Riding a motorcycle safely


This section deals with riding a motorcycle safely . . .

Quiz Question.The two rear view mirrors of your motorbike should show exactly the same images when correctly set.

** True/False **


Quiz Question.It is safe to lock up the rear wheel when riding a motorcycle.

** True/False **


Quiz Question.Stopping your motorcycle in order to obey a stop sign is a golden opportunity to relax your concentration for a few moments thereby allowing you to arrive at your destination more rested.

** True/False **


He owned his Motorcycle for 15 minutes!

"I have wanted a Harley for the last 26 years. My wife who hates bikes arranged a 1999 XLH 883 to arrive on Christmas day as a surprise. It was insured, taxed, and ready to roll so it had to be ridden. Fifteen minutes later I ring her from the Ambulance. A blind old Mondeo pilot decided you don't have to look to your right or in front of you when pulling out on a roundabout. One broken ankle, one written off Harley."

"The driver was offered 'driver re-training' in lieu of prosecution! I was riding with lights on, perhaps the Government should try having the drivers switched on as opposed to their lights? Give us a break (oops I've just had one)".
Andy Moore  (Taken from www.streetbiker-mag.com)

This page is aimed at preventing this type of thing happening to you!!



Riding a motorcycle well is an art form! A combination of skill, grace and smooth lines. The rider is alert, relaxed, in control, confident and assertive. 

This means that when you ride - you ride! Nothing else. It is just you, the road and the other road users. You do not ride when you are angry, upset, distracted, sick, cold, tired, drunk or high. RIDE magazine Dec 2003 showed that riding cold, tired or stressed affected your riding as severely as being far over the legal alcohol limit - 63 micrograms of alcohol per 100 milliliters of breath (UK legal limit 35 micrograms per 100 milliliters)

As a new rider you will be 100% dedicated to the ride because of the novelty but between your second and third year of riding, statistics tell us that you are riding for a fall. You forget that riding is an all or nothing activity and you start giving it only a portion of your attention. It takes a close call or an accident to remind you that driving your car and riding your motorcycle are two totally different things. What are the differences?

Differences between driving a Car and riding a Motorbike

There are some critical differences for those who have driven a car for a number of years and are now moving onto better things . . . riding a motorbike safely.




You drive a car. This means you sit in a seat and control the vehicle via controls.
You ride a motorcycle. This means that you grip and control the bike via you whole body moving your weight left and right, backward and forward.
You generally think of the 4 wheels as one thing e.g. when braking or turning a cornerYou think of the two wheels separately. They fulfill different roles at all times.
You do not take changes in the road surface that seriously.Changes in road surface e.g. a small patch of loose sand, wet concrete is critical.
A road works sign or side road entry means you slow down, become more alert, watch out for workers, trucks, tractors etcSame as for a car but with one serious addition . . . watch out for patches of loose gravel on the tar. Over time they can creep onto the road.
Wind? What wind?Strong winds can cause high fuel consumption or even cause you to fall off.
Conversation, music, eating and drinking etc is part of the fun.There are some gizmos and gadgets that can help but they came with a price i.e. both financial and convenience wise. The question is, should a bike rider going at speed be distracted by conversation?
Passengers do not impact on the ride.Passengers are as much part of the ride as the rider. They can work with you or against you.
The brake is generally the way to get out of bad situations.When things go wrong opening up the throttle is often the solution e.g. when the bike looses traction on a loose surface a little extra gas can do the trick
The brakes are one unit . . . your only decision is when to use them.The braking systems for front and back wheels are usually separate. Sometimes you use them together, sometimes separately and sometimes the order you apply them in is different.
A recent rain storm generally means that you come out to a dirty carA recent rain storm means that the route you know so well must be treated like virgin territory. This is due to the new deposits of loose sand that will have been deposited in unexpected places.
Your own shadow means nothingYour own shadow stretched out directly in front of your bike means that cars will be looking into the sun. Therefore be more cautious at intersections as on coming cars may not see you.
The changing colour of the road surface is probably something you have never noticedDiffering colours or marks on the road surface could mean a road hazard e.g. oil, brake fluid, diesel or a host of other slippery concoctions. Go round them!
The accelerator is used to accelerate the motor vehicleThe accelerator is used to both speed up and slow down the bike.

Top of Page      The Difference - Riding in Traffic



Pre-ride Check 

On and off the bike

Before firing up your motorcycle you need to do a quick safety check on a few critical items. Note that for your motorcycle licence you may be asked to demonstrate these two check lists.

