Every human has a sense of his or her own personal space. This specific and individual feeling will determine, for instance, how far we stand from another person in a conversation.
The feeling (and thus the space) is driven by many things: the culture we live in (Europeans seem to have smaller personal spaces than Americans, perhaps because of living in more crowded cities), our upbringing, our level of self esteem, maybe even our mood.
We’re talking psychology here
The personal space feeling carries over to how we behave when we drive a car or ride a motorcycle. As mentioned in the article Group Riding elsewhere on this site, we tend to WANT to ride together, and perhaps if we know the others, to ride closely.
That’s where safety enters the picture
Interestingly, when personal space is translated into space between riders, the amount should vary depending on the situation. The space we should keep between bikes is proportional to speed. High speed riding demands more space.
As you travel through a small town, it might make sense to stagger your formation and close up the space between bikes somewhat. This can aid the group in making its way through traffic lights and intersections without getting separated.
Beyond the burg where we can again ‘wick up’ the speed, the space between the bikes should be larger… and the staggered formation should be abandoned.
Every rider should have enough space to “ride his own ride”… picking where he backs off the throttle and begins braking (if necessary) for the curves, his preferred line into and through them, and the point in the process when he begins to accelerate through and out of the curve.
Passing a line of slower moving vehicles provides a good example of what can happen if we are not paying attention to this concept. Imagine that I am riding with a good friend on a two lane road and he’s in the lead. We come up behind two cars moving more slowly. My friend waits until he sees what looks like a long enough stretch to pass both cars in one move. Imagine further that I decide to go with him. Half way through the pass, he sees a pickup turn from a side road into our path. Yikes!
He is forced to duck into the space between the cars we are passing. I’m in deep yogurt! Is there enough space for both of us there? In a case like this I can only hope the trailing car’s driver reacts and backs off to allow more space for us both to easily slide in. How could this heart-stopper have been avoided?
I should have been riding my own ride
I should have waited until my friend had passed both cars, even if he had to pass them one at a time. THEN I could have done my own evaluation and waited until I saw enough open road that I could be comfortable passing one… or both cars… based solely on my personal judgement, bike, and riding skills.
The point is this. When riding with one or more other riders, we should all be evaluating the traffic conditions, our speed, the road surface, everything… individually. We should not let our ‘group think’ influence the way we ride. It’s that simple.