Hand Signals and Group Riding
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Important Note:

Hand signals and Group Riding Rules are designed for "safety" - period and their use should be stressed at the beginning of each ride.

Anyone unwilling to comply or participate in these rules should be asked to ride separate from the group rather then endangering those that are in the group. Those that are uncomfortable in the group situation because of "another rider's actions", should feel free to approach the Ride Captain with those concerns. The Ride Captain can usually make positional changes in the formation or, if warranted, ask individuals to ride separately. Friendship has to take a second position until the ride is safely over.

The use of Hand Signals is the universal communication link to riding with others. It is encouraged that you practice using these even when riding alone - you will be surprised by the occasional response from other vehicle drivers. You Should NEVER totally rely on your brake light or turn signals to convey what your are doing. Are all your lights even working all the time?

There are electronic devices available to enhance communication between the Captain and Sweeper such as CB Radio or even a new device that uses push buttons and lights, but none of these take the place of Hand Signals. The Road Captain should always use Hand Signals with the group following the example.


The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has a good video on Group Riding, which covers basic hand signals and group riding techniques. This is worth watching by all riders as a refresher, and a MUST for any new rider thinking of participating in a group ride.

MSF Group Ride Video
MSF Site


Ride Organizer: This person is usually responsible for organizing the ride itself, including the routes and stops along the way. Maps should be made available along with ride information, known hazards or problems, and should including phone numbers to call if someone becomes lost, off the designated route, or broken down.
Ride Captain: There is usually only one Ride Captain for a group ride which consist of 10 riders or less. It is recommended that larger groups be broken into smaller and safer groups, and a Ride Captain designated for each group. Mid Captains may also be used to maintain a large group on a long ride

The responsibilities include:
Setting the Pace: - speed control is important and involves proper changes depending on circumstances. Open road speed should be paced at legal speed limits (or lower depending on conditions), pre-mature slowing should be used when approaching a turn or major change in lane position, and speed should be increased initially coming out of a turn to allow space for others to make the turn. Once the turn is made, speed should be maintained at 5 mph slower until the entire group is together and the Sweeper signals that the group is ready to proceed.

Knowing the Route: The planned route is important, and the destination is "all" important. Sometimes routes change based upon weather or road conditions. The Captain needs to know how to get the group to the final destination. Hopefully, the planned ride will suffice, but alternate routes need to be known.

Hand Signals: and the understanding of their usage is essential.

The Ride Captain also works in conjunction with the Ride Sweeper to insure that the ride is staying organized and together.

Mid Captain: A Mid Captains responsibilities is much the same as the Road Captain. In a large group, Mid Captains are used for "breaking up" the main group into smaller more controllable sizes. Most often this is used while traveling in heavy traffic or in areas of multiple stop signs or lights. By allowing the main group to breakup into smaller groups, the ride can be completed more safely and will eventually blend back into the main group at a later point in the ride. The most important advantage to using Mid Captains is to prevent riders from speeding or otherwise using poor judgment in the attempt to "keep up" with the main group.
Ride Sweeper: This very important position is often overlooked, but can be a critical part of the successful and safe group ride. The Sweeper sees all... because they take the "last" position in the group. And, the responsibilities of this position can be varied and multiple. Some European riding groups go so far to make sure that the Sweeper has medical training as well. After all... if an accident occurs in the group, they are the first on the scene.

The Sweeper communicates to the Ride Captain, through hand signals, the status of the group. The most used signal is a fist high in the air signaling to the Ride Captain that everyone is together and made it through that traffic light or a turn. The Ride Captain should "acknowledge" this by signaling back the same way. This also helps to remove the anxiety of the riders in the group, wondering how everyone is doing. Other signals can be used and should be discussed directly between the Ride Captain and Sweeper to insure proper communication.

If the group becomes separated, the Sweeper now must jump to a lead position and become a Ride Captain. (see also Mid Captain)

If there is a problem, it becomes the Sweeper's responsibility to oversee, and communicate appropriately so that emergency help can be notified as necessary. Obviously, the Sweeper should be equipped with a cell phone, radio or device capable of doing so.

