By on March 29, 2013

It can be murder out there!

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.

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150 Comments on “Flirtin’ With Disaster – Motorcyclists’ Thoughts On Defensive Driving...”


  • avatar
    seabrjim

    Great article! I went to Keith Code long ago and it was worth every penny. Too many of todays squids equate burnouts with skill. Its amazing how many center worn tires I see going down the highway with clean sidewall shoulders on them. People would rather learn from Jason Britton, I guess.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    One thing pilots learn is to “fly ahead of the plane”.

    This applies just as much to motorcycles. You don’t need to hold the spot you’re in like you’re a French soldier at Verdun. What you need is to know where you’re going and where else you can go. Anything that’s pavement counts in an emergency, but the fewer emergencies you have the less likely you are to end up in the emergency room.

    It also helps to develop a sense of “I really don’t want to be here dealing with these drivers any longer”.

    There are traffic patterns that are unfavorable to the health of motorcyclists. If you’re starting to think you’re one of the middle pleats in an accordion, it might be time to get out of there. If you’ve got some giant, lifted bro-truck at six o’clock whose driver’s trying to get his kicks, you may want a decisive victory in the next stoplight drag race. If you don’t think anyone’s seen you in a while, it might be better if they saw your taillights next time they looked.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    The best advice mentioned in the article is twofold: remember that no one can ever see you; and always, I mean always look for an “escape” route.

    The usual stuff, don’t be stupid (hard for many to do since they are born that way) and wearing protective gear goes without saying. The idea that “loud pipes save lives” is mostly nonsense, and simply a way for losers to say “look at me.”

    • 0 avatar
      Halftruth

      So true.. Have you seen those posters that have a biker’s prayer and a pic of some biker on his bike riding down the road near naked? No helmet, jacket, boots, or gloves to speak of but expect divine intervention for their own stupidity if something goes wrong. I’ve always said that by the time I hear the loud pipes it will be way too late anyways.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      mpresley – –

      “The best advice mentioned in the article is twofold: remember that no one can ever see you; and always, I mean always look for an “escape” route.”

      Ironically, that is what I was taught in NY’s defensive driver training as applied to CARS in 1959! – –
      1) Assume you can’t be seen;
      2) Assume the drivers around you are oblivious or incompetent, or both;
      3) Use your brain continually to update the scene unfolding before you, and plan escape routes;
      4) Relinquish your right-of-way at a second’s notice;
      5) Provide for leaving space IN ALL DIRECTIONS, and certainly don’t tailgate;
      6) Practice emergency maneuvers with your vehicle in an empty parking lot: know your car (here, bike)!

      ——————

  • avatar
    Mikein08

    When I rode a bicycle a lot, I tried always to remember one essential truth: in any contact between automobile and bicycle, bicycle loses.
    Thus I almost never rode my bicycle on the street. When I thought I
    might like to buy a motorcycle, I remembered that truth. And then I
    also remembered the several times when, as the driver of a car or
    pickup, I had nearly hit (and perhaps killed) a motorcycle rider
    because I did not see him, for whatever reason. And I also thought
    about the crazy a*holes out there on the road who think of motorcyclists as nice targets for some “fun” (alcohol/drug fueled, in many cases), and I decided I did not want to be the target of anyone’s vehicular “fun”. So I decided not to get a motorcycle. I like living,
    and living without unnecessary scrapes, bruises, and broken bones. When you ride a motorcycle on the street, I firmly believe it’s not “if” your going to be involved in a nasty “accident”, it’s “when”.
    If that hasn’t happened to you yet, count your blessings.

    • 0 avatar
      camoeto

      I think we all know the dangers associated with this and know that there is a calculated risk involved. The claims that there is a good chance someone will try to run you off the road for fun are IMO stretching it though. Almost every story of “this a-hole tried to run me off the road” are usually a result of aggressive driving by said story teller.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Does being T-boned at 15 mph by a city bus running a red light count as my “when?” :-p

      Was fortunate I didn’t get to that intersection a half-second later or it would have REALLY been bad! No passive-safety system activations, and no injuries save for a minor bounce of my head off the upper door-pillar of the loaner 2010 Focus I was driving, which caused a sinus headache, plus a minor bruise where the seat belt locked up. Car was undriveable, and cost ~$4,000 to repair!

      Worst part was that the sonuvabitch driving the bus, even after admitting fault at the scene, pled out to “faulty brakes,” with no points against his CDL! (Needless to say, “livid” barely cracks the surface of how I felt about that!)

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      I’ve known three people who said they had relatives (2 uncles, one father-in-law) who would deliberately try to run down motorcyclists wherever they had the chance. No alcohol/drugs are involved with these people, but a malevolence that’s frightening to contemplate.

      I don’t have the reflexes to ride a motorcycle anymore, but when I did, I was told, “See all those people in cars? They’re all trying to kill you.” It’s not just a safety tip – some people out there actually ARE trying to kill you.

      • 0 avatar
        Tinker

        Texas for years has had a “Drive Friendly” program. As a motorcyclist, I have discovered you are much better off with a “Drive Paranoid” program.

        This means that not only can he see you but he is malevolently motivated, and he is just lulling you into a false sense of security.

        When you see a car or truck, consider the WORST POSSIBLE move at any moment the driver might perform, and have a solution in mind. You will soon develop an internal alarm, when riding a motorcycle, that can be a valuable asset to a driver as well.

  • avatar
    carrya1911

    Ten minutes on an ATV convinced me that whatever level of skill I have behind the wheel of a car is not much help when piloting something with handlebars.

  • avatar
    bachewy

    Great article! For myself I have a few simple rules:

    1. Expect ‘cagers’ to do the stupidest thing possible. That keeps you prepared for it when it happens.

    2. Take it easy on a road you’ve never been on before. That way you don’t get caught in a decreasing radius turn or some other hazard.

    3. Respect the bike. Exploring the limits of your bike might seem fun but sometimes those limits exceed your personal skills.

    4. Want to drive like you’re on a track? Go to the track!

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I will add to chaparral’s comment. Never let an airplane(or car,motorcycle,etc.) take you someplace your head wasn’t 5 minutes or 5 miles before. The few times I haven’t abided by that statement is when I’ve either scared myself, had a close call or an accident.

    Call it head on a swivel, in flying (and possible other professions) we call it situational awareness. Know where you are going, have a good idea where the other guy is going and the guy 6 car lengths ahead who has missed every sign saying “Left Lane Ends”. Know that the guy 6 car lengths ahead is going to cause the person in his blindspot to slam on the brakes when he moves over on them. You have to think for the other people mindlessly operating 3000 lbs of steel.

    Another thing that I taught flying students is always have an out. For example: Too much fuel is only a problem when you’re on fire. Again, the few times I’ve violated the idea of leaving an out (or had someone else do it for me) I’ve scared myself. Problem is with driving, if you leave an “out”, like a car length ahead, some idiot will fill it with their car.

    I’d love to own a bike, but my fear is some other idiot will cut my joy(and life) short because they are too busy texting LOL to some stupid meme on Facebook while using the touchscreen in their new Corolla. Motorcycling was always dangerous, in this world of eternally distracted drivers now, not sure I want to be out there “naked”.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    On the northbound I-5 in Oregon yesterday afternoon in fairly heavy traffic with lots of line-haul trucks, a guy on a motorcycle passed us doing about 80, along with some other vehicles. My wife, who was driving at the time, remarked “He’s crazy to be riding that fast, what if he blew a tire?” I didn’t say anything, but thought to myself “Tires are the least of his worries in this traffic. Your average motorcyclist takes pretty good care of his tires, knowing that if either one of them goes, so probably does he.”

    Come to think of it, I think that was the only motorcycle we saw on I-5, all the way from Grants Pass to Tacoma, on a pretty nice, mild, mostly sunny day. Food for thought, eh?

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      I try to set the cruise for about 5mph over what traffic seems to be doing without trying to being the front runner. Sometimes this means 80mph or more. But I’d rather be doing 80+ out front of the traffic then stuck in the clump of cars going anywhere from 55-85 mph at various times, less than half a car length from each other. This usually works out, until you come up on another clump of traffic. Just thinking about this situation to type it is bothering me.

