I am always hesitant to write a “how to” article. I learned a long time ago that no matter how good I am at something, there is always someone better right around the corner. For every bad-ass black belt you meet, there is a Chuck Norris looking to teach him some humility. Still, when I know something it’s hard to keep it under my hat so I am going to risk drawing your ire in order to start a conversation. Let’s keep it congenial, mkay?
My first motorcycle experiences were not good. The first time I threw a leg over a bike I ended up riding it into side of my uncle’s house. Another time I dumped a Honda three-wheeler into an irrigation ditch and smashed my head on a rock so the fact that I turned out to be a rather proficient motorcyclist in my later years is something many people still regard with amazement. How proficient? In 20+ years of riding, 9 of those in Japan where I was on two wheels almost every day, I never had an accident that did much more than scuff my bike or an injury that required as much as a band aid to treat. Still, I had my share of close calls and the experience taught me a lot about road safety and made me a better driver.
Driving a car and riding a motorcycle are skills that are only loosely related. I know I just burst some people’s bubbles with that statement, but the truth is I may have just saved your life. I don’t care how many fast cars you have driven, you cannot step out of your car and leap onto the back of a 150HP superbike with no practice or training and expect to be fully successful. Still, some of the skills you learn on a bike, especially when they involve defensive driving, situational awareness and things like avoidance and evasion can greatly enhance your ability behind the wheel.
The first thing we teach new riders is to act like they are invisible, because to a lot of drivers that’s exactly what they are. Being invisible leads to a lot of bad things. Cars frequently cut across your path, pull out in front of you and even merge into your lane while you are riding along side of them. The trick to staying alive is to know that driver’s often don’t see you and that you need to be ready to react in a split second.
Sometimes that reaction needs to involve escape routes. Bikes are small and they can go a lot of places people might not think about. They can run in the gutter between a curb and the lane of travel with surprising ease, they can dive between cars – in fact the space between cars can be surprisingly roomy – and they can even split the space between their lane and oncoming cars if they have to. Cars can do this too. Look at any third world street and you will see five lanes of traffic where there are markings for just three. I’m not saying you should drive in these places every day, but you should be looking for them and thinking about how you might want to use them should that semi-truck you are running next to want your space.
That’s another thing, don’t get obsessed with your legal “right” to be somewhere. The law says a motorcycle is entitled to its place on the road as same as a car, right? If you decide to take your CBR up against grandpa’s Buick you are going to lose. If someone else wants your spot, move out of the way and let them in. There’s no point in getting pissy about it, just do it and move on with your life.
Because I love a good discussion and because I have discovered that there is a real art to brevity, I’m not going to spill all my secrets here. I want to ask you, the Best and Brightest to spill YOUR secrets. What do you know about driving and/or riding that can help save some pain, frustration and maybe even lives?
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.