10 Common Motorcycle Accidents and How To Avoid Them

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Your Riding Buddies Are Idiots
You’ve seen it happen. A group is out for a ride when one of them stops suddenly or something similar. His buddy is too busy day dreaming to realize and hits him from behind. This has happened to us, it can happy to anyone.

How To Avoid It: Make sure everyone is aware of proper group riding etiquette and knows to ride in a staggered formation. You’d be amazed how many people are unaware of this simple technique. Doing so increases vision and moves bikes out of line with each other, meaning a temporary lapse in attention wont’ result in a collision. Pick smarter riding buddies or do what I do: ride alone.

You Locked The Front Brake
Oh no, a deer/cute girl/cop/stopped traffic. You grab a fistful of front brake and, next thing you know, you’re laying on the ground, watching your bike cartwheel down the street.

How To Avoid It: Learn to use your front brake. It might seem counterintuitive, but that front brake is the most powerful and difficult-to-master component on your motorcycle; it can alter your speed much more quickly than your engine.

If you’re just learning to ride, have simply never mastered this skill or bought a new bike and need to learn it, find a big, empty parking lot and start practicing. From a set speed (say 30mph), start braking at a certain mark, then repeat ad infinitum until you’ve reduced your braking distance as much as possible. You should be able to feel the tire on the very edge of locking up and the rear wheel lifting off the ground. Then go and practice at higher and higher speeds until you can employ the maximum braking ability of your motorcycle reliably and safely.

Or just buy a bike with ABS, remember you have it, and squeeze the lever as hard as you can when you need to make an emergency stop.

A Car Opened Its Door
The biggest gap in traffic was between a line of parked cars and a stationary line of active traffic. So you go scooting through it when, all of a sudden, Nathan-no-look swings his door wide open right in front of you.

How To Avoid It: Never, ever, ever, ever ride between an active traffic lane and parked cars. Not just because of the opening doors thing, but because pedestrians step out, cars pull out so they can see, and for a million other reasons. Just don’t do it. If you do, somehow, find yourself in a door opening situation though, follow all the advice above and brake as hard as possible. Even if a collision is inevitable, shedding even a small fraction of your speed can really help.

Cyclist’s call the area next to parked cars, within a doors’ width “The Death Zone” for a reason.

It’s Slippery!
Stuff is coming out of the sky! That stuff is cold, wet and, surprise surprise, slippery. Listen to Douglas Adams and don’t panic.

How To Avoid It: Does your bike have decent tires on it or were you silly and decided that running track rubber on the road was a good idea. Hint: it’s not. So long as you’re running reasonable tires and those tires aren’t worn out, you’ll be surprised at how well a motorcycle does in wet or even snowy conditions. Just slow down and be as smooth as possible on the controls.

In the wet, stuff like manhole covers become super, extra slippery and you’ll need to watch out for oil and Diesel on the road as well. Look for patches of rainbow and avoid those. If it hasn’t rained for a while, the first hour or so of rainfall is the most treacherous, it lifts all the oils and whatnot out of the pavement, floating it on top. Treat yourself to a hot cup of coffee and wait for a solid downpour to wash all that junk away.

Also beware of the limited visibility rain creates for other drivers and their general ineptitude; car drivers don’t seem to understand that slippery conditions necessitate longer following distances and earlier braking.

Ron Haslam advocates keeping revs up in the wet. The thinking is that, should your rear spin up, you’ll be using a smaller amount of throttle opening, allowing you to regain traction much easier than if you’re riding at 30mph in 6th, at wide open throttle.

The Most Common Bike Accident
According to the 1981 Hurt Report — the largest study ever conducted on motorcycle accident causation — alcohol is a factor in 50 percent of all bike wrecks.

How To Avoid It: Don’t drink and ride.

  • augustdaysong

    Most of these are pretty good, but come on Wes, riding in oncoming lanes to get a better line of sight around corners? Recipe for disaster regardless of what country you’re in

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Sigh.

      • augustdaysong

        I’d appreciate some more insight on your reasoning besides just “sigh.” Police have things like lights, sirens, and the legal jurisdiction to be able to safely do this assuming the other motorists follow the rules of the road and pull over when they hear the sirens. I don’t see this as an “advanced skill” so much as a practice they may use when necessary like giving chase or responding to an emergency.

        • Mr.Paynter

          I ride with an older guy who does this, but not nearly as much as it sounds, he doesn’t just tear off and ignore the lanes.

          He comes in to tighter bends much wider, sometimes on the line or just over, and it gives him a peak around the bend (further around then everyone else trying to take the tightest line they can) and then tightens right up as he rides through.

          • grahluk

            Same here. I sometimes ride with an older better rider than I, usually around his home turf in rural CT. Lots of wonderful twisty roads through scenery full of trees, rock walls, and elevation changes. Most of the turns are blind. All sorts of things like decreasing radius bumpy down hills. He’s often just popping over the center line before turning in to get a better peek. I stress BEFORE TURNING in. If there was someone around the corner he’d see them and be back in our land and take the corner how I usually do. Slower and fully within my lane. If he sees that it’s clear then he knows before I do and also can take the corner faster from a wider entry. When there is something around the corner I usually know it long before I would if we were both just tracking within our lane as he’s back in our lane and scrubbing a little speed off on the brakes before the turn. Sure sign that someone’s coming the other way.

            • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

              There you go.

            • Stuki

              IF meeting traffic are aware that he’s just “taking a peek” and will be back on his side in a second (fat chance of that happening), that makes sense. But what if, instead, minivan mom sees a bike hurtling at her in her lane and panics? Or, if Johnny street racer is coming the other way fighting for his pink slip, and is cutting the corner “just a little bit” into your lane while going the other way? Probably not insurmountable problems for experienced riders, but going fast enough that slipping across the double yellow in blind turns become safety imperative, isn’t exactly my idea of “safety enhancing” advice for riders in need of such.

              It’s a bit similar to passing, where if going fast (substantially faster than traffic) down a road with intermittent cars in your lane, you’re probably better off simply staying in the left lane permanently, unless you have to avoid an oncoming car, or a turn impedes visibility too badly. After all, you can always dive back when you notice an oncomer, so it’s mechanically perfectly safe. That’s the way pink slips for slammed Civics are won, in fact….. But still, riding (or driving) that way in traffic, will at some point “cause” one of the oncoming drivers you scare the heck out of into reacting in a less than ideal fashion. Much better, in my (admittedly probably less experienced than Wes’) opinion, to treat the double yellow in turns as if it was a minefield, and adjust speed accordingly. On straights, I do agree the double yellow can be a bit silly, designed as they are for cars with limited acceleration, rather than hypersports that can pass a 100 feet road train going 80 mph in about 120 feet…..

              • drummer

                Being an old semi and motorcycle driver very familiar with twisty roads, it is possible to look further ahead and also straighten out corners by crossing the line. It has to be done with caution and good sense.

                • Bill Manewal

                  This may well be true, but too many young riders get in the HABIT of crossing the line and build that habit into their future choices of speed and line. Not a good thing: Coming into a curve “as usual” and be met with something oncoming and not have the skills to adjust, because you haven’t built up the muscle memory or perceptive choices. If one just stays in his or her own lane, then it all sorts itself out, IF one rides at a speed that matches road conditions and skill level.

                • HardLookAtReality

                  too many people get into too many habits that are fatal because they are habits
                  and that works both ways

                  You get into a habit of not doing something that makes sense to do given the conditions
                  that’s just as bad as doing something that isn’t safe to do

        • deputydale@gmail.com

          As a retired cop I can tell you any cop who relies on his emergency warning equipment to carry him safely is going to the hospital eventually, usually sooner.

      • cr0ft

        Instead of condescending, how about you instead explain your reasoning and what you actually mean? In general, the point of lanes is that traffic travels in opposite directions in them. If you are in a lane where a semi is coming in the other direction around a curve, you then become a gory hood ornament.

