Motorcycles can be dangerous to ride due to how exposed you are. However, bikes are equipped with a wide variety of features and tools that help you stay safe and avoid crashes. With great brakes, unmatched visibility all around you, tires with extra grip and responsive handling, it is easier to react to an emergency situation on the road on a bike than in a car. Unfortunately, motorcycle accidents are all too common, but these safety features – as well as your quick thinking – can be used to avoid a crash. Here’s how.
Basic Motorcycle Safety
Getting educated is hands-down the best way to avoid a crash before it can even happen. If you are a new rider, taking a course from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) is an excellent way to reduce your chances of dying or getting seriously injured in a motorcycle accident. Classes are more affordable than you may think, but no matter the cost, the knowledge you gain is priceless.
Having the right type of safety gear won’t necessarily reduce your chances of getting into an accident, but it will greatly increase your chances of getting away injury-free in the event you are involved in a crash. Not only does gear make you safer, it also makes your ride more comfortable and can even increase your chances of being seen by other drivers. With high-visibility colors on your gear, you will help other drivers take notice and drive more carefully around you and avoid causing the accidents described below.
1. Cars Turning in Front of You
One of the most common types of accidents happens when a car in oncoming traffic decides to turn left in front of you. Unfortunately, distractions, blind spots or simply a miscalculation in distance can make it easy to turn in front of a motorcyclist. Drivers who are fixed on looking at cars may not even notice an oncoming motorcycle in their path.
How to Avoid It: Preventing this type of accident simply requires that you look ahead far enough to see it coming. Part of being a motorcyclist is to anticipate what other drivers will do, more so than you would when driving a car. Looking for signs that someone is about to turn will help you take action. If a car is sitting at an intersection or there is a gap in traffic between you and a driveway or road, you should be thinking about the possibility of cars turning into your path.
In such cases, slow down and cover your brake so you are ready to take evasive action. Evaluate whether the driver can see you without any obstructions such as trees, signs or even the window pillars in his or her own car. Determine whether the driver is looking at you, where the car is situated on the road, what the car’s speed is and what direction the wheels are pointing. Even when drivers fail to indicate a turn, the direction of the wheels can clue you in to their intentions.
Finally, take stock of your surroundings in case you need to evade. Is there any traffic that may rear-end you if you stop too quickly? Is the road surface safe enough to brake quickly without locking up? At any rate, do anything you can to keep your bike upright and avoid laying it down to prevent an impact.
2. Hitting Gravel in a Corner
Riding the twisties is fun and exciting until you hit a patch of sand, gravel, leaves or other debris around a blind corner. It takes everything you have to avoid wiping out.
How to Avoid It: It seems obvious, but the best thing to do is avoid hitting a loose patch in the road in the first place. How do you accomplish this? Ride at a slower pace that gives you more reaction time. Blindly entering a corner too fast is never a good idea because it’s impossible to anticipate what may lie ahead.
No matter how prepared you are when entering corners, there is still always a chance that you will hit a patch of gravel or sand. Trail braking is an advanced, yet very helpful, skill to learn when it comes to dangerous corners. With this technique, you will brake up until the apex and then begin swapping the brake for the throttle. Because you reach the apex with the brakes on, the weight of the bike is distributed towards the front, which compresses the front suspension, thereby increasing the amount of road contact your front tire has. Once you get to this point, you can brake more to tighten your line, or let off to swing wide of obstacles. Make sure to practice this skill before putting it into use on the road.
3. Entering a Corner too Fast
Even when there is not any debris in the road, entering a corner too fast is always dangerous. You don’t know how tight a corner may actually be until you’re in it, and if you are going too fast when you realize this, it may already be too late to correct.
How to Avoid It: Always keep the “Slow In, Fast Out” rule of thumb in mind when it comes to corners. You should never ride faster than you can see. Pay attention to clues such a telephone poles or other objects lining a road to judge which direction it will turn over a blind hill crest.
You can’t always avoid entering corners too quickly. When you get into a tight corner, look in the direction where you want to go and be smooth on the controls. Hang off to take as much lean as possible out of the bike and avoid sudden braking, throttle chops or other actions that may cause you to lose traction. If your knee, a peg or anything else touches the road, focus on holding your lean angle and looking at the exit of the corner so you can get out.
If you have practiced trail braking, as described above, this skill can also come in handy when you get into a tight corner unexpectedly.
4. Cars Merging into You
A motorcycle can easily get lost in a blind spot, which makes it all too common for cars to veer suddenly into you when changing lanes or merging. Drivers are usually focused on looking out for other cars, and this makes it easy to miss a motorcyclist riding in the next lane.
How to Avoid It: Always keep in mind that cars have far more blind spots than motorcycles, so it is best to avoid sitting where a driver cannot see you. If you can see a driver’s eyes in his or her mirror, then he or she should be able to see you. However, this doesn’t mean that the driver is looking at you.
