Over the years in discussing how accidents have happened with our motorcycle clients, I’ve gathered a number of tips from some of the best riders in southwest Michigan. In addition, I’ve found a few articles which they have found helpful. While motorcycle accidents are rarely the fault of the motorcycle rider, the rider nonetheless must learn to drive defensively and hopefully, by practicing some of the following tips taken from Motor Cyclist, February 2009 can avoid a serious accident.
- Trust your own eyes: Your bike is equipped with mirrors but even if they are adjusted properly in traffic always buttress your mirror generated review view with a glance over the appropriate shoulder. Do it quickly and you’ll add an extra measure of rear view and blind spot knowledge to your info-gathering tasks.
- Never get between a vehicle and an off ramp: This sounds almost too simple, but drivers who decide to exit at the last minute kill plenty of riders each year. The simple rule, then, is to never position yourself between a vehicle and an off ramp. Passing on the right is generally a no-no, but in this day and age it is sometimes necessary. So, if you do it, do so between exits or cross streets.
- Covering your brakes: In traffic you must often reach extra quickly, which means not fumbling for the brake lever or pedal. To minimize reach time, always keep a finger or two on the brake lever and your right toe close to the rear brake pedal. When that cell phone-yacking dorkus cuts across your path trying to get to the 7/11 for a burrito supreme, you’ll be ready.
- Be noticed: Make sure drivers and pedestrians can see you, even from a distance. Ride with your high beam on during the day (as a courtesy turn it off when sitting behind someone at a light), and wear brightly colored gear, especially your helmet and jacket. Aerostitch’s Hi Vis yellow suits and jackets aren’t just hugely conspicuous, they’ve also become fashionable, so now you don’t have an excuse.
- Be ready with power: In traffic, ride in a gear lower than you normally would so your bike is ready to jump forward instantly if asked. (Not everyone rides open-class twins, after all.) Doing so gives you the option of leaping ahead instead of being limited to just using the brakes when that pickup suddenly moves over. The higher revs might also alert more drivers to your presence.
- Traffic slowing? Stay left (or right): When traffic slows suddenly, stay to the left or right of the car in front of you. This will give you an escape route if needed. It will also help keep you from becoming a hood ornament if the car behind you fails to stop in time. Once you’ve stopped, be ready – – clutch in, your bike in gear and your eyes on the mirrors. You never know.
- Practice the scan: Constantly scanning your entire environment while riding – – from instruments to mirrors to the road ahead to blind spots to your left and right rear – – keeps you aware and in touch with your situation, and therefore better able to react. Dwelling on one area too long – – watching only behind or in front of you, for instance – – is just begging for trouble.
- Left-turn treachery: When approaching an on-coming car that’s stopped and about to turn left, be ready. Your brights should be on so the driver can see you (during the day), but don’t rely on this to save you. Watch the car’s wheels or the driver’s hands on the steering wheel; if you see movement, be ready to brake, swerve or accelerate, whichever seems best for the situation.
- Study the surface: Add asphalt conditions to your scan. Be on the lookout for spilled oil, antifreeze or fuel; it will usually show up as a shiny pavement. Also keep an eye out for gravel and/or sand, which is usually more difficult to see. Use your sense of smell, too; often you can smell spilled diesel fuel before your tires discovery how slippery the stuff is.
- Ride in open zones: Use your bike’s power and maneuverability to ride in open zones and traffic. In any grouping of vehicles there are always some gaps; find these and ride in them. Doing so will separate you from four wheelers, give you additional room to maneuver and allow you keep away from dangerous blind spots. And vary your speed. Riding along with the flow can make you invisible to other drivers, especially in heavy traffic.
- Use that thumb: Get into the habit of cancelling your turn signals often regardless of the traffic situation. A blinking signal might tell drivers waiting to pull into the road or turning left in front of you that you’re about to turn when you aren’t. So push that switch a few times each minute better to wear out the switch that eat a Hummer’s hood, eh?
- It’s good to be thin: A huge advantage single-truck vehicles have over 4-wheelers is their ability to move left and right within a lane to enable the rider to see what’s ahead. Whether you’re looking to the side of the cars ahead or through their windshields, seeing what’s coming can give you a lot of extra time to react.
- More than one way out: Yes, motorcycles fall down. But they’re also light, narrow and hugely maneuverable, so you might as well learn to exploit their strengths when things get ugly, right? So don’t just brake hard in a hairball situation. There’s almost always an escape route. Swerving into Mrs. Smith’s front yard could be a lot better than counter punching the Buick that turned left in front of you. Always have an escape route planned, and update it minute by minute.
- Running interference: This one’s easy, and we’ll bet most of you already do it; let larger vehicles run interference for you when negotiating intersections. If the bonehead coming towards you from the left or the right is going to blow the light, better they hit the box van next to you, right? For the same reasons, don’t lunge through an intersection as soon as the light turns green. Be patient, and use the vehicles next to you as cover.
I hope these tips will assist riders to enjoy their bikes for many years to come and avoid accidents.