      I can only think of a Simpsons episode where Homer and the family are hurrying somewhere. Homer is speeding along and changing lanes rapidly, when Marge says “Homer, this isn’t good defensive driving”

      “Sometimes the best defense is a good offense” he replies, through gritted teeth. I’ve had this “discussion” with my wife too.

      On a bike, I can see this being an even bigger advantage, although some cyclists take being offensive to an extreme.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        Yup, I’m pretty carstrophobic when I’m riding, and will basically be as assholish as I want to be in order to get away from bunches of cars and to have a stretch of slab for myself. If I see a bunch of cars laid out I will stitch between them like fine needlework until I can get past it. I reckon I’m safest if I can see a mile or more ahead of me, a mile or so behind, and no cars within 1000ft.

        I also tell my nephews that they can’t have a bike unless they’ve got 10 years of clean driving (no accidents) under their belts.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        I always try to keep myself out of “packs,” and in the center lane when possible, as I’ve had a few close calls with cars alongside pulling out with me in their blind spot! (BTW, this is in a car, not on a bike!) And I get extemely cautious around motorcycles, always trying to get as far ahead as possible, just to give you two-wheelers plenty of space! :-)

        • 0 avatar
          Jon Fage

          Do you mean that you stay in the centre lane of a six-lane (three lanes each direction) roadway?

          On a bike, that is the worst place to be because it limits your escape options in a dangerous situation. The outside lanes provide you with a shoulder and a clear view of an escape route – because we ride where we look. In the centre lane, there is a much greater likelihood that a car will be blocking your escape route. My Road Star is a little big to be pondering high-speed lane splitting, as well.

          I have made an interesting anecdotal observation while riding on Highway 401 in Ontario (among the busiest highways in North America). If I remain at a constant speed in the right lane (say, 105 km/h), I will soon fall out of the “packs” of traffic that are caused by cars that also mistakenly think that the centre lane is the “home” lane.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Good article. As a 20 plus year rider, I have always told newbies that if they want to survive in a world dominated by cars, they have to act like one. That means always try to make your self visible in driver’s rearview mirrors, never assume you are seen and of course have an escape route. I see too many riders flinging their bikes around, crossing lanes
    with barely a look and merging like psychos.

    That said, the one thing motorcycling taught me that has saved my ass more than once (amongst other things), is to look in the rearview when approaching a stoplight. Can’t count how many times I have avoided a rearend collision by making sure the person behind me was stopping as well.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      Amen, amen… and the same goes for winter driving… make sure the car behind you is under control.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      I’ve been hit twice from behind, the last time I had nowhere to go. High curb to the right, oncoming traffic left, car in front hadn’t moved for the light yet. Worst feeling in the world, and I was in a small wagon vs an Impala. Couldn’t imagine that on anything smaller or on a bike. Ugh..

  • avatar
    bryanska

    When I had a moped, I always felt more comfortable wearing very bright clothing. same goes for my bicycle commuting: Day-Glo when I go.

    • 0 avatar
      reclusive_in_nature

      I find my Captain America (Easy Rider style) helmet makes me pretty visible as well. Sometimes I wonder how much motorists laughing at me has saved my life.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    This is my 40th year of riding motorcycles.

    Here are a few rules I live by:

    1) NEVER overdrive your vision. If you can’t safely stop or maneuver within your speed, you’re going too fast.
    2) Grip is life. Having the ability to steer, brake and accelerate means you have options. Never ride at speeds that consume all your grip. This is one rule that translates directly between cars and bikes, with the difference that if you lose grip on the bike, you’re sliding directly on the road.
    3) Which leads us to not riding without gloves, a proper riding jacket, leathers or kevlar jeans, boots and a helmet. In my opinion, those without helmets are just plain stupid.
    4) As Junior Brown sings in “Highway Patrol”, “If you wanna race, get on a race track”.
    5) This one may be a bit dated. Volvo drivers buy them because they expect to crash. Which means that, sooner or later, they will. I once dated a woman who bought a Volvo because she knew she was a terrible driver. Volvos are red flags.
    6) Don’t ride at night when deer are present. Seriously. These are creations dumbest animals. One of the shining lights of the MSF program was killed by a deer, at night, on a Texas road. No one has the skills to avoid these cursed animals at night.

    Finally, if you don’t feel confident in your abilities, don’t ride.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      Was that woman’s Volvo brown? Because I once saw a woman in that color 740 wagon reading a book propped in front of the steering wheel as she kept up with 5 PM traffic on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. Damn…

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    I find it easier to time stoplights when I’m on a motorcycle/scooter than when in a car. I actually make better time getting where I’m going than I would if I had driven a car.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Why do you think that is? Do you think there are distractions in the car that you don’t have on the motorcycle?

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        For me, its the combo of being able to accelerate significantly faster & catch more lights, as well as being able to maneuver into gaps and “the front of the line”. My ride to work would probably take about 2-3x the time in a car.

  • avatar
    rokop

    A really good rule: Never, ever, ever, blast through intersections!!!! Slow down and cover the brake and make damned sure you can stop. This is as true driving a car as riding a bike.

    Read the above over and memorize it. Behave this way at EVERY intersection. Do it when you drive as well as when you ride.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Addendum – don’t ENTER an intersection even from a stoplight or sign without taking a good long look in both directions. I don’t care if you honk at me, I’m not going until I KNOW the cross traffic is stopped. Can’t even say how many times some Captain Oblivious has sailed right on through the intersection right in front of me.

      I almost made a comment to the person above who was T-boned by a bus – why on Earth would you enter an intersection when there is a bus coming?? Make sure it stops, then go. Save $4K and a bunch of bruises at the cost of 3-5 seconds.

      I’ll also say that 18 summers of driving a Triumph Spitfire has taught me situational awareness skills probably almost on par with motorcyclists. Amazing how many people simply don’t see a tiny bright red convertible with a loud exhaust system. Luckily it also has a VERY, VERY loud air horn!

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        @krhodes1: I was coming up to the intersection, not starting up from the light, with no cross-traffic visible until I came to it, by which time it was too late. (No traffic going my way, either, except for one car which had passed through the intersection a few seconds before I did. I was on a one-way downtown street, five lanes across, in the second-from-left lane.) The bus approached from my left, in the rightmost lane of two each way, and hit just behind the left-front wheel.

        I understand about waiting until an intersection is clear! A couple years ago on a rainy night, in a “strip mall heaven” area with poor street lighting, I was at the front of a line of cars at a notoriously-short light with a two-minute wait if you miss the green! As the light changed, I went to hit the gas..then STOPPED, as something didn’t “feel right!” Not one second later, an early-’90s Cutlass, running without headlights, came barreling through that red light! I missed that green..and may have saved my life or someone else’s in the line behind me!

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      This is the reason I will never support any ‘Stop Signs as Yield’ law for bicycles.

      Any law that devalues caution at intersections (i.e., it’s fine to just go through instead of stopping) diminishes that safe behavior.

  • avatar
    Andrew Nevick

    I have been riding for over 15 years now and out of everything I’ve ever learned and been taught the one piece of advice that still rings around my head is my original instructor telling me that “It was my right of way” makes for a very sh!tty epitaph. It’s never your right of way on a bike, and if you don’t keep that in mind then it’s only a case of when, not if, you will come unstuck. I’ve been hit by a car while riding and exercising “my right of way” – it’s just not worth the few seconds you save instead of riding more defensively.

    I also have to say I find riding in America, in urban areas, far more stressful than England or the continent. The two main issues are the complete lack of lane discipline on big roads, and also the right turn on red on streets – I absolutely hate being on a busy street with people creeping forward and looking to pull out in front of me or into me. If you have multiple lane choices never stay in the right lane. Try and avoid being in the middle too, but then if you’re going to mix it up in the fast lane don’t ride like an old woman and make people go around you.

    The other thing I miss about riding in Europe is car drivers driving into the shoulder to let a rider go past. On country roads near my home town it was like parting the Red Sea, and I really miss that level of respect here. How did you find Japan in that regard?

