How To Lay ‘Er Down – And, Why You Probably Shouldn’t

How To -


How To Lay ‘Er Down

Photo by Woody

“Dat darn truck just turned right in front of me, so I had to lay ‘er down…” Ditching your motorcycle in order to avoid an accident is a frequent theme of conversation at biker bars and across various motorcycle forums. But, are you using the proper technique to send your pride and joy sliding down the road in a shower of sparks? Here’s how to lay ‘er down.

Use Your Head

Photo by Ian Ransley

Step One: Use Your Head
No, no, please don’t attempt to physically use your head to slow your bike. Not only will the blood, skin and brains actually reduce friction (the ally of proper speed retardation), but all that grey matter can be put to better use by controlling your brakes. Instead, evaluate the need to lay ‘er down before you do so. Ask yourself: what will more effectively slow my bike? The friction generated by smooth paint and chrome or two big, grippy rubber hoops specifically designed to grip the road surface? If the former, go ahead and throw you bike onto the ground and jump onto the 50 mph belt sander that is asphalt. If the latter, apply your brakes.

Set Yourself Up For Success

Photo by Rick

Step Two: Set Yourself Up For Success
This is all going to be an awful lot easier if you’re a) sober and b) know how to use your motorcycle’s controls. While getting drunk may reduce the immediate pain of an accident, we assure you that, once the alcohol wears off, things are going to smart a bit. It also turns out that motorcycle riding is a skill and, like any skill, practicing it will improve your ability. Do you know what your bike’s maximum braking force feels like? Go find out! Find a big, empty parking lot and work up to it, starting at 15 or so mph, practice progressively applying your brakes until you feel yourself at the point of locking them. Then do the same at 20 mph, 30 mph and so on. Feel free to practice layer ‘er down once you can comfortably control your brakes, often the damage that results to your bike from sliding down the road can impact its braking ability.

Avoid The Obstacle

Photo by Newtown Grafitti

Step Three: Avoid The Obstacle
Will sliding in a totally straight line from the point your bike decks out avoid the obstacle? If so, then laying ‘er down will work for you. Sadly, the cause of laying ‘er down is frequently objects straight in front of you, in which case laying ‘er down will not be an effective tool at obstacle avoidance. Instead, in those circumstances, you may need to rely on your motorcycle’s handling and braking. To do so, try and force yourself to look where you want to go, away from the obstacle, and apply your brakes progressively, “loading” the front tire before reaching max braking force. You can read more about advanced riding techniques like braking in RideApart’s How To section.

When To Jump Off

Photo by Pieter van Marion

Step Four: When To Jump Off
Here’s a formula for you: given the average road surface, expect to lose an additional 1 mm of flesh for every mph you’re going over 30. Sorry for the un-American units, we suspect a former Nazi war criminal/scientist came up with this arithmetic. So, if you’re traveling at, say, 50 mph when suddenly faced with a lay ‘er down situation, try and calculate your flesh loss before abandoning ship. At that speed, you’d lose at least two centimeters of flesh. That’s about three-quarters of an American inch! Losing that much from your hands, arms, torso or legs is simply no bueno and, if you end up wearing into bone, you risk fatal bone infection. So don’t jump off your bike until you’re traveling slow enough to avoid such injuries. We’d suggest 10 mph or less. At which point, of course, you can probably just bring your bike to a controlled stop.

Budget For Repairs

Photo by 401(K)

Step Five: Budget For Repairs
Unfortunately, this accident avoidance technique doesn’t come without costs. You’ll find that most bikes, even Harleys, are made to operate with their wheels, not their bodies and frames, in contact with the road. Before laying ‘er down, run a quick calculation of the costs in doing so. Components like exhaust pipes, headlights, fuel tanks, sweet tassled-leather saddlebags, frames and chrome engine covers cost money. How much laying ‘er down costs is up to you!

  • zedro

    Practically the only use I can imagine for a lay down is if decapitation or impalement is imminant and getting under the obstacle is the only choice. Those bumper-less flatbeds and trailers carrying overhanging rebar come to mind.
    But otherwise I’d rather hit ‘turbo-boost’ and jump over everything….

    • Michael Howard

      Or if you’re about to hit and fly over a low barrier (like on some elevated roadways or mountain roads) and there’s no way you can swerve or stop in time. Far-fetched but possible.

