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.


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!

16 Responses to “Learning to Ride Sweep”

  1. i concur, mr. green. sweep is one of the hardest things to learn. from lane capture in passing to anticipation of nut jobs it can be unsettling. however, nothing beats sweeping a large group and seeing all the bikes in front of you. then you get a flat. ; (

  2. You had to bring that up.

  3. Damn! Glad nobody was hurt. I hate jackasses in cages that don’t respect a group of riders.

  4. no reflection on you, mr. green. just an unfortunate situation that is part of life. we all learn from our mistakes and i have a tire kit now. will get a small compressor to hook into the handy outlet you sell here on RCU.

  5. Hmmm…..somehow this story sounds oddly familiar. Jay I am really glad you’re okay. Letting go of your ego is one of the more difficult lessons to learn in the progression of a Road Captain, and it’s something we all still wrestle with on occasion. Get pissed off by a cager? Put it away…

  6. Oh! And ummmm…the handlebar mounted CB from J&M is the only way to go…http://www.jmcorp.com/

  7. Thanks for the thumbs up on the J&M Dorrman. I believe Glimmerman just got one. I am waiting to see how that works for him. Then I need to save up some money to buy one.

  8. Jay, Having riden for many more years than I care to admit, I have seen many cases where someone in a cage will just force their way into or thru a group of riders. As Road Captain in the group I ride with, I had the distinct pleasure (and anxiety) to lead several rides with more than 50 bikes just a couple of weeks ago. All you can do as the Road Captain is do the best you can do with the best help that you can get from your Sweeps. I totally agree with you on the use of CB’s, luckily I had 2 Sweeps with me on the 50+ bike rides (that both had CB’s), that I could totally depend on to help me watch for anything that could become a problem. I could also depend on them to safely act as Road Guards to help us get across lanes when turning or to “capture the lane” when we needed to switch lanes. The use of the CB was absolutely instrumental in helping us all get where we were going in a safe and timely manner, something I do not believe would have happened without the CB’s.

    One of the rides was about 2 hours long, leading to the “Tail of the Dragon” also known as Deals Gap, that is on the North Carolina/ Tenn. line. We stopped at the restaurant/motel, had lunch and then let everyone “go earn their T-shirt “at their own pace. We then gathered everyone up again and rode the 2 hours back. All of this without any incidendences or break downs. I contribute this to my 2 Road Guards, Jerry and John. They protected us at their own peril, and made the ride the safe success that it was.

    Another observation about the CB’s, if more than 2 of the riders have them, it can be arranged between the Road Captain, the Sweeps and some in the middle of the pack to make a more safe and controlled lane change, and to also let the Road Captain know of anything going astray in the middle. Also, with having a Sweep with a CB, they can let the Road Captain know if there is a brakedown or accident anywhere in the group, so the Road Captain can get everyone pulled over in a safe manner to handle the situation.

    I have had a CB on my own bikes for the past 15 years, and I wonder how I managed without it for the previous 27 years before that.

    I found a great deal and terrific customer service from cycleaccessorystore.com on the CB that I presently use on my bike. They have a kit that includes everything you need to put a CB on your bike, the CB unit itself, the mounting bracket, antenna, headsets and lower cords, all in a package price.

    Thanks for giving us a place to state our views.

  9. Thanks Mark, I appreciate you taking the time to inform us of how helpful the CB Radio is. I suspect that in the future it will be unheard of to ride without a communication system. I have found the customer service at http://www.CycleAcessoryStore.com to be absolutely awesome.

  10. Jay, don’t beat yourself up. As long as we learn from our mistakes and apply what we have learned from an event make us all better riders. I have lead and swept. many rides. I have had similar situations where a cage driver has challenged and was determined to get between the group . The best evasive action is to back off and let him in; the cage always wins. If the lead captain is glancing at his mirrors as he should he will see the situtation and pull off at the safest spot and let the cage pass by. The situation is nutralized. Reroup, and continue on, no harm, no fou, no body hurt. We all must keep our emotions in check when we throw our leg over the sddle. The same as when a pilot leaves his/her emotions on the ground when they strap on a 50M aircraft Thanks for sharing this.

  11. No problem Rich, I have since moved on to beating myself up over another mistake. This one not on the road though. Thanks for the comment, I look forward to having you comment on future posts here at Road Captain USA.

  12. Mr. RC…I understand beating yourself up more than anyone, but you have to let it go. This don’t mean shit honestly. You did what you did…at least you didn’t punch off a side mirror. Now that would have been straight up dumbass.

    I have to constantly remind myself that my puny 800 pound bike is no match for the forces of the cage-side. It’s sorta like challenging Mike Tyson to a ear biting contest. You are just not gonna win.

    I never understood trying to keep a large group of bikes together at all costs. The pack can usually get back together fairly easily after a jerk off cager does something stupid. However, I admire your passion here Jay. Passion for your group of riders and your chapter responsibilities. Sorta what being a biker, or anything else for that matter, is really about…commitment and passion. Hey! I think we finally solved that age old question of “who is the real biker” here!

    Cut yourself some slack here. Yup Jay, you are just like the rest of us. A dude who is gonna make some mistakes. I wouldn’t like you much if you didn’t make any mistakes…because if you didn’t then you would just be another liar.

    Keep on and balls out.

  13. I definitely make my share of mistakes. I agree with you about the lack of logic in keeping a group together at all times at all costs makes little sense. It really shouldn’t be a big deal to let cars in in out of the pack, but the pack mentality is what it is… especially in a group made up of different level riders. Add to that a situation where only the lead guy knows where you are going and you have potential for problems. But that is the challenge we enjoy.

  14. the route plan was discussed at each stop The right lane is where I went to let others go by. You should have followed instead of staying in the left lane.. but you already know that..

  15. Thank you for sharing you’re road experiences with everyone. I am learning so much, sweetheart.


  16. I know I’m late to this party, but had to get my two cents in on this important topic.

    We all learn by doing. I made a mistake myself leading a ride that very nearly dropped a newer rider. It was something that was not careless in anyway, more like something one could not possibly anticipate. The bottom line is sh!t happens. If you can get out of it with nobody going down then it’s all good as long as you learn and share, which you obviously have.

    I agree a good sweep is key. I can’t say much about the CB’s though because we never use them, but yet we always make 30+ bikes act as one without so much as a hitch. I guess it’s a combo of hand signals, instincts, and good riders who know a cage can get mixed in once in a while. They never stay long and the group is back tight again in no time, so it’s not like it’s a big deal. IMHO obsessing about always being perfect in an imperfect world is ultimately self-defeating. I’d rather think of it as using skill and common sense to adapt to changing conditions as best you can so everyone arrives alive.
    Works for Blackstone anyway.

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