50 ways to save your life on a Motorcycle
Motorcycle Cruiser’s sisterbrand, Motorcyclist magazine, had published the following advice to an overwhelmingly appreciative response. We have decided to republish the list of living-saving techniques—in its entirety—for our own readership.
- Assume you’re invisible
Because to a lot of drivers, you are. Never make a move based on the assumption that another driver sees you, even if you’ve just made eye contact.
- Be considerate
The consequences of strafing the jerk du jour or cutting him off start out bad and get worse. Pretend it was your grandma and think again.
- Dress for the crash, not the pool or the prom
Sure, Joaquin’s Fish Tacos is a five-minute trip, but nobody plans to eat pavement. Modern mesh gear means 100-degree heat is no excuse for a T-shirt and board shorts.
- Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
Assume that car across the intersection will turn across your bow when the light goes green, with or without a turn signal.
- Leave your ego at home
The only people who really care if you were faster on the freeway will be the officer and the judge.
- Pay attention
Yes, there is a half-naked girl on the billboard. And the chrome needs a polish. Meanwhile, you could be drifting toward Big Trouble. Focus.
- Mirrors only show you part of the picture
Never change direction without turning your head to make sure the coast really is clear.
- Be patient
Always take another second or three before you pull out to pass, ride away from a curb or merge into freeway traffic from an on-ramp. It’s what you don’t see that gets you. That extra look could save your butt.
- Watch your closing speed
Passing cars at twice their speed or changing lanes to shoot past a row of stopped cars is just asking for trouble.
- Beware the verge and the merge
A lot of nasty surprises end up on the sides of the road: empty McDonald’s bags, nails, TV antennas, ladders, you name it. Watch for potentially troublesome debris on both sides of the road.
- Left-turning cars remain a leading killer of motorcyclists
Don’t assume someone will wait for you to dart through the intersection. They’re trying to beat the light, too.
- Think before you act
Careful whipping around that Camry going 7 mph in a 25-mph zone or you could end up with your head in the driver’s side door when he turns in front of you.
- Beware of cars running traffic lights
The first few seconds after a signal light changes are the most perilous. Look both ways before barging into an intersection.
- Check your mirrors
Do it every time you change lanes, slow down or stop. Be ready to move if another vehicle is about to occupy the space you’d planned to use.
- Mind the gap
Remember Driver’s Ed.? One second’s worth of distance per 10 mph is the old rule of thumb. Better still, scan the next 12 seconds ahead for potential trouble.
- Beware of tuner cars
They’re quick, and their drivers tend to be young and aggressive, therefore potentially hazardous.
- Excessive entrance speed hurts
It’s the leading cause of single-bike accidents on twisty roads—some cruisers can make unheard of amounts of power. Use it on the way out of a corner, not in.
- Don’t trust that deer whistle
Ungulates and other feral beasts prowl at dawn and dusk, so heed those big yellow signs. If you’re riding in a target-rich environment, slow down and watch the shoulders.
- Learn to use both brakes
The front does most of your stopping, but for a lot of heavy cruisers a little extra rear brake can really help haul you up fast.
- Keep the front brake covered—always
Save a single second of reaction time at 60 mph and you can stop 88 feet shorter. Think about that.
- Look where you want to go
Use the miracle of target fixation to your advantage. The motorcycle goes where you look, so focus on the solution instead of the problem.
- Keep your eyes moving
Traffic is always shifting, so keep scanning for potential trouble. Don’t lock your eyes on any one thing for too long unless you’re actually dealing with trouble.
- Come to a full stop at that next stop sign
Put a foot down. Look again. Anything less forces a snap decision with no time to spot potential trouble.
- Raise your gaze
It’s too late to do anything about the 20 feet immediately in front of your fender, so scan the road far enough ahead to see trouble and change trajectory.
- Get your mind right in the driveway
Most accidents happen during the first 15 minutes of a ride, below 40 mph, near an intersection or driveway. Yes, that could be your driveway.
- Never dive into a gap in stalled traffic
Cars may have stopped for a reason, and you may not be able to see why until it’s too late to do anything about it.
- Don’t saddle up more than you can handle
If you weigh 95 pounds, avoid that 795-pound cruiser. Get something lighter and more manageable.
- Watch for car doors opening into traffic
And smacking a car that’s swerving around some goofball’s open door is just as painful.