      • zedro

        On an overpass i might opt for launching the guardrail, there’s a chance an open roofed pillow transport truck may be passing underneath.

        • Jack Meoph

          Or, if you live CA, a hottie in a convertible with augmented tatas. It could happen…………

          • Stuki

            Kind of gives laying her down a slightly different connotations……..

          • zedro

            :ends dream sequence, forced to acknowledge the actual horrible consequence:

  • Blu E Milew


    • stever


      • Michael Howard

        slowclap.txt ;)

        • Bruce Steever

          Nope. It’s slowclap.exe. GET IT?

          • Michael Howard

            Is that a virus or an STD/STI?

  • Dave

    The article kinda implies this, but even in some rare, contrived circumstance where putting the bike down would be safer, it requires a lot more time than anyone admits. It takes time to assess the situation, choose to intentionally lay the bike down, input the required controls to initiate the fall, and wait for the bike to do what you told it.

    No matter how amazingly fast your reflexes are, if you have the time to figure out that you need to drop the bike and then actually do it, your brakes will have stopped you far more effectively.

    All of my crashes happened so quickly that all I realized at the time was “I’m just riding my bike. Now I’m sliding on the ground, WTF?!” Afterwards, I can assess and realize how I could have avoided it, but in the moment, there’s usually not enough time to even realize that I’m going down.

    • ARiZONA

      Example of having to lay it down:

      • Bill T

        He knew the front break FAILED and he is on a race track where the ground is plat and grassed, also there are tires to save his A$$. That is not a REAL “lay er down” Show me an example on the street and it involved a truck or bus as mentioned in this article.

        • Kr Tong

          Those tires are stacked two-tall for go-karts. He did what he had to do. This is as real a deliberate low-side as you’ll get.

    • I Have the Hat

      This is the thing. I tell myself constantly: don’t grab the brakes, don’t brake suddenly while cornering, brake even more gradually on wet pavement, never assume a car is going to yield to you when you have the right-of-way… and the other night I had the opportunity to fail at all of the above at the same time! It was raining, I was turning right at a four-way stop, and the car to my left that arrived after I did decided to cruise straight through anyway. Fortunately I was going about 1 MPH and there was no harm to me or the bike, but there was also no humanly perceptible measure of time between realizing the car was cutting me off and the bike being on the ground. It’s indescribable how fast it happens. And despite all the self-talk and even a some practice, I was completely incapable of overriding my natural reaction to grab the brakes. The best technique would have been to not assume the car was going to yield, wait a few extra seconds and avoid the whole thing altogether.

      Anyway, I question if even more experience or practice will be sufficient to make me capable of overriding my natural reaction. Maybe you either have that mental/psychological capability or you don’t. Maybe after a decade of practice I’ll have it; maybe I won’t. The problem is that you can only find out the hard way!

      Also, I wonder if “I had to lay it down” is an idea that has evolved from bikers who couldn’t admit the reality of, “I lost control while trying to stop.” I’m not even judging that… just saying it’s human nature to tell ourselves “I meant to do that” when we lose control and make mistakes.

      • Michael Howard

        I think it takes far more skill (or balls or stupidity) to intentionally wreck a bike than it does to at least attempt to brake/maneuver your way out of an accident. Probably along the lines of forcing yourself to jump out of an airplane.

        • Michael Howard

          Clarification: What I meant was that I think it’s less likely that anyone actually does it.

      • HankBWYT

        While self-talk is good, and half the story, you could be framing your mantra better. If you tell yourself “don’t grab the brakes”, you don’t tell your brain what it should do instead. Your mind will never have the time to switch from the “I musn’t X” to the “I must Y” part. While you do state it later, it’s easier to just leave out the ‘negative’ part, and just state it in positive terms:
        Simply just tell yourself: “In case of need, I will brace myself with my knees, look in front, loosen on the bars, and brake gradually and firm until standstill”. This is half the story.
        The other half is to treat every traffic light or other non-threathening braking situation as an emergency, so you “practice” and internalise the moves.
        To my surprise (at first), this has helped me to stay relatively calm and controlled in similar emergency situations. (In my case regarding losing traction on both wheels due to slippery surface). Hope it helps.

