GroupRides: An Interview With Mehran Teymourtash
Last Saturday I joined up with about thirty other motorcyclists for a GroupRides backroads tour of some of the South Bay’s best terrain. Starting in CalMoto in Mountain View, we rode from La Honda to Corralitos, over Mount Madonna and back to Los Gatos via Uvas Road. Though the beaten roads that cut across our Santa Cruz Mountains are familiar to Bay Area motorcyclists, on this occasion the chosen roads were the ones less traveled.
The ride was challenging and invigorating, and although I rarely ride with groups, I’ve since found myself hooked on the feeling. I enjoy observing the arc of my riding skills as they develop over time, but it’s a different experience entirely to feel those skills stretching towards a higher level in the course of a single day. Yet I felt confident and safe all the while, with other riders of varying skill levels ahead and behind, and an expert rider scoping the roads and leading the way up front.
The bikes on the ride included cruisers, tourers, sportbikes and adventure bikes. But intense riding, tight hairpins, and sweeping curves have a way of bringing people together, and this group of like-minded folks melded together easily, and all were welcoming and inclusive. The organization and route management were seamless, which ensured that everyone in the diverse group was riding safely and having a good time going as fast or as slow as they wanted.
Riding in a group of thirty plus riders doesn’t sound great to everyone, but I never felt the size of the group to be a hindrance to my experience. Only, it was a bit of an awesome feeling at the start to be one among a mixture of bikes and riders rolling down the streets of Mountain View. One car passenger even reached out to snap a photo while we waited at an intersection. Though group riding isn’t everyone’s thing, those who have tried it would agree that when it’s done right, it’s a great way to improve your riding in a safe way. And if you’re willing, you’ll have fun and meet people too.
The ride was led by Mehran Teymourtash, and with the help of some supporting volunteers, he served as our guide through the oft-overlooked mountain roads. Mehran is well known and appreciated in the riding community for leading and planning tons of amazing rides, but he also started GroupRides.net and GroupRides Forum. Both sites are fantastic and free resources for those wanting to get out and ride more, discover new roads, meet other riders, or just get an idea about what group riding is all about.
I talked to Mehran before the ride and on our lunch break in Corralitos for the following interview about how the GroupRides magic came to be. He’s a great guy to talk to and ride with, patient and relaxed on two feet; highly skilled, amped and energized on two wheels. He puts an incredible amount of work and heart into building and maintaining GroupRides in his free time, but his low-key demeanor makes it seem like it’s all in a days work. He is a master of his art, the group ride, and he put it perfectly:
I am more like a chef. I bring together the right ingredients- beautiful roads, a well planned itinerary, people who are fun and enjoy riding, throw in a few laughs, and add a dash of excitement. The rest falls into place all by itself. All I do is occasionally stir this wonderful mixture, and let it simmer. Most often than not we end up with a terrific time and wonderful memories.
GroupRides.net– GroupRides.net is a web calendar that shows tons of organized rides and events going on in and around the Bay Area. Have a free day coming up? Check the calendar!
GroupRides Forum– Head over to the GroupRides Forum Meetup-based site to check out upcoming rides with Mehran and the GroupRides folks, or to see photos and read what other Bay Area riders are saying about GroupRides. (Meetup is a web platform that enables people to easily form and organize community groups that bring people together who share similar hobbies, goals, and positive interests.)
Interview With Mehran
Road Rider: What do you ride? What was your first motorcycle?
Mehran Teymourtash: I started on a 250cc Yamaha dualsport. Now I ride BMWs, a 2004 R 1150 RS and a 2009 F 650 GS.
RR: How long have you been riding and where and how did you learn?
MT: I started riding when I was 14 or 15, mainly by myself and with trial and error. When I came to the United States for college I started street riding. I got married and after my daughter was born I decided to stop riding. When our daughter finished high school and started college, I decided it was time to ride again. I started riding on a regular basis in 2003.
RR: When you started GroupRides, where you responding to what you saw as a hole in the motorcycling community that needed to be filled?
MT: I started this journey for selfish reasons. I found myself going to various forums and websites to find out who was riding where and whether I would want to join the ride. To save myself some time, I began compiling a list of weekend rides in the Bay Area from BARF, SBR, Pashnit, etc. One day it dawned on me that others may also find my list useful, so I started publishing it, and that was the birth of GroupRides.net, the calendar.
The calendar didn’t support discussion, so shortly after I started GroupRides Forum. I try to keep the focus of GroupRides Forum on group riding and on motorcycles, and not politics, religion, etc. Whereas on BARF and SBR “Group Rides” is only a small segment of the content, in GroupRides’ case, it’s the other way around.
