Travel Check List

Riding in a Group

Riding in Staggered Formation


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Welcome to the Safety Officers Web Page

Please take some time to read the contents, there’s some important information about riding your Harley-Davidson motorcycle and how Aire Valley UK operate as a riding club.   If you have any unanswered questions or need further advice please feel free to contact me:

Neil Walmsley
Road Captain – Safety Officer.


Go to: Riding a Harley - Riding in staggered formation - Braking - Cornering - Overtaking - Loss of Control - Hand Signals


General Info:

  • Most safety issues occur on ride-outs when there is a large group of riders of varying degrees of skill and ability. 
  • Riding a Harley is meant to be good fun, enjoying the company of other riders, seeing some great places and making friends. It is not meant to be a high-speed chase. 
  • Enjoy the fun of group riding, concentrate and keep within all speed limits. We ride in a staggered formation protocol, to be able to make side movements and not run into one another.
  • Always maintain a safe braking distance from the rider directly in front (more information below).
  • The chapter uses a system of marking junctions and keeping the ride-out intact called ‘2nd man drop off’ (more information below).
  • Ride-outs take place between March and November each year, usually at the weekend but occasionally mid-week for those who do not have to work.  Evening ride-outs are planned during the summer months.

The Ride-out:

  • On the day of the ride-out the Lead Road Captain will conduct a briefing session prior to the ride taking place.  This is to give you information about the ride, where we are going, the approximate timings of comfort and fuel stops, where the ride-out will finish and the approximate time the ride will end. 
  • Always turn up with full fuel tanks as the norm for the first petrol stop is usually around 80 miles.  It is your legal obligation to ensure you have valid Insurance/Mot/Tax/ and a roadworthy motorcycle (more below).
  • Ensure you are wearing appropriate clothing, as the old saying goes: "no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing."
  • Aire Valley UK 9695 has an exemplary safety record and we aim to keep it that way.

Future Ride-outs:

  • The Head Road Captain or Ride Co-ordinator will publish all Chapter ride-outs for the season ahead on the Aire Valley web page, there is also a list at the dealership and just prior to the date of the ride-out there is a reminder posted on Facebook.

Please remember!
Your safety is ultimately your own responsibility.

Riding a Harley:

New to Harley?

  • If you are new to riding Harleys, please remember that they are big heavy bikes that do not handle or stop like the bikes you may have been used to riding years ago! When riding in a group please be aware that some bikes might stop quicker than yours (some have single front discs, some have twin discs and 4 pot callipers) so make sure that a safe distance is kept between you and the bike in front – we have had a few rear fenders cosmetically altered on ride-outs!

The Bike:

Before commencing a ride, always make sure that your bike is in a roadworthy condition. Pay particular attention to:

  • Tyre condition and pressures,
  • Mirror adjustment and cleanliness,
  • Lights and indicators.

Carry a cloth to clean your lights, windshield, mirrors and helmet visor.


  • Road Captains research, plan and prepare for the ride-outs well in advance but the weather is always an unknown quantity.  Make sure you have clothing that is adequate for safety purposes and adverse weather conditions.

The Rider:

  • It goes without saying that alcohol and drugs are a no no when riding a bike. And if you are not feeling well, think very carefully before joining a ride-out. It’s not just your safety that may be at risk.
  • If you have a medical condition that may require you to stop on a ride-out e.g. to take medication, please have a word with the HRC or Lead Road Captain before the ride sets off. And lastly, start each ride-out with an empty bladder.

2nd man drop off:

  • This system is the safest and most appropriate way to keep the ride together, to prevent riders getting lost and to give each rider a responsibility to the whole group.  This system is used by 38 of the 39 HOG chapters in the UK and used widely by most other motorcycle organisations throughout the world.  Aire Valley UK has used this system for many years and on countless occasions when there has been a lack of RCs, also on evening ride-outs and on most of the mid-week ride-outs, it’s nothing new.
  • The system allows the ride-out to remain intact by using riders to mark junctions and roundabouts in order to direct other riders in the direction that the ride has gone.  The rider directly behind the LRC will be given a hand signal instruction to take up a position to ‘mark’ the route being taken. As the rest of the riders take that route the rider marking the junction will eventually see the back marker approaching and when the last of the riders has passed through, the back marker (a Road Captain) will signal to the rider to re-join the ride at the very back and in the correct position to maintain the staggered riding formation.


  • It will be new to some people who have only ever known the ‘roaming road marshals’ system that Aire Valley has used for many years, particularly on the large ride-outs where yellow vested RCs would mark junctions and then work their way back to the front of the pack by overtaking the rest of the group.  This year (2021) is the year that the chapter will adopt the 2nd man drop off system for all ride-outs, without exception.


  • We recognise that this is a major change and that some training will be required.  Normally there would only be 2 orange vest RCs on each ride-out, the Lead Road Captain and the Back Marker Road Captain (sometimes 2 BMs where available).
  • However, during the training of the chapter in 2nd man drop off in larger groups there may be a 3rd RC (orange vest) acting as an intermediary BM with a small group of non-participants behind him/her (with the final BM behind them) and a Blue Vest RC (experienced RC) who will ride behind the LRC, keeping an appropriate 2 -3 car length distance between them and who will indicate to the rider behind him/her where to position themselves to best mark the junction, offering the safest and most clearly visible place to do so. We cannot just allow inexperienced riders to hopefully get it right by guesswork.


