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Archive for the ‘Motorcycle safety’ Category

Of all the skills used when riding your motorcycle, emergency braking is the most important. You can take curves at lower speeds, you can park a motorcycle anyway you want, you can even split lanes while riding carefully – all items you need to learn, but that requires a lesser skill level than emergency braking. If your cornering skills requires improvement, all you do is take a corner with less speed.

Emergency-objectBut when you suddenly need to hit the brakes hard, for whatever the reason, you need skills and experience. In other words, a skill you will need to practice regularly to gain and retain the muscle memories. So practice, practice and more practice. Go to some remote parking lot, place a visual mark on the lot, and pretend that it’s a object you are riding towards and you need to brake hard. Start slow and build up speed after each attempt. This way your reflexes will be automatic when you are faced with such a situation.

Emergency-braking-object

So here are a few tips for emergency braking:

  1. Don’t grab the handle and pull with all your strength. That is the “normal” reaction of an untrained biker. If some car driver suddenly opens a car door in your path, your normal reaction is to pull the brake lever as hard and as fast as you can. Big mistake, even if your motorcycle is equipped with ABS. Pull hard, but not fully, and then continue pulling harder progressively. If you pull hard all the way, your tires will lock up and you will no longer be in control of your bike.
  2. Use both brakes, front and rear. The front should be used at about 80%, the rear at 20%. But both are important. If you use the front more, the rear will lift and be useless. If you use the rear too much, you will stop far less faster.
  3. Squealing tires mean you are braking too hard. This means you have lost control. Loosen up a tad.
  4. Weight distribution. The weight, in fact your weight, is going to be distributed since the bike is going to lower in the front and your body will want to get off the bike at the front. To counter the front ejection, keep your arms straight and locked.
  5. If you can, and this is where ABS comes in very handy, try to avoid the object. Counter-steer as hard as you can. You can do this while still hitting the brakes.

Emergency-braking-practice

Practice, practice and practice until you got it perfect and then practice some more. And remember to do it often enough.

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It doesn’t matter how long you have been riding, and on what kind of terrain, you will eventually end up riding your motorcycle towards a sudden obstacle. Riding on a blacktop, minding your own business, and suddenly there’s an object in front of you. A shredded truck tire, wooden plank, roadkill, a refrigerator. Okay, forget about encountering a fridge; if that happens, you are the roadkill.

Road-Obstacle

But when you suddenly encounter a (small) object, you need to be prepared. Your automatic reaction will be to serve around it. But that can be a dangerous maneuver, since you will not have had the time to see what’s driving up next to you. Also, your reactions might not dictate that you serve; many bikers will roll right into the object – it’s called fixation.

Another reaction would be to hit the brakes hard. On its own, this could work, but you’ll need to check your rear; if there’s an 18-wheeler close behind you, it will never be able to stop in the distance you stop, so you’ll be toast. But if there’s nothing behind you, and you have the time to stop; great. But if not, here are a few pointers:

  1. Line up as much as you can to hit the object straight on. If you hit it at an angle, you’ll most certainly crash. If you encounter an object while in a curve, straighten your bike.
  2. Hold on firmly to the handlebar. Use all your fingers to grip the handlebar. If you, like many bikers, ride with 2 or 3 fingers covering the brake lever, your fingers during the impact might just action the brakes, which at that stage is bad news.
  3. Depending on your motorcycle type, just before hitting the object, lower your center of gravity by standing on your foot pegs. Obviously if your bike is one with pegs way at the front or rear, it will be more problematic.
  4. Don’t stand fully on your pegs, but raise yourself enough to have your knees bent so they can absorb much of the impact energy.
  5. Just before hitting the object, open the throttle. You don’t need to go full throttle, but enough to accelerate. By doing this, weight will transfer to the rear wheel, and your front wheel will lift (even if it’s very slightly).
  6. Shift your weight to the front when you cross the object with your front wheel. This will make it easier for your rear wheel to go over the object.

If you went over a hard object, and you had a real bump, better pull over and check your bike for damages. But wait until the motorcycle is back in a straight line, stabilized.

It sounds like a lot, but it’s quite a natural process. Repeat the steps in your mind, and if possible try the process a few times on a quite road or parking lot. You don’t need to ride over a shredded tire, you can image something lying there when you see a crack or a line on the road.

Practice makes perfect.

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As you probably all know after your first few weeks riding a motorcycle, it’s a mental game. You need to stay sharp and focussed when riding. You need your traffic sense alert: what is that car doing in front of you, why is that car behind you changing lanes the whole time, do you see that car racing up to the intersection in front of you????