Check one. Off the bike. (Also for licence)

1) Tyres..

Check both front and rear tyres. Check for adequate tread, foreign objects and correct tyre pressure - a slow leak after your last outing must show up before you open up the throttle!

2) Oil

Check for any obvious oil leaks on the bike and on the ground surrounding it. This is not the best time to do a dipstick test as most bikes do not give accurate oil level readings cold and thus ensure that you do this when you next pull in for petrol. (See the DIY page for more details or your motorcycle manual)

3) Brake Fluid.

Check the front brake fluid level through the indicator glass.

4) Chain

Check the chain for the correct tension and adequate lubrication. Also do a quick visual inspection for anything out of the ordinary e.g. slight kinks etc

5) Front shocks

Check the front shocks for any oil leaks.

6) Mirrors

Physical inspection for cracks, properly secure etc

7) Luggage

Check that your panniers and top box are properly secured and locked.

Check two. On the bike. (Also for licence)

1) Mount the motorbike while applying the front brake.

2) Take it off the stand. The examiner will look to see that you are comfortable will the saddle height as you go through the rest of this list.

3) Open up the petcock (fuel tap) (This took me awhile to get used to!)

Check the odometer reading to see how many kilometres you have done since you last filled up. Bear in mind what you did on your last outing. High speed riding or rough trail conditions will require you to fill up sooner.

Open up the tank and do a visual inspection, especially if you are planning an out of town trip.

4) Check indicators, front and back, left and right. You can do this by placing your one hand in front of the lens and watching for the reflection off your hand.

5) Check headlamp - both hi and low beam. Your headlight must be on throughout your test and while you are riding generally.

6) Hooter (horn). Ensure that it is working

7) Adjust rear view mirrors.

8) Turn on the ignition. Check that the neutral light is on. If not, take the bike out of gear.

9) Rock the bike forward and backward to ensure that it is indeed in neutral. Also ensure that you have removed your disc lock if you use one!

10) Choke. If the motorbike is cold, open the choke. If not, tell your licence examiner that the bike is warm and you will not be using the choke.

11) Pull in the clutch and start the bike.

12) Allow the bike to warm up so that it runs smoothly and evenly with the choke in the off position (this should take less than 30 seconds under normal conditions) A motorcycle that stalls as you are changing gears and negotiating a corner may lock up the rear wheel and toss you onto the tarmac.

** Top of Page **


Going through fast sweeping bends is at worst a great skill, at best an art form! Mastering it involves six steps but first of all we must define what we mean by counter steering.

Counter Steering. 

At speed, a motorcycle turns using the principle of counter steering.

  • To turn left, push the left handle bar slightly away from you (as if you wanted to turn right.)
  • To turn right, push the right handle bar slightly away from you (as if you wanted to turn left.)

Wacky? Yes, but it works! (If you are unconvinced about this topic you need to read 'Proficient Motorcycling' by David L Hough. This authoritative work has the best article on the dark art of counter steering. See the page on Bike Schools for more)

Getting the motorbike to lean over

There are a number of different ways to get a bike to lean over into a corner. You can  . . .

  • Shift your weight in the saddle
  • Push your knees against the tank
  • Push down on the inside footpeg
  • Counter steer

These all work but by far the best is counter steering where you push the inside/low side of the handlebar away from you and the bike drops down on that side.

Six steps to safe cornering . . .

The golden rule about cornering

Go in wide and slow - Come out fast

At all times apply this golden rule to the six detailed steps below; 

Step 1

Back off the power and brake to an appropriate speed. Go wide. This gives you the ability to see around the corner.

Step 2

Look through the corner. (Do not look down at your bike or the handle bar!) Check for surface hazards, obstructions etc
Keep your eyes focussed on the exact patch of tar where you want to be in a second or two. Your bike will naturally follow an invisible line through the corner towards the spot where your eyes are focussed. Do not look down!

Step 3

Lean forward as you go through the corner. It  makes dropping the bike down a whole lot easier if you own one where the sitting position is fairly upright (Sportbike riders will be doing this anyway due to the ergonomics of their bikes)

Step 4

Use the principle of counter steering and push on the inside/low bar. Shift your weight into the corner so that your pelvis points into the corner. This helps the bike to drop smoothly down smoothly. (The skill of fast safe cornering lies in this preparation phase.)