  • avatar
    Junebug

    Every spring since I was 13,I’ve thought about getting a street bike and hitting the highway. It’s been 40 years and I still haven’t done it. I came close once or twice, but never did. Why? After researching the bikes and talking to my friends that ride (fewer now) it’s always the same story – yeah it’s fun, BUT! it takes a lot of skill and a little luck to avoid cars/trucks and everybody had a story of the barely survived escape of death. I got bad nerves, I do, really and if driving through the city in my car gets my teeth sore from gritting at stupid a-holes that should not be on the road, then riding a bike would get me committed to the closest nut house.

  • avatar
    grinchsmate

    The bedst thing Ive learnt is to always look at the driver not just the car.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      But I’m sure you’ve also had the experience of making sustained eye contact with a driver waiting at a side street, moving your helmet & body around just like your bike safety instructor advised you, and STILL have them pull out right in front of you.

      One of the bitterest things I’ve ever done was to permanently quit riding for the sake of my family…. because you just can’t control the behavior of morons in 3000+ lbs of armor.

      • 0 avatar
        noxioux

        Actually, it’s better to watch their front wheels. Those wheels will move long before the driver telegraphs what they’re about to do.

        • 0 avatar

          This is actually a great piece of advice that gets overlooked a lot. Watch the rim or hub cap of a car stopped at an intersection and you can tell pretty easily if he is creeping forward or starting to move.

          If you guys are looking for the tricks of the trade, this is a good one to know.

          • 0 avatar
            Steve65

            This is why I (not a big fan of over regulation) always wanted “spinners” banned. Ambiguity in traffic is always bad. Deliberately maximizing ambiguity as to whether your vehicle is stationary or moving is criminal.

        • 0 avatar
          Summicron

          Yes x 1000
          I’ve finally convinced my wife to do that while driving, and when walking in a parking lot always suspect anyone’s back-up lights.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        Summicron – – –

        “…. because you just can’t control the behavior of morons in 3000+ lbs of armor.”

        Yeah, exactly. And that legitimate paranoia applies to cars too. From my avatar, you can see the car I drive. Half the time it can’t be seen. How comfortable do you think I feel in traffic with semi’s or soccer moms in minivans reaching back to wipe the nose of a crying kid in the rear row? Scary stuff….

        Maybe there should be a requirement for all sports cars and bikes to be colored either red or yellow, and have an 8-foot tall antenna attached to the back with a little red LED and mini-flag on top!

        ——-

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      I watch the driver, but I also put equal attention on the front wheel. If they’re even going to start to creep, it’s immediately apparent while watching the wheel.

      • 0 avatar

        Your experience shows – you are right when you say to do both. I can’t tell you how many times I have looked a driver in the eye and had them roll out in front of me anyhow. Sometimes there is a disconnect between people’s heads and their feet.

        • 0 avatar
          NMGOM

          Thomas – –

          Sometimes I think the problem is automatic transmissions in cars, which require far less thought to get a vehicle to move. All I have is manuals, and it takes me more deliberate involvement to get going, which often translates into looking around more as well.

          ————–

          • 0 avatar
            mikey

            @NMGON….Yes!,after 40 years I went back to driving a manual. I’m 59 years old and have driven 100’s of thousands of miles.
            Agreed a manual makes for a better driver.

  • avatar
    joneill1955

    Tips for motorcycling survival:

    1. Assume all car drivers are morons.

    2. Assume all drivers of buicks, volvos, corollas, camrys are blind morons.

    3. Learn to brake hard while keeping control.

    4. Learn to swerve hard while keeping control.

    5. Don’t ride faster than your skill level.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      You’re giving too much credit to those falling under #2.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      joneill1955 – – –

      Something that even experienced bikers often do not appreciate: with regard to your #4, it is very difficult to swerve a bike at 45 mpg or above, in the same sense that you can swerve a well-handling car. The bike is gyroscopically stabilized and actively reists being “turned”. It takes a lot of skill and practice to “kneel” a bike and go off at 45 degrees from your previous path at high speed to avoid a collision. And if you mix all that with braking, so that you don’t know how much weight/grip is now over the front versus over the back wheel, — well, you just need a LOT of practice. And very few bikers do that.

      ————–

      • 0 avatar
        joneill1955

        Agree that depending on the situation, it can be hard to execute a swerve, but being able to do so in order to avoid road obstacles is a critical skill. While riding in a straight line, it’s relatively easy to swerve. In a turn, it is more difficult to do so, but still achievable unless the bike is at the limits of adhesion (which you should never let happen unless you’re on a race track and know what you’re doing).

  • avatar
    George Herbert

    I drive, not ride, but to emphasize invisibility…

    I am meticulous about checking mirrors for situational awareness even when going straight, and before changing lanes checking blindspots and signalling.

    I am surprised by a motorcycle once a week or two weeks.

    We really can’t see you that well.

    • 0 avatar
      PhilMills

      When I was 26, my brother a few states away bought a motorcycle. That (along with a lot of my coworkers being motorcyclists) sparked the fire for me to think about getting a motorcycle.

      On that very day, I swear to heaven, MILLIONS of motorcycles suddenly appeared on the very same roads where I had seen nary a one in all the years before.

      That, my dear George, was simultaneously enlightening and incredibly worrisome. All of a sudden, simply because I was /thinking/ “motorcycle”, I saw them. I saw them everywhere. It was like getting a super-power. And then I asked myself: where were these motorcycles yesterday? What horrible things have I done in the past because I was not seeing motorcycles?

      To the average automobile driver, motorcycles don’t exist on the roads simply because they’re /just/not/looking/for/them. They don’t make it past the mental awareness filter that’s continually processing what you consider to be important. Most non-motorcyclists’ filters look like “4 wheels and 2 tons – that’d hurt to run into so I will allow you to notice it.”
      Sadly, many people’s filters are set to “Oh! My favorite song on the radio!” and “Hey, my phone just made the Facebook noise!” and not even the SUV that’s been in the lane next to them for three blocks is going to register when they go to change lanes.

      TLDR: I think that most people would be well-served to take a motorcycle lesson (and car-driving lessons and some bicycling lessons, while we’re at it) before getting their driver’s license.

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        This. Always assume that drivers don’t see you. Unfortunately, it only takes a few seconds of forgetting this to earn a broken leg, or worse. I was riding to work, sporting my day-glo green 80s ski jacket, car approaching me in the left turn lane. Took my eyes off the car for a second, next thing I knew it was turning, blocking my lane, right in front of me. Driver said she never saw me til I hit her.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      BTW, bikers also have blind spots, and they can be rather large due to the narrowness of field of view from mirrors.. One habit I’ve carried over from biking is, when changing lanes, to start the signal, wait a second, look over my shoulder, look straight, wait a second, then change lanes. The mirror is good for a quick scan if you haven’t been keeping a 3D map of your immediate vicinity in your head, but it always pays to look.

      I would only suspend this rule on roads such as the FDR drive, where the traffic is bumper-to-bumper at 50mph or more, and taking your eyes off the road in front of you for a couple hundred milliseconds could be enough time for some cab to cut into you or some moron to slam the brakes while you’re checking the other lane.

      • 0 avatar
        Spike_in_Brisbane

        Totally agree. My personal golden rule involves always doing a shoulder check when changing lines, ESPECIALLY when I know there is nobody there. Overconfidence is a killer.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        I wish more motorcyclists would do that. All too often they merely take one hand off the handlebar, point to the ground immediately beside them (in a manner that has to be the easiest to miss), and move over.

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      The problem with mirrors is that they are usually adjusted wrong. The side mirrors need to be farther out than most people have theirs. If you can see the side of your own car in the side mirror it’s not adjusted right. It IS possible to eliminate blind spots with proper mirror adjustment, but unfortunately most people either don’t bother or don’t know how.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        I find it easy to eliminate the blind spot on the passenger side, but I’m always tinkering with the driver side mirror to eliminate that blind spot. The mirror is as far out as it will go, and I still have a small blind spot.