A lot of things happen, and you need to stay on top of them. A few moments of inattention could be the difference between finishing your ride or ending up in the hospital or worse.

That is why if I have problems I stay away from my bike, no matter how much I prefer to be riding. Riding with problems, be it work, marriage, legal or whatever issue you may be facing that is big or critical, will mean that your mind is not with the ride.

Distractions-while-riding

I’ve seen over the years several of my friends have a motorcycle accident while they were all going through a nasty divorce. In fact, these friends, four in total, had all been in a heavily contested divorce, and all four decided to go for a ride to “think about something else”. But it’s very difficult to do this. While riding, you mind will return to your big problem and you will not be able to remove the thoughts from your mind. Before you know it, you’ll be playing scenarios out in your mind, or what else you should have said in a conversation ….

What that means is that with all the best intentions, your mind is going to wander and before you know it, you’ll no longer be paying attention to traffic. And that is when accidents happen.

So leave bad thoughts out of the equation. If you have them, better not ride. Being mentally distracted is a killer.

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This is one of those phenomena which is difficult to explain, but causes so much havoc for bikers around the world. It is based on a trick our brain plays on us, and if you listen to your brain, you will end up in a world of hurt.

It is called “Target Fixation”, something that got discovered during the second World War when bombers would fly straight into the target instead of avoiding them. The pilots would have their eyes directed on whatever they had to bomb, and would fly their airplane straight into it.

The same applies to us motorcycle riders. Wherever you are looking is where your motorcycle will go to. See a pothole in the road? That is where your motorcycle will go to.

Target Fixation

Target Fixation

It is one of the main reasons you are taught to look to the end of a curve when entering one; by looking at the furtherest point of the curve, then that is where the bike will go to. If you look just in front, i.e. your apex, your bike will end up not taking the curve. You will find that at low speeds you will need to readjust your lean angle, and at higher speeds you will become intimately acquainted with the countryside.

When riding on a straight road, if an animal jumps in front of your path, often bikers will not avoid it. That is because their brains are fixed on the target, and they end up crashing into the animal.

How to avoid this?

There is no simple way of avoiding target fixation. You need to train your brain to think otherwise. The only way is not to look at the “target”. If you see that pothole in the road and you are heading straight for it, then look elsewhere. Anywhere but the pothole, and then let your reactions kick in.

Get used to the fooling your brain when riding. Look for something small on the road, like leaves or a small discoloring of the road, then look for a path away from the object and follow that path. Keep doing this until your brain starts doing it automatically.

And always remember; you go where you are looking!

(inspired by Nelson’s BMW airhead motorcycles article)

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Many of you will have noticed a bunch of numbers and letters printed alongside your motorcycle’s tires. Most of you don’t really care what they mean, even if they mean anything since you’ll suppose that the motorcycle manufacturer knew what he was doing when the tires were installed.

But if you ever need to change the tires and can’t find the exact same ones, it’s good to know what they mean. Especially since those numbers and letters will impact your safety while riding. Why? Because they indicate among other what the maximum speed of the tire is allowed to be. So maybe your motorcycle can ride at 200 mph, if your tire is rated for 100 mph, you are in trouble. The same applies for carrying a pillion, cargo and even towing a trailer.

determining-tire-size

The tire number is represented in one of three different ways, depending on where the tire is made and sold.

Metric:

It looks like this: 180/55ZR-17 M/C: Tire width, “/”, Aspect ratio, Speed Rating”, Tire Construction, “-” Rim diameter, Motorcycle Tire.

Inch:

5.00H-16 APR: Width, Speed Rating, Rim Diameter, Casing Strength

Alphabetical:

MT90S-16 : Motorcycle Tire, Width code, Aspect Ratio, Speed Rating, Rim Diameter,

Tire Width

The figure is expressed in millimeters or inches and represents the width from the outer wall to outer wall of the tire.

Aspect Ratio

This means the tire’s cross-sectional profile a represents the percentage of the height to width ratio. 90 for example means 90%

Speed rating

The speed the tires are rated at is indicated with a letter:

F – 50 mph

H – 130 mph

J – 62 mph

K – 68 mph

L – 75 mph

M – 81 mph

N – 87 mph

P – 93 mph

Q – 99 mph

R – 106 mph

S – 112 mph

T – 118 mph

U – 124 mph

V – 149 mph

W – 168 mph

Y – 186 mph

Z – 149+ mph

As you can see, the numbers and letters are not exactly sequential, but that is because of historical reasons. Letter type Z is old, and shows that the tire is capable of above 149 mph, which is also the case of W and Y types. There are also some letters missing in the lineup.