Step 5

As you drop your bike into the corner, keep both eyes reasonably level with the surface of the road.

Put differently - when you turn left, tip your head right so that your jaw points to the inside of the corner (do not point with your forehead). When you turn right, tip your head left.

Step 6

As your bike commits to the curve, gently tap into the throttle and power through the corner. This maintains even tyre traction and stability. 

If you cannot do this because of your high speed it is because you did not slow down sufficiently before the corner. Correct this in the next corner (assuming you survive!!)

In practice cornering goes like this . . .

You see the corner . . .

(Preparation phase) . . . move to the outside of the corner, sit up straight, ease off the power, check mirrors, apply brakes until you are going at the correct speed. Release the brakes. Look through the corner, lean forward arms loose and relaxed,  . . .

(Corner itself) . . .counter steer and the bike drops and cuts towards the solid line. Tip your head the opposite way . . . look through the corner. The tyres bite, the exit is clear, tap into the power again and gently power yourself through the remainder of the corner. Yahooo!!!

steering.jpg (14344 bytes)Look through the corner

Arms bent and relaxed

Counter Steer

Turning left? . . . tip head to the right . . . eyes level with the road surface.

Tap evenly into the power and exit.

I personally only brake during the preparation phase and not in the corner itself. Should more braking be necessary see . . . . . . ** Braking in corners **

Note: Once your bike is leaning over the back wheel is very sensitive. It does not like any sudden change in torque pressure caused by hard braking or sharp acceleration in a newly selected gear. Even letting out the clutch too quickly in a higher gear is problematic. In all three examples the rear wheel is likely to loose traction and slide out.

At the end of the day there is no substitute for practice and the skill of steering (and counter steering) is best taught at a motorcycle school on a suitable racetrack where you can practice safely. (See page on Schools)

** Top of Page **

(See 'Blind Curves' on the accident page for more.)

Riding in a Group

A ride always has a leader / point / captain. In bigger or more organised rides there is also someone appointed to ride last in the group 

Before the ride:
There are a few things that you must know and do before joining a group ride.

  1. The most important thing is to contact the ride captain and ask him/her the maximum speed the ride is going to be to ensure that you will be riding within your capabilities. Also ensure that your bike is more or less equal in performance to the majority of the other bikes going along.

  2. Ascertain the distance of the ride, the type of roads you will be travelling and the type of restaurants you may stop off at. This will also ensure that you take sufficient money with you.

  3. There could be a thousand reasons why you may get separated from the group. This could be a problem if you do not know the area and therefore take a road map along with you.

  4. Arrive at the rendezvous point with a full tank of petrol, oil and tyres checked (or simply meet at a petrol station)

  5. Introduce yourself to the captain and find out where and when he intends stopping for fuel along the route. This is important if your bike has a smaller tank which is information he needs to know.

During the ride:

  1. Do not fiddle with your helmet, gloves, mirrors etc until the group is moving smoothly through straight unobstructed roadside. Accidents happen during the first few minutes before all the riders have settled.

  2. Make sure that you are no further than three bikes from the front of the group. If the captain himself is inexperienced there could be a lot of 'concertina-type' action at the end of the group which you do not want to be part of.

  3. In a country that rides on the left hand side of the road the group should ride in the following formation in towns and when travelling under 100kph. This keeps the group together but maintains safe following distances. The captain (point) naturally rides up front while the last biker probably has special duties that vary from ride to ride, club to club. 


  4. Over 100kph and on twisty roads the formation must become a straight line with one bike directly behind the other with the usual 2 sec following distance.
  5. A lot of accidents occur at robots when one rider stops suddenly while the rider behind him wants to go through the intersection. Ask the ride captain what the robot policy for the ride is
  6. If the rider in front of you pulls off, do not follow suit. Stick with the captain and allow the more experienced riders to follow the predetermined procedures (if any)
  7. Watch your following distance especially at intersections. Do not go through an intersection until you are sure that the rider in front of you is not going to stop. If you have a crazy rider behind you consider going through the (almost) red robot rather than have him slam into the back of you when you try to stop.
  8. Accelerate through and beyond a slow moving vehicle (or red robot) - do not ease off the gas once through as the guy behind you may still be gassing it and needs the space your speed is creating. 
  9. If the ride becomes more stressful than fun, gracefully drop out. These are your bones that are at stake!

