Setting up a Group Motorcycle Ride
Not too long ago I volunteered to set up a group ride for a motorcycle group that I am a member. As a construction materials and geotechnical engineer, I probably over-thought the whole group ride thing. But, I got to see a lot of good, bad and ugly roads. I did something good for the club. And, if you like this page, then I will have done something good for the general riding community.
I did an exhaustive search of the internet, and one of the things I found out was that there was very little information on what works and does not work for a group ride. So I set up this page on how to set up a group ride for motorcycles and what to consider. My goal was to have a safe, fun, and interesting ride for a full spectrum of riders. Our group includes sport touring bikes who like twisties, and trikes that are out for a casual day of pleasure. The age of our group ranges from mid-thirties to upper seventies. This was a challenge. Here is the approach I took.
1. Know The Group - I knew the general group demographics. Age, bikes, ridings styles. Had I not been on a number of Saturday afternoon rides after the club meeting, I probably would have tried to find out a little about the group demographics. On the day of the ride, several riders from outside our club joined in too. We ended up with 46 bikes.
2. Pick The Ride Length - Group rides can last anywhere from an hour to nearly the full day. For my route, I had basically a Saturday to consume. Although I love to ride all day, I figured a mid-morning start and late afternoon end, for a total of six hours (clutch out to final clutch in) would be about right. Based on other rides with this group and by myself, I assumed an hour scenic/rest break, 45 minute lunch break, and a 30 minute gas/rest break, leaving me with just about 4 hours to work with.
3. Know The Ride Area - Then I tried to find a route that had (a) a good road surface, (b) a blend of sweepers, twisties, hills, and straight stretches, and (c) some interesting scenery. I visited the LaCrosse area about five times prior to the ride day. Each trip I tried riding on different area roads. As I road them, I rated them with the Asphalt-PASER Rating system from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. I knew our group would not want to bounce along half destroyed pavement, so I choose a minimum rating of five (5) as acceptable for inclusion in the route.
4. Pick A Circular Route - In planning, I decided on a clockwise route. I tried to put an emphasis on only making right-hand turns. With 40-50 riders, I did not want to have the dynamics of riders crossing traffic, if I could help it. As it turned out, I ended up with a Figure 8 route and we had to cross traffic on a couple minor and one major occasion. We crossed again later in the route, but it was a lesser traveled road. If you look at my route plan, the green route was the first leg, blue second leg, and the orange was the third and final leg.
5. Allow For Rest Stops / Bio-Breaks - With a morning ride after breakfast and coffee, I wanted to have a pit stop planned for one hour into the ride. If not for the riders, at least for me. So, I picked Granddad Bluff. It is a scenic location with just enough parking space for 40+ bikes. I called the park commission to verify the park would be open and the restrooms available. On my pre-rides, the restrooms were not open, but fortunately the parks commission opened them up a couple weeks ahead of our ride. My experience is that breaks take about 15 minutes, plus 5 minutes for every ten bikes.
Also, using an overall average speed of 40 mph (including breaks/stops), meant our group could ride 160 miles in the 4 hours "on bike time" estimated. Most of the bikes were expected to by Voyagers with a 200+ mile range. However, I was not sure if everyone would have filled up ahead of the ride, plus there could be some other bikes with ranges as low as 100 miles. This meant we had to include at least one gas break, preferrably after 60 miles. I included fuel midway, and as it turned out, the route went past a gas station near the start so anyone could quickly get a couple gallons and not be too far behind.
6. Insert Bail-Out Points- I wanted to have a bail-out point for every two hours cumulative time on the route. This would allow riders to pick the length of the ride in two hour increments. Also, if anyone was having bike troubles, they could get back to the campsite/meeting place sooner and with less stress. We did end up with one bike heading back at the first bail-out point for mechanical reasons.
7. Check For Gotchas - Do your homework on the roads in the area. I called the county highway department to see if they were going to start any construction on the roads of the route a month before the ride. I also checked with the Chamber of Commerce's of every town on the route to see if they were planning a festival or other major event. For my route, the City of Westby was holding a festival on the same day as our group ride. While my route bypassed this town, I found out there was a marathon and a bicycle ride for charity, both events ran along my route on the same day. Fortunately, the planners assured me that the two events would be over (barring any stragglers) before noon. Based on my route timing, I felt our group would be going through the area after 1 pm, and in fact we never saw a rider or runner.
8. Pre-Ride The Ride
- If you do not normally ride your route (during your everyday life),
try to ride the route one week ahead of your event. Also try to
ride at the same time of day and same day of the week that your ride will
occur. This could give you valuable insight as to any issues that
may crop up. Although I could not ride the week immediately
prior, I did ride a couple weeks in advance. It also gave me a
chance to work on the timing of the ride. At stops and turns, I
diliberately stopped and imagined how long it would take for a group to
get through the intersection.
9. Organize Your Team
- Get some help for the actual ride. A good group ride has at
least a lead person and tail rider you can count on to keep
order. I also chose to have an individual ride in the middle
of the pack in case the group got split during the ride. With me
in the lead pacing the group, a mid pack rider and tail rider, we all
kept in communication with CB radios. Many of the other riders
also had radios and found it beneficial to stay in touch. One
extra touch I added was that I studied up on a few interesting tidbits of the area.
From time to time during the ride I would let the group know
these things; like the local geology, flora and fauna, and historic
sites where interesting (at least to me) events occured.
10. Put The Route On Paper-
I highly recommend putting your route on paper to hand out at the
riders meeting. If anyone gets lost, left behind, or just wants
out, they have at least one way to understand where they are and how to
get back to a common point of interest (like that evenings get
together). I used a copy out of the Wisconsin Gazetter as it
names all the backroads. Below is a link to the route sheet I
handed out (11 x 17 paper).
11. Have A Riders Meeting - A riders meeting gets everyone on the same page. I used this meeting to manage expectations. I took the opportunity to walk through the top elements of the ride (a) how long between breaks, (b) which stops will be gas, which bathroom, (c) how long at each stop, and (d) how long is the overall ride expected to take. If you are communicating with CBs, let the other riders know updates along the way so they can stay informed.
12. Put The Slow Bikes In The Back - When lining up for the ride, put trikes and those who are unsure of their skills in the back of the pack. This may seem counterintuitive, but the fewest people will be mad at you. You can't please everyone. So, my take on this was that it was better to have a dozen trike riders upset the group was going too fast for them to keep up, than it was to have two dozen riders mad because they could not lean in and enjoy the twisties. After all, we were going to ride through the top Wisconsin twisties and I wanted to enjoy them myself.
13. Be Prepared For Changes - I heard a quote recently "no battle plan survives battle". It pays to keep in touch with the group and while my battle plan came pretty close, it did need revisions along the way.
14. The Final Word - Fortunately, all my planning paid off. I was within a few minutes of plan for the entire route. We enjoyed the rest breaks and lunch stop without a hitch. The only part that surprised me was that some riders bailed out at the last gas/rest stop, which was within an hour of the end of the ride. I suppose I could have left this stop out, but I wanted to stick to the two hour riding rule. In the end, the rest/gas stop proved to be a convenient place for the departing bikes to comment on the ride and say goodbyes. About 25% of the riders left the group at this point and headed to parts unknown.
Pre-Ride Maps with PACER Notes (many roads are now paved):
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