on someone who has to go get gas just as the ride is about to leave.

  27. Well-written and easy to read! I liked the points that Tammy choose to elaborate on and found the article refreshing. Some good reminders—especially to thank ride leaders.A suggestion to consider for the next article—spacing in the group. If you’ve elected to participate in a group ride you should be prepared to adapt and adjust to changing conditions. A two-second spacing is a good rule of thumb.

  28. Very well written. I enjoyed reading this very much. I just wish I had this available to me when I started group riding two years ago.

  29. Great article with good points. However, it is important to add just how important the “sweep” is at the end of the group. They are constantly in contact with the leader, oversee all riders, and are crucial to safety of the group! Thanks, and have a great riding season!

  30. Great article with useful information. I had ridden solo for decades before ever riding in a group. The only thing I knew to do was to ride staggered. I think number 8 is very important. In a group you’re there for each other and to enjoy the ride together. If someone is doing unsafe activities (i.e. consuming alcohol or drugs, or popping wheelies, etc.) this puts the entire group at risk. It should be safer to ride in groups, not be riskier.Along those lines number 9 is paramount to group enjoyment and safety as well. I’ve been guilty of trying to keep up with ex-racers. Big mistake! Fortunately it ended very well (no crash or injury), but “reminded” me to ride my own ride. Those ex-racers would just have to wait for me at the next turn.

  31. Great article. It’s so nice to have the unspoken rules made clear and written down. Great job Ms. Mathews!

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