The ride was organized by Wanderlust, a meetup group for motorcycle enthusiasts in the Bay Area. We arrived at the meeting place in San Rafael by 9 a.m., thinking that our 7 a.m. alarm was painfully early. Others though had actually traveled much farther — lots of riders came up from the South Bay (an hour away) and one even rode out from beyond Placerville (two hours away).
We were impressed by the ride’s safety rules. The roughly 50 bikes were divided into four groups. Each group had a lead, who set the pace, and a sweep, who made sure no one was left behind. Passing was forbidden and everyone was supposed to ride single file, at least four seconds behind the preceding bike. Each rider was responsible for the rider behind them; if your follower missed a turn, you had to buy them lunch.
The crowd was eclectic. Age-wise, we were among the youngest; experience-wise we were probably in the middle. There were some brand new riders and others with decades of experience. Most riders were on cruisers, with a lot of Harleys and a few Goldwings in the mix, though there were a few sport bikes too. There were a lot of passengers as well, though without fail men drove and women rode (you almost never see a male passenger and female driver).
The first half of the ride was fairly unremarkable. We’re familiar with that stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway and with all the cars on the road, no one was driving too fast. It was weird though to be at the mercy of others. If it had just been the two of us, we would have stopped at least half an hour earlier for water and a bathroom break. But the group kept going until a pit stop in Bodega Bay. (Another rule: If the group leader stops and doesn't take off his/her helmet, don't take off yours.)
Past Bodega Bay, the traffic cleared and, with the road to ourselves, the leaders opened up a bit more. Riding this stretch in a group convinced us that we don’t want to do group rides in the future. Ben is a very safe driver and normally if I want him to slow down, I can signal him easily. Riding in a group takes away that autonomy because there’s pressure to keep up with the rider in front of you.
Our halfway point was the Union Hotel in Occidental, where we stopped for lunch. Obviously it’s hard to find a restaurant that can serve 70 people at once, but the food at this place was nonetheless pretty disappointing and very expensive (even by our California standards). We had finished eating before the next table even received their food, so we decided to head home early.
Back on our own, we enjoyed the ride a lot more. We understand how others might enjoy group riding, especially riders who don’t usually have the chance to ride with others. But because we ride together, motorcycling is always a social activity for us and we like the freedom to set our own pace and our own route.