Learning to Ride Sweep

HOG RC Patch

There is no manual for Road Captains that I know of that tells you how to handle specific situations that come up during group riding. Unfortunately you sometimes have to just throw yourself into something and learn from your mistakes. Being a Road Captain is going to be one of those fascinating endeavers in life that you never master, one that you are always learning something new. I think that a good Road Captain is a good student… someone who can be trained and someone who learns from their mistakes.

I made an error in judgement while riding sweep on Wednesday that I wanted to document here for the benefit of those who share my interest in the art of Road Captainhood. Before I continue, I have to say a few things. First, I think that riding in group formation without CB radio communication is as sane as sending out a fighter squadron of Marine aviators without radio communication. Second, the sweep or tailgunner position is the most difficult position to execute properly. The sweep must anticipate what is going to happen before everyone else. He will sometimes have to put himself in harms way to protect the group. This is the position for your best RC.

Blue Angels

Having lead many rides as a lead Road Captain I can tell you that we rely on a good sweep Road Captain to block out cars when two lanes are going to merge into one. The bigger the group, the more critical this becomes. For example if a group of twenty motorcycles was speeding up a hill in the left lane and there is a slow lane for tractor trailers, the sweep will block off the slow lane so that some nut job in a sports car doesn’t try to pass the group and then run out of space before he passes the whole group. If a cager were to find himself side by side with a group of bikes with no place to go it would cause panic for both cager and cyclists; a potentially dangerous situation that we would like to avoid. Should this happen you can only hope that the group will adjust their speed and create an opening for the unexpected visitor. In most cases the lead RC can slow the group down and the “Slingshot” driver can get by as we wave him on to hurry up and pass us before we run out of lane. In other cases the lead RC can call single file and move over to create more space for the cage to manuever. All of these actions are more easily handled by a lead and sweep team that are in communication with each other via CB radio. Having riders in the group on CB only helps.

On Wednesday I found myself riding sweep for a talented group of eight motorcyclists. Only one of the motorcycles was CB equiped, so we were not in communication with each other. We had an awesome day of riding with one exception. On the way home from Pottsville, PA we had an agressive driver in a gold mini van come up on my tail. I created extra space between him and the group by slowing down a bit. We were traveling along a twisty piece of one lane road and the agressive driver was chomping at the bit to pass us. We came to a mountainous uphill that had a slow lane for slower moving vehicles and our lead RC read the situation correctly and took us up the slow lane on the right giving the mini van his much awaited chance to pass us. Unfortunately I read the situation wrong!

I wanted to do a good job and keep the cager from slingshotting up the passing lane with the potential to get caught in the middle of the pack; so I moved to the left lane to block the pass. I thought he would recognize that I was “closing the door” and hang behind us. WRONG! He was determined to pass us. He floored the death mobile to “ramming speed” and ran up on the last motorcycle in the group. I answered the challenge by dropping a gear and hitting the throttle hard as if to say “Oh no you don’t!”. We were side by side and as he came as close as he could to the last rider in the group he steered hard left as if to say “Oh yes I am, and here I come!”. I locked up the rear wheel, steered left and started to fishtail as the van successfully got past my stupid attempt to keep him from passing (which is probably illegal to begin with). I regained control of my motorcycle and my emotions as the van passed the group only after running out of lane and flipping off the lead RC.

I discussed the occurance with our Head Road Captain and Safety Officer and they both told me I made a mistake. I beat myself up about it and decided to learn from my mistake and stay on my journey to someday being a wise old master Road Captain someday in the far future.

Yoda

I share this story with you so that those who are Road Captains can also learn from my mistake. For those of you who are not Road Captains I hope this story enlightens you as to the amount of strategy and teamwork that is involved in getting a group of motorcyclists from point A to point B. Being an RC is more than being a glorified Tour Guide, and being a good sweeper is akin to being an Ace Pilot.

I wish that we could all compile all our lessons learned on the road and benefit from these experiences… and even then there would still be new situations to surprise us.

Most importantly I leave you with this warning: Watch out for nut jobs in death mobiles at ramming speed!