I am not going to go into an explanation on biker hand signals for riding in a pack in this article. Instead I have included a chart of the recognized hand signals used by bikers in a pack. When you ride in a group make sure you use these hand signals at all times.
Contrasting riding by yourself, pack riding can be especially hazardous because you have motorcycle riders in front of you and behind you, and typically, safe distances are not observed. Pack riding involves placing your trust in the other bikers in the pack. One wrong move by any biker in the pack can take out the entire group.
Many of you have probably been on poker runs or at biker events where you ride with a bunch of bikers you do not know. Although it's fun to ride with a pack of other riders, you must presume the other bikers are inexperienced riders. I have myself witnessed bikes crashing into the back of other bikes during group rides. I also have witnessed riders swerve into other bikes causing severe accidents. When I am riding with a pack of strangers I prefer to stay in the back at a safe distance.
I was once riding with a couple when it began to rain. They were on the inside lane and turned unexpectedly in front of me into a parking lot without signaling. The pavement was damp and slick. In horror I quickly twisted my throttle and jumped the curb trying to get in front of them. My passenger's boot clipped their saddlebags just as we veered around a set of gas pumps. Had I not been paying close attention, and had hit the brakes instead of the throttle, we would surely have had a disastrous crash.
There are three types of pack formations: (1) Side-by-side (you better know who you are riding with to do this); (2) Staggered; (3) Free-for-all (my experiences this summer is what caused me to write this article). I propose that all group rides be done in the staggered configuration because it is the safest formation for pack riding.
A staggered formation is where one person is on the left part of the lane, then the person behind him is riding about 1-2 seconds behind on the right part of the lane, then the person behind him is riding 1-2 seconds behind him on the left part of the lane and so on. See the diagram for example.
The staggered formation should only be performed when it is safe. If your pack gets onto an undersized country road or on twisties, the pack should switch to a single file formation. Single file is when everyone rides behind the other at a safe distance.
I believe the two safest places to ride in a pack ride is in the back or in the front. They both have disadvantages but the disadvantages are significantly outweighed by the dangers of being in the middle of the pack. If you are leading the pack you will be able to see the road hazards better than anyone else allowing you to better avoid them. However, if you have to brake hard, there is a very good chance that the riders behind you will rear end you. I have lead many pack rides. There is nothing scarier than the sound of tires screeching behind you when you slow down or stop!
Riding in the back allows you to keep a safe distance from the rest of the pack. If there is an accident you should be able to stop in time before you hit your fellow riders. The bad part about being in the back is that you cannot see the road conditions in the front of you. If the pack is doing proper hand signals, they should be pointing to rocks and other debris on the road before you get to it. Another disadvantage to being in the back is that if you are not keeping a safe distance, and a rider goes down in front of you, you may not have enough time to avoid the rider.
Riding in a pack is one of the most exhilarating things you can do as a biker. It is also one of the most deadly rides you can ever experience. Go out and enjoy yourself, but exercise caution at all times!