If you haven't experienced the thrill of group scooter riding you're missing out. It's a blast. The camaraderie of your fellow riders enhances your experience and the waves and laughter from onlookers is thrilling - especially when you ride in a big group of 30 or more scoots.
Group rides can be dangerous, though. As a frequent rally-goer I have seen plenty of mangling of both scooters and their riders result from common mistakes that are easily avoided.
I've been on many rides that were great fun and I have been on some that were excruciatingly boring.
What makes a ride both safe and enjoyable? Keep readin'.
Recruit some "herders"
If you are a ride organizer it's a good idea to have two ride leaders, two riders trailing the group and at least one more to watch for separations at intersections. Big group rides get broken up. It's a fact of life. If you sprinkle a few "herders" in the crowd they ca become defacto ride leaders for the back of the pack if it gets cut off from the main group.
Stick to one lane
Big group scooter rides can be a real annoyance to drivers. People in cars can get very angry - especially if they cannot pass the ride safely. It's important to keep the entire group in the right-hand lane so that cars can pass on the left. It's not uncommon for cars simply to plow through a group of scooters if they are being tied up. Do not discount how angry people can get and how irrationally they can behave.
Staggar left, right, left right.
Scooterists should not ride side-by-side on a group ride. Rather, they should be spaced in a staggar with the ride leader on the left side of the lane and the next rider to his right and slightly behind him - and so on and so on all the way to the back of the pack. This staggered allignment allows each rider a greater margin of error and can help prevent collisions. The front edge of your front wheel should remain behind the back edge of the rear wheel of the rider in front of you.
Stop at green lights sometimes
If you are leading a pack through the city folks you will almost always have some stragglers who, for one reason or another, have dropped back from the rest of the pack. You want to let them catch up periodically in the interest of keeping the group together. Stop at a green light and let it turn red while you wait for people to catch up.
Keep the thing moving
If you're the organizer of a group ride it's your job to make sure that it leaves relatively close to the stated departure time and that it keeps moving. Give everyone a heads-up fifteen minutes ahead of time that they should be gassed up. Unless your ride is extremely long there should be no need for a gas stop.
Breaks are a good thing (people's butts get sore) but they should not be too frequent. Once an hour is about right to stop for a breather and some photos.
Ride maps are not neccessary
When I organize a ride people often ask me for a printed map. Some organizers will provide them - and Sportique has provided them in the past - but, in general you shouldn't need one. Not knowing where you are is half the fun and, if you lose the group you lose the group. Follow the scooter in front of you - that's all you need to do. Sometimes it's more enjoyable not to know where you are going.
Don't be a show off
This is rule number one. Even if you are highly skilled and accomplished rider you must realize that those around you might not be. In big group rides there is very little margin for error. One wrecked rider can mean many wrecked riders. You don't want to be the cause of a collision that starts a chain reaction.
Avoid the "look ma, no hands" manuever. Keep your hands on the bars. Don't weave back and forth and don't pop wheelies in a group. It's important that everyone keep their eyes on the road and remain aware of what's going on them around you. Other riders do not need to be distracted by tom foolery.
Stick to your line
When you're riding in a pack it is critical that you be as predictible as you can possibly be. Riders are packed in closely to one another so you must stay in your part of the lane. When cornering it's important that you neither stray out wide or cut the corner too tight. The riders that surround you need to know where you are going to be. If you're not a very experience rider and you struggle to keep a clean line through corners it's best to stay near the back of the pack.
Choose front, rear of middle pack and stay there
Unless you are "working traffic" or stuck near a shaky rider there should not be any need to reposition yourself within the pack. Make a decision as to where in the pack you want to be and stay there. Most of the wrecks I have seen on group rides were cause by riders moving forward and backward within the group. It's dangerous to change positions and only those recruited by the leader to "herd" riders should do it.
Stop at red lights unless there are traffic blockers. If there are blockers, don't stop.
Very few rides have a traffic crew. If the ride you are on does have people blocking intersections to allow the ride to proceed through stop lights - go ahead and run the stop lights. If you're the only one to stop someone is likely to run into the back of you. Stopping when nobody else is stopping is one of the top causes of crashes on social rides. If, however, there is not a traffic crew, go ahead and stop. You'll catch up. Don't worry.
Be realistic about your experience and skill level
Everyone who has gone on group rides has a story about riding next to or near a shaky rider who was not being honest with his or her self about his or her riding acumen. If you know that you are a novice ask an experienced rider to stick near you and ask for tips. It's best for less experienced riders to keep near the back of the ride and to maintain as much of a "bubble" around them as possible. Consider your own safety as well as that of eveyone else on the ride.
Never, ever pass the group on the right.
If you are working traffic or, for some other reason, so have to pass riders, do so on the left side - even if that means using empty oncoming traffic lanes. There's not enough space between the ride and the curb for you to make your move safely. If one of the riders you are passing becomes distracted and drifts right you are likely to rear-end him. I have seen this happen many times.
Make no sudden moves.
The key to a safe pack of scooters is smoothness. The group should move along as one. You don't want to slow down or speed up suddenly or swerve left or right. Remember, if you make a mistake it can cause a chain reaction. You don't want to cause someone else to put their scooter down which will in-turn cause somebody else to put theirs down.
Please don't let this article give you the impression that you're in danger if you go on a group ride. You're no more in harms way than you would be riding on your own. In fact, when it comes to car drivers, there's scooter safety in numbers. We and the various Denver clubs have a lot planned this summer including Mile High Mayhem and the Monster ride. We're looking forward to riding with you.