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The Drop-Off System for group riding is popular with large groups going on long rides. The system works for riders familiar with the route and those that aren’t. It’s particularly useful for motorcycle tours abroad. Understanding the system is important, as every rider needs to do their part to avoid anyone getting lost. One rider, the leader, stays at the front. They’re responsible for navigating the route. Another rider, Tail-End Charlie, stays at the back in the last position. These are the only two riders who maintain their position in the group.
At every junction, the rider immediately behind the leader stops as close to where the leader indicates (ensuring it is safe to do so) and marks the junction and indicates the route which the other members of the group should follow. All other riders pass the marker except Tail-End Charlie. The marker then rejoins the group in front of Tail-End Charlie.
This approach involves the entire group. The position of ‘marker’ gets rotated from front to back and each rider naturally moves up to the front again. The method works provided everyone makes clear, safe markings and doesn’t forget they are in the No.2 position when it’s their turn to mark.
Nobody, other than Tail-End Charlie, is allowed to ride last for any reason whatever. If you want to leave the group you should pull in to the left in a safe, visible position and wave other riders past. When Tail-End Charlie arrives he’ll stop and you can let him/her know you’re leaving the group and why.
Practical tips for making the drop-off system for group rides work
Always arrive for a group ride out with a full tank of petrol and an empty bladder.
Petrol stops will be determined on the lowest tank range of participants. You are advised to fill up at these stops.
The leader and tail-end Charlie will wear some kind of distinctive vest.
When going straight through crossroads without right of way, you may mark it if you wish. The default action in such a case is to continue straight through. Therefore, if there is no marker when you arrive you should proceed straight on. If you do decide to mark such a junction you should do so by parking in a safe visible position on the far side of the crossroads.
If necessary point in the direction that riders arriving at the junction should proceed in.
Give clear directions with arm signals NOT indicators.
When you are the marker, wait for Tail-End Charlie to arrive—even if this takes a long time. There may be a breakdown further back of which you are unaware. If necessary switch off your engine. If you leave your position everyone behind will suffer and the run will fall apart.
There is no need to keep the rider behind in your mirrors when you’re using the drop-off system for group riding.
There is no need to play catch-up. With the drop-off system, there will be a marker waiting for you at the next junction.
Members of the group may overtake or be overtaken during the ride (except the leader and the sweeper), depending on the pace that each rider has chosen at a particular time, so be aware and execute any overtakes in a safe and sensible manner.
Safety advice for the drop-off system
Everyone should keep a safe distance behind the rider in front when following; “tail-gating” is frowned on.
When you are marking a junction make sure you park in a position without obstructing other road users.
A roundabout should be marked by parking in a safe visible position on the exit.
If you are in the number 2 slot, don’t get too close to the leader, they may only slow for a junction whereas you will have to stop.
Only overtake where it is legal and safe to do so
Use good indicators and mirrors and allow plenty of room
Be considerate to other members of the group and all other road users
To avoid unscheduled stops and to be safe please make sure all luggage carried on your machine is secured safely before starting. This clip has some great advice for securing motorcycle luggage.
If you are unsure as to whether you should mark a junction, mark it anyway. It is better to mark a junction that doesn’t need marking than not to mark one that does.
If someone has gone the wrong way, stop the sweeper and let them know.
Ride your own ride, don’t allow yourself to be pulled or pushed along.