- Don’t get in an intersection rut
Watch for a two-way stop after a string of four-way intersections. If you expect cross-traffic to stop, there could be a painful surprise when it doesn’t.
- Stay in your comfort zone when you’re with a group
Riding over your head is a good way to end up in a ditch. Any bunch worth riding with will have a rendezvous point where you’ll be able to link up again.
- Give your eyes some time to adjust
A minute or two of low light heading from a well-lighted garage onto dark streets is a good thing. Otherwise, you’re essentially flying blind for the first mile or so.
- Master the slow U-turn
Practice. Park your butt on the outside edge of the seat and lean the bike into the turn, using your body as a counterweight as you pivot around the rear wheel.
- Who put a stop sign at the top of this hill?
Don’t panic. Use the rear brake to keep from rolling back down. Use Mr. Throttle and Mr. Clutch normally—and smoothly—to pull away.
- If it looks slippery, assume it is
A patch of suspicious pavement could be just about anything. Butter Flavor Crisco? Gravel? Mobil 1? Or maybe it’s nothing. Better to slow down for nothing than go on your head.
- Bang! A blowout! Now what?
No sudden moves. The motorcycle isn’t happy, so be prepared to apply a little calming muscle to maintain course. Ease back the throttle, brake gingerly with the good wheel and pull over very smoothly to the shoulder. Big sigh.
- Drops on the faceshield?
It’s raining. Lightly misted pavement can be slipperier than when it’s been rinsed by a downpour, and you never know how much grip there is. Apply maximum-level concentration, caution and smoothness.
- Everything is harder to see after dark
Adjust your headlights, carry a clear faceshield and have your game all the way on after dark, especially during commuter hours
- Emotions in check?
To paraphrase Mr. Ice Cube, chickity-check yo self before you wreck yo self. Emotions are as powerful as any drug, so take inventory every time you saddle up. If you’re mad, sad, exhausted or anxious, stay put.
- Wear good gear
Wear stuff that fits you and the weather. If you’re too hot or too cold or fighting with a jacket that binds across the shoulders, you’re dangerous. It’s that simple.
- Leave the iPod at home
You won’t hear that cement truck in time with Spinal Tap cranked to 11, but they might like your headphones in intensive care.
- Learn to swerve
Be able to do two tight turns in quick succession. Flick left around the bag of briquettes, then right back to your original trajectory. The bike will follow your eyes, so look at the way around, not the briquettes. Now practice until it’s a reflex.
- Be smooth at low speeds
Take some angst out, especially of slow-speed maneuvers, with a bit of rear brake. It adds a welcome bit of stability by minimizing unwelcome weight transfer and potentially bothersome driveline lash.
- Flashing is good for you
Turn signals get your attention by flashing, right? So a few easy taps on the pedal or lever before stopping makes your brake light more eye-catching to trailing traffic.
- Intersections are scary, so hedge your bets
Put another vehicle between your bike and the possibility of someone running the stop sign/red light on your right and you cut your chances of getting nailed in half.
- Tune your peripheral vision
Pick a point near the center of that wall over there. Now scan as far as you can by moving your attention, not your gaze. The more you can see without turning your head, the sooner you can react to trouble.
- All alone at a light that won’t turn green?
Put as much motorcycle as possible directly above the sensor wire—usually buried in the pavement beneath you and located by a round or square pattern behind the limit line. If the light still won’t change, try putting your kickstand down, right on the wire. You should be on your way in seconds.
- Don’t troll next to—or right behind—Mr. Peterbilt
If one of those 18 retreads blows up—which they do with some regularity—it de-treads, and that can be ugly. Unless you like dodging huge chunks of flying rubber, keep your distance.
- Take the panic out of panic stops
Develop an intimate relationship with your front brake. Seek out some safe, open pavement. Starting slowly, find that fine line between maximum braking and a locked wheel, and then do it again and again.
- Make your tires right
None of this stuff matters unless your skins are right. Don’t take ’em for granted. Make sure pressure is spot-on every time you ride. Check for cuts, nails and other junk they might have picked up, as well as for general wear.
- Take a deep breath
Count to 10. Visualize whirled peas. Forgetting about some clown’s 80-mph indiscretion beats running the risk of ruining your life, or ending it.