        Are you talking about situations where it is clear that there is no opposing traffic for miles? If so, it might be fine to use the other lane, but needing to use the whole width of the road to ride probably means you’re at illegal speeds anyway and need to slow down.

        • HammSammich

          “needing to use the whole width of the road to ride probably means you’re at illegal speeds anyway and need to slow down.”
          I prefer not to cross the center-line unless I am passing in a safe and legal place to do so, but seriously…do you only ever ride your bike at or below the speed limit? How terribly boring.

          • Sportbike Mike

            He’s probably a cruiser rider….

          • HardLookAtReality

            Sorry when did motorcycling become fun just because you’re riding above the speed-limit vs un-fun when you’re not?

            The basic point here is that if you ignore the yellow line you can ride far above the posted speed-limit, at least until you hit someone coming the other way. But on most bikes you can ride far above the posted pseed limits and still stay on your side of the road. You can say it’s safer if you cut corners, I say that only means that you’ll ride faster. And undoubtedly riding in a safe manner all the time would be the most boring option for you, meaning motorcycling is only fun for you if you take serious risks while riding.

        • HardLookAtReality

          “riding in oncoming lanes to get a better line of sight around corners? Recipe for disaster regardless of what country you’re in”

          It’s only a “recipie for disater” if you don’t watch out for oncoming traffic when doing it.
          Of course he may not have meant literally crossing the line, just “riding wide”, but still.

          this has to be weighed against the risk of not doing it, of course

      • HardLookAtReality

        LOL seems that it would work fine as long as you were back on your side of the road before anyone could actually come out of the coner and hit you while you were on their side of the road. But clearly there is some risk that that is not the case.

        In fact the technique increases in risk with decreasing distance to the corner and increasing speed. A large obstruction, vehicle or whatever, is probably not a real risk unlss you’re going too fast to avoid hitting it. A vehicle coming your way is a MAJOR risk because you can pull out before you see it but not be able to get back before it hits you.

        It’s like trying to cut a blind-corner with a golf shot.
        If you get it right, great. You saved a stroke on the hole.
        If you don’t get it right, you’re screwed. You’re in the bushes if you can find your ball.
        Now you’re looking at 3 strokes or more, starting from a bad lie.
        The whole idea is to get you to take that shot,
        but in the long run, unless you are really, really good,
        (and being really good means you’re really lucky too)
        just taking that shot consistently is going to cost you strokes over never taking it.

        In this case as some have pointed out, the second or so that you save each time by doing this is going to mean a major accident one time when someone flies through that corner and catches you on their side of the road. No matter how low the risk is, the Strong Law of Probability will always come to the party.

        I like to say this about cornering “fast” on a motorbike in the first place.
        Sure it sounds great until the one time you get it wrong.
        And the faster your corner, relatively-speaking, the more likely you are to get it wrong.

        And the whole point of this technique is to allow you to corner faster “safely” around blind corners…
        this is just doubling-down on a dumb idea.

    • cyclemadness

      No kidding…and they did on a road with 311 turns.

      • cyclemadness

        318 turns…they wanted to make it 317, I guess

    • Daniel

      Perhaps you need to re-read what was written there…

      • augustdaysong

        “maximize vision by using the full width of the road, regardless of lanes.”

        I can see it just fine

        • atgatthd

          “Again, learn this from a trained professional before trying it yourself. ”

          An all encompassing disclaimer… Thus Daniel’s comment above.

          Great article Wes!

    • Stunk Horowitz

      I think the idea is that if you’re taking an inside corner (turning right in the States, turning left in the UK or wherever else they drive on the wrong side), you ease into the outside lane so that you have more room to turn and can see more clearly if there are obstacles, including cars headed your way, or where the road leads after the turn. You probably want to do this as you’re heading into the apex, rather than throwing yourself into the oncoming lane when you’re still blind to the dangers ahead.

      • Stuki

        While that is fine as far as it goes, also in the US, most people drive gigantic wallowing SUVs, and the few that don’t, drive gofast cars as fast as they are capable of. Leading them to, on the kind of twisty canyon roads that motorcyclists favor, ease into the INSIDE lane simply to make the turn as they’re coming at you. You in the outside lane, they in the inside, both going fast enough that simply staying in your own darned lanes is comfortable…., isn’t really a recipe for safe riding/driving in the long run.

    • Jordan K

      Im with this dude; I dont quite understand the advanced technique you described. Basically, in a two-lane road situation, you would move over into the on-coming lane before taking the turn in order to use the full width of the road, regardless of lanes?

      • Lourens Smak

        Yes. The thing is that if you take such a (right) bend too fast and too close to the inside, you could end up in the oncoming lane accidentally, after the bend… now that could be a REAL problem. Therefore, if there’s no oncoming traffic, use the other lane. (If there is traffic, slow down more). Also, with hairpin bends the inside of the bend is often MUCH steeper than the outside, which can give problems with pegs scraping etc.

        Here’s a clip that shows the curve technique, it also shows a biker that runs into problems staying too close to the inside on a right hairpin bend… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aI-Q6lqTMMA

        These Alpine hairpins are pretty extreme; with more “normal” curves I would stay in my lane…

        • KEITH

          TINTED WINDOWS IS THE REASON I SOLD MY BIKE. YOU USE TO SEE WHEN THEY WERE GOING TO DO SOMETHING,
          WITH THEIR HEAD MOVING AND CHECKING MIRRORS. NOT ANYMORE!

      • Hooligan

        Yes. using as much of both sides of the road as is safe gives you the
        maximum view and the best information to make a good decesion. You can see the patch of gravel before you get to it. I do not
        know if there is an American version of the English Police Roadcraft
        book. Which is the basic for training their Grade 1 riders, who operate at a much, much, higher level of competance than the
        average rider. That book tells you how to do it and everything else you
        need to understand about riding. Also taking the correct line through a corner means you can keep up your corner speed
        and be smooth. No braking in a corner (except lightly traiing the rear
        brake), no need to shut off the power which will sit you up and make you go straight on, no need to
        bang on the power as you exit either. Smoooooth is fast. Smooth is safe.

        • Stuki

          Police learn to drive/ride that way, because it is part of their job to go as fast as they can in some situations. Joe rider, OTOH, can achieve as high, or higher, levels of safety by simply slowing down a bit, without any detriment at all. I mean, if you’re a special forces EOD, you learn all kinds of cool techniques for disarming roadside bombs; but for the average Joe, remaining ignorant of all that, but simply staying the heck away from bombs, is still a safer option.

          Damn, when did I get so old that I ended up being the old, sensible fart in speed debates….?

          • Jordan K

            Well im young and like to go way to fast, but I totally agree. If you are entering corners so fast that you need to use the oncoming lanes to make the corner, you need to slow the fuck down :) I know if I was to try and use the “Full width of the road” on a place like The Snake on Mulholland, people would lose their minds and post videos on youtube about how I am an asshole squid…

            • Matt Gibbs

              You misunderstand. It isn’t about entering the corner so fast that you have to use both lanes. It’s about using the extra vision available to you when you move to the outside, to judge the optimum means of taking the corner. This gives you better sight of what’s ahead, earlier awareness of obstacles / surface hazards etc., and greater ability to take evasive action. Naturally it also gives you the ability to go faster if that’s what you want
              If you use the opposite lane you don’t just swerve into it on the blind corner. You move across safely and progressively (usually before the corner) so you don’t suddenly meet a truck coming the other way – if there is one you’ll see it coming with plenty of time. You are also usually away from the vehicle immediately in front of you, removing that obstacle from your line of sight
              Bear in mind that these techniques are known, practiced and taught in advanced / police riding schools / groups throughout the UK, where most roads contain more corners than the average US state. Even though it may sound wrong to someone that hasn’t tried the technique, doesn’t mean it is wrong

        • http://www.cix.co.uk/~kwh kwh

          It is called ‘offsiding’, but the police have stopped including it in their driver training syllabus now, as increasing traffic densities have made the risk-reward ratio unattractive. On acute bends it doesn’t give an advantage full stop (you have to move further to get back on your own side of the centre line than the extra forward vision you get from the radical positioning), while on gentler turns it is a technique that can allow you to travel faster & safer, but if it _does_ go wrong, it is usually catastrophic. There have been some high profile fatalities in the UK involving riders being too clever by half while offsiding, to demonstrate the problem – one of the IAM groups lost their chief observer that way.

