Not everyone amongst you would have experienced a long-distance group ride yet. Even if you have, it may not have been the motorcycling fantasy it first appeared to be. Don’t worry – it happens to all of us! Riding in a group may be a dream come true for most but it has its share of hazards and inconveniences. Here’s how you can bond over motorcycles and also be absolutely safe, while you’re at it.
It’s hard to sleep a full 8 hours the night before a ride – blame the excitement! This isn’t abnormal, but it’s no laughing matter, either. Sleep deprivation is a larger cause for road accidents than speed or potholes. It doesn’t matter if you’ve promised your friends a 5am departure on your WhatsApp group; you’ll cover the same distance – safely – if you leave at 9am on complete sleep rather than at 5am with half of it. That being said, in a dire situation where you just can't shake the fatigue, there's no harm in pulling over and taking a nap in the shade – ideally at a safe location, such as a petrol pump or the parking lot of a restaurant.
2. IDENTIFY YOURSELF
This is especially important in a solo ride, but is still relevant in a large (perhaps unfamiliar) group, as well. Ensure you have your name, blood group and contact details stickered onto your motorcycle and gear and carry some form of ID on yourself, too. This is not only immensely helpful in identifying yourself (and your blood group – crucial!) in the event of an accident, but also in re-uniting you with a piece of luggage you may have lost, along the way. If you're uncomfortable with permanently sticking something on your pride and joy, masking tape is a helpful solution and can generally be removed easily without leaving sticky adhesive behind. As you will discover, it will also make it easier to identify your motorcycle in a crammed parking lot, for instance!
There are plenty of mobile phone mounts and charging accessories available in the aftermarket space but there is still no substitute for good old analogue navigation. Internet coverage isn’t uniform all over the country and it’s prudent to keep your mobile charged until you reach your destination. The alternative? Print a route map with detailed waypoints you and your group can refer to, on the trip meter. Don’t forget to note down names of villages and small towns, since many locals are likely to have a slim/inconvenient idea of the best route to the next big city. Most importantly, share your navigation plan with your fellow riders so you spend more time enjoying the journey than trying to regroup.
4. EYES ON THE ROAD
Be hungry for the road. On a motorcycle, all you need to do is keep the road firmly in sight. This not only helps steer the bike effortlessly but also keeps you safe. Never follow a motorcycle blindly, no matter how experienced or trustworthy the rider ahead of you may be. The same applies to cars (look through their windscreens) and trucks/buses (look out for whatever you can under the axles, from a safe distance) as well. Anticipate the worst, always, and keep a finger ready on the front brake lever. A millisecond can be a deciding factor, at times!
One of the most important points of riding in a group is to ride staggered (never parallel) and to keep big distances between each other for a safe reaction time. Riding side-by-side may feel great but it's actually pretty unsafe and is often the cause of accidents when one rider doesn't notice the other taking evasive action for whatever the reason may be. Also ensure that your group doesn't hog the entire width of the road and that there's plenty of space for other road users to pass safely.
5. WATCH OUT
Leave your watch at home. If you tend to keep checking your watch while you’re riding, you’re probably not having fun. Also, the only target you really need to have is to get there safely. Don’t give yourself a deadline because there are innumerable variables on the road. Traffic jams, punctures, mechanical trouble, getting a discarded sweater jammed into the rear sprocket (it can happen!) or just a runny nose – anything can slow you down and there’s no substitute for patience. You and your friends will probably be late to that sea-side dinner you had planned, but it’s better than not being there at all.
6. EAT DIFFERENT
This is standard operating procedure in aviation and it’s invaluable to those on the road, as well. Ensure you and your riding companions order different things while eating at a roadside joint. This way, the one foul dish that you may be served only gets one of you. If you have the luxury of a back-up car with an extra rider or a pillion who can ride, this is where they will come in really handy. At worst, you can arrange to have the motorcycle transported back home or to your destination.
7. PEST CONTROL
Large groups are fascinating to other road users and you are bound to sharing the road with them. Not all of them have the same reasons, riding style or experience as you. Since it takes all kinds to make the world, it’s natural that some of them may come across as too aggressive – or worse, intrusive. The only right thing to do here is to ignore them and let them through – no racing, no show of skills and no bullying. Period.
Everyone is built differently and so is every motorcycle. Some of you (or your motorcycles) will be comfortable with 200km of non-stop riding and some, less than 80km. It’s neither un-cool nor disrespectful to ask for a break when you need one; an uncomfortable rider is a hazard to himself and his group. Also, ride your own pace, rather than that of the fastest motorcycle in the group. It’s smart to keep the slowest motorcycle in the lead but it’s also okay to allow short bursts of acceleration to keep spirits up. Most importantly, listen to what your brain tells you – it’s the only one you’ve got!
Look out for stranded motorists – and be indiscriminate while you’re at it. Respect is always a two-way street and don’t let displacements/brands/output figures come in the way of being a good Samaritan. You never know when you’ll need a helping hand, too! It’s also important to carry several sets of tools and assign functions to each of your buddies. That way, you’ll spend little time by the hard shoulder and it will be a fun way to get things done, too. Needless to say, pack a first-aid kit (or multiples of it, if possible), as well.
10. HAVE FUN
Never ride to prove a point, at least not on a public road. It’s the anti-thesis of the liberation a motorcycle brings about. All you and your friends really need to do is have fun. Be upbeat and jovial, wave out to awestruck locals, photograph your journey extensively and be grateful you’re on a motorcycle under the open sky. It’s an experience that nothing else can substitute.