Leading a Group Ride

Leading a ride of five other bikes is not easy and should only be undertaken when you are an experience rider. Here are some guide lines . . .  and Yes, just one other motorbike and the points below apply, although to a lesser extent

  1. Know your route. The bigger the group, the more critical this becomes. This includes distances between petrol stations, places to eat, turn offs, intersections, road signs, road works etc
  2. Start the ride outside the town's limits i.e. no robots! A petrol station with an ATM and a fast food outlet is an excellent venue to meet.
  3. The group joining the ride must be fully informed of the route, distances, duration, type of roads, petrol stops and restaurant stops. Ascertain that everybody is in agreement with the planned ride.
  4. The most important element of leading a ride pertains to the first three minutes after you pull away and the last three before you pull off the road. This period must be done smoothly and slowly to avoid a 'concertina-type ripple-action' running down to line of bikes.
  5. Only pull away when everybody in the group is kitted up, pillion passengers are seated and bikes running. Find a big gap in the traffic and smoothly pull away. Remain under 80kph until everybody has their positions. Slowly and smoothly gas it until you reach cruising speed. You have to think like a train driver with a string of clumsy and unresponsive carriages.
  6. Minutes before you approach a rest or gas stop, begin to ease off the gas. Do not pass any other vehicles. If there is a vehicle in front of you, tuck in behind it. Allow the gaps between the riders to compact. Slow down a little more. The riders begin to catch-on that a stop is imminent. Indicate your intention to turn off early but by this time our flashing indicator light should be a mere formality. 
  7. Never do anything quickly, unexpectantly or that is unpredictable. The riders do not share one brain and communication ripples down very slowely as each rider catches on that something is about to happen. Example. If you miss a turn off, indicate that you are pulling off, ease off the gas and begin to look for a long, clear space where everybody can safely pull off and turn around with ample view of the road in both directions.
  8. There are hand signals that are used by biking clubs which can make communication more instant
  9. You have to collect all your riders together after you clear the limits of a small town because some may have been delayed. Therefore you have to travel slowely until the group is compacted again before beginning to gas it for cruising speed once more. 
  10. As the leader, passing a slow moving vehicle is very different because you have to continue to gas it for at least three hundred meters beyond the vehicle. This allows enough space for all the other bikers to use once they clear the vehicle themselves.
  11. Many groups use the system of 'keep up with the rider  in front of you'. This is potentially fatal as the entire ride is dictated by the fastest and most talented motorcyclist. A better system is 'keep the rider behind you in your rear view mirror'. This way the entire convoy of motorcycles keeps together at a speed dictated by riders of average ability. Should a motorcycle break down, the group with quickly know that something is amiss.
  12. If you have any 'wonnabe Rossis' in your group tell them to ride ahead  . . . on their own. Your intimate knowledge of the route will allow you to agree on a common meeting place up ahead.

** Top of Page **

Riding in the Wet

"For me the wet road surface is less of an issue than the fact than I cannot see a damn thing in a downpour!!

 My visor mists up inside and the raindrops on the outside flare the lights of the oncoming cars."

Enter the household aerosol anti static cleaner called 'Mr Min' (available in Europe as well). Treating your visor with this product once a month retards misting and 'fills' the tiny scratches on the outside of your visor that causes flare. NB Do not spray it directly onto the helmet as the propellant (usually butane) causes severe damage over time to parts of the inner lining and visor. Instead stand away from the helmet and spray it onto a clean dry cloth and then apply.

The most dangerous time during a rainstorm is the first ten minutes, particularly if you live in a country like South African where rain is not part of our popular culture. This allows a layer of brake fluid, oil, dust, diesel and other crud to build up on the road. When it starts to rain this mixes with the water and forms a deadly mixture just waiting for the unsuspecting biker or motorist. The good news is that after a good few minutes of hard rain this wicked cocktail ends up in the gutters leaving the road surface rather more grippy than you may imagine.

I enjoy riding in the rain as long as I have the right riding gear. For the most part I arrive at my destination dry and in high spirits.

Their are five guidelines when riding in the rain.

1) You are most likely to dump your bike on the tarmac when braking. Many bikers loose their fear of riding close the vehicles as they get more experienced. During a rainstorm the driver brakes a bit harder than usual - you snap the front brake and down you go! 

Check yourself. If you ride a certain road at 80km in the dry, should you not slow down  in the wet? Reduce your speed by 20%. You do not have enough traction to brake hard.