RR: I read through a lot of the comments and feedback on the GroupRides Forum, and I was pretty overwhelmed by how thankful and positive all the comments were. Obviously you have a tightly-knit group that is welcoming and supportive of new riders, and that has made for a great community vibe. As the founder, did you envision the social community of GroupRides to come together the way it has?
MT: It all boils down to remembering who is the host and who are the guests. I treat our members and our riders as guests – as if they were guests in my house. I have always been able to put together rides that appealed to the majority of riders. We started with a few dozen members, but I have been pleasantly surprised to see that GroupRides Forum has grown to be the largest Meetup motorcycle group in Northern California. In fact we are the # 2 Meetup group for motorcycles in California, only second to a Meetup group in San Diego. Of course BARF and SBR are bigger, but they are not on Meetup platforms.
RR: What is the mix of new riders and experienced riders on rides? Do you see it as beneficial for us to ride with motorcyclists of other skill levels?
MT: Our rides can appeal to most riders, except total newbies and perhaps road racers who lack the patience to ride at a sensible pace on public roads. We mostly ride on technical backroads. This means we can have a fun and challenging rides, but at a moderate speed.
Many of our newer members say their riding has improved immensely by seeing how experienced riders negotiate the tight roads, and by following their lines. If you ski or play tennis, you know that if you are skiing or playing tennis with those who are more advanced, you can actually begin to see improvements in your skill levels. And of course the routes I select help our new riders fine-tune their skills.
RR: On that note, how do you dissuade people from reaching beyond their skill level? Or do you find that people do that on their own by only participating in rides that move at their pace?
MT: I and all our regular riders emphasize ”riding within one’s comfort zone”. We write about it when we post rides, we talk about it at our safety talks, and I make it very easy for our newer riders to remember it. At each ride I encourage newer riders, or those who are not familiar with the roads, or with group dynamic to ride near the sweep, or towards the back of the group. They are also reminded that our sweeps are very patient and have no problem going at a very slow pace. Some newbies think it’s better to ride beyond their skill-sets than going slow in front of others. We talk about ego and the fact that between 6-18 months of riding, new riders are at risk. Their ego and their confidence has surpassed their skills.
RR: As membership and participation has steadily increased over the years, have you seen a shift or expansion in the style, generation, experience level etc. in the participants?
MT: The mix of our riders hasn’t really changed that much. We have younger and more mature riders, with varying experience. But with our group, newer riders seem to improve their skills quickly as we introduce them to technical and challenging backroads, week after week.
RR: Do you do your own ride surveillance in your spare time?
MT: Yes. I have done many pre-rides to see the roads first hand. I also use Google street view when trying new roads, to see and pick the best and safest places to stop, regroup, et cetera. I also check out places that we stop for meals. I call and speak to the restaurants and get a feel for their moto-friendliness.
RR: Some GroupRides can have up to fifty riders, but no matter how large the group, everyone says that the rides are all incredibly well organized. Has the organization of the rides been something that has improved with all your experiences over the years? Or was that something you were concerned with establishing firmly from the very beginning?
MT: To me safety is first. Having a good time comes next. My goal is to minimize risk, prevent riders from getting lost or separated, and keep the group moving. I am more like a chef, I bring together the right ingredients- beautiful roads, a well planned itinerary, people who are fun and enjoy riding, throw in a few laughs, and add a dash of excitement. The rest falls into place all by itself. All I do is occasionally stir this wonderful mixture, and let it simmer. Most often than not we end up with a terrific time and wonderful memories.
There is of course a technique involved and practice makes perfect. By now I have a pretty good idea of what works or doesn’t work when trying to manage a group of 40, 50 or 60 bikes. And it’s all scalable. Managing 50 bikes is not much different than leading 10 bikes. We have been fortunate to have many competent riders who help keep the group intact, and that is key when leading large groups.
RR: What has GroupRides given you personally?
MT: Plenty. I call it the “Never Ending Story” effect. Not too long ago I too was a newbie following skilled riders and watching and learning from super rider leaders. What I know, I learned from my friends who took the time to lead and mentor others. My goal is to share what I have learned with others so in time they too will get inspired and few will rise up and keep our passion going by reaching out to the next generation or riders and inspire others to organize and lead safe and fun rides.
RR: You started GroupRides motivated by something. Is your motivation today to keep it going the same?
MT: Groups and forums have a shelf life. I have seen many groups who peaked, but over time lost their luster. My goal is to maintain the highest quality of events and rides that our members and the riding community has come to expect from “GroupRides” brand, and to continually improve and re-invent ourselves.
RR: How much do you like seeing new people join in and have a great time with GroupRides?
MT: That is exactly my reward, to see how much joy our riders get in our rides.