Here I want to differentiate between riding in a small group of friends and riding in a larger group with different skill levels and where everybody might not know each other. Friends usually ride in smaller groups and already have their own group dynamic worked out. In bigger groups there has to be some sort of order. Some pointers:
- Arrive on time, fueled up with a reliable bike.
- Arrive with a good sense of humour; you never know when you will need it. There are a lot of things that can go wrong on a big group ride. Go with the flow. Getting upset if things turn out differently to what you expected will not help the situation.
- On big organized rides there will be a leader and a sweeper. Do NOT overtake the leader, do NOT fall behind the sweeper. Listen to the organizer's instructions and adhere to them. The rider's briefing will also give the opportunity to ask any questions if need be. If you somehow end up in front of the leader then you'd better know where you are going. There is nothing more annoying than a rider roaring past to the front of the group and then getting himself and everyone else lost. Or him taking the wrong turn, causing everyone to have to wait at the fork for the guy to turn back and rejoin the right route.
- Make sure if overtaking is OK in the group you're riding in. Some groups have a no overtaking rule. That's their prerogative. If you join a group you join in to their way of doing things. I will cover overtaking more comprehensively in a post of it's own.
- When you want to join a group ride make sure what type of ride it's going to be. If you join a newbie / pillion / scenic ride don't expect to be going fast. If it was advertised as a newbie ride, then the 'newbies' have to get the most respect with regards to riding style. They are there to learn. Always try and learn from the more experienced riders, and try and help the less experienced.
- When riding in a group you are responsible for the guy behind you, no matter what! Make sure you see his headlight approaching every so often. If you don't see him slow down / stop. If he still doesn't approach turn around and go look for him. The rider in front of you will also turn around and everybody will regroup eventually.
- Stop at every T-junction / turn-off and make sure the guy behind you sees you. That way no-one gets lost. This is a very important rule. Failure on your part here will cause half the group to head off in the wrong direction. Also, it will painfully obvious who the guilty party was. What to do if this does happen: (1) You will not see any headlights behind you so you will eventually have to turn around and go look for them. Go back to the place where you last saw the rider. Do NOT go off-route looking for him. Then you will be lost too. (2) The sweeper will stop at that junction when he realizes the bikes in front have followed the wrong route. When the rider in front front of him does not see his light he will come back and so forth till everybody is back at the right spot. Hopefully you will also have backtracked by then. Do not make this mistake. It's a simple thing to do but failure on your part could cause massive delays in a big group.
- Give enough following distance to see the state of the road - not the dust. Riding conditions and group speed will dictate how much that distance should be. Do not ride directly behind someone, rather to the left or right (staggered). This ensures that you can see what is in the road in front of you, giving time to react, rather than wait for the brake light of the person in front of you.
- Don't ride in some-ones blind spot. If you are riding that close make sure you can see his face in his mirror. That way you're sure he can see you as well.
- When you're out on a ride with a few of your mates, you can be as much of a hooligan as you like, but on a big ride with 40 bikes, a little IQ goes a long way.
- Sometimes it's the new riders themselves who cause the dangerous situations (simply because they don't know better) and then they need experience to help them right. What is important here is that everybody should know if there are new riders in the pack, and that the new riders understands the rules.
- Be self sufficient and wear ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time!).
- Never leave the group without telling the leader or sweeper.
On a sidenote: If you have a medical condition it might be a good idea to tell the sweeper about that also. I have a severe allergy to bee stings and I have a printed piece of paper with my pills detailing what condition I have, what symptoms I'll display and what to do in such a situation, as well as the details of my medical aid. Having ICE Tags is always a good idea.