        Must be an odd combination of my eye level and the size of the mirror. One of these days I might try an aspherical mirror on the driver side.

  • avatar
    noxioux

    About 15 years ago I had a MAJOR accident on a Suzuki GS500. Nothing will wake you up faster than smashing a bike into something going about 65mph. 65 doesn’t sound that fast.

    Prior to my accident, I had no idea what the bike was capable of, or how I could make it do those things that would keep me alive. After the accident I realized that the whole problem was my ignorance, and how lucky it was that my brains weren’t painted all over a 2-lane undivided backroad (statistically the most dangerous). Thanks to some dumb luck and a SNELL certified Shoei, I had a chance to re-learn.

    Now, I don’t ride a bike on the street. But that’s just to keep my poor ole mom from getting ulcers worrying about it. I have ridden a few bikes on the road since my accident, and it’s no big deal. Other than I pay a LOT more attention. These days my bike is a very nice Suzuki DRZ400 that has been teaching me some very interesting things about riding in general (namely by throwing me off it). Sand dunes are much more fun than tarmac, anyway.

    But, advice I give these days is: First, take an MSF or equivalent course first thing. Do it before you even buy a bike. Second, always keep a couple fingers on the brake. That bike can stop much faster than you’ll ever believe possible, but only if you’re ready to stop it. Third, practice countersteer. It can, and will save your ass.

    The fourth bit of advice: When you see that idiot on the CBR wearing flip-flops, a pair of gym shorts, tank top and a baseball hat turned backwords, don’t wave. Tap the side of your head and let him know he’s a numbskull.

    • 0 avatar
      Andrew Nevick

      The MSF is a good place to start and I salute anyone that does it, I even did it myself when I moved here despite having years of riding experience, but I have to say that it is still woefully inadequate in preparing you to ride. I don’t know how it varies from state to state but in the CA MSF you don’t even ride on a road – that is absolutely ridiculous IMO. Puttering around a car park and some cones for an afternoon doesn’t begin to give you the skills you need to survive on the roads nowadays.

      Also the lack of a graduated license here means that a lot of people don’t build up their fundamental skills before riding a superbike. I went through increasing powers before riding what I ride now, and my mistakes were made at much slower speeds – mistakes which would have been more serious on a bigger bike. Frankly I would have killed myself if I had got right onto a big bike after passing my test in my teens.

      Fork out for at least a day or two’s personal professional instruction (after the MSF) if you want to start riding is my advice, or at least go out with someone you know who is actually a good rider and get yourselves a two way headset so they can give you a running commentary. The thing about biking is that anyone who has done it solidly for a long time is going to be good at it, and will be able to teach you a great deal – it’s not a pastime that permits failure for very long.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        Another good piece of advice, I think. Cruiser, sportbike, adventure bike, doesn’t matter. If you have access to a track, do a track day. It will give you the confidence + experience to manhandle your bike in an emergency situation. Everything from finding out what kind of cornering clearance and input force you need to make, to having the mind and knowledge to threshold brake reflexively. Plus of course, you paid for all that capability, you might as well take the bike somewhere you can enjoy it.

        I am hoping one day to transition into riding exclusively on the track. But I would need to be able to go weekly or so during the riding season. I haven’t done any track days yet.

        • 0 avatar
          NMGOM

          sportyaccordy – – –

          Your very good advice applies to cars as well, and should be an automatic part of driver education. Too bad our society doesn’t think so. The prevailing future solution is to make cars that drive themselves! How sick does it get?

          ————

  • avatar
    eddiemaster

    Having ridden for 6 yrs in Seattle area, I havent had one accident, and not really came close to one. My view on motorcycle is that I only ride when it is nice out, because then it equates fun. Of course being in the rainy city, that translates to just 4-5 months worth of riding each year, that thats besides the point. Being careful and savy is a must, skills are drilled in in MSF class + repeating those habits in the first few months of riding. But a huge factor would still be where you live/ride and how the people generally frive in the area. I would more likely shy away from riding as much if I had to deal with traffic in Miami or LA where drivers can be very very impatient. But I feel like most drivers are very cautious in Seattle/eastside that I am comfortable taking it on the road. Location does matter quite a bit.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    The best piece of advice about bikes is the one that is repeated constantly by experienced riders and ALWAYS ignored.

    “Don’t buy something beyond your ability for your 1st bike.”

    Guilty. My buddies were all getting into sportbikes, and I was the last one without a ride. It was going to be a TL1000R. Why? Because it looked and sounded incredible. I heard the advice above countless times, but when all your friends have 600’s, there’s no way you’re going to show up on a “Phaser”. It might as well be a bicycle. Chicks can even tell them apart. The difference for the rider is a bicycle vs a bucking bronco.

    After almost crashing my friend’s CBR into a mailbox at 100mph on the 1st ride, I put the kickstand down and said “This isn’t for me”. I didn’t mean just the 600, but motorcycles altogether. I realized I had a self-control problem.

    BTW, all those guys wrecked their bikes multiple times. One of them even crashed on the license test. I’m pleasantly surprised that none died or have disabilities, as most of the accidents were pretty hairy.

    • 0 avatar
      Andrew Nevick

      TL1000R for your first bike – LOL! Even the old hands called that “The Widowmaker” round my way! Well, more the TL1000S I suppose, but the R wasn’t exactly known as a friendly ride. From the UK Motorcycle News review of the R back in the day:

      “The Suzuki TL1000R is exciting to ride, but for experts/nutters only.”

      Lovely engine though, I had it in a Cagiva V-Raptor for a while. That thing would get on its back wheel without any provocation whatsoever.

      • 0 avatar
        Crabspirits

        Nowadays, I imagine myself riding that thing back then and shudder.

        But when you’re young you can do things. Things such as climb into a B-17 headed over Berlin with the expectation you will come back alive.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      I see this every day at the Honda/Yamaha/Can-Am shop where I work. 600’s are “girls bikes”, and everybody wants their first bike to be something with incredible street cred. You know, the bike that makes you look like an incredibly experienced ride on day one (well, as long as you don’t throw your leg over and start it).

      And that part that huts? Missing out completely on the concept “its a lot more fun to go fast on a slow bike, than slow on a fast bike”. These guys jerkily wobbling around their first curves on an overpowered 600 (or 1000) where they could be quickly screaming around that curve on a 250, at the same real speed, with a lot more enjoyment.

      • 0 avatar
        Crabspirits

        I understand the concept completely now, but at 21, you might as well have been talking to a brick wall.

      • 0 avatar
        Brian P

        I have 24 years of street riding experience … and 20 years roadracing at a regional level (I’m no Valentino Rossi, but I do okay).

        My main street bike is a Honda CBR125R with a rompin’ stompin’ 12 horsepower. Most fun bike ever while keeping my license.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      The first bike I rode was a Lambretta scooter, 1960s vintage, from age 10 to about age 15.

      The first bike I OWNED was a BMW R1150GS.

      Kind of a wakeup call riding that thing home from the dealer that first day.. In NYC rush-hour traffic.. I reckon if you can survive that, you can survive anything.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Nicely written.

    In my idea of a perfect world, nobody is allowed near the steering wheel of a car unless they’ve put in two years of licensed motorcycle operation first. 37 years of riding have taught me skills and reflexes that I could never have bothered to develop locked up inside a steel box. And learning to ride a motorcycles makes you a better driver if only because you’re quickly taught the humility that you are NOT the only driver on the road, and anything you do can immediately counter-act back on you with possibly disastrous results.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    I’ve had 2 motorycle accidents on the streets. Luckily both minor. And both of them single vehicle accidents which were my fault. Motorcyclists love to talk about how idiotic the ‘cagers’ are. But the truth of the matter is, the majority of motorcycle accidents are the fault of the motorcyclist outriding his abilities or the tires’ traction.

    My personal belief is that no motorcycle should be more than 50hp or 300lb. The tire contact patch is just too small for anything more powerful or heavier.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      icemilkcoffee – – –

      I couldn’t agree with you more. We like to blame oblivious soccer moms in minivans (as I have done), but bikers have often “set themselves up” for impending disaster as well. Please see my reply to joneill1955 listed above.

