We’ve said it many times before, riding a motorcycle is one of world’s greatest pleasures, but it’s also one of the most dangerous ones – maybe it’s a pleasure because it’s so dangerous. You need to take some precautions when riding a bike. You do not need to dress up in an airbag balloon or some sort of a space suit. You don’t need to be looking like a mad person around you to see if there’s someone coming to kill you. But there are many points you need to look for when riding that will keep you safe. Some are common sense, some are built around experience.
Here are 20 pointers that may save you life. Read on, especially after point 1, a point many people’s eyes just glaze over.
- The most common one is wear a helmet, even when you are riding only 100 yards. A full face integral helmet is better than a half helmet. Just pulling up and having your foot go out from under you is enough to bang your head against the pavement.
- Learn the counter steering technique. In Europe it’s mandatory to learn and there’s good reason for it.. Counter Steering will enable you to quickly and safely avoid sudden obstacles on the road without falling. It should become second nature.
- Watch out of those white lines on the road, and watch out even more for those pedestrian crossing lines. White lines, although very visible, are very, very slippery. When it rains, avoid them at all costs. If you have to ride over them in a curve and it’s wet, straighten your bike while riding over the line. If not, your bike will go horizontal.
- When you cross a railroad track, cross it straight. Railroad tracks are slippery as well, and if you take them at an angle, your bike might go out from under you. This applies doubly when it’s raining.
- Tire pressure on a car is important, but on a motorcycle is essential. Read the owner’s manual to see what pressure under what circumstances. Riding 2 up, with cargo? You’ll need to adjust the pressure. I’ve put Dymo labels on the side of my bike giving me 3 numbers: Normal pressure, with pillion and pillion & cargo.
- Watch out when entering a place where there have been cars idling: gas stations, fast food drive-ins, toll booths etc. There’s always oil, gasoline and dirt. Watch where you put your foot.
- When following cars, trucks, trailers, etc, best is to stay behind one of the wheels. First of all, in the middle of the lane, that’s where you’ll find the most oil, gasoline and dirt coming from the cars. Also, if there’s something on the road, like roadkill, if you are riding behind the wheel of the vehicle in front of you, it’ll get squashed. If not, you’ll hit it and you don’t know what will happen then (I think I do). If you’re following a big truck, keep well away. Truck tires can (and do) shred regularly, leaving big bits of rubber flying. At highways speeds, if a large chunk of truck tire hits you, you’ll be badly injured, or worse.
- Always have the helmet visor down when riding, or have something to protect your eyes (like goggles or glasses). A bug that hits you at 60 mph is going to hurt, if it hits you in the eye, it’s goodbye eye.
- You know why fighter planes attack with the sun in their back? Because they can’t be seen. The same happens when the sun is in your back, low, you’ve become invisible for the cars driving in front of you. Even if they pay attention, they’ll not see you when you overtaken them. So watch out. The same applies when riding into a low sun. Drivers behind you will not see you. I often just nudge my brakes so that the brake light goes on, this way the car has a better chance of seeing you when they approach.
- If it’s warm drink plenty of water; if it’s cold, dress properly. Hydration and hypothermia are more dangerous than DUI.
- Road rage on its own is pretty bad, but having road rage on a motorcycle, especially against a car puts you in the danger spot. Unless of course you’re riding with the Hells Angels. Believe me, you’ll not be teaching car drivers a lesson, unless it’s cemetery ethics.
- Try to avoid the right most lane on highways, motorways and other fast moving roads. You’ll find that some soccer-mother driving a SUV forgot to take the off-ramp and will try to exit anyway. Don’t get in her path.
- If you’re having problems at home or work, taking the bike might not be a good idea. People think they’re clearing their heads, but in fact they’ll not pay as much attention as they should. One of the highest factors for motorcycle accidents is divorce. The next highest is getting fired.
- One of the old sayings for motorcycle riders is that your bike will go where you are looking. In a curve look as far as you can, not in front of you. If you see a pot hole, and you’re looking at it, you will ride through it.
- When you stop at an intersection or for traffic lights, keep your bike in first gear and keep a close look in your mirror until cars behind you have come to a stop. Keep your steering-wheel pointed in the direction of the first lane you will encounter (ie in the US, from left to right); This way, if you are “nudged” by a car behind you, your bike will go with the crossing traffic.
- When traffic is suddenly stopping or slowing down dramatically on a highway or interstate, ride in between the cars, even if your area does not allow lane-splitting. Cars coming up behind you may not have seen the slowdown or stoppage and slam into the rear of the traffic – you.
- When slowing down in traffic using your motorcycle engine (ie downshifting), best is to gently hit the brakes so that your brake lights go on. Remember that motorcycle engines usually have high compression and can therefore brake much harder with just their engine. Cars coming up behind you are going to be surprised (and so will you when they rear-end you).
- There’s no such thing as Green means Go, or a Stop sign that means other traffic will stop. Always assume that some idiot of going to run a red light, or stop sign and proceed accordingly.
- Motorcycles are small, and it takes an effort to be seen. Make sure you’re visible. Apart from high-visibility clothing, turn on your motorcycle’s lights. Even during the day. In many countries, it’s mandatory for motorcycles to ride with their lights on. You can guess why.
- Wear proper equipment. As mentioned helmets, but also gloves, jackets and boots. No one plans to leave their motorcycle while still riding, but if you do, best is be prepared. ATGATT is not just a saying, it’s vital. All The Gear, All The Time. Be a firm believer.
Just keep your head screwed on your body, use it and ride safe. Enjoy your ride. Your best safety factor is you. The more miles you put on your bike, the safer you become.