          These days the standard advice is ‘to the centre line and no further’, with the caveat that IF you are already across the centre line for some reason (like you have just performed an overtake), and IF you can see or know that there will be a DEFINITE ADVANTAGE to be gained from being out on the off side (because you can see that the approaching corner is a gentle kink or you know it to be so) then it makes sense to hold your position in the opposite gutter through the corner unless and until oncoming traffic, road markings or whatever force you back onto your own side of the road…

    • Tony1756

      Yeah, that guy making a right turn might not look both ways before pulling out. This is terrible advice and could get people fined at best, killed at worst.

    • deputydale@gmail.com

      I think he means only insofar as you can see ahead. I follow a 4 second rule. I only go so fast that I can see at least 4 seconds ahead. That give time for recognition, decision, reaction, and effect before I get there. In NC I also use both side of the road IF I can see far enough ahead… more easily done in the winter when the trees are bare.

  • grb

    If people can fallow this simple rules, statistics would be so different for bikers

  • Jeremy Chittenden

    Unfortunately I’ve learned all these lessons the hard way, great write up. Did you know volcanic ash is just as slippery as that wet stuff? Another note you should have mentioned about gear was to be ready for the weather. I only own a motorcycle and have been commuting for the past 2 in Southern Louisiana, heat and rain are a better mix than cold and rain. You never know down here, and everyone’s drunk driving by 9pm

  • ap

    as an experienced rider, i can tell you this probably one of the most helpful and important articles rideapart/hfl has written. please take the 10 minutes it takes to go over it, everyone at every experience level can get something out of it. thank you wes!

    • Martin

      Agreed.

      As far as related reading material, I’ve really enjoyed MSF’s Guide To Motorcycling Excellence, Mastering The Ride by David Hough, and Total Control by Lee Parks.

      • Piglet2010

        Better than the book is taking a class with Lee Parks on the paved part of a SuperMoto track. :)

        • Mugget

          Even better than that is to go to CSS and really learn how to ride.

          • Piglet2010

            Does Scientology say no to trail braking?

            • Mugget

              Does Scientology have anything to do with riding?

              No.

              Are you predjudiced against CSS because Keith Code is a Scientologist? If that is the case I can only suggest that you be real. If a person knows how to ride and train others, they know it. Full stop! Religion and personal beliefs don’t affect that, they don’t make the methods or techniques any less effective. To suggest otherwise is completely illogical and just ridiculous.

              And to address your trail braking comment – yes if you want to learn trail braking CSS will help you. Although it may not be part of the Levels 1-3 curriculum, that’s what Level 4 is all about. There’s many more important skills that need to be learnt before getting to trail braking…

              I don’t know where the idea that CSS will flat out not teach trail braking came from. Another ridiculous idea.

              • Piglet2010

                Well, I can pretty much guarantee I will not take a CSS class unless I come into an unexpected fortune, since there are just as good or better alternatives that do not limit themselves to the southwestern US – contrary to belief, the world does not revolve around California.

                As for Scientology, its founder L. Ron Hubbard did not believe in it, so I have problems with the judgement of anyone who does. Not sorry if that offends you.

                I was told CSS does not teach trail braking by the same instructor who *was* able to steer the “No BS” bike around a track using the fixed handlebars.

                • Mugget

                  You realise that CSS do have multiple locations, including worldwide? And if you ride your own bike on a single day course you don’t have to pay four figures? There is a reason why most rider training is inevitably compared with CSS (such as in the SoCal Supermoto article in August).

                  I don’t know anything about L. Ron Hubbard, don’t worry – you didn’t offend me.

                  So who was this “instructor” you’re talking about? A CSS coach? If you really want to know if they will teach you trail braking, phone them yourself and find out! Not being part of the Level 1-3 curriculum and “not teaching” it are two very different things as well.

                  As for steering the No BS bike, yeah – no one ever said that it couldn’t be steered! The Twist DVD clearly shows it veering off track after the rider is standing on one footpeg, bouncing! That means that it was steered! But the point is that any steering change comes through the handlebars, the front wheel must move if the bike is to change direction. Therefore the most efficient way to steer is directly through the ‘bars. Sure, you can move your body weight around and some of that movement will come through to the ‘bars, but trying to use that as the basis for effective steering is as good as useless. This instructors on the No BS bike would have been crawling around the track at a snails pace. It doesn’t make sense why anyone would hold onto the idea of body steering, yeah it’s “possible”. But that’s like a person trying to dig a tunnel with a teaspoon. Yeah that would be possible, but the idea is just laughable.

                  Clearly you have some facts mixed up. I don’t know what to say other than to suggest that you stop taking third hand “advice” and set aside any personal issues and take an objective look at things.

  • jonoabq

    If you are stressed, having a bad day, mentally preoccupied, sit and think a minute before deciding to ride that day or at that time. You need to have your head screwed on tight each and every time you go out, it matters that much.

    • Chuck Merriam

      A very good point. I sometimes don’t think it wise to ride if I have been doing strenuous work with my arms and hands, for fear I may just be a little weak or slow.

    • VagrantRenaissance

      To that end going through a checklist, even a mental one, is a good way to prep yourself. Put these tips and more (maybe a quick version of the T-CLOCS inventory) on an index card in your riding jacket. It can almost wind up as a mantra or meditation to get yourself “in the right space” to ride safe. It’s also a good way to help put aside the crap from your day and focus on the ride ahead.

  • Zachary Church

    There is a level of common sense to riding a motorcycle that one must obtain. Had only these people (Not all of them) had read this article BEFORE they left home

  • Piglet2010

    I like Jason Pridmore’s advice if you feel you are getting into a corner too fast and start to panic – look farther to the inside of the turn than you want to be, and if the bike has enough mechanical grip and ground clearance, you *will* make it through the turn most of the time. Look to the outside where you do not want to be, and you will almost certainly run off the road.

    • Stuki

      +1.

      Back when my buddies and I were young and thought we were fast, I can’t remember single outing without someone running wide. And, riding behind them, the bike running wide would visibly lean LESS as the rider started to panic, and stare at the drop he was now about to tumble down. This was before riding schools and track days were part of canyon riders’ lifestyles, the way they are now. Back then, getting faster meant buying a “faster” bike. Or slicker tires. Or a louder pipe, or some such….

    • HardLookAtReality

      …if you feel that you are going into a corner too fast, sit the bike up a little, give it some front brake, slow down some and then resume the corner.

      Bleeding off just 5mph can make all the difference in the world and there’s nothing to say that you can’t trail-brake all the way around.

    • Stuart Blanch

      If you trail rear brake through the corner you will tighten your turning circle. I dont touch the front after i have finished my pre corner braking but I will cover the rear brake or trail some rear brake through the corner. It pulls the front around into the corner making you corner tighter and controls your speed better. Its much safer than grabing some front brake or trailing that. It not only washes speed of it turns trhe nose of the bike tighter into the corner, just what you want if your a tad hot into the corner.

  • Piglet2010

    If you buy a used bike, check the age of the tires before riding in the rain – I crashed my pre-gen Ninjette due to ridiculously low levels of traction during the 5/10th instructor led track familiarization session. Was still poor after I dropped tire pressures to almost 20 psi. Turns out the tires are over 3½ years old.

  • Mr.Paynter

    Where were you guys 10 years ago when I started riding?

    I can tick off, cars turning in front of me, sudden lane changes, rain and locking up the front in offs I have experienced, all minor thankfully.

