The best place to get to know your motorcycle is in the garage -- not while you are riding it. Most panic controls will be the same: clutch, brakes, and shifter. Get to know your new bike or simply re-familiarize yourself with your old standard. Whether it is your standard controls or more complex radio settings, riding on the road is not the time to be searching for them. Remember, when travelling at 60 mph, one second equates to 88 feet.
You should check tires and wheels, controls, lights, oil, chassis, and side stand before each day of riding. Taking just a few moments to ensure your motorcycle is functioning properly and all components are within manufacturer’s specifications will save you from bigger problems later. Your motorcycle will handle better, increase fuel mileage, and may even prevent a crash. There are forms you can down load from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) web site to aid in checking your motorcycle.
In Illinois, the weather can run the spectrum. Riding a motorcycle is a physical and a learned skill. As such, your skill set can diminish if you don’t ride regularly. So if you have been off the bike for an extended period of time, take some time to re-acclimate yourself to your bike. Find an open area or a parking lot and do some slow speed maneuvering and some braking drills, if the surface is conducive.
Ride like you are invisible because you are to a lot of drivers. Never make a lane change or movement based on the assumption another driver will see you or because you have the right of way. Watch for other vehicles, particularly at intersections and other areas where traffic is merging. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Assume the car in front of you is going to pull out. Exercise extreme caution for a few seconds after the light has turned green; there will be last second red light runners. Continue to scan the road for potential hazards.
Never change directions without first turning your head to check for vehicles in your blind spot. It is not necessary to turn your head all the way around but just enough to allow your peripheral vision to clear the area you are moving into. As always, you need to watch for hazards in the roadway. Always scan down range.
Always ride in the tire tracks where cars normally travel. Do not drive on the oil slick in the center of the lane. Keep a watch at intersections for gravel and other debris collected in the middle where vehicles turn. When in normal traffic, place yourself in the left side of the lane. Stay out of blind spots and don’t linger while overtaking. This will increase your visibility and will apply to most roadways. However, when approaching an on-coming vehicle you suspect has dual wheels on a two-lane road, you may want to shift to the right side until it passes.
If you see a potential hazard while riding, it is a good idea to cover your brakes. This will reduce your reaction time and buy you some much needed space. A single second of reaction time at 60 mph can buy you 88 feet. Always practice combination braking, applying both front and rear brakes. Many bikes are now equipped with linked braking systems. Read your owner’s manual for your specific model.
You should practice braking every time you stop. Applying brakes properly is the key to effective stopping. Be sure to load up the front and squeeze. Apply the back brake with steady pressure. If you get a front wheel lock up, immediately release and properly re-apply. If you get a rear wheel lock up, gradually release until it catches traction. Use caution if sliding sideways.
Excessive speed in a curve is the leading cause of single bike crashes on roads with a high ratio of curves. Accordingly, have a high volume of motorcycle traffic -- they’re fun. The old adage, in slow and out fast, is true and it works. Dialing up speed in a curve will help to shift weight back and stabilize the bike. Trying to scrub off speed in a curve is problematic and can cause some instability in the front end and can ultimately cause a washout. If you do need to slow a little, using the rear brake can help settle a nervous chassis. Try to avoid using the front brake when in a heavy lean. If you have to get off a lot of speed, remember straight line braking. If there is room, stand the bike up, brake, and get back into the curve. This is very difficult to execute and should be a last resort. It is much easier to get it off before you enter.
As riders, we can use a concept known as target fixation to our advantage. Through a number of principles known as ideokinesis, the motorcycle will naturally go where you look. So our goal is to look at the solution, not the problem. This is much easier to say than do. Simply put, look at where you want to go and not at where you are. It will be too late to change where you are because you are there. This applies even to curves requiring a hard lean. You need to keep your head level with the horizon and look through the curve. To make a sharp U-turn, set your bike on the opposite side of the turn and then look over your shoulder at where you want to go. You will be surprised at how sharp you can turn.
Stay in your comfort zone. Riding over your head is a good way to end up in a situation you may not recover from. Riders come in all shapes, sizes, and skill sets. Ride within your skill set and know your motorcycle’s limitations with you on it. If you ride to the edge of your skill level, you will have no margin for emergencies. So, slow down and enjoy the trip. Plan ahead with your riding party and establish protocols for exiting on and off the route or agree on rendezvous points along the route.
