Guest Post by Mike Grady
In 1981, University of Southern California professor Harry Hurt published what is still the only comprehensive study of motorcycle safety ever conducted in the United States. Among the findings in what became known as the “Hurt Report,” approximately 75 percent of all motorcycle accidents are collisions with another vehicle, usually a car or truck. In two-thirds of those accidents, the motorist disregarded the motorcyclist’s right-of-way and caused the accident. The study also found that intersections are the most likely places for motorcycle accidents to occur, and the most common type of accident is a car or truck making a left-hand turn in front of an oncoming motorcycle.
Although the data in the Hurt Report is four decades old, there is little reason to believe that riding conditions have improved for motorcyclists. Traffic in most areas is much worse than it was in the late ‘70s, and with cell phones and dashboard infotainment screens, there are more opportunities for drivers to be distracted. There is no question that drivers should be more aware of and look out for motorcycles, but motorcyclists have no control over what the other drivers on the road do. What motorcyclists can do is learn and practice mental and physical riding techniques that will enable them to avoid or react properly to dangerous situations out on the road.
It starts with being mentally and physically prepared for the ride. Safe riding requires concentration and awareness, but you can’t completely focus on the ride if you’re thinking about work, bills, or other things going on in life. In fact, this requirement is one of the most appealing aspects of motorcycling for many riders because it forces them to clear their head and become immersed in the ride.
Of course, you should wear proper riding gear. A comfortable, quality full face helmet provides the most protection in the event of a crash, plus it can protect your face and eyes from wind, dirt, bugs and debris that can cause unwanted distractions. Along with the helmet, you’ll need gloves, boots and protective riding clothes.
Always check the weather before you ride. If the forecast is for rain or cold temperatures, you may want to postpone your ride, but if you must travel, be sure to pack an effective rain suit or warm clothing. It’s difficult to concentrate on riding safely when you are miles from home and soaked to the skin. Needless to say, you should always inspect the bike before riding, which includes checking tire pressure, fluid levels, and overall making sure everything is in working order.
When you’re out on the road, you should be continually scanning what is ahead and checking your mirrors for approaching vehicles. Allow a good distance between yourself and the vehicle ahead of you, so you can spot debris, potholes, and other road irregularities, and have plenty of time to maneuver around them.
Look for pedestrians and bicycles that could unexpectedly enter the roadway, for vehicles entering the road from driveways or side streets, and for oncoming traffic that could turn left in front of you. When approaching these possible hazards, it’s a good idea to “cover” your brakes. Place two fingers over the front brake lever and your foot just above the rear brake pedal, so you can quickly apply the brakes, if necessary, with minimal reaction time.
efore making a quick, emergency stop, always check your mirrors. If a vehicle is following too closely, the better course of action may be to swerve out of the way of the hazard in front of you to avoid being hit from behind. This is why, in addition to searching for potential hazards, you should also always be looking for possible escape routes.
For a motorcycle, a typical traffic lane can be divided into three portions — left, right, and center. The portion you ride in should be dictated by where it’s best for you to see and be seen, and where you have the best chance to avoid hazards. For example, when passing a line of parked cars, riding in the left third of the lane will help you avoid doors opening and drivers entering the roadway. In a right-hand curve, ride in the right third of the lane to avoid oncoming drivers that may clip the turn and cross the center line. On multi-lane highways, riding in the center of the center lane is best for visibility and maneuvering when there are cars on both sides. Use caution, since this is where debris and oil from cars collect. This oil buildup is usually greatest at intersections and should be avoided.
When approaching an intersection where you have the green light, slow down, cover the brakes and make sure traffic is stopped on both sides of the opposing street. Look for oncoming cars intending to make a left turn and check your rearview mirrors and look for escape routes in case the driver doesn’t see you and begins to turn, forcing you to brake or swerve.
If the traffic light is red, downshift as you come to a complete stop, leaving the clutch lever pulled in and the bike in first gear, with rear brake engaged so drivers behind can see your brake light. Just about all motorcycles have wet clutches, and they aren’t harmed by leaving them disengaged like this. Always stop in the left or right third of the lane and leave plenty of room between yourself and the car stopped in front of you in case you have to quickly get on the gas and escape to the sides because a mirror-check revealed a car approaching rapidly from behind. If I’m the last in a line of stopped traffic, especially when riding at night, I’ll flash my brake lights to try to gain the attention of approaching drivers.
When a traffic light changes from red to green, or when advancing into an intersection with four-way stop signs, always wait a few seconds before entering the intersection to make sure vehicles are completely stopped at both sides of the cross street. Sometimes drivers attempting to make the light end up running a red light, and sometimes drivers just aren’t paying attention and run the light or don’t see the stop sign. Either way, you could end up colliding with them if you jackrabbit into the intersection.
These riding tips just scratch the surface of all there is to know about safe riding skills. There are plenty of resources available to improve your mental and physical riding abilities. For instance, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) has an abundance of online information and operates basic and advanced rider training courses throughout the country. There are also some excellent online rider training videos, including MCrider videos created by Kevin Morris, an MSF instructor, and the Ride Like a Pro videos produced by Jerry Palladino, a long-time police motor officer and trainer. Overall, riding a motorcycle should be fun, and you can be safe while having a good time if you practice the right mental and physical riding techniques.
Mike Grady is a motorcycle enthusiast and expert at MOTORCYCLEiD.com.
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