Motorcycle Deer Safety: The Unexpected

Motorcycle Safety

Found all over North America, deer continue to populate, creating a larger threat to motorcyclists every year. Just Google motorcycle accidents and deer…you’ll soon understand how many tragic and near-tragic accidents occur.

The rule of thumb for deer safety? When in doubt, cover your brakes, slow down and expect the unexpected. Those parking lot practices of hard braking under various circumstances will prove significant, maybe even life-saving.

We as humans must first understand that deer are just performing their survival duties in their natural habit. They are cautious animals and naturally stay out of view. But due to state departments keeping the sides of the roads mowed for motorist, the freshly cut foliage provides an easy snack for deer.

Naturally cautious, deer enjoy eating on the roadside in the shade during the day, and especially at dusk, dawn and night, out of harm’s way. So when light is not in a motorcyclist’s favor, the dangers are much greater.

So here are the basics.

1) While grazing the roadside in the day, most deer have their heads down, blending into the shrubbery, appearing like logs. Look for any movement possible. But at night, the easiest way to recognize a deer is through the reflection their eyes throw off. The reflection appears similar to those of road makers and reflectors on guide rails, but the deer’s reflections will blink. So if you see something that appears as a blinking road marker, be cautious: cover your brakes, slow down, and expect the unexpected. 

2) Remember that deer mostly travel in groups, so if you see one, there are likely others. Again, once you see or even if you think you see a deer, cover your brakes, slow down, and expect the unexpected.

3) A deer’s reaction is unpredictable. Studies show that deer will wait until the last second and jolt in the direction they are looking, then run in a zigzag motion. Again: if danger appears, or seems to appear, cover your brakes, slow down and expect the unexpected.

4) This may sound like the unnatural thing to do, but don’t swerve if you’re about to impact a deer. Swerving immediately causes instability to the suspension, which can worsen consequences. The more stable the bike, the more control you’ll have. Again, before impact is looming, be proactive at the first instinct of danger: cover the brakes, slow down and expect the unexpected.

5) Pay attention to the obvious yellow signs. If you see a Deer XING sign or anything similar, regardless of what animal the sign represents, be proactive: cover the brakes, slow down and expect the unexpected.

Also adapt this info regarding other wild animals. While riding the now defunct Honda Hoot in 2002, a group of us were on a self-guided tour on the way to the notorious Deal’s Gap when all that was viewable after taking a blind turn at speed were many of the leading group’s brake lights.

A few overly-fed cattle were enjoying a meal in the center of the road, and nothing was going to stop them. No riders clashed with the behemoths, but it was a wake-up call for all of us.

And on a sidenote, those few heavy animals just stood there, and would not let us pass, even after revving a few Micron and D&D exhaust pipes to full decibels.

It may not seem obvious, but this told us something: these animals are in their natural habit, and nothing is going to stop them from doing what they do.

So when the creatures are present, or you even think they’re present, keep these reiterations reiterating in your head: cover the brakes, slow down and expect the unexpected.