No, it’s not a sale at your favorite department store. It’s a blow out on your motorcycle. What do you do? No sudden moves -- stay calm. Your bike will not like riding on a flat tire, so expect it to respond differently. The bike will begin to sway back and forth and you will likely feel a bounce in the area the tire has blown or is the weakest. You will likely feel a great deal of vibration and swaying. You will need to apply some calming muscle to settle it down. Ease off of the throttle, brake gingerly with the good tire, and pull smoothly off the roadway. You don’t want any heavy leans in this situation. Even if it not a blowout but a leak reducing air pressure, the same procedures apply.
As you pull up to a light, try to put as much of the bike over the sensor wire as you can. The sensor is usually buried just prior to the stop line and can be located by a round, or most likely square or diamond shaped, pattern. If the light still won’t change, try putting the side stand down right on the wire. You should be on your way in seconds. If that doesn’t work there is provision in the law that allows a rider to proceed after waiting a reasonable amount of time and yielding the right of way to traffic.
We’ve all seen road gators and many of us have hit them. Road gators are tire tread or recaps from blown tires, typically from tractor/trailer combinations, although other vehicles are not exempt from throwing tire tread. Many times, they are encountered by following too closely or inattention. This can be avoided by simply creating distance and scanning the road. If you do encounter a large piece of tread, don’t hit the brakes. You should brace for the impact and throttle up to lighten up the front end and roll off as you pass over the tire tread. However, another component to consider is when they actually fly off. Recaps and tire tread can come off with a great deal of velocity. You do not want to be next to a truck when one of these flies off. When you are passing any type of vehicle with dual wheels, don’t linger. Dual wheels pose the additional hazard of holding debris between the tires, and hazards can fly out at anytime.
Your nice relaxing ride through the country should be fun, but don’t relax too much. Maintain a constant state of awareness while riding. If you ride with the concept of trying to identify every hazard you see, there won’t be any surprises. When identifying or calling out hazards, there are no wrong answers. Call out everything: driveway, intersection, children, dogs, parked cars, oncoming line of cars behind a slow moving vehicle, blind curve, hillcrest, deer, gravel, construction, potholes, railroad crossing, etc. The exercise will help you prepare for something, but more importantly, it will force you to scan beyond your normal boundaries.
Uneven pavement is most commonly found near construction areas and is commonly known as edge traps. However, it can be curbs, railroad crossings, or even debris. The tire of your motorcycle can get caught on the edge and limit your ability to keep the tire under the bike, resulting in loss of balance. The best defense for any type of edge trap is to ride past the area and return to your lane where the surface is even. If you cannot ride beyond the trap, try to cross the hazard as perpendicular as possible. As the bike moves toward the edge, allow the bike’s momentum to carry you over the edge. A simple lane shift will help establish a better angle.
If you ride your motorcycle as much as I do, you are going to get wet. I’m a big fan of the weather channel, but weather is what it is. Riding in the rain can be done safely if you follow a few simple rules. Keep rain gear with you if you have room. Riding while dry will keep you more comfortable and is less distracting. Keep a pair of clear glasses to wear or a helmet shield of some type. Keeping the rain out of your eyes is imperative. Adjust your riding speed for the conditions. Keep in mind, when it rains for the first time after an extended dry period, there will be excessive amounts of oil on the road, making conditions extremely slick. Watch for standing water. By design, motorcycle tires are efficient at wicking water out of the way, but they are not exempt from hydroplaning. Remember water will pool in the normal vehicle tracks on the road. Most roadways are crowned, and as such, water will be deeper on the right side of the road. Gear up, slow down, create distance, and stay focused.
You have the bike and the gear, but are you really ready to ride? Over 11% of all motorcyclists killed in motorcycle crashes are either driving without a motorcycle license or driving out of classification. If you are preparing to get a bike or perhaps just got your license, research will help you find countless reputable trainers to help you polish your skills. Even the most seasoned riders can benefit from formal training. Many riders say they have 15 or 20 years of experience, but what they really have is one year of experience repeated time after time. I remember close calls I had before receiving formal training and thinking to myself, “It’s a good thing I’m a good rider or I would have crashed.” After my training, I realized I was part of the problem and allowed those close calls to happen. Now I reduce even the close calls to a minimum. Regardless of your skill set, look for some additional training and you will be surprised what you don’t know.
