The Codes We Ride By


Which way do we go?

I ride with lots of different people, but I have a core group of 5 - 10 people who are my regular riding buds. These are the people who I reach out to when I want to use my limited time for maximum fun. We have a wide variance in skill level and bike type. But, there is one characteristic of my core group that is fairly rigid and consistent: we subscribe to a clear, similar, yet undiscussed set of rules. In other words, riding etiquette.

“Etiquette” is not a word commonly used by moto-people. However, everyone in my core group has a set of personal rules and guidelines that they follow. They vary a little from person to person, and though we have never written them down or discussed them, we all know they are there.

Please consider the following example: you have a friend who is a new rider. He’s a good friend and has good skills, so you decide to invite him out and show him some of your best stuff…..little known, super fun routes that have not yet become hammered by lots of use. You set a 10:00 AM “kickstands up” time, and invite one more guy along so you have a perfect three. About 8 AM, he calls and lets you know he has invited another person along, whom you do not know. Furthermore, he casually says that person can’t go at 10, so we need to go at 11. You grit your teeth, call your third partner, tell him the new time. Then, when you both show up at the meeting place, new rider-guy is there, but in street clothes, and he mentions by the way that the fourth person is gonna be late….even more. Would this frustrate you? If so, you likely have a template of riding behavior that it does not fit within.

A loose version of this happened to me a while back. Of course this quadfecta of faux pas did not please me, and I began planning the chat I needed to have to make sure it did not happen again. I figured this would be best with some tact, so I started running through all the points I planned to explain to him. Immediately, I realized I would be complaining about points not commonly discussed or defined, and an argument without constructive points is pointless.

This made me think about all the unspoken, yet understood rules my core group have. There are quite a few, actually. Some are more important, some are more sacrificial, but one stood up as most important of all. It goes like this: You invite me on a ride, it is your ride. You “own” it. All details, such as when, where, who, are all up to you, not me.

A friend offered the perfect analogy for this: being invited out on a ride, especially an adventure ride, is like being invited over for dinner. It is the host's event, and when, where, who, and what, is all up to them. You sure as hell don’t try to change what they are cooking, or the time, or the location, and you don’t invite extra people along, unless you ask if it is okay. 

That does not mean there is no flexibility or discussion. In fact, most of the time on my rides, there is a lot of discussion going on, and consensus being sought. However, in my philosophy this is more benevolent dictatorship than democracy, with an implied deference to whomever set the gig up.

I have an inverse example of that. Once while stopped mid ride, I was hemming and hawing about where to go next. One of my buddies, Hopper, in his occasional state of impatient pissyfit, started barking about “you called the ride, where the f*** do you want to go?” The funny thing is, I was not the least bit offended, because he was verbalizing a philosophy I agreed with.

There are several other Codes We Ride By (I need to trademark that….). For example, Wachs, who knows more secret trails than your quadriceps can handle, is extremely cautious about who he invites out. If you’re lucky enough to get an invite from him, you’d better not talk about, post about, or show others one of his routes. This is called the “Fight Club” rule, from the David Fincher movie. It perfectly captures the need for discretion, by saying "the first rule of Fight do NOT talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB". I agree with this, it is a religion with some of us here in Central Oregon.

A huge rule for me is preparedness. I can tolerate riders that are still learning, but if you belligerently ignore carrying water, tools, having your bike in good mechanical condition, etc. and you know better, you’re a fool AND risk to others. Riding with you eventually makes me a fool. While researching this, BOMBER Munn relayed a hilarious story about a chronically unprepared participant on one of his long distance Baja tours. This gentleman showed up for a long distance tour on 2 stroke with no headlight, no spare tubes, a small tank, and apparently not enough meds to last the entire trip. The other participants did their best to roll with his lack of fuel - check out the photo of them pranking his bike - but eventually he exhausted everyone's patience, and was kicked off the trip.

