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Group Riding – The Chain System

Group riding is a ton of fun, however if you don't have a good group riding system in place, it can lead to confusion on the trails that separates riders. This can waste valuable riding time and fuel when regrouping. A good group riding system ensures you have a smooth running ride and allows you to make the most of your day out on the bike. 

Previously, the old Cornerman system served its purpose helping riding groups stay together and stay on the correct route. However, the introduction and widespread use of GPS units now means the Cornerman system can be considered slow, cumbersome and pretty much redundant these days.

The group riding system that is far more reliable and allows riders to have a smooth, uninterrupted riding flow, is the Chain System. The Chain System requires all riders in the group to have a GPS unit (or know the exact route being travelled) with the benefit being that a rider isn’t forced to stop at every intersection and direct riders like the Cornerman System.

While I have used variations of the Chain System over the years, I personally didn't use the Chain System to its full potential until five of us shipped our bikes to Australia for a one-month ride. On the first day we had a regrouping issue that caused one of the riders to backtrack over 40 kilometres. We decided then and there, that we needed to put in place the Chain System. From that point forward, we travelled over 8,000 km around the Outback of Australia and never had one issue - the trip ran like clockwork and we had a blast.  

Understanding the Chain System

The Chain System means your group will ride like a linked chain. This helps keep the riding group together and makes it a breeze to deal with any issues along the trail. When you start riding, you acknowledge your position (number) within the chain and remember it.

 

Check the rider directly behind you - no one else

Note: before setting off, your group will discuss and establish the maximum distance between the last rider sighting - in this example it is 3 kilometres.

Rider 1 will periodically head check behind for Rider 2 
Rider 2 will periodically head check behind for Rider 3
Rider 3 will periodically head check behind for Rider 4
Rider 4 is last in the chain and is not required to do anything

Riders in the chain only need to check the rider directly behind them. As long as each rider maintains contact with the rider directly behind them in the chain, the Chain System will work successfully and the ride will go smoothly.

If you don’t see the rider behind you - STOP!

In this example, Rider 1 has not seen Rider 2 for 3 km. Rider 1 should stop immediately. This is to prevent a large gap opening up in case one of the riders behind Rider 1 has had a mechanical/medical issue.

Regaining visual contact and carrying on

In many cases, it is common for riders within the chain to be delayed due to taking photos, stripping layers, bike adjustments etc.

In this example, Rider 2 stopped to take a photo and was delayed for 5 minutes. Rider 2 carried on the route and was soon spotted by Rider 1. Rider 1 then carries on knowing all is well. 

Don’t break the chain!

Breaking the chain and flying out ahead will create a big gap between you and your riding buddies. In this example, if Rider 2 had a mechanical issue, Rider 1 would have to double-back 50 km wasting time and fuel. If Rider 1 had an accident, it could be a long time before Rider 2 arrives to assist. Breaking the chain will inevitably cause issues. 

 

The Chain System in action - Stage 1

In this example, all is going well with the ride. However, Rider 3 gets a rear flat tyre.

 

The Chain System in action - Stage 2

A few minutes later:

- Rider 4 catches up to Rider 3 and lends a hand – good
- Rider 2 loses sight of Rider 3 after 3 km and stops – good
- Rider 1 loses sight of Rider 2 after 3 km and stops – good 

The situation at hand is this: Rider 3 has a mechanical issue and the Chain System means Rider 1 is a maximum distance of 6 km away - this is a very short and manageable distance to work with - good.

Note: in this case, Rider 4 would never push forward to contact Rider 2 or Rider 1. If you are with a rider that is in need of help, you always stay with them and wait for the other riders in the chain to follow the Chain System protocol and double back.

 

The Chain System in action - Stage 3

Note: before setting off, your group will discuss and establish the maximum wait time since you last saw the rider behind you before doubling back to see if a rider needs assistance - in this example it is 10 minutes.

Rider 1 has waited 10 minutes and now doubles back to see if Rider 2 needs help - good.

