The freedom of riding a motorcycle is an exhilarating experience but has its risks. A crash, even a small one, is not like when you’re in a car. Your chances of injury are greatly increase on a motorcycle. But there is a simple solution: Don’t crash.
Ok, that’s not a reliable solution with so many unknown variables on the road. But there are certain things you can incorporate into your riding habits that will help you avoid a crash. Let’s start with visibility. Always assume other drivers don’t see you. This translates into making sure you are seen.
Although most motorcycles are designed to have the headlight on at all times, make sure both your high beams and low beams are working properly. If one of them goes out, the other will soon follow and the bulb should be promptly replaced. Riding with a headlight on during the day will help drivers see your motorcycle.
Avoid a car’s blind spot. When riding next to a car position yourself so that the driver of that car can see you in their side view mirror. If you can see the driver’s eyes in their side view mirror then they can see you.
Use turn signals and hand signals. When riding on the freeway it is important to let drivers behind you know what you’re doing when making a lane change. Using your turn signal is important, but drivers won’t always notice a small blinking light on a motorcycle. Using hand signals will help you be seen. Simply put out your hand and point in the direction you’re going to go. Be careful when doing this with your throttle hand, pull in the clutch to coast before when you signal with your right hand.
Avoid the crowd
You may notice that on highways drivers tend to drive in clumps, they group together. Try to avoid getting mixed up in this bunch and position yourself between the groups of cars. This will give you more time to react to traffic situations, more time to react to sudden stops in traffic and will keep you safely away from the driver who swerves while checking their text messages.
This is a common habit that is taught to all of us in driver’s training and it is one that we all seem to forget. It is important in a car and more important on a motorcycle. We are taught to leave 2 seconds between you and the car ahead of you, on a motorcycle you should leave an absolute minimum of 3 seconds giving you more time to react. Remember, your goal is to not crash at all. When you’re stuck in heavy traffic, leaving 3 seconds can be tough because someone will slip in and fill up that gap. In this case, ride to one side of the lane and if a sudden stop occurs, your escape will be to the side of the vehicle in front of you.
Don’t split lanes
This can be tough for some riders because it’s a nice way to beat a traffic jam. In some states, like California, there is no law against riding between lanes, however, if it is done dangerously, which is at the discretion of the officer, a rider can be sited for unsafe driving. If you must split lanes do so at a slow speed, slow enough to maintain control of your bike. And do so in very slow, or stopped traffic. One hazard of splitting lanes in rush hour traffic is that cars will change lanes without looking and without warning.
Again, this is tough for some riders, especially those who like the thrill of speed. Typically all drivers exceed the speed limit by at least 10 miles per hour and it is common to go with the flow of traffic. This minor increase is not going to significantly increase your risk of crashing, but excessive speed or increasing your speed to the point where you are passing cars and weaving in and out of lanes, greatly increases your risk of having a tangle with another vehicle. Keep is slow and easy.
Because your goal is to be seen and anticipate the moves of other drivers, it is important to stay alert. Pay constant attention to your surroundings. Look ahead of traffic by several cars and look for brake lights, turn signals, large trucks, slowed traffic. Assess the situation as you go and anticipate the possibilities. This will allow you to plan an escape route. As you ride along the highway you should constantly be asking yourself ‘What if?” What if that white car decides to change lanes, what will I do? What if that car turns left in front of me, where will my escape be?
Stay focused when you ride
The time to ride a motorcycle is when you are awake and alert. Never ride when you’ve been drinking alcohol, that’s obvious; but you should also avoid riding when you’re upset or angry. Don’t daydream while cruising on the highway. Don’t ride when you’re tired or sick and high on cough syrup. All of these conditions will slow your reaction time in an emergency situation.
Practice evasive maneuvers
It’s always a good idea to keep your riding skills sharp. Spend some time out in a vacant parking lot and practice quick maneuvers and quick stops. Set up some cones and challenge your friends to a friendly obstacle course competition. This is a great activity for riding groups where less experienced riders can take advantage of the knowledge of the more experienced riders.
Keep your motorcycle well maintained
Accidents can be caused by a poorly maintained motorcycle, so you should always make sure your bike is in good shape before you ride. Make sure your brakes are not worn and if they are, you should replace the brakes pads. Make sure your chain is properly adjusted and lubricated. Broken chains on the freeway can be a major disaster. Always check your headlight, brake lights and turn signals to make sure they work. And don’t forget about your tires. Tires are the only contact you have on the road and will make a huge difference in how your motorcycle handles. Never ride if your tires are past their wear point and ride with your tires inflated to the recommended PSI. Your bike will handle much better if you do so.
Although it’s impossible to guarantee that you will never crash, following these safety habits will greatly increase your chances of have a safe, enjoyable ride.