There is a terrain, or ride type, aspect to this topic. Many things that are cool on the street are not OK on an off road ride, and vice-versa. Law enforcement, traffic lights, cars, ask different things of a group than dust, navigation, preparedness, etc. For example, wheelies are awesome almost everywhere in the dirt, but need a more discreet approach on the street.

Some behavioral norms are hard to put into a box. For example, I don’t Bake’n’Ride, nor do my riding buddies. However, now that Oregon, and 9 other states, have legalized recreational marijuana, I am certain at some point someone I am out with will light up mid ride. I am not going to partake, but I am not sure how to respond, or if I should respond at all. Frankly I do not feel as strongly about it as I do about loud exhausts, showing up late, or riding like a jackass.

My personal Code of the Ride is as follows:

  • Person that calls the ride, owns the ride.
  • Fight Club Rule (Do NOT talk about Fight Club). 
  • Show up on time, ready to go. “Kickstands up” time is a real thing. 
  • Show up prepared. Bike, gear, you.
  • If you are not the organizer, don’t invite others without asking.
  • Excess dust, noise, and attention are needless dickery.
  • If the terrain is over your head, say so. Most of the time others will help you.
  • Make sure the guy behind you does not get lost.
  • I try to avoid unpleasant talks with Law Enforcement. I require your support on this.
  • Don’t be a jackass (catch-all for everything in motorcycles and in life)

    I almost felt guilty for having so many, until I recalled how and why each one ended up on the list. Most of them came from experiences, and are related to having more fun, less hassle, and less risk. They are the textbook definition of learning by experience, and I would not change any. Some are rules, some are etiquette, all are real.

    What are yours?

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    Comments 15
    • Steve Neal
      Steve Neal

      Excellent post. I would add:

      -If you need glasses to see where you are going get the proper setup to use them while riding.

      Can’t tell you how many times we have lost people because they blow through intersections, fail to see us even though they appear to make eye contact at direction changes, etc.

    • Robert Ince
      Robert Ince

      Lots of tried and true principles already mentioned, great stuff! Thought i’d add “rear tire roost zone awareness” to the list. Specifically, what quantity and distance of roost your machine will be throwing out relative to how much you twist the wrist, with an awareness of who may be vulnerable behind you. I’d like to think that my buddy goes easy on the throttle when we get bunched up and someone in the group ends up in close proximity to the jet-blast a fresh knobby can spit out. Occasional over sight is understandable. Most veteran riders will appreciate the consideration shown by their riding buds when following this principle. I sure do.

    • Mark J
      Mark J

      Great piece. All good reminders.
      We usually keep a knowledgeable and experienced rider bringing up the rear. Just to keep everyone together.

    • Rich H
      Rich H

      I love this post. Having been the guy who got left behind when I got a flat and I was riding sweep, I’m counting on the guy in front of me. Having been the guy who had tools when another guy didn’t, and having been the guy with a big gas tank having to fill up a guy with a little tank and no extra, I really get annoyed with people who don’t plan and aren’t prepared. I’m glad you wrote the rules because for a lot of people, unwritten isn’t good enough.

    • Larry Fitch
      Larry Fitch

      Great read, I would like to add to the list. I know you did mention marijuana is legal in a lot of states now, if it shows up on rides that I’m on, that ride is over for me and I will be leaving the riding group. There’s no place for any mind altering substance in my book when it comes to operating any type of machinery, be it alcohol or drugs, if the person or persons can’t leave it at home where they are free to do what ever they want, I don’t need to ride with them, just my personal opinion be what it is.

    • Daniel Skapinsky
      Daniel Skapinsky

      Excellent piece! I am pinning this to my rider group page. As commented above, I am adding “Always ride your ride and within your ability.”

    • Tom Clark
      Tom Clark

      I agree with all of these, especially the last one. I like the people I ride with and it can be hard to ride with strangers sometimes because you don’t know if they’re a walking example of why rule number 10 exists. That being said, it’s pretty cool to meet people that are a total riot to ride with. New best friends can happen just from a ride. Just as easily as "I never want to see that dude again!’

