Motorcycle Etiquette: Rules of the Road

For motorcyclists, good manners are not only appreciated, they’re crucial to maintaining order on the road. It’s all about creating a better, safer experience for all. Here are some basics to keep in mind.

Basic rules to follow

Lend a hand when needed. Motorcyclists are part of one big club, and helping a fellow rider in need is part of being in the club. That includes stopping to help or lending a hand when you can.

Approach with respect. When approaching another rider from behind, don’t honk or overtake them too quickly. Make sure they see you so you don’t startle them. Once they see you, proceed to pass them safely.

Pass with care. Wait for a passing lane to overtake a slower rider, unless they signal you to pass and there’s enough space in the same lane. Wait for their go-ahead, then use your hand signal to complete the pass.

Motorcycle family. While riding, it’s customary to give your two-wheeled brethren a simple wave or a nod. As always, watch where you’re going, but don’t overreact if someone doesn’t respond. Eyes on the road are priority.

We’re all in this together. The road is not the place to ride competitively. No matter how big, fast or special you think your bike is, everyone has earned their place on the road.

One bike per parking space, please. Parking spaces are big enough for two bikes, but never assume you can share one. If you’re riding in a group, and permission is implied or stated, it’s accepted, but otherwise, a parked bike means the spot is taken.

Etiquette and Communication for the Group Ride

When you’re riding with a group, the group moves as one, which means you must know how to communicate with your fellow motorcyclists. Understanding standard hand signals and following basic etiquette is key to having a good, stress-free trip.

Show up prepared. A pre-ride meeting is a good idea to avoid doubling up on tools, first-aid items and the like. When it’s ride time, arrive early with a full tank, a charged cell phone and other essentials. Most importantly, bring along a helpful, patient, courteous attitude.

Position yourself in the group. If this is your first time riding with a group, there are a few unwritten rules to follow. The lead rider in the front tells the group what’s coming. A sweep rider in back sets the pace. The least experienced rider should be behind the leader. Depending on your level of comfort and the power of your bike, figure out where you’ll be in the order.

Group formation. Leave plenty of room between you and the other bikes. On narrow, twisting roads it’s best to ride single file. When the road opens up, keep a staggered formation to give you the best view of the group. The leader rides on the left side of the lane, the second rider stays one second back and on the right side. The third rider stays one second behind the second rider and on the left side, and so on. You don't want to ride side-by-side since this will limit your maneuvering space.

Pass cautiously, then regroup. While your group rides as one, passing is a different story. Each rider should pass a vehicle individually and with caution then regroup in the same formation. The leader is in charge of starting the passing process.

Take care of new riders. Riders who are familiar with long road trips can lay down serious miles each day. But, when deciding to stop, look to the new riders who may be ready for a break. Their riding confidence is important to the group, so be courteous of their skill level and offer advice and encouragement along the way.

Hand signals in the group. Whether you’re leading the pack or part of the group, it’s important to know all the hand signals so you can react quickly during the ride.

  • Back off — Palm of the left hand shown to the group means the lead biker is signaling you to back off
  • Time to go — Thumbs up high enough to be visible to everyone to show it’s time to go
  • Single file — One finger pointing towards the sky on top of the helmet refers to single-file formation
  • Slow down — Waving your left arm up and down in a straight position is the universal signal to slow down
  • Speed up — Raising your left arm up and down with your index finger extended upward means the leader wants you to speed up
  • Emergency vehicles — Little hand taps on the helmet means there are police or emergency vehicles nearby
  • Staggered formation — First finger and the little finger pointing to the sky on top of the helmet means staggered formation
  • Stop — Extend your left arm at a 45-degree angle with the palm facing the group – this signals the group to stop

These are just some of the unwritten rules of the motorcycle road. Knowing basic etiquette makes you a better rider and a respected member of the motorcycle community, and on group rides, you’ll have the skills to enjoy the camaraderie, gain valuable riding experience and build memories.


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