Participants in a group ride must be willing to follow basic and sensible rules to insure the safety of everyone involved. If you are unwilling to follow the rules, then do not participate in the group ride. Ride behind or separate, but not between the Ride Captain and the Ride Sweeper or you might be asked to leave the group.

Riders should know the basic hand signals of group riding and "use them".

Every rider in the group has the capability and responsibility to use hand signals at anytime necessary. The Ride Captain may miss the road obstacle, and not signal for a variety of reasons, including the fact that he/she just didn't see it. It becomes your individual responsibility to signal to the riders around you and behind you that there is an obstacle in the road.

Any rider that is uncomfortable with the speed of the ride, should motion the riders behind to pass and take a forward position. The Ride Sweeper will take the responsibility to ride with this person separately or stop to assist if there is a problem.

If the rider in front of you, including the Ride Captain, signals an obstacle in the road, you are "obligated" to pass that information on to the riders behind you using hand signals. If you do not - and the person behind you hits the obsticle - you might be facing a serious discussion...

All signals from the Ride Captain should be relayed through the group by repeating the same signal back to the Sweeper. It is important that all signals get passed through the entire group at all times.

Passing: Passing traffic or changing lane position can be very hazardous, or can become one of the smoothest moves of the group. But, everyone must know and comply with the rules and have a good understanding of the procedure.

Passing, or lane changing, can cause confusion and anxiety in riding group, and as a result, causes the biggest risk of injury to one or more riders in the group. Disorganized lane changes, or riders doing "their own move" sets everyone else up for possible disaster - the domino effect. Anxiety is created in passing timing, fellow rider position, and other vehicles that may interfere.

Passing Procedures:
When "over-taking" traffic, or traveling faster then the traffic on the street or in the lane: the Ride Captain will initiate the passing when he/she feels is safe and appropriate for the group to pass either as an entire group (such as a multiple lane road) or as smaller groups or individuals to eventually come back together or regroup. The Road Captain simply makes the pass and expects the group to follow likewise. After the Road Captain passes, he/she will maintain a reasonable speed to allow the group to complete the passing procedure so the group can come back together. On a two lane road, the Road Captain must make certain that the passing speed is great enough to allow space for the following riders. Once the group is back together, the speed can be adjusted back to normal.

When needing to making a lane change in a multiple lane road, but the traffic is moving faster or equal in speed in that wanted lane: the Captain initiates the request but the Ride Sweeper controls the lane change by holding or capturing the lane for the group.

This change is initiated by the Road Captain by signaling to the entire group (turn signals, hand signals, or electronic device), but the Road Captain does not move. Once the signal is known to the sweeper and the sweeper realizes that the lane must be Held or Secured, the Sweeper makes the move into the lane and "secures" the lane. "Everyone" waits for the Road Sweeper to make the position change and secure the lane.

NO ONE changes lanes until the Sweeper changes to the new lane and each rider then moves into the lane as it becomes clear . The lane change can be made from the Sweeper forward as the lane becomes clear (vehicle still in the lane but moving forward and faster) with the Road Captain being one of the last to make the move, or the entire group waits for the entire space to clear and waits for the Captain to move.

Another explanation: The Sweeper sees the turn signal (passed back by the riders) that the Ride Captain wants to make a lane change but cannot. The Sweeper then moves into the appropriate lane once it is clear, thus holding the lane for the others in the group to move into the lane.

Holding or Capturing a lane for the group is NOT an illegal move provided that you do not impede the flow of traffic.

This procedure should ONLY be done as needed to secure the safety of the group.

Blocking: is illegal - period...

"Blocking" is the act of stopping traffic for the purpose of allowing a separate flow of traffic to merge into a street or highway. This act illegally stops or impedes the normal flow of traffic and subjects the "blocker" to a lawful citation for this action. Often times law enforcement officers overlook or allow this to occur in the name of "Safety". However, it is technically illegal and should only be used in situations where safety can be strongly argued or the blocker is willing to pay the citation price.