Ride behind one of the vehicles brake lights (not in the middle behind his number plate). If the car should stop suddenly you can slip your bike past him and therefore earn a few more meters to stop your motorcycle.

Brake with your rear brake first and then progressively pile on the pressure on the front brake. If the rear wheel should lock up, LOOK UP, LOOK AHEAD, GO STRAIGHT. Yes, the bike will fish-tail around but it should remain controllable and upright.

2) Keep your bike more upright when cornering. This is not the time to countersteer and knee scrape. 

3) Keeping your tyres on good surface. Avoid puddles and places where the tar has risen to the surface and covered the embedded pebbles forming a shiny-smooth surface. Never ride on the painted surface of a road (even in the dry - make this a riding habit!) . Avoid manhole covers and large steel plates near roadwork. Go very slowly when turning through intersections as there is more oil here due to slow moving traffic than anywhere else. Lean forward and keep lots of weight over that front wheel.

4) Only stress your tyre traction moderately and then only in one direction at a time e.g. 
 - Brake in a straight line and then turn, 
 - Complete the sweeping bend and then pile on the power. 
 - Release the clutch fully and then lean the motorbike over into the turn (especially true for single and twin cylinder motorcycles). 
 - Apply the rear brake first (and more than usual) and then brake progressively on the front.

5) If you are going to ride in the wet for an hour or more, decrease your tyre pressure by 25%. A wet road is a slippery surface - fact! But! A tyre grips the road surface because the rubber 'flows' into the dimples of the road surface. A slightly deflated tyre warms up more, is more flexible and is therefore able to fill these dimples more easily. (click here for more . . . )

6) Do not ride through puddles where nails and other sharp objects can accumulate. A wet nail penetrates a tyre more easily than a dry one!!

7) Know your limitations. When the rain, hail, lightening etc becomes a danger, pull off and wait for it to pass. Ted Simon on his round the world trip took an umbrella with him. That way he could stop and keep the rain off his bike as well!

Riding in a High Wind

Nothing new here! Read the section called 'Position' again. If your upper body is relaxed and your arms are bend and loose, the blasting wind will not be able to transfer movement via your arms to the handlebars. Allow your lower body to grip and lean the bike slightly into the wind while your upper body moves about in a fluid-like motion as the wind buffets you this way and that.

While the throttle is open it keeps the bike punching through the air. If however you are hit by a blast of air your natural reaction is to snap the throttle off . . . don't do it! React by gripping the bike even harder with your inner thighs and relaxing your upper body. Perhaps even feather the throttle closed slightly but do not shut it off. If you do, the wind will push you across the road. It is like a rugby scrum - the wind is pushing you, the open throttle is pushing back. If you stop pushing, the wind will get its way.

Also pay careful attention to the trees, grass etc at the side of the road. If they are waving about wildly but you cannot feel the blast, then this is a signal to grip the bike tightly with your inner thighs and relax your upper body in anticipation.

In a wild wind ensure that you ride in the middle of your lane. This give you real estate to work with as your line will naturally wander from side to side as the wind increases and decreases. Be aware that you have your limitations and know when to throw in the towel, pull to the side of the road and wait for the wind storm to pass.


The Whole Story

The whole story of safe motorcycling can be summed up as follows . . .

Maintaining tyre traction . . .
Choosing your line . . .
Defensive riding . . .

And in all things . . .
Keep your eyes up and look ahead!


This very underexposed photo of a particular tar road tells a story. With time this road has developed a shiny polished surface where the tar as risen above the stones.

This smooth surface does not offer good traction especially under heavy braking or in the wet.

(tar road = pavement USA)

The Eyes - the Gun Sight of the Brain

A simple rule

What you allow your eyes to focus on  . . .

You hit!!


Have you ever tried to throw a tennis ball right past someone's head? You look at them . . . you throw . . . and you hit them!! (Ouch!!) It is the same with tennis. You look at the top of the net . . . you serve . . . you hit the net!! (Damn!!)

Translate this to motorcycling. You look at the pothole . . . you go right through it. You look at the stone in the road . . .you go over it. You look at a car's wing (side) mirror as you lane split . . . and sideswipe it as you go past.

Keep your eyes up and look ahead. Look where you want to go. Look at the gap, not the cars defining the gap. If you make a bad decision and turn in front of an oncoming car . . . do not look at the car!!!! Look at your escape route and gun the motor towards it. Note the pothole, and then look up and past it and your bike will follow safely. Note the road surface and then look through the corner.