      It is even more true that most car drivers do not realize that their entire road existence rests upon 4 small contact patches to which they apply hundreds of of horsepower, but then wonder why they cant’ stop!

      ———–

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        They can’t stop because their four contact patches are worn out or made of some awful Chinese rubber. Their brakes are probably worn out too. Or all the above.

  • avatar
    stevelyon

    I commute 30 miles a day in Los Angeles traffic on a BMW K1200RS. As mentioned earlier, I keep a sharp eye on the front wheels of other cars – that’s always the best tell of where a car is heading.

    One trick that makes me feel safer on surface streets is riding in the gaps between groups of cars. Any major surface street’s traffic gets sorted into clumps of cars by the timing of traffic signals, and all you need to do to get into a gap is briskly take off when the light turns green, then settle back into 5 mph or so over the speed limit after that.

    My favorite mode for highway riding when traffic is light is to ride just a little bit faster than the flow of traffic – not fast enough to require weaving or anything dangerous, but just quick enough so that 95% of what is happening on the road is coming at me from ahead. Couple this with keeping my eyes UP and looking as far down the road as possible, and I end up feeling like I have good situational awareness.

    One last thing… I’ll never own another bike that doesn’t have ABS. Best. Feature. Ever.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Agreed, particularly in the wet. Folks talk smack about ABS on motorcycles but it really is a lifesaver.

      I wouldn’t buy a new bike without traction control either. Luckily, the K1600GT I covet has both, along with adaptive Xenons and other goodies, some of which are safety improvements!

      • 0 avatar
        Steve65

        To date, the only bike I’ve ridden with ABS was an old K100 with a first-gen system. Scared the CRAP outta me braking on a bumpy down-hill heading into a tight right-hander. It was free-wheeling so much it was almost as though there were no brakes at all. No harm done (I wasn’t pushing the limits so I just rode around the corner) but I’m glad that newer systems are more precise.

  • avatar

    I always watch out for motorcycles and leave them space. I know that they can brake much, much harder than I can. Taigating a bike is like tailgating a 911. Unfortunately, I probably encroached into a bike’s space and didn’t even know about it.

    The one time I rode a friend’s bike, I hit a patch of sand in a curve and busted up my knee. And it only had 15 hp or so.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Where did you hear about bikes outbraking cars? The smaller contact patch results in stopping times that are at best comparable to cars (with a competent rider on a sport bike), but I bet the typical squid or weekend harley type would just inadvertently lock up the rear tire and “lay’er down.” it is generally accepted that motorcycles cannot brake anywhere as efficiently as cars, nor corner as hard for that matter. It’s the acceleration out of corners and on straights that makes them so fast.

  • avatar
    Alexdi

    Motorcycles freak me out. Whenever I see one, I zero in on it like my head is a radar dome and stare until I’ve long passed or they’re off in the distance. This is all residual guilt from nearly sideswiping one on a lane change years ago.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    Motorcycle riders and “defensive driving” is a mutually exclusive thing here in Indonesia. I think they’re all daredevils, and take the most insane risks possible. My pet peeve is passing cars making left turn (we’re right hand drive here) on the left side (passenger side). Usually When we were merging into traffic, so our attention is concentrated on the right (driver’s) side of the car. Or passing from the passenger side when we’ve had our blinkers on for ages, and quite obviously want to make a left turn, and the corner’s here so we need to make those left turns NOW.

    So at least for this particular place, the #1 rule with regards to motorcycle riders is:
    1. Assume they’re morons, who would do the stupidest, most dangerous thing possible without the slightest regard to their lives at all, and it’s entirely up to YOU to watch out for them.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      That’s the type of behavior I saw when traveling in Brazil. Motor cyclists thought nothing of splitting lanes with oncoming traffic because, apparently, constantly honking keeps them safe.

  • avatar
    E46M3_333

    Advice from a non-rider: sign up to be an organ donor.

    How does that invisibility thing work when you’re stopped at a light and Britney rear-ends you while she’s sending a text message?

    • 0 avatar
      blackbolt

      My first 2 wheeler was a 50cc scooter which was really manuverable but just ran outta steam oh so quickly. I rode with a few friends who had motorcycles of various sizes but all much faster than I. City riding I waited for them but once we hit open road I was a liability which prompted me to get a 500cc scooter. Now I could keep up but alot of the fun was gone because at higher speeds the concentration was on staying alive. More power also opened up faraway destinations which quickly taught me that if you are not familiar with the road you are travelling on just take it easy. The simplest single lane stretch ridden for the first time has a character that can only be learned over a period of time.

    • 0 avatar
      Mykl

      Advice from a former rider: if you’re stopped at a light you should have an eye on the mirror with the bike in gear, ready to escape when Britney looks like she’s not going to stop.

    • 0 avatar

      That organ-donor crap is old hack. You should be watching for Britney in your mirrors and have two or three escape routes planned. Punch it between the cars in front of you, make the turn if you need to, run it up on the sidewalk if that’s what it takes.

      You should be looking for the outs in a car too, especially a small one. That’s the point of this thread, trying to give non-riders a look into the motorcyclist’s mind and maybe aquire some new skills.

    • 0 avatar
      amca

      Heartily agree.

      But in the context of this discussion, doesn’t that sort of assume failure?

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I know this depends on the state, but always split lanes where allowed to take Britney out of the equation. I don’t ride so someone please correct me if I’m off, but aren’t you obligate to split lanes when it is legal to do so?

      • 0 avatar
        bk_moto

        The only state where lane splitting is allowed is California and to my knowledge no one is obligated to split lanes.

        The distinction should be made between lane splitting or lane sharing (i.e. riding between lanes of moving car traffic such as on a freeway) and filtering (riding between lanes of stopped traffic, such as at a red light, to get to the front of the pack).

        Filtering is certainly not legal here in New York but I do it anyway as it beats getting rear-ended (been there, done that).

        • 0 avatar
          burgersandbeer

          I guess lane splitting has been a gray area even in California. Best practices were only recently clarified: http: //www. fresnobee. com/2013/02/15/3176583/chp-clarifies-rules-for-motorcycles.html

          If line splitting is considered riding between lanes of moving traffic on a freeway, I don’t think the CHP want you doing that either.

          • 0 avatar
            dfp21

            Technically, we’re sharing one lane at a time with a car. Completely legal (in California) when there is room in the lane. Unfortunately, many drivers are territorial.

  • avatar
    bk_moto

    I’ve been riding in NYC for about seven years now and it’s always an adventure. The MSF course should be mandatory but as mentioned above it’s not truly adequate for preparing one to ride on the street, especially for people with poor impulse control and decision-making skills. The state of driver education in the U.S. is awful (for both cars and motorcycles) and a much more intensive licensing program for both types of vehicles would be wonderful. While I’m dreaming, I’d also like graduated licensing for motorcycles, please. But of course none of that will ever happen because ‘Murica.

    Proper gear and situational awareness are both essential. Continuing education is probably also the best money you can spend – improving your riding skills pays off every day. I took the Total Control class and loved it; gotta sign up for part 2.

    I’ve been in one crash that was semi-serious in which I was rear-ended by a BMW driver not paying attention. The traffic light had just turned green, the cars in front of me started going, then a taxi that was moving for a right turn aborted the turn and just stopped in the travel lane. The car in front of me was forced to stop suddenly, I was forced to stop suddenly, and the BMW behind me didn’t bother. That crash messed up my lower back for a while and required a trip to the hospital via ambulance while strapped to a back board. Not a lot of fun. While legally of course the crash was 100% the BMW driver’s fault, that doesn’t matter too much when you’re in the ER. As a motorcyclist, I should have left myself enough room to get around the car in front of me when it stopped or checked my mirrors to make sure the car behind me was stopping. In reality, it happened so quickly that I’m not sure I would have had time to do either one. I used to be pretty good about checking my mirrors when stopping at intersections and of course after the crash I’m more vigilant about it.