    You literally cannot stress these things enough to people you teach to ride (I am converting them slowly!) but these articles help a whole heap.

  • Kr Tong

    I learned to ride a motorcycle by riding a bicycle.

    -How to ride with/between traffic.

    -Being invisible. How to ride with a margin for error.

    -Situational awareness for traffic and surface conditions

    -Modulating brake levers

    -Keeping arms loose/core tight/weight on your feet

    -Looking through turns

    -Weighting the outside ball of your foot through a turn.

    -In motorcycling you hang off, In cycling you get low. It’s all changing body position through turns.

    -Keeping speed through turns

    Some of those aren’t necessarily helpful to accident prevention, but definitely a cheaper way to hone two wheeling skills.

    • Stuki

      One big difference is, bumping off (slow moving, as in LA 2/3rds of the time) cars are perfectly fine on a lightweight bicycle, but crushes limbs and digits like nobody’s business on an MC. Ditto for hopping up on a curb when things get dicey. Or jumping reds into the quiet calm of the other side of a redlit intersection…….

      Conversely, I do believe spending time on motorbikes, makes the average road cyclist much more traffic aware. Some of those guys are just plain clueless, and could use a moto’s more up-close-and personal-with-cars experiences to become a bit more aware.

      • Kr Tong

        I’m not gonna get into the cyclist vs motorcyclist debate for the millionth time, but you’re wrong about everything.

        • Mike Hough

          Don’t mean to pick, but it’s an 18 wheeler. LOL Thank you for speaking up, I drive one of those things. People get pissy all the time and have no idea what it takes to move one down the road, and especially stop one. Just sayin’

          • Colin Wilkinson

            I live and ride bike (motorcycle) in South Africa, it never ceases to amaze me how many drivers cut in front of large vehicles at traffic lights and then stop, expecting the driver of the larger vehicle to still be able to stop in a suddenly reduced distance. Another thing is how many drivers of cars don’t allow for the turning circle of eighteen wheelers and block intersections when these guys/gals are trying to turn… Think ahead guys.

        • Stuki

          I drove an 18 wheeler (my uncle’s) as a summer job back in college. And while I may well have been an idiot, most of those guys aren’t. Some are, but on average, those guys as a group are probably amongst the best drivers out on the roads.

          I’ve also been riding bicycles for decades. Measured in hours (rather than miles), more than motos, in fact. And in all my experience, bicyclists gain much more in traffic awareness by picking up MC riding, than motorcyclists do by riding bicycles (aside from the health issue….)

          For traffic awareness, you really don’t want to be aware of every pebble in the road, for one. Look a bit further ahead, and trust the tire/suspension/bike to handle sub treshold minutia that bicyclists going 15mph on 150psi 19mm tubulars need to concern themselves with…..

          But in general, at least amongst the many long time urban bicycle riders in SF and LA I have known and ridden with, a level of aggressiveness in traffic that will get you killed on an MC, becomes the norm. Running (or at least ruring (right-uturn-right for non cyclists)) reds is the canonical way of dealing with one. “Traffic laws serve a mandatory function for motor vehicles, but an advisory one for bicycles”. Lane splitting traffic tight enough that you need to punch hoods and grab mirrors to bend them out of the way. Alternating between using the “bike lane” on both sides of the road to make headway. Hopping on and off curbs. Aggressively shooting the tail of left turning cars at intersections. Lane splitting oncoming traffic. Yellowlining. And flat out crashing into cars. It’s just what you do when riding a bicycle.

          And it’s not because cyclists are “clueless” in any absolute sense, but simply because the only times they are in a position to, for example, lane split on a bicycle, traffic is by definition so gummed up and slow moving that, even if you do crash, you get a few scrapes and bumps. Plenty worth it for the time and sanity savings reaped by not living life as a caged animal.

          But, if you take that attitude with you when riding a moto (and trust me, it’s tempting when backed up behind tow mirrors in ATGATT, huffing exhaust fumes on a 90 degree day), you will suffer much worse consequences. Which is probably at least tangentially related to why children are allowed to ride road bikes, but not street bikes, if you catch my drift….

          • Kr Tong

            Nothing you just wrote explains how motorcycles can help bicyclists read traffic, which I thought was your point.

    • HoldenL

      This is so true. I have read so many comments from motorcyclists who tell about being surprised by left-turners or people pulling out of parking lots (or streets) in front of them. But these things have happened to me just once or twice in four years of riding a motorcycle, commuting daily in a suburban hellscape of inattentive drivers. And I think the reason is that I rode bicycles on the street for decades. If you think you’re invisible on a motorcycle, try riding a bicycle, especially if you ride faster than motorists expect. Twenty or 30 years of bicycle riding on the street will give you a Ph.D.-level ability to predict motorist behavior.

      And yes on the weight distribution. If you ride a bicycle with good form, it feels natural to ride a motorcycle with good form.

  • Jordan

    Keeping your fingers on the front brakes will save you half a second in an emergency stop as opposed to just resting them on the throttle grip. Most lever/master cylinder combinations are cheap and make it difficult to find the ideal sweet spot to rest your fingers on the lever comfortably with just the lever adjuster, so consider loosening the bracket the master cylinder attaches to the bar with and raise/lower until you find the best tilt and then tighten the bracket back up. Don’t keep pressure on the lever, just rest your fingers there as you ride and remind yourself to keep your fingers there as you get distracted shifting gears, signaling, etc.

    If you are approaching a sketchy intersection where you legally have the right away, start loading the front brake until you know it’s clear. If things go bad, you can immediately start braking effectively with a steady pull of the lever. That little bit of preparation saves you from panic braking and what you get is a calm front end as opposed to losing the front tire from just surging on the front lever.

    Depending on the scenario, if you can get the front loaded smoothly for braking, you should be able to brake as hard as you need if you are super steady on the lever. That initial second is critical to how the rest shakes out and you will spend your entire lifetime riding perfecting it on the street. If you are on the verge of panicking as this is all unfolding, don’t target directly fixate on what you’re avoiding, just imagine looking through the object.

    If you are on a sporting machine, consider going to a track day, as it will let you safely build up speed approaching a corner and you can get comfortable using your brakes more and more aggressively.

    My $0.02.

  • James Birchfield

    Passing a slow car on a double yellow line and into a curve??? I’d give the Harley rider an “F” in rider safety. NOTHING is so important that you can’t spend a few miles riding slower and paying attention to the slow cage drivers on the Dragon’s Tail!

    • gravit8ed

      Not to mention it was a full bagger with (one would assume) the maximum amount of weight loaded into each of the hard bags. That’s a couple hundred pounds of sprung mass, and he didn’t even try to start turning until after he’d crossed the crown of the road so he was then trying to turn against a negative-camber slope. DERP!

      • Kevin

        Total target fixation. Couldn’t get past the “oh no, if I keep going I’ll go straight off the road” voice screaming in his head. Sad.

        • HardLookAtReality

          …so-called “target-fixation” is merely an admission that you can’t avoid a wreck.

          Not the reason why you can’t avoid the wreck.

          Even so it’s not such a bad thing.

          You might not be able to avoid going off the road, but at least you can avoid hitting that tree.

  • grahluk

    Even as an experienced rider I stupidly got caught out earlier this season with #2 Gravel In Blind Corner. Actually wasn’t even a blind corner. I didn’t recal my brain for country back road riding. Things like trail braking and apexing the inside corner on right handers is bad policy on the street. Lines for backroad riding and track riding are very different for different environments. While my turn was technically well done I was still dragging a little brake as I found a light layer of gravel just within a foot of the asphalt edge. Had I not been trail braking I may have been able to roll through and had I picked a smarter line I would have been a foot or two wider from the inside apex and clear of the gravel. Since I was observing neither it luckily only cost me some new frame sliders, bar end, and brake lever.

    p.s. The example video perfectly illustrates the point from a different reason. There may have been gravel in the turn but the bikes in front and following didn’t lose the front as they were not on the brakes and followed the same line. This rider that crashed I believed psyched himself out before the turn. He was on the brakes right after seeing the sharp left and speed warning sign. He seemed to be trying to slow himself through the turn. That’s not trail braking. That’s braking in a turn. The slow in fast out rule should have been used although his speed was fine just not his confidence and comfort.