This important habit is also vital to safe cornering skills.

Even pulling away from being parked, this rider looks where he wants to go. He drops the bike and accelerates which keeps the bike from falling over.

Position when riding

Grip the motorcycle! Do this with your knees and inner thighs. Push down firmly on the footpegs with the ball of your feet.  Force the bike to stay directly beneath you. This is especially important the worse the road surface becomes. Thus you can keep control of the bike with your whole body rather than simply being a loose weight perched on the saddle, just waiting to fall off.

Do not support your body weight on the handlebars. Take the weight off them thus allowing your arms to move freely backwards and forwards.

The worst/steeper the road/track surface, the more important it is to get as much weight as possible onto the front wheel. Move your weight, as far forward as possible - if necessary jam your pelvis against the tank.

position.jpg (15344 bytes)1) Grip the bike with your knees and inner thighs.

2) Push down firmly on the pegs

3) Arms bent  and relaxed - even when braking hard.


Generally one thinks of braking a motorcycle with the brakes - not so. Braking is achieved by a mix of the following, starting with the most important.

Braking action byThis action affects
Defensive Riding. Looking far ahead, anticipating problems and choosing the best line through traffic and around bad road surfaces.Your position relative to the problem area.
The front brakeThe front wheel and front/back weight distribution
The rear brakeThe rear wheel
Snapping off the throttleThe rear wheel
Changing to a lower gearThe rear wheel

Watch the brake light of the smart rider in traffic or when touring - it seldom comes on as the he/she regulates the bikes speed and position long before angry braking is needed.

One is tempted to over look the last two in the table above but both of them are quite able to lock up the rear wheel just long enough to cause the back to slide out when the bike is leaning over into a corner. Therefore safe, confident braking on a motorbike is not a simple skill but requires practice and training as the condition of the road surface plays a vital role. Generally here are some rules of thumb

1) Use the front brake!! This is the one that does most of the work. Braking confidently, progressively and hard on the front wheel is a critical skill and should be practised on a regular basis and under safe conditions. Do this on your own and with a passenger as the extra weight affects your stopping distance. As you brake do not stiffen your arms - instead grip the bike with your legs leaving your arms free and relaxed.

2) Hard, heavy braking is always done when the motorcycle is upright and travelling in a straight line

3) Generally do not lock up the wheels! 

If you lock up the front wheel for more than a short distance when travelling in a straight line, the wheel will eventually wash out and you will hit the tar.

If you lock up the front while turning the motorbike you will hit the tar immediately but you should escape with only a few bruises.

If you lock up the rear when travelling in a straight line you will be OK as long as you "LOOK  UP. LOOK AHEAD" and keep the bike in a perfectly straight line (not that easy). 

If you lock up the rear wheel while turning you are in trouble. The rear will begin to slide out from under you. If you release the rear wheel (your first survival instinct) you could 'high side' with possible fatal consequences (See Lingo page) You need to keep the wheel locked and let the bike slide out and away from you.

4) Never grab the front brake as this may cause it to lock up. Instead apply the initial pressure smoothly for the first second. This allows the front of the bike to dip onto its front suspension as the weight of the bike moves forward onto the front wheel. This added downward pressure means that you can now brake harder and harder on the front brake with little chance of it locking up (on a good surface). Note: As the bike dips down onto its front suspension do not stiffen your arms and prop your body up using the handle bars. Instead grip the bike harder with your legs and keep your arms loose and relaxed.

5) Throughout the braking process keep your eyes up and look ahead!! Watch the road surface like a hawk. Keep the front tyre on a hard, clean, dry surface avoiding strange colour changes in road surface . If you cannot, ease back on the front brake and apply more pressure to the back. Change to a lower gear to slow you down but let the clutch out gradually. Jumping the clutch out suddenly can momentary lock up the rear wheel causing a rear wheel slide out. Diesel oil spills on the road surface from passing trucks are a common cause of bikers loosing control. The good news is that you will smell it roughly two seconds before you see it as a dark patch on the road surface!

6) In city traffic keep two fingers on the front brake lever. This is necessary because other slow moving vehicles may be as close as one meter away from you and you don't have time to fumble with the front brake. Do not do this on the open road  or when riding on the dirt. You cannot afford to have the handlebars ripped out of your grasp for whatever reason. 

