Doug Westly | Safety Editor
IMPORTANT NOTICE: Ultimately, the safety of motorcycle riders and their passengers is their own responsibility. Nothing presented in the column supersedes, negates or relieves a motorcyclist and/or passenger from assumption of personal responsibility for their actions and safety.
On a recent, bright, sunny Sunday morning, Becky and I met up with a group of riders for a morning breakfast ride. We were looking forward to meeting with a couple of our friends, and have a pleasant ride to a morning meal spot.
We were the first ones at the meet-up location, and as we waited the bikes started rolling in. The ride planner had told us to expect about 8 bikes or so. When the number went past 10, I started to take note of who was showing up. We recognized about half of them, and the other half were complete unknowns. This group rode higher performance sport bikes. I saw one or two with one-piece race suits but the other riders wore way less protection. Not the ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time) philosophy you would expect from riders of these motorcycles. While it is not necessary to adhere to ATGATT, it gave me pause to evaluate the group’s riding mentality.
The next clue was when one of the riders jokingly commented about their recent rides, saying “It seems every time we go out, we get pulled over.” But I knew who was leading the ride and figured he would hold down the speed and rein in any silly behavior. (I should have known better.)
Just to be cautious, I let the planner and ride leader both know that Becky and I would trail the group that morning, just to watch the riding. It turned out to be the right call. The group took off, the lead rider set a high pace and the group mentality took its inevitable hold over most of the riders.
By the time we hit the first set of real back road curves, I watched riders set up for blind curves in the oncoming lane. I watched riders passing each other in the group in those curves. The 15 riders were following each other too closely. I was concerned that someone was going to target fixate in a corner and if one went down more would follow.
The group reached the end of the first set of corners, and the ride leader waited to gather everyone up. I paused until everyone was stopped, then rode up to the ride leader, told him what was going on, wished him a safe ride and informed him that Becky and I would be dropping out of the group. Yes, she had seen this type of group riding behavior as well and was in full agreement that we split from the group. We waved them goodbye and went our own separate way. We had a great ride, stopped for a nice breakfast and enjoyed the back roads going home.
So how do you choose who to ride with? You first get to know the other riders, then choose those whose riding style is in your comfort level. And more importantly you do not hesitate to avoid those riders with whom you are not comfortable. But what if you are in the position of having to choose new riders as partners or part of a group to ride with this morning? How do you assess them and their riding capabilities (or lack thereof)? Becky and I have been professionally leading OEM demonstration ride groups now for over half a decade. We’ve picked up on a few techniques for assessing riders that might be of help. Just to make it easy, here is a handy-dandy list of some of them for you:
When a rider is new to you or a new group or riders arrive, watch how they handle their bike. Do they bring it to a smooth, controlled stop? Are their head and eyes up at the stop, showing good balance technique? Or, are they wobbly and having difficulty stopping the bike smoothly? Something as simple as having to look down to find the side stand on their own bike suggests further attention is warranted.
Do they at least get the parking fundamentals correct? Are their handlebars rotated all the way to the left so they can place the bike’s maximum weight on the side stand for stability? Do they check for side stand stability on the pavement or off-pavement parking prior to getting off the bike?
Gear. Are they ATGATT? Are they at least MOTGATT? (Most Of …).
If they show up in shorts, flip-flops, sneakers, etc. and they’re in a fast group ride it should give you concern. How a rider dresses speaks volumes about their focus on riding.
Bike Condition: Is their motorcycle well maintained? It doesn’t have to be clean, but if the rear tire is showing cord then it should get your attention. A normal pre-ride inspection would have shown that. A tire failure at speed could be disastrous for the group. A good rider would have delayed the ride until a new tire was mounted.
Once they are off the bike and start chatting, what is coming out? Are they talking about the road conditions, ride information, weather, trips they made and bike model related topics? Or are they talking about doing burn-outs, wheelies, stoppies, heavy stunts on the highway, drag or canyon racing or their latest escape from the local Law Enforcement Officers?
Does the rider actually give his or her mount a quick once-over during the stop or initial meet-up?
When getting underway, watch how the rider picks the bike off the side stand. Particularly with heavy bikes, the experienced rider will know how to lever the bike, and not just try to wrestle it upright with the handlebars.
As the rider gets underway, watch their initial movements. Are the head and eyes up, allowing for a smooth transition from parked to rolling? Or, are they looking down and wobbling off the start? If it’s the latter, watch out.
Corners: Corners tell you everything about a rider, especially smooth, tight radius sweepers. How a rider sets up for the corner, handles entry speed and position, braking, sight lines, corner exits,
etc. speaks VOLUMES to you about their abilities and focus on riding.
When Becky and I are leading OEM demonstration rides, we don’t have a lot of choice in the customers, as long as they exhibit basic motorcycle skills and the right attitude. However, you aren’t bound by these restrictions. You have the final say as to who you ride with. If a rider or riding group doesn’t look safe, competent or just fun to be with, there is no code that says you MUST ride with them. To be safe…Just Say No!