  • Marc

    The Pace should be required reading for every street rider: http://www.fjrowners.com/pace.html

    I strongly, strongly (strongly) recommend against trail braking as the norm on the street. Everyone should learn it, and keep in reserve in case they overcook a corner, but the goal should always (on the street) be to complete braking before the turn.

  • Alvin Tosh

    I have 30 years riding experience, recent participant in a MSF safety class, and will say that this i9s one of the best articles that I have read in a long time. This article can be very helpful to anyone with any level of experience.

  • librtee_dot_com

    Wes, you da’ man. This article is fantastic. You had me at ‘precognitive sixth sense,’ because that’s what riding’s all about. This is a fantastic and life saving article here :)

    I’ve had four of these accidents, lol…

    • librtee_dot_com

      One was on a bicycle to be fair..I got doored pretty hard near Koreatown Chicago and ping-ponged between the rows of parked cars and the very close in traffic. what fun.

      I’m lying there up in a mangled heap in the bike lane, dude jumps out of his Passat, ignores me, starts freaking out about a 2″ scratch on his paint and yelling at the door opener. SMH…people sometimes…

  • HoldenL

    Yes, in your second story, this was the “precognitive sixth sense” helping you. You probably saw a combination of which way her head was turned, the way her car’s wheels slowed down (and probably never stopped), and understanding that she was looking for cars and not for motorcycles. Dozens of factors play into this sixth sense. One of the most important is how they approach the intersection. Cars that approach an intersection fast, then brake abruptly, are trouble.

    I’m especially vigilant about Priuses and cars that have more than three bumper stickers. These drivers are more likely to be menaces.

  • wtec

    Great great article. However after reading this line: ‘Under no circumstances should you “lay the bike down.”’ I immediately thought about this video from years ago. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8rBBUVCxOU A guy did the opposite and it worked.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Sure, but that’s a ridiculous exception. He probably could have avoided that entire situation simply with better situation awareness and he 100% could have stopped in time if he’d just used his brakes properly.

      • wtec

        Totally agree. Just thought about this situation when I was reading. I think it was a nice save though.

        • Strafer

          to you its a nice save – to me I wonder if he would have been better off using the brakes? As Wes says it seems he would have been able to stop in time…
          Although when you spot that thing turning in front of you its a struggle not to panic! Scary!
          Good that the driver stopped his rig as his foot was an inch from being under the tire

      • deputydale@gmail.com

        I rode out a crash once. The bike flipped upside down on me and I got a helicpter ride and a blood transfusion. 8 years later the side of the road was coming up on me (oil on the turn) and a wall was on the side of the road. I laid her down and walked away with a torn jacket and minor rash… and a totaled BMW.

  • Ankur Vishwakarma

    This is a really good article. One thing – I didn’t quite understand the “keeping revs up in the wet” part. Would anybody who did understand it care to rephrase that sentence for me?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      In the wet, use a lower gear instead of a higher one. It seems counterintuitive — you’ll have more power on tap— but you’ll add control and reduce the amount the rear tire will spin up when it loses traction because you’ll be using less throttle.

      • Ankur Vishwakarma

        That makes more sense – thanks.

  • http://www.racetrackstyle.com/ Racetrack Style

    Wes, i was glad to see your article include trail braking. Why do some riders strongly Not recommend trail braking on the street?

    I successfully feather/trail the rear brake quite a bit with spirited riding. Other experienced riders have agreed with me, but others say “I don’t touch the brakes” with a tone like I’m not smooth if I’m braking. I explained that I was trail braking and that just b/c they see my tail light illuminated, does not mean I’m not smooth.

    Good article. A few thoughts/phrases I mentally remind myself before a ride: “anticipate”, “respond, don’t react”

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Thanks.

      Why do you trail the rear? The whole idea with trail braking, as I’ve been taught, is to keep the motorcycle’s weight transferred forward, steepening the steering angle and maximizing the front contact patch. Using the rear brake would seem to ask too much of an unweighted tire when combined with cornering forces.

      I drag a little rear at lower speeds to smooth power delivery, but wouldn’t employ it while riding fast.

      And +1 on anticipation trumping reaction.

      • http://www.racetrackstyle.com/ Racetrack Style

        A couple of decades ago I read about it in a moto mag so I started trying it and it improved my riding….just a touch to scrub off speed smoothly. (I remember the article mentioning the rear, and then much later i heard riders talking about T-B with the front).

        I also use a lot of counter steer down force on the clip ons, so right hand corners are easier to apply more force when not occupied with a bit of front brake (even with 2 fingers resting on the lever).

        In left corners it also seems natural to force the left clip on while feathering the rear brake lever barely.

        • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

          Man, I dunno. I’d really read up on and practice using the front brake for trail braking. The way you’re doing it just sounds like a recipe for lost traction at the rear.

          • http://www.racetrackstyle.com/ Racetrack Style

            I’ve done either brake by themselves & a combination

            This article mentions application of both sometimes.
            http://www.motorcyclistonline.com/howto/street_savvy/122_0910_motorcycle_trail_braking/

            With ABS bikes, are both in play with a subtle touch?

            • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

              ABS doesn’t change physics. When you apply brakes, weight transfers forward, reducing the grip available for the rear tire. Apply rear brake while also asking the rear tire to deal with cornering forces, while unweighted…does not equal profit.

              • http://www.racetrackstyle.com/ Racetrack Style

                I wasn’t suggesting a change to physics. ABS came to mind after reading many people talking about front brake only

          • John

            I always use both brakes. ALWAYS. Because if I don’t, I won’t properly use it when needed. But I think this is a difference between those that grew up riding dirt bikes and those that grew riding street.

  • Stuki

    I would want to add that, particularly if riding where other riders are likely to show up, when splitting and getting to the front, get the heck off to the side to let others get up front as well, so that riders behind you are not stuck in no man’s land between two 18 wheelers (Or Suburbans). And, when light turns green, move decisively away from traffic, so that those that may still be behind you, can get away from traffic as well.

    I saw a nasty pileup in Santa Cruz not long ago, where something like 50 Harley dudes were stuck behind each other between car lanes, and it turned into a mess when light turned green, and someone somewhere managed to stall or fall or whatever, leaving those behind him in a squeeze.

    • Robert Miles

      I would expect a group of fat bikes who thought it would be a great idea to line up 50 deep between lanes at a stop light to result in problems regardless of whether or not the first guy in front pulls away fast. Or the second. Or the third. Especially since they are probably packed up on *both* sides of a lane of cars. I get slightly nervous if there is even just one or two bikes ahead of me when I get up there.

      Also, I think cutting to the front is great to do when you aren’t slowing anyone down, but when the cars have to all stop and wait for you to caravan up as if you were a funeral procession in order not to hit anyone, you’re just being jerks. Not that Harley dudes ever *intend* to be anything but considerate…

  • Shane Duffy

    Love the last video! “They’re gonna beat our asses!”

  • John

    I would add riding at night, which isn’t the direct cause, but leads to a whole lot of accidents, including 100% of mine. I stopped riding in unlit areas at night. Problem essentially resolved.

    I always use the trick of moving between cars when I’m the last person at a stop light.

    But also, you can learn to control the driver behind you. When riding in the city, do NOT race up to a stop light and then expect a cager to notice. By slowing down earlier you can bring in a car closer to you so you can see his attention level and see that he sees you braking. If he slows as well, you’re in better shape. If you love to run fast into red lights, yes, be prepared to hide beside another car.

