Safety is top priority for every driver in group rides. Each driver is responsible for the safety of himself and his co-rider. While we ride for fun and camaraderie, of course it's no fun if you don't get there in one piece. So this policy is senior in all situations whether we have a "standard procedure" or not. If any planned maneuver appears unsafe, then use safe judgement and drive accordingly. This is a thousand times more important than trying to rush and/or put yourself or others in a dangerous situation. So drivers in group rides implement the following senior policy for every maneuver and every decision while we are on the road:
use safe judgement,
set a good example, and
be polite to other drivers on the road.
It is the Lead Rider's responsibility is to lead the group and keep it together where feasible and safe. The slowest driver in the group is always the Lead.
The driver at the back of the group is the "Tail" (or "Tail Gunner"). The Tail's responsibility is the safety of the group.
Prior to the ride beginning, the Lead will generally discuss the route and any planned stops. If you have suggestions, needs, or concerns, this is the time to voice them. Once the drivers know the plan, then the Lead has people pair up and do last-minute light checks, tire kicks, and a radio check, before the group departs.
If no other formation has been called for, we normally ride in staggered formation. In this formation the Lead rides in the left tire track, the next rider on the right, and so on. On curves, the driver may pick his own track and then reform in staggered formation after the curve. Staggered formation normally looks like this:
When stopping at a traffic light or stop sign, the formation tightens up, but should retain the staggered form so that the Lead (and each driver) retains a clear view of both left and right sides when proceeding into the intersection.
For your prediction, the Lead will usually drive the speed limit. (Most Leads this author knows use GPS speed rather than "indicated" speed, but this choice is entirely up to the Lead.)
If the Lead makes a wrong turn, or misses a turn, stick with him. (Making the "correct" turn and splitting the group up creates unwanted confusion.)
It is easy for drivers to get their focus stuck on the driver ahead of you. However, the safest situation is when each driver is aware of the road and traffic for about 12-seconds ahead of where he is. With one's attention thus adjusted, peripheral vision is frequently used to gauge distance to the driver ahead of you. This gets easier with practice.
When passing other vehicles on a two-lane highway, each bike should pass one at a time. After passing, gain enough clear distance behind you to allow the next driver to pass. The Tail will inform the Lead when the whole group has passed and the group is back together again.
When you see hand signals, "pass them back" by repeating them so the person behind you can see them too. These including pointing out debris or hazards on the road. The Lead will try to point these out when he can.
In curvy areas, or in a variety of situations where forward visibility and/or traction is limited, the Lead will signal with 1 finger. This means "single file". Spread out and put at least 2 seconds between you and the driver in front of you. Use the full width of the lane the way you normally would when riding alone. In most situations, you are positioning yourself to maximize the number of choices you have, moment to moment, with visibility to other drivers being among the many factors involved. Especially, make enough room so you can see debris on the road. (While the Lead will try to point out debris, your eyes are always going to be faster and more reliable.)
The hand signal using 2 fingers is a call to ride in staggered formation. This shortens up the length of the group, and encourages other drivers on the road to treat the group as a "unit" and not pull out into traffic (e.g. from a side road) or change lanes in a way that separates us.
If we get aggressive traffic coming up behind us wanting (or needing) to pass, the Tail notifies the Lead by radio. On a freeway, this is cared for by splitting into groups of 4-5 each. On a two-lane highway, Lead will signal single file (1 finger). This means make some wide gaps so that the passing vehicle only has to pass one motorcycle at a time. Safe judgement and helping the passer to safely get around comes into play here, especially if oncoming traffic is heavy.
If the Lead stands up, it is not a signal. He is simply taking the weight off his gluts for a bit.
In merging onto a freeway, we DO NOT do it as a group. Instead, we spread WAY out with BIG GAPS BETWEEN MOTORCYCLES so as to make it as easy as possible for each driver to adjust speed and fit into traffic.
Once the group is all on the freeway, the Lead may slow down a bit so as to encourage intervening vehicles to pass. If an intervening vehicle does not want to pass, then go ahead and pass it in a safe manner so as to eventually get the group back together again. This is a place where safe judgement will be called for.
Optionally, depending on needs and traffic circumstances, the Lead may call for the Tail to secure a lane, and call for a lane change into a now-secured-and-clear lane to both re-join the group together, and secure a faster lane. It is entirely up to the Lead and his judgement of needs and circumstances whether to do this or not.
Lane Changes: When safe, we do group lane changes in a way that is fun and even thrilling to experience: synchronized. Safety is senior, so if last-minute circumstances indicate it is safer to delay switching lanes, then by all means make the safe choice. (This is true for any maneuver.) Keeping that in mind, when synchronized lane changing is done well, it can be beautiful to witness.
This is how it generally goes (using LEFT as an example—works the same for RIGHT):
Lead driver asks Tail Gunner to secure left lane.
Tail Gunner secures lane and announces, "Left lane secure."
Lead announces, "Left blinkers on. 3, 2, 1, change," and the group changes lanes in unison.
Notes about synchronized lane changes:
If we are in staggered formation, drivers on the far side of the lane should not cross paths with the drivers nearest the target lane.
Be aware of your environment. When lane changes are likely, it is a time to keep CB chatter to a minimum so as to allow Lead and Tail to coordinate by radio.
If a motorcycle breaks down or otherwise needs to pull off and stop, do not follow. The Tail Gunner will stay with them, and the Lead takes the rest of the group on to the next place where it is safe for the whole group to pull off, park, and otherwise coordinate actions with the Tail.
At the end of a ride, drivers sometimes need to split off from the group while the group is rolling, to head to their next destination. The normal method of doing this is, when feasible and safe, a mile or two before splitting off, do a wave-around (from a different lane if possible), putting the Tail Gunner ahead of you so you're at the back. Then split off from the rear. The drivers remaining in the group then re-form the formation by filling the gaps.
This maximizes the number of choices the driver has when splitting off, and allows him to make any adjustments necessary during this phase of his trip without causing confusion in the group. This is especially helpful in heavy traffic or on a 2-lane highway. In light traffic or where multiple lanes are available, this becomes less important, but is often still helpful.