    That said, sometimes you can do everything right and shit still happens. I hope that will be the last crash I ever have but I’m realistic enough about the risks of motorcycling to know that’s probably not the case. Motorcycling brings me a lot of enjoyment so I do what I can to mitigate the risks and hope for the best.

    I did however just return from a trip that involved a solo ride from Hanoi to Saigon on a rented XR250. Now THAT was an adventure and quite honestly I’m fortunate to have lived through it. Riding in NYC when I got back suddenly didn’t seem so crazy anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I trust you have seen the Top Gear episode involving the same ride from Saigon to close to Hanoi?

      • 0 avatar
        bk_moto

        Yes, that was part of my inspiration for the trip (along with Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episodes from Vietnam highlighting the amazing food).

        I however did not have support trucks and a TV production crew backing me up! What a great time. I can’t wait to go back to Vietnam.

  • avatar
    dgran

    I do bicycling, but based on conversations I’ve had with motorcyclists the following two apply:

    1) When you approach an intersection and you need to know if the car in the perpendicular lane is moving, look at the wheels. Because you are moving it is hard to tell if they are moving, but you can see the turn of the wheels pretty clearly to detect if they are going to pull out in front of you.

    2) When things get dicey and you need to avoid a crash you generally will go in the direction you look. Therefore, don’t look directly into the crash situation. Look toward the path out.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    I’m also a WNY resident but never got the bike bug outside a few lessons decades ago. I’d consider a bike, but the time to master this new skill seems tight, especially with 4 month long winters.

    Regarding winter, a close friend of mine rode for years but gave it up, primarily because of the forced winter break and also some close calls.

    BTW, is that pic the viaduct that runs under the Buffalo Airport Runway?

  • avatar
    CelticPete

    I will never understand how it can be legal to drive a motorbike but cars have to have to weigh at least 2000lbs to be even legal to get on the road..

    Does society just not care about motorcyle riders or something? Motorcyles are TONS of fun – and very fuel efficent. But that likely to die thing keeps me from using em.

    My dad new a very safety oriented motorcyle driver – he did everything right and still got killed. Thats the big problem with motorcycles. You can do everything right but there are some situations where you just have to hope the other guy doesn’t screw up.

    And what would be just a fender bender on a car will get you killed on a bike. Maybe when self driving cars are the norm – Motorcyles will be safe.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      “My dad new a very safety oriented motorcyle driver – he did everything right and still got killed.”

      This is what keeps me off them as well. Even if I manage to survive long enough to consider myself a good rider, there are too many dangers on the road that are out of my control.

      I like the earlier suggestions from a couple people on sticking with dirt bikes. I prefer mountain bikes because I’m more comfortable with roots and rocks than SUVs; I might was well extend that logic to motorized bikes.

      As for motorbikes being legal while cars have high safety requirements, it is a bizarre. All I can think of is it isn’t our lawmakers’ preference, and someone somewhere is looking for a legal precedent to outlaw motorbikes.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        I’m an avid cyclist, and I agree that biking on the trails is far superior to the street. Around here, there are many drivers that actively desire me to die (no, that is not an exaggeration–they genuinely despise the fact that I am taking up space on their road so much that they hope I suffer some horrible end, even to the point of deliberately initiating it).

        The reality is that I don’t want to share the road with them, either, and I would gladly ride along some other right of way. The county has been active the last several years building greenways along bayous for parks, but now that they are being connected, they have the added bonus of letting me travel long distances without using roads.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Good post ! .

    I’ve been riding 40 years now and I’m no where near as proficient as I wish I was .

    I began on a 1962 Honda C100 50 CC pushrod autoclutch step through tiddler and have ridden many big bikes , owned and rode Harleys , KnuckleHeads & PanHeads through Guatemala , I like them all but moreso the cruisers I think (old BMW’s) .

    I too agree that riding fast on a slow Moto is vastly more fun ! you don’t get this until you try it ~ I love to tour on my 90 C.C. Honda Tiddler as well as my old and pokey BMW & Ural AirHeads .

    I often pass the squids on the Angles Crest Highway astride my 47 HP 650 CC Ural Solo .

    ” Almost every story of “this a-hole tried to run me off the road” are usually a result of aggressive driving by said story teller.”

    This statement is clearly written by a non Motocyclist as I learned the hard way many years ago when pootling along in my lane when some enraged dickhead decided to kill me for no apparent reason . not just once either .

    On Tuesday morning @ 04:15 Sept. 30 2008 , I learned the hard way how bad it is to forget to watch those rear view mirrors when waiting for a red light ~ clear night , no traffic , I was sitting there and thinking about stopping in at the gas station across the intersection when the light changed , a gypsy cab ran me over going 50 + MPH , he never slowed for the red light , never touched his brakes , I went through the windshield and landed in his front seat , he hit my Moto *so* hard it jammed into the grille of his Panther (ex Police) Taxi and never did fall down ~ the tow truck operator had to use a crowbar to pry it loose .

    The nice Taxista retard pulled me out of the seat and laid me out on the sidewalk , all nice and neat , removed my helmet before the First Responders arrived ~ my spine was shattered and I’m lucky to be alive , much less that I still ride , I wear a back brace 24/7 and have to use a cane to walk but yes , I still ride .

    BE AWARE ! .

    Ride hard & have fun but BE SAFE ! .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Naw ;

    You can get killed while waiting for a bus too ~ that happens every day.

    If you’re a poseur pinhead with a plastic nazi helmet and 4′ ape hangers , you’re prolly too stupid to ‘get’ Motocycling anyways but , if it sounds like fun , it prolly will be for you , just go in with your eyes wide open .

    I taught my Son a good lesson in safe riding & personal responsibility when he began the 9th grade ~ we live in crapville so I got him a cherry Honda 90 trailbike and registered it to him , told him here’s the deal : “ride it across town daily to High School and wear ALL the gear , be safe , no buddies riding pack etc. and you’ll have a good time and not have the ride the Ghetto bus .

    Screw up and you’ll loose the Moto and maybe get hurt , I won’t get it out of impound & you’ll have four years of riding that damned Ghetto Bus , I trust you to make the right choices ” .

    He never had any troubles and learned to ride unobtrusively in morning rush traffic , was the BIG MAN on campus being the _only_ one who rode his very own Moto…

    He easily learned his license some years after H.S. and is now a safe & competitive track racer ~ I’ll never have the skill set he does .

    Life’s not fair and the future isn’t promised ~ go out and grab it .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    mkirk

    I’ve got my KLR650 on the block now. Great bike but I didn’t come back from Baghdad and Kandahar to get taken out by someone trying to drink a mocha and send a text in a Tahoe. I just don’t enjoy it as much as I used to but I do agree that all drivers should ride. I think riding a bike made me a much better driver. I may pick up a little trail bike though.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Great bikes, those KLR 650s :) Sold mine last spring in a fit of motorcycle fleet-downsizing. I can honestly say it was the best bike I’ve owned, gotta love the stump pulling torque of a big thumper! I used it for commuting, trail exploration, dual sport touring, and embarrassing some sport bike riding buddies on twisty roads. There is something to be said about riding a knobby-tired dual sport on twisty pavement: The upright position and massive leverage on the bars, combined with the predictable way the rear tire will start to ‘walk’ on the knobs as you approach the limit.

  • avatar
    Buckelew

    Nate, my father was murdered on his bike. And he was a very good rider, as the police said, “Doing exactly what he was supposed to do.”

    The trial for the perp hasn’t happened yet; but it’s alleged the perp was mixing dope at 5:30 AM on a work day, probably running down the road with his eyes closed when he struck my dad head-on. My dad’s death happened 51 years to the day one of my uncle’s was killed riding a motorcycle; and that perp was driving wrecklessly.

    I know — you can die any time for one or more of millions of reasons. But today the drivers are HORRIBLE!! I had pleaded with my dad to get off the bikes because the decline in car-drivers skills over the past 20 years was obvious and remarkable. Now we must soldier on without Dad because he “died doing what he loved to do”. It’s some consolation knowing how many fools I see every day on the roads.

    We need real enforcement, real fines, real changes in driving behavior all over this country.

