This section deals with riding a motorcycle safely . . .
He owned his Motorcycle for 15 minutes!
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.
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)
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 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.
Physical inspection for cracks, properly secure etc
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.
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.
At speed, a motorcycle turns using the principle of counter steering.
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 . . .
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 . . .
At all times apply this golden rule to the six detailed steps below;
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, . . .
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)
(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:
During the ride:
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
Riding in the Wet
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.
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 . . .
The Eyes - the Gun Sight of the Brain
A simple rule
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!)
Is that my daughter on the back of that thing??
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.
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.
Common Faults you must fight!!
A motorcycle is a different animal and our survival instincts work against us when we get into trouble