When riding a motorcycle, always consider your relative position to other vehicles. You should place your motorcycle in the most visible locations. In most cases, the left side of your lane will be the best. Motorcycles are smaller, so pay particular attention to blind spots. When approaching an intersection, watch your position and don’t allow another vehicle to obscure your vision of side roads. Try not to pass through intersections with vehicles around you. Some think that is good protection; however, that protection will likely swerve in a panic situation and may hit you. Allow an extra second and run through the intersection in the gaps, creating an out or two. Don’t follow too close. Just because you can stop quickly doesn’t mean the guy behind you can.
No one sets out on a motorcycle trip with a crash in mind. However, they do happen. If you had a crystal ball and knew when you were going to crash, you would put on as much protective gear as you could carry. I know I would. I would look like the Michelin Man. Unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury. Instead, we get comfortable with our motorcycles and set off with our shades, t-shirts, shorts, and flip flops. Although this may be comfortable, it will provide very little protection if a crash occurs. Many manufacturers are producing safety gear that is comfortable and weather friendly, not too hot or too cold. So when you take off on your motorcycle, dress for the crash, not the pool.
If you are going to hit something in the roadway, first determine if it can be ridden over. You will want to hit the object as square as possible. Avoid hitting it at an angle, whether actual or lean angle. Reduce your speed as much as possible before hitting an object and raise up in the seat to absorb the shock. Before the impact, brace yourself for the hit. Throttle up just before hitting the object to lighten the front end, and as your front tire clears the object, roll off the throttle to load the front accordingly, lightening the rear end.
When stopping your motorcycle, is it a good idea to get used to 3-point stops. You should keep your feet on your foot pegs or boards until the motorcycle is almost at a complete stop. When the motorcycle stops, place your left foot on the ground and leave your right foot on the rear brake. This will help stabilize the motorcycle and aid with stop and starts on inclines. Also, if you are on the left side of the lane, this will force your foot into the cleanest spot on the road. Be careful if you are on the right side of the lane as you will be placing your foot on the oil strip in the middle of the road. In that case, you should simply place your right foot down and cover the brake with your hand, although this will increase the difficulty with incline starts and stops. This technique, commonly referred to as clean foot, dirty foot, will also help with 90 degree pull outs. If you need to pull out onto a roadway with limited room, leaning the bike in the direction you want to go and onto the foot that is down will help reduce the room required for the movement.
This is a concept that employs the skills of braking and maneuvering. When slowing or stopping your motorcycle, use both brakes. This is known as combination braking. Most riders are afraid to adequately use their front brake and tend to overuse the back brake. Your front brake should be your primary brake. It will produce up to 90 percent of your stopping abilities. Only 5 to 10 percent is produced by your rear brake. However, when used together, they can be very effective. When applying the front brake, do not slap at it because this can cause the front end to collapse too quickly, inducing a bouncing effect. The proper way to apply the front brake is to place all four fingers on the lever as close to the end as you can reach. Apply the brake, allowing the front end to load up (collapse), and then simply continue to squeeze until the motorcycle stops. If you feel the front tire lock up, immediately release and properly re-apply. When applying the rear brake, simply increase foot pressure until the bike stops. It is much easier to lock up the rear brake for a few main reasons: the rear end is getting lighter as weight shifts forward, your leg is stronger than your hand, and your body will likely be sliding forward, forcing you to apply more down pressure on the foot pegs or boards to stay in the saddle. If you experience a rear wheel lock up, simply decrease the pressure until the wheel begins to spin again. If you are travelling at a high rate of speed and the back of the bike has already started to come around, do not release the rear brake. You will likely have to ride it out or risk being high sided. The second half of this scenario is the maneuvering. We’ve spoke about target fixation and looking where you want to go. This is no exception. While you are braking, reducing your speed, you should be looking for a way out. Once you have reduced enough speed to maneuver, release your brakes and look where you want to go. Do not look at the obstacle! If you cannot slow enough to maneuver your bike, continue braking to reduce the impact speed. The key here… practice braking!