Without being a dangerous goon
Story by Bill Bryant
I wrote this ten years ago back when we started Chop Cult. Like Roth’s version from ’67, not a whole lot has changed. One inevitable thing about contemporary grassroots events is that it’s easy to find yourself riding in a large pack of bikes, most of them piloted by people you don’t even know yet. Of course this can be fun or a complete ball-up depending on where you are in the pack and who you end up next to, behind, etc.
1. Decide before you ride. Are you a good enough rider to hang with the guys in this group? Be honest and ask yourself if you and your machine can keep up. If you have to think about it very long, have the decency to ride near the back. Know the route so if it gets hairy you can split off at the first opportunity and go at your own pace. This is just as important of a decision if you are a faster rider. Generally groups go a little slower. If this is going to make you antsy or keep you hunting gears, you may want to go off the front and get lost on your own. If you are determined to stay with the pack, simmer down, take you place in the group and hold your line.
2. You are not an outlaw, so quit pretending. Maybe you are, but in a group of unknowns, you have no idea who you are next to or who’s coming up behind you. Just because clubs ride two-up and haul ass for hundreds of miles with only a few feet doesn’t mean you can. Those riders have a lot of practice and know their wingman and the rest of the club so the situation is much more predictable. Lots of people (me included) prefer to split off from the main pack and form a smaller group going in the same direction, but much tighter and faster. Doing this with your friends that you are used to riding with makes a lot more sense than trying to pull it off with strangers who can be squirrley at best and downright dangerous at worst.
3. Hold your line. Get in your slot, get an acceptable interval between you and the next rider and keep the pace. Nothing balls up momentum and throws everyone off like some jackass in the middle who keeps running up on the next guy and backing off. Adjust this interval to suit the riding environment. On the freeway I always tighten it up so that nerd in the Prius doesn’t cut into the pack. On mountain twisties, give yourself enough room to recover if the guy in front of you runs out of talent. The last thing you want to do is wad up the whole pack because you were following too close for no good reason. When splitting lanes in a group, go to single file and stay behind the bike in front of you. If you split up and pass cars on both sides there is a good chance that a startled cager will notice a bike on one side and not the other and crowd the bike on the opposite side. Clubs have protocols for this, you should just try to avoid causing more confusion for the cars and riders around you. The line that flows is faster, so just follow the rider in front of you and hope they do the same.
4. What to do if the bike quits? Well, there are a few choices here depending on the situation. The first priority should be safety, yours and the other riders of course. Signal that you are pulling off so the guys behind you know what’s up. If you are riding with some buddies in the pack, hopefully they’ll pull over. Wave everyone else by to keep the pack moving and then signal some of the slower riders in the back to swing over and lend a hand if need be. Hopefully you can fix whatever it is yourself, but if you need gas or someone else’s expertise, be as selective as you can and don’t hold up 100 riders just because you forgot how to switch your petcock to reserve. Bottom line, keep your shit tight so you aren’t “that guy” in the group.
5. Be kind, be courteous, open that door for your mom. Sorry, couldn’t help but throw in that old Circle Jerks lyric. Anyway, think about the others in the group before yourself. Pass on signals and don’t hesitate to motion that you are slowing down. Choppers have notoriously small and ineffective brake lights, so a little arm flapping might help the person behind you stay that way. Getting a little chilly or jonesing for a smoke? Just wait ‘til the next stop and avoid pulling over in the middle of the run and causing a break in continuity. Realize that even though you have big ol’ brakes on your evo Sporty, the dude on the 70-year-old bike behind you can’t stop nearly as fast, so don’t jam on your binders; give him some notice and he will be a lot happier.
6. Not everyone needs to shoot photos during the entire ride. I’m totally guilty of hauling ass in the wrong lane shooting with one or sometimes even two hands. I am a trained professional. Well, not really, but I try to make my intentions obvious and mostly go slow and let people pass me while I snap some pics. This is disruptive at best, but with a little care it can be done without pissing everyone off. When 50% of the people on the ride are doing it, stow your camera and just ride your motorcycle IRL. One last observation I have to make is that the the popularity of stunt-riding on performance Harleys, the gap between slow and fast, and old and new has definitely grown, so maybe it’s time for unfamiliar riders to break it up a little, and stick with groups that are a little more homogenized. Old guys like me with one shitty brake on a chopper don’t need to be anywhere near dudes popping wheelies on Dynas. Especially if they are sketchy ass up-and-comers. Me? I’m going to avoid just about any large group unless I’m out front, and will generally have a better time splitting off with a handful of riders that I’m used to ripping with and can trust. Good luck and stay safe(ish)!