Group Riding, Sport-Touring Style
Part One: (Group) Size Matters!
Sport Touring Corner
By Norm Kern
As I’ve said before, sport-touring riders view motorcycling as a skill-based sport. That doesn’t mean they are particularly interested in racing or competition, but rather look forward to a challenge and enjoy practicing and developing their riding skill. It’s not about simply riding a fun, challenging road, it’s riding at a brisk pace, getting in the “zone” of total concentration on a capable motorcycle. While some prefer riding alone, most of us enjoy riding even more with some friends, so this month we’re going to talk about group riding from a sport-touring perspective.
Before we get into what’s different about sport-touring group riding, let’s talk about group riding in general. Most riders think of it in social terms, trying to be as inclusive as possible to encourage participation of new or inexperienced riders and embracing a welcoming spirit of “the more the merrier.” These are noble goals, but they don’t serve the needs of sport-touring riders for several reasons.
First, welcoming all comers invites large disparities in riding skill. This compounds “the slowest common denominator” problem where the slowest rider always determines the overall pace of the ride. The choice quickly becomes to go slower or make frequent stops to wait for slower riders. In a sport-touring group, these “catch-up” stops repeatedly break the riders’ concentration, eliminating the opportunity for riders to get into “the zone” and thwarting the main thing sport-touring riders most look forward to on a ride.
In the same vein, large “the more the merrier” group size increases, so does the frequency of stops for gas, bathroom breaks, etc. Then there’s the logistics of trying to stay together going through towns with traffic, signal lights etc. Trying to lead a large group and keep it together is tiring and simply does not work for sport-touring groups.
One of my friends got so frustrated with large groups, he just threw up his hands and declared, “From now on, I’m riding alone. That way, I can go where I want, at the pace I want, stop wherever I wish and not worry about pleasing anyone else.” Nevertheless, we went riding for a weekend. We got along great, but it was because I let him lead and make all the decisions about where to go, when to stop, etc. Always doing what someone else wants to do doesn’t sound like any more fun that poking along in a large group, but it points to an idea that addresses the group riding dilemma. Here it is:
WHAT IF you had a few people to ride with and they all happen to like the same types of roads, the same pace and style of riding, like stopping for breaks around the same time and like the same kinds of places to eat? Even though all of you are riding as a group, everyone gets to do pretty much exactly what they want!
That sounds great, but how does it work out when you have a group of 20-100+ people who want to ride? First, the larger number of riders makes it more likely you will find one or a few who are very compatible with what you like. Second, rather than trying to get everyone to ride together somehow, you encourage them to sort themselves into small “common interest” riding groups of compatible riding styles and preferences. That’s exactly what we do at Motorcycle Sport Touring Association (MSTA) rallies.
MSTA rally attendees quickly get to know each others’ preferences and self-select into small groups of two to about six riders and many ride with a different group each day. For example, one friend likes to ride with me on the first day of the rally when he is fresh. He knows I will choose a long technical route and ride at a brisk pace. The next day he will ride at a slower pace with friends in another group and maybe do some sightseeing.
Another advantage of small groups is that everyone doesn’t have to leave at the same time or ride the same route. In fact, a wide selection of suggested routes is one of the great features of most MSTA rallies. Choices include sightseeing, casual pace riding, simple fast routes with lots of sweeper curves, and technical stuff with sharp corners and elevation changes. There are even dirt and gravel routes for dual-sport and adventure riders at some events. These routes, available in both GPS and paper form, are compiled by members that live in the area, know every single road and how to string them together for non-stop fun.
In addition to route choices, MSTA rally attendees themselves offer a wide range of personal riding styles and interests. In addition to regular sport-touring riders, there might be a few “track day” riders on tricked out sport bikes fully suited up in their racing leathers, but you’ll also find Goldwing riders who are looking for a nice scenic ride. Many members like big adventure bikes for both road and adventure routes, plus you’ll see some Harleys, Can-Am Spyders and even a scooter or two.
Many members attend MSTA rallies to meet and ride with specific personal friends, but if you are new, how do you find someone at a rally to ride with? You can get help by using the Member Assistance Program, (MAP) in which the organizer will connect you with an experienced member for the day based on your interests and skill level.
MSTA members are generally safe and responsible, so you’ll be riding with someone who wears gear, has a lot of riding experience, and a bike that’s insured and in good repair. MSTA members also avoid adult beverage consumption until the bikes are put away for the day, so you’re always in good company.
Regional MSTA rallies are held throughout the riding season, mostly in or near the Appalachian mountain region. Event locations this year include Helen, Georgia, Sparta, North Carolina, Georgetown, Kentucky, Marietta, Ohio, Lewisburg, West Virginia, Staunton, Virginia, Corydon Indiana, and Theodosia, Missouri. Look for individual upcoming event details in future columns!