WARNING: Do check the tire manufacturer’s rating, since some differ.

Tire Construction

The letter indicates the whether the tire is Belted (code B) or Radial (code R).

Rim Diameter

As the word says, it’s the diameter of the wheels rim on which the tire is mounted, expressed in millimeters or inches.

Tire Load Index

The tire numbers also indicate how much weight they can carry. This is important when carrying pillion and cargo. Too much weight will deflate or worse, burst your tire.

The Load Index (L.I.) is a bit long to display here, but best is to go to the tire manufacturer’s web site and find out what the maximum load is for your tires. Believe me, it’s important especially if you have changed brand.

Here are some of the tire manufacturer’s website and their ratings:

Avon Tyres

Bridgestone

Full Bore USA

Kenda

Dunlop

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It often makes me laugh, or maybe it is cry. People go out and buy an expensive motorcycle, fit it out with lots of expensive accessories, and then buy expensive matching clothing, helmets, boots and other fine items. Then when they need to top up the oil, they buy the cheapest oil they can find.

It is a bit like a NASA rocket launch failing because of a 10 cent component. Oil is what makes your motorcycle run smoothly, and putting in oil that is not meant for your bike is making sure that you will have a problem later on.

Motor_oil

Just think about it. Every motorcycle model is different. Different in engine size, cylinder compression, cooling and a same motorcycle that lives in the desert is going to be different from one that live up up North in Canada.

Every aspect dictates what kind of oil you need to use. Your owner manual will tell you what kind of viscosity you need to use, but they will tell you a range. The viscosity will be determined as mentioned above on the displacement, the cylinder-head compression, horsepower, the kind of cooling used and most importantly, at what kind of revs your bike’s engine will run (you can understand that a motorcycle that runs at 12,000 rpm will need different oil than one that runs at 3,000 rpm).

The only thing you need to take into account, is the outside temperature and if your bike remains inactive for long periods of time. The viscosity grades are ranged from 0 to 60 (with 0 being the lowest viscosity). If you find the letter “W” after the grade, this implies that the oil can be used during the winter.

The other choice you can make, but you will need to read your owner’s manual attentively, is whether you use regular/mineral based oil, or synthetic. This can depend on the engine and the manufacturer, but often they will leave the choice up to you.

But whatever you select, select wisely. The last thing you will want is having your expensive motorcycle engine seize up while riding the freeway at 70 mph.

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Stolen-Motorcycle-Just-Chain-leftBarring accidents, there is nothing worse than having your motorcycle stolen. Arriving at your bike hoping to ride away and finding an empty space is a very emotional moment – a moment of despair.

Professional thieves will take your bike no matter what, you can slow them down and more important, prevent it from being stolen by amateurs.

First, let’s look at this video to see how quickly a professional will steal your bike:

You see how quick that went? The bike had two locks…

Now let’s see what you can do about Sunday-thieves or opportunists.

  1. Garage: Get a covered garage. It’s more complicated to steal from a garage than from the street. You can even buy bike shelters that you can put in your garden if you don’t have a garage.
  2. Ignition Lock: The easy one. Make sure your ignition is in the “Lock” position. It’ll not do much, but it slows thieves down.
  3. Chains/Locks: Use big and heavy chains, or approved and very strong locks. You can see from the video that a professional will cut through chains/locks like you would cut through butter with a knife. But a big chain anchored to a heavy object will prevent thieves from grabbing your bike and placing it in a truck.Placing a chain from your rear wheel to a fixed position is the best you can do. Front wheels are more easily removed.
  4. Alarm: An alarm is a good thing, especially if it’s very loud. Once someone moves your bike, the alarm goes off. No thief wants to be seen next to a very loud siren. You can get really fancy alarms that will send you a text message once your bike is being stolen, allowing you the time to contact the police to file your report.
  5. Tracking: A tracking device hidden in the bike will not prevent it from being stolen, but might make its recovery faster and easier.
  6. Cover: Cover your bike. Often professional thieves look for motorcycles “on demand”, meaning they will have been asked to steal a specific brand. Covering your bike will make it more difficult to spot.

So there you are. Remember, you can’t prevent a season and professional thief from stealing your bike, but you can make it more difficult. And another good thing to do, get a good insurance.

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