7) If an emergency stop is required on a very loose surface - maybe you should try to take the gap rather than stop. Alternatively locking up the back wheel, sliding and dropping the bike onto the road is an alternative that has saved many a life but sure as hell I hope I never have to try it!

8) When going down a steep dirt road with loose stones, use a combination of the back brake and a low gear ratio to prevent the bike from picking up too much speed. Keep as much weight over the rear tyre as possible. You can lightly finger the front brake when the surface offers sufficient traction

9) If you spend most of your time travelling on your own you will get used to your brakes performing to a certain level. When you add a passenger however that performance level deteriorates. Therefore ease yourself into the new conditions by braking a lot earlier

10) Leaning into a corner too fast and snapping off the throttle is the same as jabbing the rear brake. It is enough for the rear wheel to loose traction and cause a slide out.

11) Do not brake in the corner itself. (See point 2) Braking is something you do before the corner. See section on cornering and steering. for more.


Bringing the motorbike to a halt e.g. at a robot, is a two phase action i.e.;

Maintaining balance, bring the bike to a complete standstill. (It will remain perfectly upright for a second or two)

Then, put  your outer leg down to support the bike while your inner leg remains on the rear brake. Dropping your leg while the bike is still moving affects your balance and you find yourself having to 'run' the bike to a halt while the bike sways to and fro (and you look like a twit!) 

Get into the habit of putting your whole foot / sole onto the tarmac even if this means leaning the bike over a fraction in order for one foot to reach properly. This is far more stable than keeping the bike dead upright and balancing on your toes of one / two feet. If you are forced to use your toes then the bike is too high for you. Most bikes do have ways and means of lowering the saddle and suspension - chat to your dealer.

** Top of Page **

The Line

Constantly alter your line and lane choice in accordance with the immediate situation.

Ride where you are the most visible to any car that may want to come into your path. Choose the lane with the least number of potential threats. Choose the line that offers the best traction. Give potential dangers a wide berth long before they become dangers at all. Learn to ride another day!!

Thus, with a long line of oncoming cars (C and D), move to the side of the road (A) as one car may want to overtake another and thus move into your lane. See diagram below

Follow this link for more on riding in traffic

(We ride on the left hand side in South Africa)

When there are a lot of cars behind you, travelling at roughly the same speed as you are, travel in the middle of the lane.

When you see cars waiting to pull into your road from a side road, move to the middle of the road where they can easily see you. You and your bike can be obscured by a simple thing like a lamppost, litter bin or the car's centre post.

In a strong cross wind move up-wind. Thus should a blast of air move you sideways, you have road to spare. Lean the bike slightly into the wind.

When being approached by a huge 50 Ton Kenworth horse and tailor doing a 100 kph move a bit closer to the side of the road to avoid some of the blast of air from its slipstream. Anticipate the blast and turn slightly into it. Note that is arrives after the truck has flashed by. The faster and higher the truck is, the bigger the blast will be.

Riding Accessories

When leaving on a day trip on your motorcycle there are a few accessories you should not leave behind. These items can be stored in a day bag, pannier, top box or tank bag.

Cell phone. Store this where it cannot be easily broken should you come off the motorbike. Do not forget to store the AA's telephone number.

ID and motorcycle drivers licence

AA or towing club, emergency services membership card. Note: The AA membership card does not have their telephone number on it so you should write it on yourself with a permanent pen and store it in your cell phone.

Two light weight, easy to store tie-downs for your bike (without steel hooks or ratchets etc) Should you break down and a farmer dude with a bakkie (pickup truck) offers you and your motorcycle a lift, you can then safely tie down your bike.

A can of instant tyre repair foam. For tubeless tyres only! (they do not work well with tubes and once the tube has been patched the patch will not stick properly)

Your medical aid membership card.

Your bike's tool bag 

Some spare cash (I take R100-00) hidden somewhere on the motorbike.

A water bottle. Maybe one that can attach to your handle bars and thus be easily accessible. Riding in Africa with the correct protective gear is a hot process and you will loose more liquids than you expect. If you experience a headache after a day's outing it could be the sign of dehydration.

aa.jpg (13856 bytes)Bikers, being more vulnerable require professional backup services.

Loose Gravel and Sand

If you enter a corner that has loose gravel, sand or stones you are in big trouble especially if you are going fast! Your best option is not to turn at all. You can brake hard on the good surface while still going straight and hopefully you will then be going slowly enough to find a route around the loose stuff. You can also try to go wide and thus around the gravel. You can also drop the bike sharply using counter steering and thus cut inside the gravel patch. 