    Please stay safe.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      It isn’t just motorcyclists that suffer. A good friend’s youngest daughter was killed last weekend in a particularly terrible crash, and I’ve lost a few other friends in wrecks in the last couple years.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    I’m surprised at how many of these strategies I use in a car, particularly traveling faster than most traffic for the sole purpose of creating space around me.

    I am sometimes guilty of of aggressively defending my space rather than immediately yielding (for example, the car directly next to me tries to move into my lane). Breaking that habit would be the most significant change for me from a driving philosophy standpoint, though I imagine losing the safety cage would fix things quickly.

    • 0 avatar
      Buckelew

      I don’t blame you for being more aggressive. Has signaling a lane change become illegal? How ’bout staying out of the outside lane on the interstates except to pass? Yielding proper space? Paying attention? Making proper turns? What the hell’s happened on our roads? I’ve been outraged for years, but it’s reached a ridiculous level.

    • 0 avatar
      Buckelew

      I don’t blame you for being more aggressive. Has signaling a lane change become illegal? How ’bout staying out of the inside lane except to pass? Yielding proper space? Full cessation at stop signs? Paying attention? Making proper turns? What the hell’s happened on our roads? I’ve been outraged for years, but it’s reached a ridiculous level.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      I’m surprised you’re surprised. The consequences are higher, but the goals are still the same – get where you’re going without hitting or being hit by anything. The roads are the same. The traffic is the same. About the only things different are that fewer drivers pay attention to motorcycles, and the bikes have more available options in traffic.

      I’m amazed by not surprised by how many people on the road are incapable of internalizing a fundamental truth: distance = increased safety. The more you can separate yourself from other road users, the less likely you are to be involved in a crash. And yet I see people voluntarily clumping up as a matter of course.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        There is far more traffic in my observation. The roads indeed have stayed the same, but there are more people on them every day. IMO, many of the old truisms are now false because of such changes in traffic.

    • 0 avatar

      Part of this is knowing when you are in someone’s blind spot and accelerating to get even with them so they can see you. I caught myself doing this in my little Torrent today on the way home from work. I probably do it everyday, but this discussion helped me notice.

      Once you get in the habit of pre-planning your escape routes, defending your lane isn’t such a big deal. Also, riding and driving in Asia has taught me not to be too obsessed with the marks in the road. Just slide over and keep on truckin’.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      I do this as well. Idiots seem to like to drive in clusters, which makes no sense to me because I’m always thinking about the “what ifs” that could suddenly cause that cluster to turn into a pileup. If it takes speeding up to 80 for a short burst, I’ll do it to get away from a cluster. I like to set the cruise to about 68-72 and drive in the far right lane. But I always end up speeding up to let people merge from on-ramps or to escape clusters.

      I’ll personally never own a motorcycle for multiple reasons, but I try to be courteous to motorcyclists that I do see. In Maine motorcycle riders aren’t required to wear a helmet, so in the summer you see a lot of guys riding them with shorts, a wife beater and sandals. I don’t have much respect for those idiots, so I’m always astounded when I see guys actually wearing proper protective gear. Ironically enough, it’s usually the guys on Harleys that are out in their shorts. Most (but not all) of the guys driving Japanese brands or BMWs are wearing proper clothing.

      They’re trying to get a new helmet law passed here in Maine, but no success so far. The “loud pipes save lives” people are all up in arms about it since their obnoxious exhaust systems are supposed to be all that’s needed from preventing them in turning into road ornaments. They don’t like the government telling them to wear something that could save them from their own stupidity.

      Anyway, just my thoughts on idiot car drivers and idiot motorcyclists that I encounter. It’s warming up, so I’ll be hearing the headache inducing exhaust systems soon enough. Yay! (not)

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        brettc – – –

        You mentioned: “They’re trying to get a new helmet law passed here in Maine, but no success so far. The “loud pipes save lives” people are all up in arms about it since their obnoxious exhaust systems are supposed to be all that’s needed from preventing them in turning into road ornaments. They don’t like the government telling them to wear something that could save them from their own stupidity.”

        What looks like “freedom” is actually irresponsibility. If it were ONLY the case that a biker did not wear a helmet and died in a crash, then so be it: it would be his “freedom” to have taken that risk and to have died. But the issue is that he would not provide a helmet for his passenger, and likely kill her (usually a “her”) as well. He may have the right to be unsafe for his own sake, but does he have the right to guide or encourage someone else into being unsafe as well?

        —————-

        • 0 avatar
          Steve65

          Who appointed you czar of making other people’s risk/benefit choices?

          • 0 avatar
            NMGOM

            Steve65 – – –

            I am sorry, but that is respectfully offered as my view for your passenger’s benefit. You have the freedom to express your views. I should recap brettc’s last sentence in his next-to-last paragraph:
            “They don’t like the government telling them to wear something that could save them from their own stupidity.”

            Do you think that he is being a “czar” as well?

            ————–

          • 0 avatar
            Steve65

            Yes. As is anyone who presumes to make personal decisions for competent adults.

          • 0 avatar
            redav

            Steve65,

            IMO, those aren’t personal decisions. After attending a funeral this past week of a young woman who was killed in a traffic accident, I can say with 100% confidence that life/death decisions are NOT just about you. Your decision to wear a helmet (or not) affects–and therefore can harm–everyone around you.

        • 0 avatar
          mpresley

          I figure that if someone wants to ride sans protective gear, that’s their business. But they should be made to sign a waiver so the state doesn’t have to pick up the tab for their subsequent disability.

          And loud pipes should be illegal from the get go. It’s just middle aged losers playing weekend Halloween, pretending to be Hells Angels, or whatever.

          • 0 avatar
            Steve65

            Sure. As soon as you sign a similar waiver any time you chose to ride in a car without a helmet.

            You DO know that head injuries are more common in car crashes than bike crashes, on a gross numbers, per mile, and per accident basis. Right?

            Loud pipes are already illegal. Take that one up with your local police.

          • 0 avatar
            NMGOM

            Steve65 – – –

            Since there are many more cars in the USA than motorcycles, obtaining the # of head injuries from absolute vehicle numbers is meaningless. What is the PERCENT of head injuries from fatal motorcycle accidents, as opposed to the PERCENT of head injuries from fatal car accidents? There are about 30 times more cars than motorcycles registered.

            “According to the US Bureau of Transit Statistics for 2004 there are 243,023,485 registered passenger vehicles in the US. Out of these roughly 243 million vehicles, 136,430,651 (56.13%) were classified as cars, while 91,845,327 (37.79%) were classified as “Other 2 axle, 4 tire vehicles,” presumably SUVs and pick-up trucks. Yet another 6,161,028 (2.53%) were classified as vehicles with 2 axles and 6 tires and 2,010,335 (0.82%) were classified as “Truck, combination.” There were approximately 5,780,870 motorcycles in the US in 2004, which accounts for 2.37% of all registered passenger vehicles.”

            ref: http://www.howmanyarethere.org/how-many-cars-are-there-in-the-usa-2012/

            ———–

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Thomas Wrote :

    ” Nate, every time you post a comment I gain a whole new level of respect for you and your experiences. I hope you keep a journal for your son and eventually your grandkids. They are going to want to hear all these stories.”

    Yabbutt , you can write so it’s interesting . me , I ramble on about nothing much .

    If I say ‘ in 1976 I was run off the road by a death squad in Guatemala ‘ that sounds really exciting (it was but not much fun for me , my new wife nor her parents who were in the car) .

    The long , boring story involves me being too young to gracefully surrender the right of way when they suddenly turned on to the major jungle highway just as I came whistling along @ full tilt boogie ~ it takes a while to get a 1500 CC single port VW Squareback up to speed when it’s full of people and I didn’t feel like slowing down nor giving way until they pointed a machine gun at me ~ I could have cost my wife & family’s life by being stupid and brash .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Uh ;

    Maybe the guys on here who’ve suffered for 30 + years of my long stories (I can’t seem to be economical with verbiage) will pipe up and set you straight ~ the eye rolling as I begin on some campfire or over the fender gabbing is amazing .

