Life-Saving Motorcycle Riding Tips & Advice

Riding at a closed circuit on a track day is much safer than your local streets
Riding at a closed circuit on a track day is much safer than your local streets | Source

Motorcyle Riding Safety Tips

I have somewhere between two and three hundred thousand miles of motorcycle riding between daily commuting, road-racing, hare scrambles, sport touring, and mini-moto. Having ridden all of these different motorcycle disciplines, I've acquired a vast mental database of how to stay alive, or at least make it from location A to location B.

1. Assume you're invisilble

2. Know where you're going

3. Know the weather, and how to read it

4. Expected the unexpected

1. Assume You're Invisible

When riding a motorcycle most non-motorcycle drivers are not aware that you exist. Even police motorcycles with lights and sirens still seem to end up in the crosshairs of a Minivan's hood ornament, and they're the most visible motorcycles around. So, rather than try to figure out which ones can see you, and which can't, assume that you are a transparent object, but that you will "reveal" yourself to them when you believe they are ready to comprehend your existence.

So, in most any situation, like merging, or an intersection with potential left turns, always assume that they will not see you, and adjust variables like your speed and lane location to increase your odds of being seen and decrease the odds of pain.

If at an intersection, if you see someone waiting to turn left, if you can execute this move safely, point your headlight directly into their face. Flick on your brights, day or night, as these will usually keep their foot on the brake a couple more seconds to allow you to safely pass.

When riding down the highway, especially in a little congestion, change lanes every couple of miles, even if you don't need it. Ensure to use your turn signals. This will cause the other drivers to see your movements and your lights, and they'll get used to paying attention to you.

Find an opportunity to put your headlight in their mirror. Doesn't matter which, just do it to any driver that you feel doesn't have a sense that you're there.

"Watch them tires", a neighbor once told me. You wanna know what a car is doing, just watch the wheels. Car can't go nowhere without 'em. There is much true in this, in that when you're riding next to a car, watch the wheels in relation to the stripes on the road and you'll know if they're changing lanes, and how fast they are changing lanes.

"Loud Pipes Save Lives" - This is an old adage that some people believe holds water, and it does have some merit. I look forward to the days of electric powered motorcycles, but fear the extra layer of invisibility that it adds.

2. Know where you're going

In this day and age, it's impossible to get lost. At least one would think. We've all heard GPS horror stories... rerouting... but for the most part, anywhere you go, you can at least look at the overhead satellite view BEFORE you go. Look at the one way streets, map out an alternate, less populated route, ensure you don't find yourself transitioning from 55MPH to a gravel road, just anything to familiarize yourself with the environment such that you'll have a mental picture.

Understand that missing the optimal turn doesn't mean you're lost, it just means you're taking a different route. Don't fight to make a hostile move just to make a turn, only to end up getting hurt by a car, gravel, pothole, animal, etc. If you're not where you need to be, then it's not a big deal, just keep going and make an easy turn.

When riding, often times I'll keep my GPS navigating, just to be a reminder. A lot of times I won't take the recommended course, but it keeps me alert and aware.

3. Know the weather, and how to read it

Riding in the elements isn't the worst thing that ever happened, unless you're unprepared for it. Before you leave, ensure that you have all the riding gear you need to survive the heat, cold, wet, snow, wind, sand, or anything else Mother Nature can throw at you. Ensure your tires are up to the task, too. I see many Chicken Strips on the rear tires of 1000cc+ motorcycles, and wonder how these guys even survive riding through a puddle.

In the summer, it's very common for thunderstorms to develop in the afternoon. When you come to expect this, you can learn when to leave, when to stay. Look for things like temperature drops and/or the leaves turning upside down as significant indicator that a storm is on the way.

4. Expected the unexpected

Everything a non-motorcyclist does is typically well-known, practiced, and patterned, as most drivers conform to the laws, and are governed by the laws of physics. But, becoming complacent and believing that all drivers will... signal before they change lanes, see you before they turn left in front of you, or will stop for red lights

... is harmful to you life.

So, don't become complacent. Learn to watch the other drivers and classify them appropriately. Before you scream "profiling", please understand that this is your life, so call it whatever you want, but it's not a stereotype if it's true. There are certain vehicles that you need to worry about, and other's, you don't, but each presents it's own challenges.

The girl applying makeup. The Old Man in the hat that can barely see over the steering wheel. The Soccer mom with a mini-van full of screaming kids. The angry sport-tuner weaving through every crevice. The tipsy businessman driving home from an office happy hour.

Understanding these types will help you to expect the level of unexpected that these drivers offer, but once you understand them, their behavior will become less unexpected to you, and more expected. Once you assume, and predict they way they behave, you'll be pleasantly surprised when they don't.

As you ride, keep populating your mental database with situations and participants. Review your database on a regular basis and think about situations before you even go down a particular road. If you know the road, know the expected weather, and know the expected drivers you'll encounter, then you reduce the unexpected, and help to keep yourself alive.

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