Motorcycle Group Riding: Leader Responsibility?

Motorcycle Group Riding: Leader Responsibility?

Ride Your Own Ride

These words have been uttered by responsible riders the world over. Sadly these same words have fallen on deaf ears on many group rides.

The ride leader sets the pace, the rhythm, the tone of the ride.  What the ride leader can’t do is control anyone else’s motorcycle. When faced with a riding situation that feels unsafe, I (mistakenly?) assume that a thinking person would stop that behavior. Being on a group ride doesn’t mean that each person completely suspends their own judgment and follows the lead taillight with blind faith.

In my experience, passing and speed are the two things that seem to cause the most problems. I’ve seen some pretty frightening passes on blind corners or hill crests. As an observer, it makes your heart thump nearly out of your chest as you wonder if that rider will end up as a hood ornament. And what is it all for?

I’ve learned a few things over the years:

  1. 1.) Your friends will wait for you.
  2. 2.) Someone has to be last in line.
  3. 3.) There is no shame in 1 or 2.

When Things Go South

Many ride leaders will have a sense of guilt when there is a mishap that occurs on their ride. They might feel that if they as the leader, had done something differently that everyone would have come through safely behind them. But really, how accountable is the person up front for the people trailing behind them?

What’s your take on this?

  • How much responsibility does a ride leader have for the riders who are trailing behind them?
  • Does being the ride leader mean that you are at fault should there be a mishap behind you?

AMA’s Group Riding Tips

The Goshen Pass - Virginia
The Goshen Pass - Virgina

8 Replies to “Motorcycle Group Riding: Leader Responsibility?”

  1. i like being last in line. that way i don’t have any worry about the motorcycle rider riding too close to me, or having him (or her) pass me unsafely or anything like that.

    if the leader goes off and leaves you, you’re going way to slow, or he’s going way too fast. if its the first one, they will wait wait on you. (if he’s a good leader). if it’s the latter, he’s not my leader anymore.

    but i think the group leader doesn’t have any responsibility to those behind him. it all goes back to what your parents said to you a long time ago, “i he jumps off a bridge, would you do it too?”

    i’ve seen too many riders riding like shit.

  2. all the ride leader can realistically be responsible for is setting the pace/rhythm/pace for the ride – as you mentioned. he/she can not be responsible for the actions of those behind them PROVIDING they are not driving dangerously (i.e. excessive speed or passing dangerously).

    as a member of a group ride you should be happy to keep the pace and enjoy – but not follow blindly. if you feel unsafe at all you should stop and settle yourself. if not, you have only yourself to blame should something occur – and not the ride leader.

  3. It’s funny. When I first started group rides it seemed like more people were jostling over the leading positions and as time went on the argument turned to who was going to be last. 😀

    Group rides can be tough and it isn’t always about being left behind. On unfamiliar roads the rider in front of you becomes a rolling heads up with which to use as you see fit. If I know the rider and abilities I can quickly gauge approaching turns without ever seeing them. Not to mention the heads up on junk in the road. Once everyone drops out of sight it seems to drop people into two modes. 1) Ride over your head and catch back up (BAD!) or 2) ease up and potentially drop back even farther. With the second, depending on the length of the stretch, you’ll find yourself wondering if you missed a turn and are now out wandering who knows where all by your lonesome.

    1) How much responsibility does a ride leader have for the riders who are trailing behind them?

    This changes over time. On a first outing with new people (or more new than old)
    “I” think it’s prudent to set the pace and mind the flock until such time that the skill and mindsets have been sufficiently judged. It doesn’t take long to figure out how the group is coming along and change the ride to match. Err on the side of caution.

    2) Does being the ride leader mean that you are at fault should there be a mishap behind you?

    I’d like to say no but I know if I was running point and someone behind fell I’d feel guilty and wonder if there was something I could have done to better prepare the following individual(s). Depends on the nature of the mishap though. If I could have called out a pothole or roadkill yet chose not to and the following rider had an issue with it it’s a 50/50 call. A heads up might have allowed an early line change though without me at point he’d have to deal with it on his own so he should have been reading the road better.

    Actually, in the end that’s the answer isn’t it? If the ride leader disappears into the distance and you crash out trying to keep up you have only yourself to blame for it. Ride management STARTS with the individual person…not the ride leader.


  4. Why does riding in a group mean you need to ride in a tight formation? Does everyone really have to arrive at the destination at the exact same moment? I guess I’ve never taken the word “group” as gospel and I don’t understand that mentality.

    Most of the group rides I participate in follow the same pattern: the faster riders take off like bats out of hell. The intermediate riders form their own little pack. Then the slower riders bring up the rear. We self-sort according to our abilities and how we want to ride on that particular day. Yes, this often means that the fast riders have to wait several minutes for the slower folks to catch up.

    If I see a rider coming up fast on my tail, I pull to the right and let them pass.

    IMHO, the “leader” has ZERO responsibility. We always end up having three or even four little “packs” with their own leaders… are the folks who happen to end up at the head of each pack responsible for everyone else? God, I hope not.

    1. @Stacy
      I appreciate it when the groups self-segregate like that. But, i think that it comes with people being mature. Back in the day, in my past, that just didn’t happen.

      I am easily spooked by other riders, so i’m with you – i’ll happily wave you by if i’m holding you up 🙂

  5. Well, Fuzz, you already know my feelings on this subject, we’ve spoken about this before 🙂

    But for the benefit of others I’ll quote myself from my forum…

    “What can be considered “Fast”, “Hard”, or “Aggressive” for one rider, can be simply “Cruising” for another. Everyone is different. As such, everyone’s skill set and comfort zone is different regardless of riding skill and experience. When a rider finds himself/herself hanging on for dear life just trying to keep up, that’s when the crashing starts to happen. One shouldn’t have to try to keep up, one should just ride their own ride. This is why I still hold myself responsible for most if not all the crashing as I failed to realize the aforementioned tidbit of info as the ride leader.”

    As a frequent ride leader, I’m of the strong opinion that the leader should hold a portion of the responsibility should things go south. Why? Group rides aren’t a race, nobody is getting paid to ride and there won’t be any trophies at the end of the day (but there might be a grilled cheese). The leader is responsible for –
    A) setting the pace
    B) keeping the group together with the help of a talented sweeper
    C) communicating all signs of trouble to the rest of the group (and making sure that the communication travels to the back of the group). Whether it’s a road hazard, popo, nasty downhill decreasing radius hairpin
    D) making sure the group is aware of potentially troublesome sections of the route BEFORE the ride takes place

    People new to my rides quickly get weeded out. Either they have a lot of fun or they’re miserable simply because I like to ride a lot and my routes are long. Most of the time I’ll route as technical a route as the geography allows and some folks just aren’t ready for that, which is a consideration that can’t be ignored by the leader.

    While it’s true that a leader can’t ride your bike for you, they (the leader) holds a responsibility to you. If your leader thinks otherwise, I’d think twice about riding with them.

  6. I organized my first group ride last month and I was stressed for everyone to be safe and well prepared. People warned me to get everyone to sign releases, which I didn’t do.
    I all went great and much faster than expected. I felt like a mom who’d just taken my big family on a perfect vacation!

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