In addition to spending as little time as possible in other drivers’ blind spots, you also need to be aware of the flow of traffic. Are the other cars slowing down in front of you or in the lanes to your side? If so, drivers are going to want to get in the fast lane as quickly as possible, which may mean moving into your lane. Look for turn signals as well as wheels turning so that you can plan ahead. Not all drivers use signals, so it also helps to look for drivers who are checking their blind spots or mirrors or slowing down in order to find a good merging position. When drivers are unable to see you, it is your responsibility to anticipate their next move.
5. Getting Hit from Behind
You are riding along until suddenly you come to a stop sign, crosswalk or intersection where you need to stop. The driver behind you isn’t paying attention and plows into you. While this may be a simply fender bender between two cars, it can be deadly when a car hits a motorcycle from behind.
How to Avoid It: One of the easiest ways to avoid a rear-end collision is to use other cars as your “crumple zone.” This can be accomplished by pulling up to the side of a car in front of you at a stoplight or, at the very least, not stopping in the center of the lane where you would get hit squarely from behind by a distracted driver. By giving yourself room, you can veer out of the way if traffic behind you does not notice that you have stopped.
Rapidly flashing your brake light will also alert drivers that you are coming to a stop. Always be aware of what’s going on behind you by checking in the mirrors so you can take evasive action.
Keep in mind that certain driving conditions are more dangerous than others. If there is bad visibility or it’s Friday night and all the bars just closed, you need to be more aware of unsafe or unprepared drivers. Be extra cautious at unexpected stops, such as pedestrian crossings on busy streets.
6. Your Buddies Don’t Know the Etiquette
Riding with other people can make the experience more fun, but also more dangerous if your friends don’t know what they’re doing. Even if one person in your group loses focus or gets distracted, it can create a hazard for everyone else.
How to Avoid It: Make sure your buddies know the basics of riding in a group, such as how to safely ride in a staggered formation. It is surprising how many bikers are unfamiliar with this simple concept, so you will always want to check that your friends know it. Riding staggered increases your group’s visibility to other drivers as well as your individual visibility, as you can see more in front and around you. Staggering your bikes also reduces the risk of crashing into one another if someone is not paying attention. If your friends can’t demonstrate safe riding, pick a different group or simply ride alone.
7. Locking the Front Brake
Traffic can come to a sudden stop for just about any reason, and as a biker, it is your responsibility to react appropriately to the traffic around you. You may end up in the street watching your bike slide away because you stop too quickly and let your brakes lock up.
How to Avoid It: Get a bike with antilock brakes (ABS) or, if your bike doesn’t have this feature, practice using your front brake. This component of the bike is the most powerful, yet also the hardest to master. Using the front brake will make you stop far more quickly than relying on your engine alone, but it can be dangerous to apply too much pressure all at once.
The best way to master your front brake is to find an empty parking lot where you can practice. Pick a speed, such as 30 mph, and start braking at a set mark to see how far it takes you to stop. Repeat this exercise until you have figured out exactly how much pressure you can apply, and how quickly, before your brake locks up. You’ll know you have found the edge of your bike’s braking capabilities when you can feel the front tire just about to lock up and the rear tire is to the point of lifting off the ground. It is best to repeat this exercise at different speeds until you find the limits of your braking power at each speed.
8. Running into an Open Car Door
During rush hour, it may be tempting to ride up that open gap between the parked cars and the line of traffic ahead of you. All is well until a driver in one of the parked cars decides to open his door without looking. Suddenly you are facing a door in your path with no room to stop.
How to Avoid It: It’s easy: never ride up the empty space between a line of active traffic and parked cars. Not only are car doors dangerous, you also may run into a pedestrian walking to his or her car or a car pulling out into traffic. In the event you do find yourself in this sticky situation, the best way to stay safe is to practice the front braking technique described above. The more you can reduce your speed before an impact, the better your chances will be of avoiding injury.
9. Driving on Slick Surfaces
Rain, sleet or snow can all create hazardous road conditions that you don’t want to get caught in with your bike. Unfortunately, even if you checked the weather before getting on your motorcycle, the forecast can quickly change and you may find yourself stuck in bad weather.
How to Avoid It: If you get caught in a storm, it is important to gauge how well your bike can handle the conditions. Using track rubber tires on a slick surface is a bad idea. If you have better tires, you may be surprised how well they hold up. Keep in mind that water on the road will lift oil and other substances out of the road surface. If you have to ride, avoid being on the road during the first hour of a storm so that oil can be washed away first.
10. Drinking and Driving
Riding while under the influence is just about the most dangerous thing you can do. According to the largest study ever conducted on motorcycle crashes – the Hurt Report of 1981 – alcohol is a factor in half of all bike crashes.
How to Avoid It: Never drink and ride.