Note: in this case, Rider 2 would never push forward to contact Rider 1. At times when you need to assist other riders, you always double back – never push forward and increase your distance between a potentially injured rider. Your only focus in the Chain System is to ensure the rider directly behind you is OK. 

 

The Chain System in action - Stage 4

Rider 1 discovers Rider 2 is fine and has been waiting 10 minutes to see Rider 3. Rider 1 and Rider 2 now double back to see if Rider 3 needs help - good.

 

The Chain System in action - Stage 5

Rider 1 and Rider 2 connect with Rider 3 and Rider 4 - good. After the tyre is repaired, all four riders carry on with the ride with minimal downtime, minimal fuel wastage and zero confusion. The Chain System provides a fast, efficient, logical and safe method of dealing with all situations.

 

Changing your position in the chain

For various reasons, changing position within the chain is common and shows the flexibility of the Chain System. However, if you do change positions in the chain, the rider in front of the position change will need to become aware it. The following example explains this…

 

Position change - Stage 1

If Green Rider 3 wants to overtake Orange Rider 2, he/she can do so.

 

Position change - Stage 2

The result is: the green rider assumes position Rider 2 and the orange rider assumes position Rider 3. What does this mean? 

- Rider 2 and Rider 3 are aware of the position switch - there is nil impact 

- Rider 4 is at the end of the chain and has no chain responsibilities - there is nil impact 

- Rider 1 is expecting to see the orange rider in position Rider 2 when doing the regular over the shoulder checks. Now however, Rider 1 would notice the green rider has assumed position Rider 2 and would either:

a) look behind Rider 2 to confirm that he can see orange rider in position Rider 3 and know that the position change took place and all is well to carry on.

b) slow down so green Rider 2 can communicate/gesture to Rider 1 that the position change took place and all is well to carry on.

In either of these cases, the ride would continue with all riders acknowledging the newly assumed chain positions.

 

The Chain System - Summary

The key to the Chain System revolves around each rider checking the rider behind them AND doubling back in the case of dealing with a rider that is unaccounted for – never pushing forward

In tight technical terrain, your group may decide that the maximum distance before stopping is only 1 or 2 kilometres. In wide open terrain and especially dusty terrain, your group may decide that the maximum distance before stopping is 5 kilometres or more. This is best decided by the group on a route by route basis.

Regarding the maximum wait time before doubling back to help riders in the chain, this can vary considerably. The riding terrain, weather conditions, varying riding skills within the group etc will all have an impact on selecting the best time. Generally, 15 minutes is the average waiting time for a typical group of riders with similar riding skills. Again, this is best decided by the group on a route by route basis.

 

The Chain System – Gate Overview

Leaving gates as you find them is important to ensure landowners aren’t inconvenienced or annoyed and that future land access is not jeopardised. In this example, if Rider 1 opened the gate and carried on riding, Rider 2, Rider 3 and Rider 4 would have no idea if the gate was meant to be left open or closed. This is no good! 

 

Taking on gate duties - Stage 1

Rider 1 takes on gate duties, opens the gate, pushes their bike through, and then waits to let all riders in the group ride through the open gate. 

 

Taking on gate duties - Stage 2

Once all the riders have passed through the gate, Rider 1 closes the gate, assumes position 4 in the chain and carries on.

At the next gate, the new rider in position 1 (the orange rider) will take on the gate duties. This will cycle through the group so gates duties are shared evenly.

The Chain System - In Closing

The Chain System is simple in concept, improves the flow of a ride, and helps to ensure your riding buddies are safe and accounted for at all times. Used correctly, it is a brilliant system. For full day rides, multiple day rides or routes where riders don't know the route intimately, each rider needs a GPS mounted to the handlebars for the Chain System to work smoothly. While there are many different GPS options, the one below is what I have used for a number of years - Garmin 64st. It is great on the bike as well as tramping, hunting, etc. 

Photo 16 of Group Riding – The Chain System
View this Garmin GPS

To mount the GPS to the bars, I use a RAM mount specifically designed for the Garmin 64st.

View this RAM mount
RMOTO
Author of this article: RMOTO
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