In a standard staggered formation, riders should be 1-to-1.5 seconds behind the staggered (offset) bike infront of them, putting them 2-to-3 seconds behind the bike directly infront of them.
Newer or slower riders should ride toward the front of the formation, with more experienced or faster riders riding toward the back. Though it might seem contradictory, putting the faster riders in the back keeps the formation moving smoothly and limits the inevitable separation of the front and back sections (especially during twistys, intersections, and highway on/off ramps). Note: This does not apply when traversing tight corners. Giving a bit more space between riders during these situations offers more buffer space should one or more riders need the extra space to maneuver.
Never, ever horseplay! Even with the 2-to-3 seconds distance between riders in a channel, bikes still need a significant amount of road to properly slow down. Improper motorcycle handling puts the entire group at risk, especially when traversing very technically-challenging road conditions. If a rider is operated their motorycle in an unsafe manner, the Road Captain may ask them to disembark from the group.
Below are some of the more common hand signals used when riding in Fairfax VA #3698 HOG Chapter-sponsored rides:
Start Engines: With right or left arm extended upward, move index finger in a circular motion.
Also means: "Prepare to start rolling!" - For example, when a red traffic light is about to turn green, or when the group is stopped at a stop sign and traffice is about to clear up.
Stop: Extend left or right arm at a 45-degree angle downward with the palm facing rearward.
Slow Down: Extend left or right arm at a 45-degree angle and move hand up-and-down (like you are patting a dog's head). This is often used when going from mid-to-high speed to low speed sooner than anticipated (for instance, when traffic becomes congested or pulling into a town with a speed limit significantly lower than the one the group was just riding through).
Tighten Up: Raise left arm with fist clenched, and repeatedly move the fist up-and-down. Used by the Road Captain when they want to reduce the separation between riders (such as when coming to a traffic light that is likely to turn red before the entire group gets through, or when merging traffic risks splitting up the group).
Left Turn: Raise left arm horizontally with elbow fully extended (Proper use is to give the signal well before the turn, so the downstream riders have an ability to pass it back to the last one in the group, and still giving the Road Captain time to operate their bike's turn signal & clutch safely).
Right Turn: Raise left arm horizontally with arm bent at the elbow and the forearm 90 degree perpendicular (Proper use is to give the signal well before the turn, so the downstream riders have an ability to pass it back to the last one in the group, and still gving the Road Captain time to operate their bike's turn signal & clutch safely).
Hazard Option #1: Extend left/right arm at a 45 degree angle and point directly at the hazard (Do not point too early. Doing so may distract downstream riders from the actual hazard).
Hazard Option #2: Shake and/or point at the hazard with your left/right leg - which can be useful when the situation does not allow a rider to remove their hands from the handlebars (Do not point too early. Doing so may distract downstream riders from the actual hazard).
Single-File Formation: Position left hand over helmet with index finger extended upward. This indicates that the Road Captain wants the group to line up in single-file formation (which, in essence, increases separation of the staggered (offeset) bike from 1-to1.5 seconds to 2-to-3 seconds) and is usually employed for safety/road conditions.
Staggered Formation: Raise left arm above the shoulder with the left hand showing index and pinky finger extended; continuously rotate at the wrist. This indicates that the Road Captain wants the group to return to staggered (offset) formation (which, in essence, decreases separation of the single-file bike from 2-to-3 seconds to 1-to1.5 seconds) and is the default spacing for all Chapter rides.
Images courtesy of Ann Arbor H.O.G. Chapter