As a rider you have to develop 'eagle eyes' and a sense of prediction when it comes to the road surface and you will find that you will become aware of loose material on the road surface a second before you actually see it. This is because it does not arrive out of fresh air but as a result of some visible factor in the environment e.g. a side road, road works, heavy overhanging trees etc

Note: I encourage you to ride dirt roads occasionally. It does wonders for your ability to constantly read and evaluate the road surface. Within a short time it becomes second nature. Studies have also shown that riders who have had some off road experience and less likely to have an accident.


(Assumption - travelling on the left hand side of the road as in South Africa)

It is accepted that despite two rear view mirrors, a so called 'blind spot' exists. A fast moving car travelling in your blind spot also represents the most danger to the motorcyclist. With this in mind here is a strategy for setting your mirrors.

1) The two mirrors must not show the same traffic. What is the point of seeing the same car in stereo? 

2) The mirrors should be set so that there are no blind spots.

3) If you can see part of your shoulder or arm in either of your mirrors, open the angle more so as to see more of the road and less of you.

If we accept the three points above then the right hand mirror should cover the blind spot only. The left hand mirror should show us the road and traffic behind us.

This strategy means that a car first appears in our left hand mirror. As it leaves this mirror it appears for the first time in your right hand side mirror. As it leaves the right mirror it moves into the  peripheral vision of your right eye. Hey presto - no blind spot! 

** Top of Page **

Carrying a Pillion Passenger

Before taking a passenger check your tyre pressure. The pressure should be exactly correct or even 10% harder.

Braking with a passenger is slightly different. If you have got into the habit of using mainly your front brake, this is good. With a passenger however the stopping distances are increased. Due to the added weight over the rear wheel you can tap into rear brake a lot more as it is less likely to lock up.

The new pillion passenger has to learn to move with the motorbike. For this reason the rider must not drop the bike dramatically on the very first corner but must with slow progression get the passenger used to the strange sensation of being part of a vehicle, rather than a passive dead-weight.

I personally consider it bad manners on the biker's part to accelerate and brake too harshly with a passenger on-board. When you do this it is so physically demanding for the passenger to hold on that it detracts from the freedom and pleasures of their biking experience (yes, flame me if you like!) 

pillion.jpg (24768 bytes)

Is that my daughter on the back of that thing??

 The Pillion Passenger

The passenger must hold on. The rider's waist/belt is still the best option. There are a few products on the market that offer alternatives to this. Whatever is used, the passenger must remember not to restrict the freedom of the rider to move about freely when moving over technical surfaces.

The passenger has the privilege of being able to look about and take in the whole scene. When turning about to look behind the bike they must only twist from the waist up. Allowing their pelvis and legs to twist causes the whole bike to momentarily alter direction which can be very disconcerting for the rider. 

Torque and Horsepower

Every rider should have a basic understanding of torque and horsepower and the differences between them. Use the hyperlink below to read more.

** Torque and Horsepower ** 


Try only to pass a vehicle were there are no side roads on the opposite side of the road you are travelling - thus it would be highly unlikely for the motorist to have to turn into your path as you passed him. It is also a good idea to flash the motorist as you pull out to pass him or her.

On a single lane road never pass anybody on their outside unless they have slowed down and are indicating their intention to turn. This caused a fatality in March this year when one motorcyclist tried to pass another at high speed on his outside. 

Common Faults you must fight!!

A motorcycle is a different animal and our survival instincts work against us when we get into trouble

  • We snap off the power when things go wrong usually resulting in loss of control e.g. when we loose traction. Opening up the throttle slightly, which is usually the correct reaction, is very difficult.

  • When a situation develops we recoil backwards on the motorbike, arms stiff and straight. Doing the correct thing i.e. leaning forward, arms bent and relaxed to steer out and through the situation is very difficult.

  • When we lean into a fast curve and the bend becomes tighter and tighter we forget to counter steer. Our arms straighten in horror and we push on the bar nearest to us. The bike straightens up, getting us deeper into trouble!!

  • When there is a problem in front of us, our eyes and attention is drawn to it like a rabbit to a bright light. Looking through and beyond the problem allowing our attention to work through the solution is very difficult.

Drill yourself every time you ride to fight against these four erroneous survival instincts mentioned above. Make a habit of doing the right thing when things are easy, so that when the chips are down you will automatically know what to do!!



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