Planning group rides for motorcycles



Mike and I have been planning a group rides for motorcycles for a number of years each year and with each ride I learn things.  On our first ride up to Lake Tahoe in 2007, while fun, the group was pretty small and all the riders were well experienced.  That winter I got to go on a ride down to Death Valley with about 30 folks that was super fun.  Everything seemed to run on schedule and everyone had fun.  Patrick I’m sure had a method to his madness so I was curious how he ran his rides.  The biggest thing I took away from that conversation was to plan out every minute so you always knew where you were relative to your plan.

Planning your ride:

  • Design your route: Your trip is more than just getting from somewhere to somewhere else.  You’re planning an event.  The route you go, the places you stop, and places you stay are all important into how they fit together.
    • Road type: There are many different times of roads to ride from superslab to tiny goat trails.  I try to target the ride to the average rider in the pack.  Some riders like the tight goat trails, other go for high-speed sweepers, and yet others like wide open country.  Think about how you put them together.  I tend to keep the roads near home as the freeway and then get further off the beaten path the farther I am from home.  That way you get out of town fast and get to see new stuff for each ride.
    • Road condition:
      • Traffic: If traveling through a major metropolitan area, think about when you’ll be there and how to avoid traffic.  If you’re in California, discuss lane splitting.
      • Construction: Check every road to see if there is construction on it.  30 min lane closures suck.
      • Dirt: I always give the caveat that dirt may show up in construction zones.  Some smaller roads however are not paved.  Verify them if your riders are expecting an all street ride.
      • Snow: If riding in the high country check to see if the roads are open.  In years of heavy snowfall snow can close some of the county roads well into July.
    • Gas stops: I usually get gas every other stop.  I like to stop every 80 miles or so.  Gas is usually every other stop.
    • Stuff to do:  Great roads are cool.  Every motorcyclist likes to ride fun roads.  But I also like to factor in something else so that those who come on the ride can say we did “this.”  Think about a cool place for photos like a park or landmark.  If your state has different areas you can explore one of those areas.  In 2009 we did a trip to the Lost Coast and in 2010 we explored the volcanic country of California.
    • Food stops:
      • Try to find food stops that accommodate large groups.  Buffets can be great for this as they just charge per head.  They also bill each person individually.
      • Enforce the $20 rule: A $20 bill only buys you $15 in food.  If you only have a $2o bill for the meal, eat $15 worth of food and drink or tip heavily.  Encourage riders to have smaller bills so making change is not a hassle.
      • Call the restaurant ahead to see how you can help them be more efficient in handling your group.  If you don’t like their answer, go somewhere else.
    • Lodging: A bunch of errata here
      • Location: Try to stay somewhere cool, but not too ritzy.  Fortuna is a bit cheaper then Mendocino or Ferndale, but still very much captures the essence of the Lost Coast.
      • Dinner: Find a hotel where you can walk to dinner.  Beer after a long day is a good thing, but a ride after dinner + booze is not.  If you do need to ride to dinner promise beer afterwards.
      • Refrigerators: If you’re packing lunch, having a fridge can be nice to keep food cold.
      • Breakfast: I always like to stay in places that have breakfast.  It’s one less stop top make.
      • Motorcycle friendly: Some places are more motorcycle friendly than others.   Certain towns like Suches, GA, Deals Gap, NC, Eureka Springs, AR have motorcycle specific hotels.  These are fun to stay at.
  • Set clear expectations: You’ll want to be clear on what the minimum requirements are for your ride:
    • Pace: How fast does your group ride?
    • Road type: How technical is the ride?
    • Road surface: Is there any dirt along the ride?  If no, always give the caveat that dirt shows up in construction zones.
  • Plan it out:  There is no replacement for knowing where to go and how long A is from B.  People will look to you for all sorts of directions and you need to have a good answer as to what the plan is.
  • Know your  riders: Especially if it’s a multi-day trip, it’s wise to get some key info on your riders
    • Emergency contact: who to call in case of an accident. Make sure they have medical insurance info.
    • Dietary restrictions: you should know if meal stops need to have decent options for your guests
    • Riding ability: Try to get a sense for each person’s experience.  This will help you lay the group out on ride start
    • Anything Else?: I’d ask for anything else that you should know about this person.  It can only help you.
  • Google Maps:  is usually right on the money when it comes to timing.  I’ve often thought we could ride faster “than your average car” but we often find that Google estimates right.  Unless you are the few that really do ride as fast as light, take Google’s estimate.  It is better to underestimate your average pace and have a few more minutes at the end of the day to drink beer and swap stories.  Long late-night rides with tired riders suck.
  • Work hard early: Keep the most technical part of the ride to the first or second third of the day.  The last third of the ride on a long day your riders are going to be tired and more prone to make mistakes.  You don’t need to drone in straight lines, but you might want to keep the ride on the more sane side.  Don’t have a technical section right after a big meal.
  • Know plan B: Stuff comes up.  Riders get tired. Weather causes delays.  Try to plan an alternate route if you get stuck.
    • Is there a more direct way to get to your endpoint?
    • Can your route include an optional loop towards the end?
  • Account for everything: I usually like to be out on the road 10-11 hours on a multi day ride.  Keep in mind you’re not riding  that whole time, but you are on the road.  Usually it’s good to stop around every 60 miles to stretch, get gas, eat, see something.  In your ride log, include all of these kinds of stops.  You can use the following as estimates:
    • Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner:  You bring it: 45 minutes.  Fast food: 60 minutes, Sit down: 75-90 minutes.
    • Gas Stop: 15 minutes
    • Photo Stop: 15 minutes
    • Activity: 10 minutes for the stop plus the amount of time that you are doing things
  • Know when it gets dark: Not everyone is comfortable riding at night.  Know when it gets dark where you are at that time.  If your ride goes significatly north or south that time changes from when you are at home.  Mountains, forests, and fog (coast) often accelerate darkness.
  • Have some buffer: For every minute you’re not moving forward on the schedule you lose time and your finish time moves out.  It’s inevitable that someone forgets they need to use the bathroom while everyone is geared up and ready to go.  That can easily be 5 minutes.  While not a big deal in any one instance, these things add up.  Have a few optional photo stops near the end of your day that you can cut out if you are behind schedule.  Time always runs faster than you think.
  • Get gas early and often: I’d ask every rider how many miles he can get before he has to switch to reserve or the low gas light starts blinking.  Get gas at least as often as the smallest tank.  If you have any question as to if that gas station will be open, call them.  Phone numbers are listed on Google Maps as well as the gas station vendor’s website.  The station vendor tends to keep better records than Google Maps.
  • Know your goal(s): I’d venture to say that every ride has two goals: to finish safely and to have great memories. If you find that you have too much crammed in for one day then ask yourself, “If we don’t do thing X or ride road Y will the group have a bad time?” Often the answer will be no.

At the end of all this, you should be comfortable with the schedule you’ve set for the group.  I’d recommend doing a solo trip or two with this sort of planning and see how close you keep to schedule.  When adding the group in remember you don’t get more efficient.  The time you find that you lose because you put the wrong song on the music player or because you decided you needed water after you put your helmet goes up with each rider you add.

Rule of thumb, don’t be an over aggressive scheduler.  You can always add in a loop or a photo stop at the end of your ride if you find that you get there early.  I’ve yet to hit that case.

Featured photo by Ambitious Studio* – Rick Barrett on Unsplash


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