    Also, passing people at more than about a 15mph differential means they have NO idea you even exist. Once you are SURE they aren’t going to pull in front of you or into you, you can gun it. I usually pass at 10-15 mph at first, then roll on the throttle a little more as I get beside them.

    • grahluk

      Those last two points are very good.

      If you slow down with the following car you are larger and separate in their field of view than a stationary object stopped behind a larger vehicle.

      That last point is a biggie. Drivers are expecting other vehicles moving around them at the same relative +/- speed. They’re not scanning (if they are at all) and making moves to account for vehicles moving significantly faster than them. We’ve all been in cages or passengers where a car or bike blows by at 30+ mph faster than traffic. It’s always like they come out of nowhere because according to the flow of traffic they have. Real good point. I’ve seen squid types end up skin crayons from ping ponging off of a car that was doing a legit lane change. Unfortunately for the squid his trajectory and speed didn’t allow for the change of circumstances.

      • runnermatt

        I’d never heard the phrase “skin crayon” before. I read your comment to my girlfriend and now she is grossed out. LOL!

    • John

      Adding to this point, I almost rear-ended a motorcyclist today. He had the right of way on a boulevard, but someone “half-crossed” the boulevard and he apparently panic-stopped right in front of me of it. Either that or he got confused by the intersection. My truck doesn’t stop that fast. Well, it did, but jeesus. Didn’t help that his tail light was out. I had to wait for my depth perception to kick in for no expected reason. I was almost rear-ended too.

  • Jen Degtjarewsky

    Wes – You absolutely killed it with this article! Good stuff!

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Thanks Jen.

  • Boredinmin

    I’m on top of all those potential crash issues. But, the one that scares the bejesus out of me is the sound of a skidding car behind me as I’m waiting at a light. You can stop well over in the lane, but honestly there’s nothing you can do. Just hope it won’t happen.

  • Davidabl2

    Darwin “fixes ignorance” all the time.

  • Davidabl2

    I’m pretty sure that the usual translation-to-truth of the statement “I had to lay it down” is “I panicked and
    locked up the front brake” If we may assume that the rider wasn’t on a chopper that’s without a front brake…

  • Chip

    I loved this article and agree with everything said…but I’m surprised that the statistical #1 bike accident isn’t even mentioned here….parking lot “tip-overs” account for more accidents than all other motorcycle accidents COMBINED (source: Insurance Foundation, 2012).

    The most common reason? The use of the front brake at very low speeds is a sure way to fall. I see it all the time: a newer (and some not so new) rider enters a parking lot and TAKES THEIR FEET OFF THE PEGS. That leaves only one way to brake, the front brake….guess what? If you are turning at all or leaning at all at parking lot speeds, you will fall if you clamp the front brake.

    Learn to use both brakes together and each brake independently of the other, depending on the situation.

  • John

    #11. Don’t buy a Harley and try to go around curves. It’s a recipe for total embarassment, if not total death.

  • John Rarrick

    Well done article. I’ll share this with everyone I know. Thanks.

  • runnermatt

    25 seconds of this morning’s commute. The driver didn’t scare me as I halfway expect this kind of behavior. At least they gave me plenty of room.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPnymBQnJ4c

  • runnermatt

    ig·no·rance [ig-ner-uhns] Show IPA
    noun
    the state or fact of being ignorant; lack of knowledge, learning,information, etc.

    Got that from Dictionary.com
    You can fix ignorance with education. Now stupid, you can’t fix that! And if someone makes something idiot proof, someone else with just come out with a bigger and better idiot.

    I saw this quote, “In the age of information ignorance is a choice” – Donny Miller.

  • CS_USA

    Great posting.

  • nick glenn

    No mention of wearing a hi-viz motorcycle jacket?

    • David Schwartz

      3rd paragraph from the top:

      “Safety gear doesn’t just help prevent injury in a crash, but can make riding more comfortable, put you in better control of your bike and help you be seen by other drivers. Bright colors on your helmet and jacket/suit will help car drivers see you, potentially avoiding some of the common accidents detailed below.”

      Hope that helps.

      • nick glenn

        Thanks David, I missed that the first time through. I feel this is a vital element of motorcycle safety and yet it’s one that so few riders take on board. I wear a Tourmaster bright yellow jacket at all times, as do many riders in the UK where I am from. Sadly, in North America it’s much less common

        • David Schwartz

          You’re welcome Nick.

          True. The number of times I see riders with no or few safety clothes in the US is stunning, such as a t-shit with the armored vest over it and helmet. It’s kinda wacky.

        • http://www.cix.co.uk/~kwh kwh

          I don’t know about it being vital. Arguably if one more motorist sees you than would have done if you’d been dressed all in black then it’s a result. Neverthless, the science of SMIDSY is incredibly complex and involves all sorts of physiological limitations affecting the way we perceive the world that mean that it’s almost a miracle that anybody ever sees us as we approach – this http://www.londoncyclist.co.uk/raf-pilot-teach-cyclists/ – is just one example! So the first thing to do once you are wearing hi-viz gear is to completely forget you are wearing it and continue to assume you are invisible. Because there are certainly people out there who will tell you quite sincerely that they believe that the risk-compensation effect of wearing high-viz gear makes it more dangerous than not wearing it. I think they are bonkers, in the same class as people who assert that seatbelts make you more at risk in a car crash, but if you wanted to prove them right, treating your new hi-viz as some kind of divine totem of visibility would be a good way to do it…

  • Phil Mills

    Lots of comments here, but nobody seems to be touching on the alcohol factor. I wonder if that line is buried too close to the comment box and gets passed over on a quick read.

    There’s been a lot of accidents around my county this summer. Seems like 2/3 or more of the writeups in the paper the next day include the line “Alcohol is suspected to have played a factor in the crash.”

    Skip the bar if you’re on two wheels, folks. That’s the kind of motorcycling culture we do NOT need to be reinforcing.

  • Campisi

    “Under no circumstances should you “lay the bike down.” Your best chance of survival comes from shedding as much speed as possible pre-collision, and you’re going to be able to do that best with the bike completely upright, using both brakes. Even if you only have time to lose 10 or 20mph, that could be the difference between going home with bruises and going home at all.”

    This. Both the paramedics at my last crash and the ER staff at the hospital they took me to all asked me if I did and/or why I didn’t lay the bike down. Where does the notion of “laying it down” even come from, anyway?

    • http://www.cix.co.uk/~kwh kwh

      According to ‘On Any Sunday’, from Flat Track racing, where they have no front brake and the only friction they have available if they are drifting catastrophically wide is to lay the bike down and hope it digs in to the dirt to slow them down before they hit the wall…

  • Patty Williams

    Thank you so much! Ive been in a few of those situations and was able to stay on my bike. The mini van one pissed me off. Its not funny.

  • http://www.edwindearborn.com/ Edwin Dearborn

    These are great lessons.

  • Jeff M

    Crashes, not accidents.

  • Multi Madness

    Excellent write-up Wes. While I am a little late to the game here, I am wondering about your ABS comment: “Or just buy a bike with ABS…and squeeze the lever as hard as you can when you need to make an emergency stop” I have been riding a long time, and only recently bought a bike equipped with ABS… While the brakes are ‘linked’ on my bike, wouldn’t squeezing the fronts as hard as i can lead to an “endo’? Granted, I should try for myself, but there’s tons of warning about this in the user manual, as well as a warning label on the bike itself regarding this.

    Keep up the good work!

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Depends on the bike, most modern ABS systems won’t allow a stoppie or endo to occur. Linked brakes don’t affect that. They’re just a layer of attempted idiot proofing that has the inverse effect of decreasing outright control.

      • Stuki

        If the brakes are simply hydraulically linked, even the slightest hint of rear lift will cause the rear to lock; which will, due to linking, release braking power across the entire linked system. Old school linked abs systems had this problem, where even if only one wheel slipped, all braking ceased, leading to a feeling the bike either lost it’s brakes, or actually accelerated.