    As they’re my friends , I don’t get offended when they ask me to PLEASE SHUT UP Nate ! .

    EDIT : it occurred to me you may be one of them , if so , THANK YOU =8-) .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    I’m constantly amazed by people hanging out in my blind spots with no one ahead or behind them for 1000 feet or more. I’ll spot people ‘stalled’ or chillin’ in my blind spots while scanning around, so I’ll start to crowd them, gradually entering their lane then back. They get the picture and blast off.

    I’ll purposely avoid people’s blind spots and hang back until I can blast ahead. Even if they’re fully aware, there’s absolutely no reason to hang around even in dense traffic.

  • avatar
    tony-e30

    I rode for a decade and then gave it up when I felt my time was running out:

    1. Situational awareness at all times.
    2. Ride slightly faster than the traffic around you. It puts you in charge and allows for greater anticipation and control of unfavorable events.
    3. Insurance.
    4. Don’t talk yourself out of giving up on riding for a while. Your subconscious isn’t usually wrong.

    I know for a fact that riding made me a far superior driver than what I had been before, but nothing can prepare you to be a decent rider other than lots of practice on public roads. The learning curve is steep, it’s unforgiving, and it’s all experience based.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Well put. When I started riding, I was saved a couple times by drivers who saw me screwing up and gave me the space to save my ass. I don’t ride anymore, but now I try to be that driver.

  • avatar
    360joules

    Many good posts, some stupid. Nate is right about that some sociopaths driving 4 wheelers will decide to teach a 2 wheeler “A lesson.” As one instructor explained to me, “Ride like they are all trying to kill you…but have fun & don’t take it personally.”
    As someone in the healthcare mafia, I am contempuous of the “Loud pipes save lives” and “(M)andatory helmet laws are totalitarian enactments” crowd, awesome choice but many traumatic brain injury patients end up on welfare therefore public dime. Sorry for the ABATE crowd, but I have seen people survive bad moto wrecks with good function when wearing good leathers and a good helmet. The non-helmeted types have traded their nice hairdos for diapers and motorized wheelchairs. Perpendicular strike of head to large object is fatal at 55 mph even with helmet. But glancing blow/angled/offset trauma can be very survivable. For those moto folks getting mad at me, most of my organ donor patients involving 2 wheels were bicyclists or off road/quad riders. Too much kinetic energy ruins the good organs…

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      If you’re going to claim “public burden”, you’d better have some real numbers to back it up. Your collection of anecdotes means nothing.

    • 0 avatar
      bk_moto

      There’s a saying:

      “If you think you don’t need a helmet, you’re probably right.”

      Translation for the more obtuse folks: “if you’re stupid enough to think that you don’t need to wear a helmet, then you’re probably right that your brain isn’t worth protecting.”

  • avatar
    LDMAN1

    You are at your most vulnerable at the GREEN LIGHTS. Look both ways, especially if light just turned green. The chances that a car/bus/truck will run their red light are at their greatest at this particular moment. Temporize and look both ways in order to avoid being T-Boned. Try to put a car between you and cross traffic if you can.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s good advice anytime. After a light turns green, I always take a good deep breath and then proceed slowly forward. It’s amazing how much trouble starting off slowly can save you.

      Also, keeping your head on a swivel is vital here. If you stop looking left and right once the light turns green, you’re looking to get killed.

  • avatar
    AFX

    I used to ride motorcycles. I gave it up when I realised the lack of cupholders on motorcycles. I also realised how hard it was to try and eat on a motorcycle with a full-face helmet while riding. The problem with riding a motorcycle while trying to eat is that the wind keeps blowing the pickles of your cheeseburger, and that’d make you mad. Sometimes you’d have a car following close behind you, and the pickles would land on the windshield of the guy’s car, and that’d make HIM mad.

    It was along about that time I started singing to myself…..I just want a pickle, I don’t want to ride on my motorsickle !.

  • avatar
    Garak

    I’m glad to live in a socialist hellhole country, where there’s so little traffic that roads are safe. Hitting a moose is a bigger threat than crashing with another vehicle.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    I first got interested in bikes when I was stationed in Japan from 62 to 64. I bought my first one (an Aermacchi 250/Harley Hoglet) when I returned from Vietnam. I rode that first bike into a ditch the first day I owned it. Probably was the biggest goober ever to try to master riding. Decided that the dirt was more fun. I have ridden in terrain from the city street, the interstate, mountains, desert, and jungle. Other than almost breaking my leg once by trying to jump a hole that was too large it was pretty uneventful and the dirt was definitely the safer way to learn. I have broken my neck, back, leg and a couple other things but none were on motorcycles. Sometimes working for a living really reeks.

    When my son was born over 30 years ago I gave up riding on the street and sold my bike. I felt as though I was a good rider but the odds on raising him to adulthood seemed pretty slim. The typical Navy base or home port has pretty crowded streets.

    I am about to turn 70 and I am giving myself a present for my birthday. I have found a 74 Yamaha DT175 that is in good shape. I think I will ignore the street part of this dual purpose bike and play in the dirt. You can say that there is no fool like an old fool and I tend to agree. I think though that if I can’t have any fun there is no reason to keep getting older.

  • avatar
    skor

    I learned to ride on a Yamaha DT-100 when I was in the seventh grade. It’s true, the things you learn when you are young, you never forget. To this day I can get on a bike, and it’s like I’m on auto-pilot.

    Now here is a piece of advice that I know will not be popular: If you have not learned to ride by the time you are 30….35 tops…..STAY THE HELL OF OFF MOTORCYCLES. If not for yourself, do a favor for your family, the police the EMS crew, the ER doctors, etc.

  • avatar
    Bill Wade

    I ride a bike as if I was flying a fighter in enemy territory, instant death can come from any direction. Situational awareness every single second is paramount. This has served me well in 45 years on the street.

  • avatar
    Whuffo2

    I’ve done hundreds of thousands of miles on two wheels. There’s some good tips here, but one that I always believed in was to be aware of other vehicles on the road and their possible maneuvers. If they could arrange to meet you at the same spot at the same time, move out of that spot into a safe one. As long as you’re not in heavy traffic, safe spots are almost always available.

    Helmets have been mentioned and they’re highly recommended. But you’ll also benefit from protective clothing. Leather is best, denim is better than nothing. Asphalt is a very coarse abrasive and sliding along it when (not if) you get unhorsed will grind you down very, very quickly. You might want to invest in some protective accessories for the motorcycle, too – so that when you do get dumped, you can pick it up and ride away.

    It doesn’t matter if you’re a god on two wheels – you’re sharing the road with folks who can barely keep it between the lines. Stay out of their way and don’t show off – and you’ll keep the rubber side down for many years. Tip: on highways and freeways, the cars travel in “packs”. Slow down a bit and settle in between the packs. And remember – if there’s any way they can get to you, it’s just a matter of time until they do. Don’t give them the chance.

    Those who think “it can’t happen to me” are fools. It can, and it will.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    All this good talk has me wanting to go roll out my Moto for a nice ride up The Angeles Crst Highway instead of donning my work togs and picking up my tools like I’d planned to – day…. =8-) .

    lane splitting *is* legal in California as well as many other states , it’s called ” The Available Lane Space law ” meaning you’re not supposed to go over the white limit / fog lines when passing another vehicle in the same lane .

    I do this , always have , always will , I _don’t_ do it 30 MPFH faster than the traffic I’m passing because that’s not just foolish , it’s STUPID .

    BTW : the Moto I was nearly killed on , is a 2000 Kawasaki W-650 and I’ve been collecting the parts to repair it , I still need the rear wheel , just the hoop will suffice if anyone knows where ? .

    I wonder of my Ural Solo will stat ? .

    Hmmmm……..

    If you’re in So. Cal. & see a Geezer ride by with a cane strapped to his back , that’s me ~ folks tell me they think I have a sword back there because it has a big brass knob for a handle .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    This explains why I describe my morning commute on a motorcycle as “stupid people trying to kill me”. Sadly the alternative of riding my bicycle to and from the train station can be equally scary, although at least I get to read a book for most of the ride.


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