To group ride... or not to group ride!
That is a good question.
Before you get all wound out of shape about reading a diatribe on group riding vs. riding solo, you might want to reflect just a bit on why you choose one or the other when it comes to being involved with a motorcycle club.
So let's weigh the benefits... one vs. the other. Comparing notes is one way to find out about how others feel or how other clubs approach a club riding activity. I'm not here to try and sway your perception of what you should do or not do. I just think it might be nice to see it from another angle for once, without the negative diatribe. And maybe get a chance to explore the group ride from a club stand point.
Solo Touring (ST) vs. Group Touring (GT)
Riding solo (and I am not necessarily just talking all about one person on the motorcycle here) and hammering down the highway or braking late into, and accelerating out of, "twisties" with a freedom of not being chained to a ride group is nirvana. You can go as fast as you like, or you can slow down and take in the sights and smells. Heck, just going to work on a motorcycle is much less of a chore than driving in a cage. But it's that feeling of not being linked to anyone or anything except you and the motorcycle that makes the solo trip so much fun.
To be a member in a club that embraces the solo rider can have some benefits. Experienced riders in a club that focuses around the solo touring (ST) scenario know that there are two trains of thought when it comes to ST group rides. Most ST clubs will tell you that a ride will be a "get there on your own" type of ride, or they will meet at some main point to gather and share pleasantries prior to the trip.
There are many riders who like to be at one with the road and prefer their own timetable like the ST kind of club. Trust me when I tell you that there are many clubs who approach group rides with the "get there on your own" club ride idea. There's nothing wrong with this type of ride, however a new rider with your club expecting to be with a group may find this type of ride very disappointing.
Still, other ride groups like to use a meeting or gathering point. Once pleasantries have been exchanged, you are free to take off and tour at your own pace.
More importantly, there are clubs that embrace both the "get there on your own" concept and the group ride ideology. Clubs that have been "around the block" will tell you that you don't have to ride with the group. These clubs understand your desire to travel alone and not be chained to the line riding down the highway. Once club ride leaders know where you are going, what roads you are taking and when they can expect you, the ST rider will be in line with the group's intentions.
And yet, touring with a group, is not without some advantages. The first thought that comes immediately to mind is that you have someone there in case something goes wrong. You can't carry all the tools for all the problems that may occur. Between members of a group, the parsing out of support items and tools means that in the event a breakdown occurs, many roadside fixes are not out of the question. However, as experienced ST rider will have enough tools and knowledge to get them thru any kind of simple emergency or breakdown.
In some cases, the breakdown may be beyond a roadside repair and you might have to leave the bike or have it towed and/or picked-up and delivered somewhere. In any case, having the group with you is comforting and can actually help you rationalize a solution to a situation without having to do all the decision making yourself.
The Group Ride Philosophy
There are really only two types of motorcycle group touring (GT) riding groups; those groups in which every rider is an experienced group rider and groups that have a mix of experienced and novice group riders. Let's be clear; if you have ridden motorcycles for twenty years and this will be your first GT ride, you are a novice group rider.
Leaders of a GT ride know the folks who will be on the ride. If the group is comprised of all experienced riders, then very little information needs to be imparted to the group about how the ride will work. Everyone who is experienced in a GT ride knows all the functions of all the positions within the group riding line. Each rider can then take a position in the line that he/she feels most comfortable in.
Novice group riders are a bit different and a good ride leader will identify those new drivers. An experienced rider should be assigned to the new riders as this type relationship serves a twofold purpose; it allows the experienced rider to make the new rider feel more comfortable within the group by introducing them to some of the other members of the club and secondly, it gives the experienced ride a chance to share information or stories of rides in the past that illustrate how the group functions. The experienced rider can also keep an eye on the new rider to make sure that the safety of the group and the rules of the group ride are adhered to.
Before the group departs from the gathering place, the GT leader will review the riding guidelines when there are new riders involved. Breaks and lunch stops will be outlined and the positions within the group will be assigned. Once all the formalities are accomplished, the group can then move out and the ride officially begins.
Riding in a group can also be very different. If bike-to-bike communications are used, conversations with other riders about persons, places or things can be fun. In the group I ride with, we almost always have a trivia challenge or discuss upcoming riders and/or rallies. Radios also serve their purpose in the event the highway has issues (i.e. traffic or hazard). All in all, riding with those folks who are your friends and who share your love of motorcycle touring can be fun.
So... which is best?
That depends on you and how you feel for that day or how involved you want to be when your club has a planned group ride. It may also depend on the type of club that you are a part of.
Clubs are designed to be a social experience. Not being part of that experience can have a negative effect on those riders who could benefit from your knowledge. Being part of a club means participation in the things that the club does. If group rides are one of the things your club does, then a group ride should be in your purview. If the club you have joined has group activities and you are not being involved in the "family atmosphere" during a group ride, it can tend to alienate you from the members.
I find that a balance of group riding and solo touring keeps me grounded within the club framework. Group rides are always fun for me. Yet my solo time is critical to maintaining my motorcycle Zen, if you will.
Saying that you will never ride within a club group ride because you fear being rear ended or trampled upon is self-serving to some degree. I have ridden in many groups, some well managed and others loosely structured. Established rules and requirements can make the club very safe... and predictable. If the group travels loosely or practices what I consider non-safe riding methods, I politely excuse myself from the group. Remember; you have to ride your own ride. Riding beyond ones experience is not safe; not for you and not for the others riding within that group.
Some motorcycle drivers say that group riding is all about sacrifice. If the group goes slow, you sacrifice your need for speed. If the group stops often, it takes forever for you to get somewhere. When you ride in a group, you have to put up with other dumb rider mistakes.
To which I say; so what? Do you really need to have a knee dragging ride every time you're on your bike during a ride? Is stopping and taking in the scenery and sharing your experiences up to that point in the ride so distasteful? Can the wisdom you have gained riding a motorcycle make someone who you have seen making mistakes a much better rider if you share your thoughts or skills?
Look... riding a motorcycle and being part of a club are designed to focus some attention on the consideration of others within the club. Being a part of your club means being a fully functional member able to help the club in a variety of ways. Riding with a club that has group rides is just another part of being a member. Riding with a club that understands your need to have ST rides may be a better choice than one that runs strictly GT functions.
I, for one, enjoy the GT ride. I also enjoy a good ST spin. Being able to do both makes me a better motorcycle rider and a proactive motorcycle club member.
By: Mark "Uncle Mark" Griner - Expresso Riders Motorcycle Club #340
BMW MOA: #127457