Ride day: 5 - DGB

This morning we departed Coos Bay for Ashland; roughly 180 miles of curving highway that will lead us to I-5 and through Grants Pass into the Rogue River Valley. We rode hard for two hours to make a lunch stop in Wolf Creek, at a recently restored Wolf Creek Inn.

It was a beautiful day to ride, with awesome scenery and a wonderfully twisty highway. Temperatures were cool on the coastal side of the pass, and progressively hotter into the nineties as we descended into the valley.

As I ride, I try to think about and catalogue what I'll focus on in this blog. Today my thoughts were focused on the social aspects and zen of riding in a large formation at highway speeds. I wanted to share with you all what I've learned about how the formation works, how we communicate, etc. This became all the more important to me as I observed some problems that we encountered with other motor vehicle operators sharing the highway with us today.

So, Formation Riding 101:

We generally have a lead bike and a tail bike or "sweep." These two riders are in communication with each other via CB radio. The lead rider knows the intended route, sets and maintains the pace, and orchestrates lane changes. The sweep rider tails behind and shepherds the slower riders, takes the desired lane when a lane change is necessary and reports any concerns to the lead rider.
The other riders form the main "body" of the group. We generally have three options for formation: single file, pairs abreast, or staggered. Single file is used when the formation is required to maneuver or negotiate high speed turns, or when passing road obstacles or other lane restrictions, such as bicycles or pedestrians.

Pairs abreast is used for slower speed operations, such as driving on surface streets, parades, etc., where stopping distances are short. Staggered formation is used for high speed cruising. It allows pairs of bikes to share the same lane, but allows for greater stopping distance for each individual bike.

The riders without radios use hand signals to communicate. Standard motor vehicle hand signals for right and left turns and stop are the basis to which we add: hand raised, one finger - single file; 2 fingers - back to staggered; clasping hand - tighten up; palm patting down - loosen up; pointing at things in the road - watch out for that thing in the road; pointing to lane position - I'm moving to that position. Pretty simple, really. 

When this all works well, with experienced riders who are focused and precise, it is a magnificent chorography on the highway. Today's ride was just that. It doesn't take much to reduce it to chaos, however.

On curvy mountain roads things get complicated. Motorcycle riders generally enjoy the swaying, rolling rhythm of the turns, and as it turns out acceleration through a turn is not just exciting, it's a necessary component of how a motorcycle stays upright. Without the added thrust of acceleration the bike becomes unstable. 

Along with acceleration, "counter-steering" is required in order to execute the turn. In other words in a turn to the right, the rider must push the right handlebar grip away from them. So, entering a turn too slow makes things difficult.

All is well until the formation encounters traffic, especially slow or inconsistent speeds of traffic.  When traffic speed is inconsistent, the formation behaves like a giant slinky, stretching and shrinking with the speed changes.

When we ride we expect slower traffic, especially on mountain roads and even on Interstates. We try to maintain a tight formation yet remain nimble enough to allow other vehicles to cross through our formation for exits or the necessary passing of other vehicles. Our formation is like a living creature, which when severed attempts to reconnect its parts and continue on. The group naturally tries to stay together, and trouble comes when other drivers deliberately try to keep us separated.

What is particularly difficult is encountering a slow vehicle that refuses to allow us to pass. Signs are posted on many highways prone to this problem, stating "illegal to keep 5 or more vehicles behind. Use pull outs" and "pull out, one half mile ahead". While the formation looks like one long vehicle moving in unison, we're actually comprised of individual vehicles, in our case 18 of them, stretching out nearly an eighth of a mile.

We have procedures we use to smoothly negotiate all types of traffic, but they're only effective when other drivers cooperate and obey traffic laws themselves. It doesn't take much in the way of silly driving to cause very dangerous situations, and unfortunately we saw some of that today. The moral of the story I guess, is to suggest that you appreciate the problem of formation driving. Please give motorcycle formations the respect they deserve.

We arrived in Ashland, dropped our gear at the hotel and rode into town in our finest formation and regalia, arriving at Blue restaurant in the best of appearances. Our host, Gloria, was very gracious. We were invited to take backstage tours of the Festival stages, which are of course impressive.

Paul James Martin and Steve Parks, friends who work at the Festival, came to dinner with us at Blue. It was good to catch up. Ashland is a magical place. So much of my life and my career started here, including meeting my wife and best friend Colleen.  Memories. Sweet memories.

Next we head to Klamath Falls, and visit Crater Lake. Awesome. 

Remember, ride safe, and keep the rubber side down!