Looks like I’m getting the Suzuki after all. It should be here in about a week. I’m really looking forward to this. When you spend many years developing a set of skills, you really feel like you’re missing something in your life when you can’t exercise them anymore. It becomes part of how you think about yourself, and it is a source of pride to master a difficult skill set. Oh, anybody can ride one, no problem; I’m talking about the skills that allow you to do it year after year and survive.
As mentioned before, motorcycling has been important to me since I was around 13 years old. Yes, motorcycles are dangerous. But they are mostly dangerous to new riders, and those who ride without exercising good sense. I know this for a fact, because I used to be one of them. At my advanced age I am intimately familiar with the bad things that happen when you make a mistake, so I am a very careful rider.
The things that get you hurt on a motorcycle:
- Road conditions – you must always be aware of road conditions, such as debris, water, sand, leaves, painted surfaces, etc. This gets a lot of newbies.
- Equipment failure – maintenance is critical on a motorcycle, most especially tire condition and pressure.
- Rider’s mental state – you must be alert, you must not be distracted.
- Riding beyond your skill level – certain competitive people want to see how fast it will go, or learn to do stunts, etc. The learning curve can be lethal. Fortunately, I survived – and I no longer have any desire whatsoever to push my limits.
- The unforeseen – what other people do, or what a deer does, or what falls off the truck in front of you. There is no defense against this except for #3 above. And it is possible to get yourself in a situation in which no action on your part can protect you. Conservative riding is the best approach to this problem – leave plenty of room between you and what’s in front. Be visible – wear clothing that stands out, and make your motorcycle as visible as possible with lights, reflectors, pulsators, etc. Don’t drive fast in animal crossing zones.
- Weather – I have ridden in every type of weather available to me here in East Texas up to and including snow and ice. Having tried everything, my one inflexible rule is – do not ride when there is ice on the road. I’m willing to tackle any other weather condition that you might take a car into. Riding in the rain is no big deal, but you have to modify your style somewhat to allow for reduced ‘stiction’ between your tires and the road.
In some respects, motorcycles are safer than cars. Up until you hit something.
- You have better brakes than cars do.
- You have better acceleration than cars do.
- You can see better than they can. Even in the rain, if you’re wearing a helmet or goggles.
- You are more maneuverable than any car.
- You only have one tire track so it is easier to miss road hazards.
- Motorcycle tires, being generally narrower than car tires, do not hydroplane as easily as car tires.
- You are a smaller target than a car. That is to say, you only need a clear space around three or four feet wide to miss obstructions.
- Your reaction time is typically quicker than a car driver, because your hands and feet are (or should be) already on the controls, at least on conventional motorcycles (this is less true on chopper-style bikes). Whereas the car driver has to pick up his foot and move it several inches and push down before he even starts to slow down; on the bike, you just squeeze with your hand and push down with your foot. This alone can make up for many feet of braking distance.
Having said all that, there is a lot you can do to protect yourself in the event that you actually have an accident. BUT, you must do these things as preparation – do them all the time, every time.
- Wear a helmet. This is the #1 best thing you can do to help yourself. First, for eye protection when riding; second, in the event that you go down. I’ve been in no few motorcycle accidents back when I was young and stupid, and on at least one occasion, a helmet did save my good looks and may have saved my life. I never, ever get on a bike without a helmet. Doesn’t matter what the law is – that’s my policy.
- Wear appropriate clothes. Shorts and flip-flops are out. Good boots and jeans are in. Armor is even more ‘in’. When weather permits, armored jacket or riding suit is a good idea. I use an Aerostich Roadcrafter when it’s cool enough. They aren’t cheap, but then neither is my hide.
Avoidance of accidents is usually possible, especially if you plan ahead:
- When you get a new motorcycle, spend plenty of time getting familiar with it and riding it in non-threatening environments before you venture out into heavy traffic. Something like 90% of motorcycle accidents happen in the first 60 days of ownership, and it seems apparent that one survival trait is knowing your motorcycle to the point that you don’t have to think about what to do in any given situation. Operation of controls should be completely instinctive. If you have to think about shifting, or the clutch, or the brakes, you are not ready for traffic.
- If you can’t do a smooth emergency stop, practice until you can. Controlling brakes on a motorcycle is not like it is on a car, as you generally have independent control of front and rear brakes. Use both of them, and practice some until you are smooth and effective. For goodness sake, do not attempt a panic stop right off the bat – work up to it, always stopping smoothly.
- Ride in the proper place in the road for current conditions. I’m not going into this too much here because there are so many situations to cover, but I will mention one. If riding in a group, in most cases you do not want to have someone else riding beside you and in the same lane as you. This removes your ability to move suddenly to the other side of the lane to miss obstructions; if something gets in your way, you may not be able to miss it. I see riders doing this on TV and on the road, and it is a stupid way to ride.
- One technique that I find useful is using the traffic around me to protect me. For instance, about the safest way to protect yourself going through a busy major intersection is beside a car or truck, the bigger the better. The cross-traffic may not see you, but they will see the vehicle beside you. 18 wheelers are great for this purpose.
- And many more. Study the subject and think about it. The more you know, the less painful your ride will be.
And that’s all for now. Maybe I need to write a book about this. I could go on, for a while.