        • I Have the Hat

          That totally makes sense… gives me some ideas for more deliberate thinking and habit formation. In _Proficient Motorcycling_ Hough advocates practicing technique in everyday riding like that, but I don’t recall him getting into the psychology behind it and how to form your thought process to translate it into repeated action. Thanks for the added insight; I think it will indeed be helpful.

  • Jack Meoph

    Never give up on the brakes. Use them to the bitter end.

    Having said that: my ex brother-in law, Brad Bovee, was a stuntman in the movies, and he was working on Cobra. It was the scene where all the motorcycle attacked the motel I think. Anyway as they were being gunned down and what not, all the stunt guys were laying their bikes down on the left side. And the director asked why some weren’t laying them down on the right side, so Brad did. He was the only one who was able to lay it down on the right side without rashing himself up. He also came up with one of the very first camera mounted MC rigs, a weird hack thingy that looked very dangerous.

    • Michael Howard

      +1 on the brakes. Even if you can’t get stopped, you’ll greatly reduce your impact speed.

    • Piglet2010

      “Never give up on the brakes. Use them to the bitter end.”

      During braking drills in Total Control ARC2 class, they wanted us to give an extra hard squeeze at the very end (enough for either a stoppie or front wheel slide on non ABS bikes) – supposedly it cuts another few feet off of stopping distance.

  • Stuki

    Honestly, in practice, and assuming modern ABS brakes, the debate over whether to lay her down or not, comes down to whether to rely on the brakes, or whether to attempt swerving, even if the required lean angle to make the turn is possibly enough to lowside the bike. If you are Marc Marques on a GP bike, that is probably something to seriously contemplate as you barrel towards an obstacle; but for Harley Dudes on Bikes with <30 degree max lean angle and a geometry set up for incredible straight line braking ability (long, low), it's just silly. I'd honestly even go so far as to say anyone skilled enough to have any business attempting swerves requiring the kind of lean that the bike may possibly lowside in a panic situation; is way beyond needing to ask life or death on a motorcycle questions of mere mortals like myself.

    If you're a 99% rider who wants to minimize pain in a real panic situation; buy a bike with abs, buy tires appropriate for your riding style and environment, keep the tires properly inflated and replace them before worn out, cover the brake whenever in doubt, and just grab as much brake as you possibly can until you are either safe, or the impact is over. In the later case, you will at least have lowered the impact speed as much as you possibly could.

    Of course, then again I's also say that fro a safety perspective as an urban or touring rider, you're probably not much if at all worse off riding lidless on an abs equipped bike, than in full ATTGATT on the same bike without. Again, unless you've got the chops to reliably limit stop in any given panic situation; in which case you have no business listening to mortal me in the first place.

  • Jonno

    While riding a sportbike with a very aggressive prone riding position on an arterial surface street, a pickup drifted through a red light in front of me, rolling very slowly across the full width of the road. My speed was about 40 mph. I jumped on both brakes up to the point of lockup but my split-second assessment was that I was probably going to JUST make contact with the side of the truck. Because of the riding position, my face would have been pushed into the side of the slowly moving vehicle. My split second assessment was that it would be better to go in feet first, so I snapped the bike down on its side and slid up to the truck. Ultimately, I did not QUITE make contact with the truck, there was about four inches of clearance as it rolled in front of my sliding vehicle/self. So you can argue that if I had stayed on the brakes (and upright) there would have been no contact. But on the other hand, if my speed had been only slightly faster, there would have been contact for sure, even if the brakes were more effective at slowing the bike than that big-ass Guzzi cylinder digging into the blacktop (a more debatable point than some assume). In effect I chose to slightly reduce braking effectiveness (perhaps) in exchange for assuring that my head was not the point of the spear. A decision I feel was a good one.

    • Bruce Steever

      It wasn’t.

      But without going back in time, and this time keeping the bike upright, we’ll never know.

    • Ben Mcghie

      I always try to scrub off as much speed as possible, then swerve. If I clip it doing 15mph, I clip it.

      Failing that, if your bike was powerful enough you probably could have been across the intersection doing 100mph before the truck closed the gap. The downside to this strategy is that you might not make it, and that will be much worse.

      Look 10s down the road people!

