Good reading for the new and old.
Street Survival 101
Want to stay alive on the road? Hey, who doesnít?
Thatís why weíve put together a list of 32 tips that will help you ride smarter this season, culled from the experienced riders and motorcycle safety instructors on the AMA staff.
Some of what you find here is right out of the rider-training manual. Some of it comes from combined riding experience that amounts to centuries. Either way, we think youíll find plenty of practical tips you can use when the new riding season begins.
Every time you ride, give your motorcycle a quick visual inspection for things like loose parts, leaking fluids or obviously low tire pressures. Regularly, give it a more complete check, using all the necessary tools.
Clear your mind before you even start your bike. We all get preoccupied by work, issues at home, even the outcome of a basketball game. But when youíre on the bike, you have to focus on riding. Each time you switch on the ignition key, switch on your brain, too.
From the moment you get on the road, train yourself to use the Motorcycle Safety Foundationís SIPDE method for staying out of trouble: Scan all around you. Identify potential hazards. Predict what will happen. Decide how to avoid problems. And execute your plan. Do it all the time, and youíll drastically reduce the number of dangerous situations you face.
Another exceptionally valuable technique is also one of the simplest: Look where you want to go, because the bike will go where you look. Donít stare at that upcoming potholeóinstead, look at the clear pavement next to it. Donít fixate on the car turning left in front of youóinstead, focus on the opening being created as it moves past, since thatís your escape route. At times, it may take a real mental effort to pull your eyes away from an obstacle, but if you can see your way through trouble, chances are you can ride there.
It should go without saying, but donít get on your bike if youíve been drinking. Your odds of being involved in an accident go up enormously.
If youíre on a bike thatís new to you, or youíre riding under unfamiliar conditions (mountain roads, rain, etc,), youíre statistically more likely to crash. Slow down, focus and take extra care.
Need to tune up your skills after a winter layoff or to get more comfortable on a new bike? Find a deserted parking lot and do some tight figure-eights and brake tests before you face the real world. Keep at it till you feel truly in control of the machine.
Be aware that nailing the brakes isnít the only way to avoid a crash. Sometimes, swerving or even speeding up will get you out of trouble more easily.
Remember that in the famous Hurt Study in 1981, the most common accident situations involved a car violating a motorcyclistís right of way. Things have changed a lot in the years since, but cars turning left in front of you or pulling into your path from a parking lot or side street remain particularly common hazards. Ride like drivers donít see you in those circumstances, because they may not.
With those kinds of hazards in mind, play the ďwhat-ifĒ game as you ride. What if the car youíre following slams on its brakes? What if the car on the cross street doesnít stop for the stop sign? What if the truck on your right suddenly swerves into your lane? Could you avoid it?
Whatís the best lane position for riding? The left tire track? The right tire track? The center? You can get all kinds of answers, but your real priority shouldnít be lane positioning at all. It should be ďtraffic positioning.Ē Try to create a bubble of space around you. If thereís a car exiting a parking lot on your right, move to the left. If thereís an oncoming car that could turn left, move right. If thereís traffic around you, position yourself so you have the maximum cushion on all sides.
On crowded freeways, the most dangerous place to be is often the right lane, where cars are constantly merging in and out. If you donít need to exit anytime soon, traffic positioning tells you that youíre probably better off in the left lane, away from all the merging action. But donít get over there unless youíre comfortable with the speed of traffic in the left laneóyou donít want to trade the hazards of merging cars for the hazards of faster cars closing in on your tailpipe.
Most traffic tends to move in clumps, separated by open spaces. Instead of rolling along in the middle of a clump, speed up or slow down to get yourself into one of the open spaces.
You can use traffic positioning in other ways as well. On crowded roads, donít just stare at the back of the car in front of you. Put yourself in a position where you can look through its windshield at cars farther ahead. Or move to a spot that lets you see around a truck or car that blocks your vision.
Changing lanes? Always use your head. Swivel your neck to check your blind spot so you donít change lanes into someone else.
In general, itís easier to change lanes into a spot thatís in front of you, rather than behind you. See your spot, flip on your turn signal, do your head check and accelerate into it.
Remember that all other vehicles have blind spots, too. This is a particular problem around semi-trailers. As a demonstration, organizers at a recent rally placed four police cruisers and 28 motorcycles behind and to both sides of a parked semi. Not one could be seen from the driverís seat. If you canít see the driverís rearview mirrors, the driver canít see you.
Want to improve the odds that other drivers will see you? Donít wear black. Bright-colored riding clothes can make you more visible anytime, while a yellow or orange rainsuit, with reflective stripes, will help you stand out when visibility is at its poorest.
Be aware of seasonal hazards. In winter, ice and snow are the obvious problems, but salt can also reduce your traction long after the snow is gone. In spring, road conditions are at their worstówatch for cars swerving to avoid potholes. In summer heat, highway crack sealer can turn very slippery. And in fall, wet leaves are among the slickest surfaces known to man.
Construction zones are another hazard associated with summer. If you find yourself on a multi-lane road thatís being paved, and one lane is an inch or so higher than the other, try to ride in the higher lane. Itís easier to move from high to low than the other way around.
Be equally aware of hazards associated with different times of day. In the early morning, watch for dew and frost on roads. Through the daylight hours, you have to contend with sun glare and the highest traffic loads of the day. Sunset is the time when animals are more active, while evening and overnight hours bring the greatest risk of drunk drivers. You can probably add hazards of your own. For instance, it seems the closer you get to quitting time on Friday, the more self-absorbed and rushed the drivers of other vehicles get.
Sunset and sunrise can create severe visibility problems. If you can see your own shadow ahead of you, the drivers of oncoming cars will be staring right into the sun. Anticipate that they canít see you.
Of course, rain is a hazard anytime. Be aware that roads will be slickest shortly after it starts raining as the water combines with oil on the road surface. Especially slick are lane markers and other lines painted on the road.
Riding with a group of motorcyclists can be fun, but remember to ride your own ride. If youíre not comfortable with the pace, slow down. Donít rely on anyone else to make safety decisions for you.
Alone or in a group, if youíre doing something on your motorcycle that makes you feel like youíre in over your head, you probably are. Back off.
Whatís the most dangerous animal in America? Bears? Wolves? Sharks? Not even close. More people are killed in collisions with deer than in all types of animal attacks. Remember that if you see one deer cross the road, chances are good there are more where that one came from. Slow down and look for the second, third and fourth members of the group.
The most dangerous places on surface streets are intersections. As you approach an intersection, scan in all directions so you know whatís likely to happen. But before you slow down, also check your mirrors to see whatís coming up behind you.
Be especially careful when you come up behind a car thatís turning left at an intersection. Oncoming cars may not see you, and theyíre more likely to turn left in front of you.
When you stop at an intersection, leave enough room between you and the car in front so that you can pull to the left or right in an emergency. Keep your bike in first gear, so youíre ready to take evasive action if a car behind you isnít going to stop in time.
Parking garages and toll booths have a different hazardóthose automatic traffic-control arms. They can be notorious for not going up quickly enough or dropping too soon. One solution is to look for a lane with a human being who will take your money and actuate the gate.
Get additional training. Even the best riders can benefit from enrolling in formal rider education programs. Contact the Motorcycle Safety Foundation at (800) 446-9227 or www.msf-usa.org for information or to find the class nearest you.
Finally, if youíre feeling tired during a long day on the road and canít decide whether you should stop and take a break, thatís a sure sign that you should stop and take a break.