    • Gary Forster
      Gary Forster

      Good job, sometimes you need to go back over the list even with guys and gals you ride with on a regular basis . Thanks have a good day!

    • Tyler S.
      Tyler S.

      Amen brother!
      I’ve been on a multi-day Wachs ride, the dude is a trail encyclopedia!

      How about:
      If the dude you brought along can’t hang, you hang back with him. Your good buddies will drop back and help you out for a section or two but, don’t assume you’re off the hook for the rest of the ride.

    • Chris

      Spot On!!! I am going to send this out to several of my regular riding partners and see what they say!
      Another Trail Etiquette one is to let anyone coming the opposite direction know how many people are behind you in your group. Fingers held up or yelling works wonders and keeps the oh crap moments to a minimum.

    • Cinelli

      Nice post Brian. Completely agree with you. Although the last ride I went on with you I believe I actually had to put on your kickstand (and I’d do it again cause you’re a good guy)!

    • Jeff Randolph
      Jeff Randolph

      I enjoyed reading this. We put on a twice annual ride in Nevada, and we are always happy to have new folks come along. Our rule is “Always pre-qualify any riding partner you bring”. Been doing our Nevada event since 2000, and over the years (at the post ride bench race session at the bar), we have developed what we refer to as “Fundamental Dirt Bike Rules”. Learning by experience. So true. While there is some levity, and certainly cross over with much of your comments, the most important rule we learned happened in November 2014, when we lost a dear friend for failure to follow what seems like such a simple rule. It is our mission to share it with all of our brothers. A minor, somewhat innocuous crash, and then the failure of the group, and the rider who was injured, to seek immediate care for what didn’t seem like a big deal, but ultimately cost someone their life.


      Here are the other rules we affectionately have developed. I imagine most riders will reflect on this list and appreciate that nearly all of these ‘Rules, Codes’ have a compelling story or reason why they were developed, and even with the rules, we occasionally transgress and find ourselves in violation of one or several over time. It took a lot of Crown and Beer to dial this list in, but we are always open to suggestions on how to improve it. Thanks for prompting a response!

      2. ALWAYS ride within your limits. Know your limitations and ability. Ride hard, ride smart, have fun. NEVER forget the extreme risks and consequences inherent in riding a dirt bike.
      3. ALWAYS remember, all roads and most trails exist to carry vehicular traffic, even in the most remote areas. Expect and anticipate oncoming traffic wherever you are riding.
      4. ALWAYS remember, you are wholly responsible for the rider behind you. ALWAYS wait at ANY trail intersection until the next rider has clearly seen you.
      5. IF you screw up Rule 5 and someone gets lost, ALWAYS go back to the last place the group was fully together should you become separated.
      6. ALWAYS signal oncoming traffic with countdown hand signals
      7. ALWAYS pre-qualify any riding partner you bring. You bring ‘em, you own ’em. Do your due diligence. (AKA the No Spodes Rule)
      8. NEVER go down something you cannot ride back up
      9. ALWAYS take fuel when available (AKA the Top Off Your Tank Rule – AKA Ride Til You Have Half a Tank, Then Ride Back)
      10. Just because the truck is in site, doesn’t mean the ride is over! We collectively have had more people throw it away a hundred yards from camp than we like to remember.
      HAVE FUN, BE SAFE, and RIP IT!

    • Nelson Yaple
      Nelson Yaple

      Spot on.

      The Buddy system. One real pisser is when somebody decides to go off/home/other group without telling anybody and you spend most of the day looking for them.

      I miss riding in C.O.

    • Steve Campbell
      Steve Campbell

      Good stuff Brian. I am still on a steep learning curve, and like structure. Experienced in sport street riding I have a similar but different set of rules…

    • Gavin Brown
      Gavin Brown

      And don’t be “that guy” with the janky bike that always breaks down mid-ride.

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