    • PJ

      Sorry man – “that big-ass Guzzi cylinder digging into the ground” is much less friction than the tires + brakes combo. This is coming from someone who spends a lot of time working on friction between dissimilar materials. Stay on next time, even if it seems scarier. Just watch the police training “moto basic” videos and watch how far those goes slide the VFRs at slow speeds. You’ll stop much quicker with brakes. Best to practice and know you stopping distance in all sorts of weather and road conditions.

  • Scott Otte

    Articles like this are why I love Ride Apart. Thanks for the chuckles.

    • wbizzle

      “two big, grippy rubber hoops” definitely got a laugh out of me.

  • Jorn Bjorn Jorvi

    Having to “lay er down” is just something Harley riders say because they wanna sound like they were in control or knew what they were doing. Intentionally crashing a motorcycle is simply stupid.

    • jlxn

      Being a moron isn’t something to be proud of.

  • zion

    How’d we get from Christmas to April Fools so quickly?? Wow, I must’ve really slept hard last night.

  • Bernhard

    When I hear people say “I had to lay ‘er down”, all I hear is “I panicked, locked the tire(s) and lowsided”.

    • Michael Howard

      Though most people who say this probably don’t even know what “lowsided” means.

  • Jordan K

    Here’s how the pros lay ‘er down:

    • MeatyBeard

      He angry. I remember watching that race.

  • Larry

    This unintentional lowside illustrates the problem with doing it on purpose. The rider loses all control and goes sliding (albeit gently) into the oncoming lane, while his bike goes careening down the road on it’s sliders, through both lanes. Once he’s on the deck, he’s just along for the ride. It’s not just yourself you could be hurting if you’re a big enough dumbass to do this on purpose. This bike could have easily taken out another rider…or pedestrian or driver. Which would be bad enough if it were an accident, as in this case.

  • ThinkingInImages

    I can relate to #4. The only road incident I’ve ever been involved in “jumping off” was the best answer. Had I dropped the motorcycle, there was a very good chance I would have gotten run over. It was a textbook driver left turn moment. I kept control until the very last moment since there were two options: a hit or a miss. Had the driver kept the speed and course, it would have been a near miss. I could do a quick maneuver shoot behind the car. Option 2 was a low speed impact, and I go over the car. It was an interesting flight and landing. It could have been a lot worse.

    I prefer small, quick, light and nimble motorcycles – something sports oriented. I don’t feel “right” on a motorcycle that isn’t.

  • Davidabl2

    Everybody should know the “translation’ of that expression..What It usually means is that “I panicked and grabbed a handful of brake(or brakes)”
    And has meant the same thing longer than anybody reading HFL has been alive.

  • Piglet2010

    These VFR 800′s seem to take being laid down without damage.

  • Dubknot

    Tongue firmly in cheek on this one, eh? Good post! Although the thought of grinding flesh away into the bone really creeps me out…

  • eddi

    What I did in my one real accident.

    I hung on to the brakes like grim death, even when the rear began to come around. At that point I put my left foot down like making a flat track skid turn. The brakes locked just before impact and high-sided me over the car. Judging by the damage to the bike, it barely hit the car’s rear quarter panel. I ended up with bruises and some wrenched muscles.

    The moral of the story, my children, is stay with the bike and stay on top of it.

    PS: I’ll bet if I had an ABS equipped bike back then (1978), the result would have been a close call instead.

  • kevin

    Not often is anti road pirate humor woven so effectively into honest advice about safe motorcycling. Bravo.

  • Von

    my neighbor laid ‘er down unintentionally coming around a corner too fast in a damp corner. bike was almost totalled just because of all the damage from bike sliding. riding suit was trash too.

  • Charles Quinn

    This made me chuckle a lot. Although I would have picked Coopers Sparkling rather than Pale.

  • notfishing

    Lay ‘er down is just another form of “Bailing Out”

    If you’ve ever been in a “speed sport” for vary long you learn when to “Bail” and when to try to pull it out.

    30 years ago my experience was a “Superman” fly on a curve between the concrete light pole support and concrete bus bench. Tank slappers at 55 with clip-ons on a curve doesn’t give you many options. My mistake was going 55 into a 30 mph curve and trusting the Dealer Mechanics had fixed the problem (they hadn’t). For me it was better to Bail with your choice of landing site than to highside into the unknown.

    Pride can be dangerous to your health.