Group Adventure Riding

The group may get spread out over great distances, due to dust (very large following distances), technical sections, rider capabilities (some new to offroad riding) and technical problems (punctures and breakdowns).

Not every bike will have the planned route visible to the rider on a GPS or smartphone navigation app, so it is imperative that steps are taken to prevent riders getting lost or separated from the group.

Leading the group

Ideally there should be a designated route leader who is in charge of navigating, preferably with the planned route on a GPS or a smartphone and navigation app. The leader might change on different legs of the route.
If for some reason you find yourself unexpectedly out front, and you are not 100% sure of the route, then do not just continue riding blindly, as you may miss a turnoff, wasting time and fuel and causing some confusion and frustration with the group.
Slow down, or pull-over while you wait for the leader to catch up.
If you miss a turn-off while everyone else behind you has already turned off, then you will be lost without a map of the route.

Handling turnoffs.

No-one wants to miss a turnoff and then after a while, wonder where everyone else is. For the entire group to wait until everyone arrives at each turnoff, would waste a lot of time. The most common technique to handle turnoffs is known as “The Tag Game”, where at each turnoff, each rider ensures that the rider behind him has seen him taking the turnoff.

When you approach a turnoff, you need to do two things:

  1. Let the rider ahead of you know that you are aware of the turnoff. Activate your turn indicator. If the rider ahead is waiting for you at the turnoff, either flash your headlight, or give him a clear thumbs up hand-signal, so that he can move off.
  2. Ensure that the rider behind you is aware of the turnoff. If he is visible close behind in your rear-view mirror, check if his turn-indicator is on. If the rider behind you is not yet visible, stop at the intersection where you are clearly visible, with your bike pointing in the direction of the turnoff. When he comes into view, look for his signal that he has seen you, before moving off (turn indicator goes on, or flashing headlight, or hand-signal).

After you have turned off, check if the rider behind you is following, or has perhaps missed the turnoff.

It is important to know where you are in the line. If you are the last rider and don’t realise there is no-one else behind you, how long will you wait at the intersection?

Regrouping.

Occasionally the leader will decide to regroup. This might happen at a turnoff, or a view-site, or a distinctive landmark, or just a convenient parking area. It is the leader’s responsibility to choose a safe spot to do so.

There are two types of regrouping:

  1. Quick regrouping, where the leader will stay seated on his bike, as does everyone else.
    Switch off engines to be able to chat. As soon as the last rider appears, the group immediately starts to move off. This is just to check that everyone is still together and no-one has broken-down or gotten lost.
  2. If the leader gets off his bike, removes his gloves and helmet, then this usually indicates it is a rest-stop, smoke-break, photo-opportunity or just a bit of leg-stretch and a chat.

Moving Off

Whenever the group prepares to move off from a stop, start your engine, then ride to the exit of the stop area, just before getting onto the road, but within sight of the rest of the group, then wait there for the entire group to arrive. This way, the leader can see when everyone is ready to ride, and can move off as soon as the last person arrives.
Failure to do this, often leads to everyone waiting for everyone else and no-one really knows when everyone is ready to ride.

Breakdowns and delays.

The leader cannot always see the guys further back in the line, especially if it is a bigger group. In order to prevent the guys up ahead leaving part of the group behind, each rider must check occasionally if he can still see the bike behind him, especially if the group is spread out. Good opportunities to look back (in the rearview mirror or over your shoulder), are just before cresting a rise, on an open curve, or any place where your view behind is not restricted by dust or topography.

If you do not see the bike following you, then slow down for a while. If after a few minutes you still do not see him, then find a good spot to pull over where it is safe, and affords you a good view back. If after a few minutes you still do not see him, then start backtracking to go find him.

If everyone does this, then the chain reaction will bring everyone back until eventually even the leader will get back to where the problem exists. If its a technical problem, then more hands, tools, spares, knowledge and experience could expedite a remedy. If its a medical emergency, then the entire group can assist with a plan of action.

Maintaining a safe pace

This technique of slowing down if you have not seen the guy behind you for a while, also helps to keep the entire group’s speed down to that of the slowest rider. Never ride faster on dirt than you are comfortable with. Don’t try to keep up if the guys ahead of you are riding faster than you feel safe to do. At worst, they will wait for you at the next regrouping.

Keeping the line short.

In a large riding group, the line of riders might stretch over many kilometers, especially in dusty conditions. When there is no dust (tar, damp dirt), riding in a staggered formation, allows for a more compact group but still allows for adequate stopping distance. If the bike in front of you stops unexpectedly, you can overshoot to his side if you cannot stop behind him. For an effective staggered formation, avoid riding in the center of the road or lane. About one-third over from the side allows the guy behind you to be one-third from the other side, with plenty of room. Your following/stopping distance is then measured to the second bike ahead of you, who should be on the same side of the lane/road.

Overtaking on dirt

On dirt roads, especially if its a bit gnarly, a rider might make full use of the entire width of the road in order to find the best line through. Overtaking in these conditions can be tricky. If you do approach a slower rider and you wish to overtake him, be sensible and wait for a safe place to do so. Ideally you should wait until he notices you. He might pull over to the left, or even give you a signal to go past. Go around as wide as possible, and don’t spray him with dirt from the back wheel by accelerating too hard.

If you are the one being approached by another rider from behind, as soon as you notice the bike creeping up on your rear (and likely a bit to your right), try to make room for him to overtake when you find a safe stretch to do so. A good signal to give him to go past, is to take your right foot off the footpeg and stretch it forward for a moment, as if pointing with your foot that he may pass on that side.

Dealing with gates

Every gate should be left as you found it – if it was closed upon arrival, the group as a whole needs to ensure it is securely closed after everyone is through.

Assuming the leader is doing the navigating and guiding the rest along the route, then the second person opens the gate, takes his bike through when he finds a gap in the traffic, counting the bikes as they come through. After the last bike is through, he closes the gate and resumes riding, now at the tail end of the group.
If there is a designated “sweeper” following in the rear, this sweeper waits for the guy closing the gate to move off, then follows him.
This technique means that every person gets a chance to open & close a gate.

If you see people along the road, slow down and wave in a friendly manner. If they flag you down, stop and have a friendly chat. Take your helmet and gloves off , shake hands, introduce yourself, and be respectful, you are passing through their land.