        Newer, electronically controlled, systems don’t suffer from this, and many allow quite a bit of rear lift before intervening. The new “race abs” systems have to allow for deceleration hard enough to lift the rear a bit, as max deceleration occurs just at the point of the rear losing contact with the ground. Regardless, they shouldn’t allow for a full endo, unless they are either poorly designed or faulty, since at sufficiently high angles of rear lift, there is virtually no resistance to the front slowing, and the abs sensors should pick up on the impossibly fast deceleration of the front wheel and release pressure. The fact that all abs systems do stop working below a certain speed (which used to be lots higher than now), could theoretically allow a very aggressive abs system that cut out at a relatively high speed, to facilitate a low speed endo, but I can’t imagine anyone selling such a system these days.

  • _dc

    The article wrote:

    “Ron Haslam advocates keeping revs up in the wet. The thinking is that, should your rear spin up, you’ll be using a smaller amount of throttle opening, allowing you to regain traction much easier than if you’re riding at 30mph in 6th, at wide open throttle.”

    Can someone reexplain this concept more clearly? The way it is written now is confusing to me and sounds counterintuitive, especially the last part. 30mph in 6th gear is barely cracking the throttle open.

    When I drive manual transmission vehicles in slippery conditions, I shift early during acceleration and at low RPM. This minimizes wheel spin since there is not much available torque at this RPM.

    Conversely, shifting at higher RPM while accelerating is more likely to cause wheel spin since more torque is available at that RPM.

    However the opposite is true for cornering and decelerating, where higher initial RPM will result in engine braking, which allows additional control of traction without requiring an over reliance on normal braking.

    Perhaps someone can elaborate or correct any points I’ve made WRT motorcycling specifically.

    • Stuki

      First, do not engine brake in (truly) slippery conditions. It prevents ABS from modulating braking force on the driven wheels. And I don’t believe even the fanciest traction control system will speed up the driven wheels to regain traction, should you loose it. Instead, clutch and brake, or shift up to get less engine braking. An exception is, if you are very concentrated, and driving very slowly, in a 4×4 with all diffs locked, on a surface where at least one wheel will have enough traction not to slip.

      I’m not Wes, but I believe what he’s referring to, is that, to drive at constant speed in a tall gear, in the low power part of your powerband, you are using more throttle than if you downshift and ride in a higher power part of the curve. So, if your tire slips and there is no longer any resistance to the engine revving up, all that throttle will cause the engine to rev up fast, hence the tire to very quickly spin much faster than the road speed warrants. While, if you are higher in the rpm range, at a smaller throttle opening, losing grip won’t cause the now essentially freewheeling engine from revving much faster than it already was. Keeping tire speed and road speed better aligned, hence traction easier to regain.

      Of course, the downside to riding in a lower gear, is that it places much greater demand on smooth and steady throttle operation. Anything herky-jerky, and you’ll lose traction either due to too much acceleration, or too much engine braking.

  • Porter

    How to not crash your bike by the crashingest bunch of motojournalists on the internet. Useful.

    • Stuki

      No substitute for experience…

  • rick

    Excellent & informative – just when you thought you knew it all – Aristotle was quoted as saying , ‘ Of all that I know , I know nothing .’

  • MichaelEhrgott

    Absolutely fantastic article! Like many others have said, it’s the best I’ve read on the subject of real-world riding. I posted a link to it in my local riding forum if you don’t mind.

  • runnermatt

    I’ve never heard of a Michigan Left. I’ve heard of a Pittsburgh Left, but that is not even close to what this was.

    • Robert Miles

      A Michigan Left, as far as I know, is a way for traffic to turn left onto, or off of, a main thoroughfare without having to mess up the main traffic flow with lights or four-way stop signs. It only works on widely divided highways so there’s room for traffic to queue up behind a stop sign inbetween the two directions. Then you turn left when safe as if you were dealing with a mirror-image of a right-turn stop. I think it’s pretty clever, but we don’t use them in California.

      The key ingredients are there should be a turnout lane to the left for traffic to queue up, there should be a stop sign there where you paused with your bike after making the 90°, and traffic wanting to turn left onto the thouroughfare from a cross street must first make a right-hand turn, follow the thoroughfaire a short distance to the left turnout and then make their left turn. Not sure from your video that it qualifies but it looks close.

      • runnermatt

        Here in Virginia, most median crossovers have deceleration lanes. There are still a few crossovers that don’t, but for the most part the state either added a deceleration lane or removed the crossover. I’ve seen stop signs at a few, but 99% of them don’t have them.

  • Kirk

    Total beginner rider here so all I can say is the sand/gravel info is great, if my brother had paid heed to this info years ago he wouldn’t have spent 15 weeks in traction never to ride again. Also, the bit about inept car drivers in the rain is spot on. I have a particular,former friend who was the master of 3 year old wiper blades and an empty fluid reservoir. Rode with him once in the rain on the highway, almost had 5 accidents in 30 minutes. Once and only once. Be safe.

  • Daniel Kreischer

    Good job man- good to go over all this- if you know it or not- all this needs to stay fresh in your mind at all times when riding. Thanks.

  • Frank Lee

    Excellent article. Roadracing for fifteen years did wonders for my confidence on the street. I recommend to everyone new rider I meet to go to a track day and find out what your bike is capable of away from cars, dogs, slippery pavement and cops. It’ll do wonders for your confidence and understanding of what your motorcycle is capable of. Add that to the common street sense mentioned in the article, and you’ll be a much safer and confident rider.

  • LeeB

    Good stuff Wes. Nailed all the finer points.

    The video of the car moving into the riders lane. Rider is technically at fault, passing on the right. Also, no need to get down on the driver who clearly didn’t see the rider, but the rider is giving hand gestures at the driver. Just chill man…person made a mistake and didn’t see you before you saw them and reacted…by speeding up and passing the car even though it was still moving in your lane.

    After two years of a 120mi RT commute in Bay Area traffic, I had a few close calls and yes, people in cars do dumb stuff. But unless malicious, I found no need to get agro at drivers. Being nice (thumbs up) after a driver makes a mistake and almost takes you out goes a long way for motorcyclists in general as opposed to flipping the driver off. I would also think about how I got in that situation and how to avoid for the future.

    Bottom line when riding a motorcycle is, YOU are the pilot in command and responsible for keeping your ass safe despite what other people do. Be aware, know your limits and what your motorcycle is capable of.

  • lukeeye

    Over the years I’ve witnessed or been a part of all of these. I think it was the rider safety course I took that taught me to believe “I am invisible (not invincible) to everyone out there and I should ride accordingly”. Never expect anyone to see you and always expect the dumbest of actions by all drivers. Between the iPhones, Starbuck’s coffee, and just down right shitty drivers, every session is a compilation of what-ifs and my imagination plays millisecond horror flicks in my brain everywhere I go. Keeps me frosty on the street and the track.

  • Paul B

    I has a rant:

    It is my solemn belief there is a stupid human trait that causes a HUGE percentage of single vehicle motorcycle accidents. I have been proselytizing for about 10 years now. It is difficult to understand, or maybe believe, or maybe I’m the suck at explaining. I think it’s the believe part, really, even though I’m certainly correct (really!).

    Let me begin:

    We, who have avoided going straight at the first tightening curve, understand counter steering, AKA push steering. Cool! To reiterate, your bike is heavy and the bars feel like they need a heavy hand; compared to a mountain bike it takes a whole different technique to turn the motorbike–especially when you need to act quickly. To make a sudden or just sharp and effective corner, push the bars to the outside of your turn. The push you make will end up feeling like a lean/ tightness selector for your turn. Presto. You’re a pro.

    Here is the weird bit.

    You can end up with a weird battle between your base brain (instinct) and your higher brain, and you can go wide/ crash/ die/ hit a cyclist or two (I have des evidence).

