For many of us, we’ve been riding motorcycles for so long that we take a lot of our acquired experience and second-nature ability completely for granted. As a result we tend to overlook the importance and value of passing along safety tips that our readers may find helpful in rounding out their own repertoire to grant the best odds of survival out on the road.
Obviously, if you’re new to motorbike riding, or returning after a long hiatus, get some professional training. In my day we were pretty much limited to the help of a friend who taught us to ride, acquiring their bad habits and vague understanding of the craft. Today there are numerous opportunities to get proper training whether you’re a full on newbie or need to brush up.
Aside from the importance of a well-maintained and operating motorcycle, as well as proper riding gear (covered in an earlier safety segment), here are some basic tips acquired over many years and many miles.
Approaching a Cross Street. When traveling on a main thoroughfare, when a car pulls up on a cross street, intending to cross, what I look for to indicate imminent movement is not the car itself, but instead I focus on the wheels. It’s much easier to see even the slightest bit of movement in the rotation of the wheel as opposed to the mass of the car. The proliferation of spoked aluminum wheels these days makes this even easier.
Controlled Intersections. When slowing for a yellow or red light I always leave the bike in gear, checking my mirrors to assess if the car following me is slowing down as well. I do the same thing about the vehicle behind them. This allows for some reaction time if they aren’t slowing, granting you the option of running the light (if it’s safe) or attempting to clear out of the way by going into the center or up onto the meridian.
If I arrive at a light and no one is behind me, I maintain vigilance on the mirror, watching for any approaching cars (especially at speed) and watch them to ensure they’re slowing down. Again, the idea is to be ready to get out of the way if the car looks like it may blow through. If I’m in neutral I’d stick it in gear until the threat is answered.
Following. Most motorcyclists follow cars too closely. This presents a potential visibility issue (especially in this world of massive SUVs), not necessarily with the driver of the lead car, but rather oncoming cars. When trailing a car stay to the left so that oncoming cars-especially those making a left-hand turn-can see you.
If you’re blocked from their view by riding along the right hand side of the lane you run the risk of them gunning it when the leading car clears them, providing them with the possibility of running directly into you.
By staying to the left side of the lane you’ll avoid the exhaust and oil-stained line that tends to run down the center of every road. This section tends to be slippery, especially when wet. Stay in the left side tire track for the best visibility (for both you of them, and them of you) and for the best grip.
Right of Way. Never, ever take right of way for granted, especially when riding a motorcycle. This means even when approaching and passing through an intersection on a green light. I always check both directions on the green, watching for people who may be running the light. Same thing with a stop sign. Maintain eye contact with other drivers, even though they may have arrived after you.
There’s something about the apparent unthreatening appearance of a motorcycle that causes drivers to zone out and pull out in front of us. These same drivers would probably not pull out in front of a cement mixer barreling down on them, so it can’t be an argument about visibility. I sincerely believe there’s a subconscious element that tells them they will fare better in a collision.
Driving While Intexticated. The latest incarnation of hand held devices has spawned a whole new realm of distracted driving. Tests have proven that trying to text or dial a phone number puts you on equal footing (with regard to reaction time) to a legally drunk driver. Although I personally don’t feel I have anything important enough to risk another person’s life or well-being to warrant trying to drive and type, that doesn’t seem to be the case with the majority of people today.
Driving While Intexticated has got all the telltale signs of drunk driving; inconsistent speed (continual slowing and accelerating), the slowly wandering wheels, followed by repeated, abrupt jerks of the steering wheel to pull the car back into the lane.
It is a kind of drunken, meandering dance being performed by a 3,000-pound auto. I’ve witnessed groups, three and four at a time, performing this unnerving weaving and wandering dance, this dangerous mass of heavy metal moving down the road at speed with driving as a mere afterthought.
The drunken weave and gradual slowing is followed by a sudden burst of speed, usually indicating they have completed their call and can now focus-before the next call-on driving. Don’t worry, you’ll catch up to them again down the road a ways once they’ve gotten back into another Twitter or text.
Just a few tips that just may help you avoid a nasty experience out on the street. Ride safe.