  • One of the main difficulties experienced by anyone riding directly behind the LRC is that by riding too close there often is not enough time to think about and plan a safe strategic position.  The ‘thinking distance’ will be three car lengths behind the LRC. Once everyone is competent at 2nd man drop off it will become the norm to keep that thinking distance behind the LRC and alleviate the necessity for a Blue Vest RC.
  • To maintain the staggered formation behind the LRC the 2nd and 3rd rider will adopt a single file, centre of lane position from whichever their position in the ride is and regardless of what the LRC is doing, that means that no one in the ride will have to change their position and whichever position the rider finds themselves in when re-joining the ride after 2nd man drop off they should be able to maintain that position until it becomes their turn once more. The 4th rider should drop back a bit to allow for a safe braking distance.


  • Adding to that the three car length rule between the LRC and the 2nd man everyone can see what's happening and prepare for their 'go'. 


Riding in staggered formation:

         The “staggered formation” is the safest and most organized way to do most group rides.

  • Formation is huge when it comes to group riding. Riding in formation properly gives riders the proper space cushion to react to any hazards and also helps drivers on the road avoid motorcyclists.


  • The preferred formation is the “staggered formation” (where if a line were drawn from each rider to the next, it would make an evenly spaced zig-zag line.) To do this, the 4th rider in the group should be in the left (inside) of the lane, while the next rider stays a full second behind them in the right (outside) of the lane. This pattern should continue with each additional rider all the way down to the end. Riders 2 and 3 should be in single file behind the Lead Road Captain.

A staggered formation like this looks good, and gives everyone room to
manoeuvre if there’s a problem or an obstacle in the road.


Think Ahead:

  • Inevitably, riders in a large group will be of varying levels of skills, experience and competence. You MUST make allowances for this.
  • Make sure you concentrate at all times and watch for hazards and obstacles in the road. We often encounter debris and road kill casualties that cause the group to swerve – seeing them in advance will avoid panic. If possible, point to the obstacle (with your left hand) to alert the riders behind you of the obstacle.
  • Thinking ahead will generally prepare you as the ride approaches roundabouts, junctions etc. And always keep a safe distance from the bike in front.
  • Thinking ahead is perhaps the most important part of the safety game when riding a bike. Apply it to all aspects of riding and you are well on the way to safer riding.

The secret of advanced riding/driving is
advanced observation and anticipation.

One of the most important elements of motorcycling. It doesn’t matter how fast you can go if you can’t stop!

  • Braking consists of two actions; reaction time and the time it takes you to physically stop. Reaction time – thinking distance varies from person to person and with the speed of the machine. Added to that is the time it takes you to engage the brakes. Reaction distances are estimated to be: 8.7 metres at 30mph, 14.5 metres at 50mph, 20.3 meters at 70mph. And remember, this is the distance travelled before you hit the brakes!
  • Added to this is the time it takes to stop after you have hit the brakes – this is the overall stopping distance that is estimated to be: 23 metres at 30mph, 53 metres at 50mph, 96 metres at 70mph.
  • Remember, as your speed doubles, your stopping distance quadruples! And if the road surface is poor or wet, these distances are extended. Scary or what?
  • When braking, try to do so as smoothly as possible. The front brake is the most effective of the two brakes and when the front brake lever is applied, the load of the bike transfers to the front end/tyre.
  • As the weight transfers to the front tyre, the more grip it has with the road. Conversely, as the load transfers to the front, the less weight is left at the back end and therefore the rear brake is more likely to lock the wheel and the cause the bike to skid.
  • Always endeavour to brake when you are travelling in a straight line and the bike is upright. Slow the bike down before you enter a corner. Braking in a corner can upset the balance of the bike and make the bike unstable. Locking the front wheel in a corner can be disastrous!
  • If you need to slow down further whilst cornering use your back brake to maintain maximum stability.
  • Falling off in a left hand bend will throw the rider across the white line and into oncoming traffic. Falling off on a right-hander will throw the rider into the scenery – or a lamppost!

Emergency Braking:

Usually preceded by a very loud expletive…

  • This is worth practicing and may save serious injury or worse. But practice on a dry straight road where it is safe to do so. Tockwith Airfield off the B1224 Wetherby to York road has a practice area that anyone can pay to enter and this is worth considering if you want to do some serious practicing!
  • Remember, the front brake does nearly all the work when braking. If you need to stop quickly, this is the best procedure: squeeze the brake lever firmly and progressively, do not snatch at the lever. Having squeezed firmly, the load transfers to the front end and the forks compress. When the forks are fully compressed, squeeze hard on the lever and at this point maximum brake effectiveness engages.
  • If you snatch at the lever the forks compress, and almost instantly they bottom out and the bike ‘pogo sticks’, thus reducing contact with the road and reducing braking efficiency. If you can practice this in a safe environment, you will be surprised how quickly you can stop and how much you can improve with more practice. Use marker points to gauge your improvement with successive attempts.
  • Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS): Braking as firmly as possible on ABS equipped bikes is the quickest way to stop in the dry. In the wet the bike will take slightly longer to stop (than a bike without ABS) when the ABS kicks in as the ABS works hard to maintain stability.