    So. Again, sorry this is hard to illustrate. There is something you can do, (maybe you’ve done it before?) which shows exactly how the lower brain can over-ride your upper brain. I want you to try it! If you do, you will learn two things; one, that I may be right about what I’m speaking of, and two, how to talk to your lower brain in this situation!

    Stand with your shoulder close to a wall, then shuffle your feet closer to the wall. Good. (really do this!)

    Once you have shuffled your feet even a little closer, you have to do only one simple thing: lift your outside leg!

    See how your lower brain over-rode you until you gave “yourself’ permission to fall (whoever the fuck ‘you’ are in this case). Well–and if you’ve read this far–this is the part you’ve been waiting for: when you are in a turn, push steering happily away, and SOMETHING SURPRISES YOU, and you feel you may go wide/ hit something on the outside of your turn, or you simply panic because you’re a jumpy idiot, YOU WILL GO WIDE!

    Here is what happens: You lower brain says you ain’t gonna turn that thing into trouble!! You instinct will say GTFO, I won’t let you do that. You will straighten when you should be turning harder, you will crash. I has a video I wish to present you as evidence (I really want to say proof):

    Can someone dim the lights?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNFaAqS2f18

    Watch it as many times as you want. This happens in your backyard there Wes, no? PLEASE correct me if I am wrong about this, but I believe thats a pro, or at least experienced rider actually being filmed for something or other.. bike review, something. He is fine, and alls well through the better part of the corner, and then LO! he sees danger to the right side!! he promptly straightens, crashes, and the cyclist utters that horrible utterance (*shudders*). By the way (correct me, yadda, yadda…) the cyclists and everyone were ok, ish.

    What to do:

    Every time I meet a new biker I go off on this rant. My eyes glow, my hair stands on end and my ears smoke. I get otherwise total strangers to stand with their shoulders next to my monstrous and silly top box, and shuffle their feet towards my rear wheel. After all this! The thing is I believe there is no sure-fire way to avoid this! Key: recognizing what’s fucking happening!!! The devil is grabbing your bars (really feels like this)!! THINK! PUSH HARDER!! Have faith that your bike has those few degrees of lean beyond what you’ve been doing–YOU WILL BE OK!! Aaaaand—-frankly a low side is WAY better than going into that tree/ off that cliff/ into those poor cyclists (that utterance!!!)

    I actually suggest practicing the following: Weird as it may be to do: practice panicking! go into a curve, pretend your stomach just fell through the floor — OH MY GOD THERE: TO THE OUTSIDE OF THE TURN: TROUBLE! Push the bars and tighten up!

    There endeth the sermon.

    • Paul B

      Hmm, the cyclist was injured… eek.

  • Micah Christie

    Man, I just wrecked a bike yesterday because of being forced to go over wet steel tracks that I was traveling with perpendicular. I tried to be as smooth as possible but it didn’t work out for me. I’m wondering if I should just stay the fuck off that road in the wet or if there’s any techniques to safely navigate obstacles like that.

  • Eduardo

    Lifesaver! Never change lane or take a turn without knowing what is around and behind you (distance, speed, attitude). There is no dead angle on a motorcycle. You see, or you’re dead.

    Your head is the most mobile part of your body when riding. Do a lifesaver whenever changing lane, passing a car or preparing/executing a turn, absolutely always.
    In the city you should drive as if you had no mirrors and needed to see everything around you with direct vision. Always move your head and see around you, look in front and ahead of you. Vision is the first thing to master. Anticipation is the only permanent safety rule.

  • Rameses the 2nd

    I consider myself a pretty confident rider, but this article and videos linked in it remind me to be more careful out there. It just like a quick MSF course reminder. I am bookmarking this page to come re-read it every month.

  • Paul B

    I am not saying I’m certain of anything of course, and being Canadian I’m not aware of this CSS of which you speak (I’m sure its a great training course), however, I thought of and additional point of evidence: the accident you see in the picture just doesn’t happen in a car. Folk turn the wheel and go that way. It’s only on a bike that you see people straighten and go wide.

    I know target fixation is a real thing, happens in hold-ups and many other things. It’s existence obscures this other thing which I believe is more specifically the cause (of this particular accident). A good thing is the same training will save the rider–the same training of which you speak…

    Think about the car example… again thanks for your response. I may have played up the ‘rant-iness’ of the writing to the point’s detriment, but I do feel like a voice in the wilderness, and I feel like I have an important point to bring forth.

    • Mugget

      People do still run wide in cars though, target fixation does affect them as well. Have a look at cars that run wide on mountain roads, likely there are skid marks that go straight for quite a while before they left the road. The same happens in car races, more often and noticeable in amateur races. So why didn’t they just get off the brakes and turn? You could ask the same about motorcyclists – and the answer is the same in both cases as well.

      • Stuki

        Skid marks went straight pre abs, but the wheel would still be turned in the right direction. Too far in the right direction, in fact. Probably true for amateur (And Senna) racing as well.

        While target fixation is true for cars and bikes alike; on bikes there is the additional complication that the correct, and only, way to turn the bike is not as inherently intuitive as it is in a car. And in a panic, intuition takes over. Lots and lots of experience doing it right in controlled environments, all the way up to the bike’s limits and perhaps above, can render the threshold before panic takes over much higher, but even professional GP racers stand their bikes up unnecessarily when they feel they lose control. It’s just that they don’t tend to feel that at less than 1G either stops or turns.

        When coming in too fast in a car and panicking, people tend to stand on the brakes (disastrous in the past, less so now with abs and stability control), and turn the wheel ion the right direction. When coming in too fast on a bike, people straighten their arms to brace for the impact and push themselves away from danger. While in fact often doing little to the front brake. Leading them to not only run wide and crash, but to run wide and crash at a speed much higher than they would have if they at leash grabbed the front while stiff arming.

        So even if target fixation is equally operative for both bikes and cars, the run wide phenomenon is much more prevalent on bikes, simply because most bikes run wide for reasons in addition to target fixation; that are not nearly as prevalent in cars.

  • Michael Wright

    Ride as far into the crash as you can.

  • Fred Crown

    On the first one – as you approach an intersection with a car in it or a left turning vehicle, weave slightly, inside your lane, to aid the cager in seeing you. This helps as does the 3 points of light the AMA recommends.

  • bobtube

    Ummm, of all 900 crashes in the Hurt study, alcohol was involved in about 10%. But alcohol was involved in about 50% of fatals. Big reasons: drinkers were about 60% as likely to wear a helmet as non-drinkers, they crashed at higher speeds, they were far more likely to run off the road at night, which is especially lethal because of all the fixed objects that await you: trees, rocks, mailboxes, bus benches, light poles. For drunks, the road curves but the motorcycle somehow seems to go straight. It’s enough to make you think that for drinkers the lights are on but nobody’s home. .

  • Slacker

    If you look closely at the lowside crash, the rider not only lost rear-tire traction, but he also hit the brakes. The light comes on right before he loses his bike altogether… stay the course when you lose your traction, and apply the gas as needed. “When in doubt, gas it out.”

  • Guest

    edit

  • Fabio
  • http://www.salescopywriter.net/ Alan

    Good article. I also suggest spending some hours on Liveleak or similar, watching accident compilations. You’ll soon pick up on how often accidents are caused by a vehicle blocking the view of two other vehicles on a collision course.

  • OCULUS

    What did we do before helmet cams? Skip the text and watch the vids…..

  • Erhard Penner

    I find downshifting through an intersection with my race yoshimuras on my TL1000s helps a lot , much more noise more noticeable . Also I stay as far away from the left turner as possible to give him more time to stop when he does notice me . Cover both brakes and EXPECT the guy to try it . Also when going through the Twistys , Look where you want to go , not where you don’t want to go , and if you think you might not make it , look further up the road and push harder on the right bar when turning right .

  • http://www.victimslawyer.com/ Steven Sweat

    Great tips! These are scenarios that I have seen play out time and time again. I like that you put video to show the visual examples. Keep up the great work!