Feel like you’re going round the bend?

  • Good preparation when approaching a bend is essential. Remember, think ahead! Slow down when approaching a corner and select the correct gear. Get the braking out of the way before entering the bend. Slow in, fast out is the best way of taking a corner.
  • Identify the ‘limit point’ when entering a bend. The limit point is the rider’s furthest point of vision ahead in the bend.
  • Always ride at a speed that lets you stop (on your side of the road) within the distance that you can see is clear i.e. the distance between you and the ‘limit point’.
  • The limit point determines the speed at which you can safely enter a bend. The closer the limit point, the less distance (and time) you have to act and therefore the slower you need to go. And vice versa.

Practise makes perfect.

  • It takes practice but it pays off and results in safer and smoother corning. Before entering a bend, when you can see the limit point, make a visual assessment of the road surface and look for obstructions/potholes. Once you’ve done that, focus on the limit point and keep focussed on the moving limit point as the bend unwinds. That way you will corner safely and smoothly.
  • The limit point will be different for each bend and you may need to brake whilst taking the series of bends. If so, brake when the bike is upright at the point you exit one bend before entering the next one. Keeping the bike rubber side down and shiny side up is always recommended.


If in doubt, don’t!

  • It’s not surprising how many accidents happen whilst overtaking.
  • Before overtaking, consider; is anyone ahead of the vehicle you are about to overtake slowing down to turn right or left?
  • Is the vehicle in front hiding a vehicle that might limit your ability to tuck in after overtaking?
  • Are you in the right gear to overtake? Can you see over the vehicle or through its windows to help you look and think ahead?
  • Don’t overtake at or approaching a junction, even if it looks clear – the vehicle you are following/passing may turn without warning (and often do!).
  • Always assume the driver of the vehicle in front hasn’t seen you! Have a final look in your mirror before you overtake. If in doubt, be patient and don’t overtake.

Loss of Control:

The two main reasons for loss of control collisions are shunts and road surface conditions.


  • These are usually down to riding too close to the vehicle in front, or the vehicle behind you being too close.
  • To protect yourself:
  • Leave plenty of room between you and the vehicle in front.
  • Be able to stop in the distance you can see to be clear
  • If the vehicle behind is too close give yourself more room in front.

Road Surface Conditions:

Part of the challenge of riding a motorbike is adjusting our riding to deal with different road conditions. There are all sorts of conditions we need to have the skills to deal with but some examples that can lead to loss of control of the bike are:

  • Poor weather conditions
  • Diesel spills
  • Mud
  • Manhole covers.
  • Painted road markings. Look out for these and for road signs warning you of hazards ahead. Even new road surfaces can be slippery in certain conditions.
  • There may be other clues to the presence of some hazards. For example, where there are lorries there may be diesel spills, where there are building sites, or farm and field entrances there may be mud.
  • Make sure your tyres are in good condition and at the correct pressure; your life is dependent on two small patches of rubber.
  • Allow yourself the time and space to see what is ahead of you and take avoiding action. The safest response will depend on the circumstances around the hazard such as road conditions, weather, the limitations of your bike, and your skill as a rider.

Hand Signals:

Interesting Science:

Remember, a bike basically consists of two gyroscopes (front and back wheels) connected by a frame. Because of the gyroscopic action of the wheels when in motion, the bike wants to be upright and if leant over it will spring back up on its own. Understanding this particular law of physics should give all riders more confidence when riding and leaning the bike over in bends.
Additionally, the curved profile of a bike tyre (unlike the flat profile of a car tyre) helps the bike to corner when leaned over in a bend. The profile of a bike tyre is effectively ‘conical’. If you imagine laying a traffic cone on its side and giving it a push, it will ‘roll’ in a circular fashion. A bike tyre, because of its profile, does just the same and as such helps cornering when the bike is leant over. Hence, the handlebars do not need to be turned too much when the bike is leant over when cornering.


Motorcycling is a skill for life and any skill needs to be practiced, honed and developed. If you haven’t been on the bike for a while ease yourself back in to riding gently and think about refresher training. When you’ve had a good safe ride, think back to the skills and knowledge that made it good. Where it hasn’t been so good or you’ve had a near miss, have other issues like group pressure, lack of practice, tiredness, distraction, anger, or stress got in the way?
Learn the lessons of experience to improve your skills and your enjoyment of motorcycling. An assessment ride such as BikeSafe will highlight problem areas. To be better than the rest, ensure you have the skills and ability to deal with any situation by getting further on-road training from an accredited provider.

Safe and Happy motorcycling!

Click here for PDF (downloadable) Rideout Protocols


























































































Click here for PDF (downloadable) Rideout Protocols