6 Ways Motorcycles Can Ride Defensively

by jchannell

I hit the brakes and nothing happened. I just kept sliding toward the intersection. I knew I had to hang on and keep the bike straight, or I’d be in big trouble….

Riders come across a lot of situations where proper actions at the right time can keep the shiny side up. After sliding through some intersections, dodging SUVs not checking their blind spots, and surviving a guy in a Benz taking me out in a Crazy Ivan move, here are a few hard-earned thoughts on keeping your bike out of that F150’s quarter panel.

Look Through The Corner

Lots of riders look at or “to” the corner, rather than through it. It’s the most overused phrase of “look where you want to go” but looking far ahead is even better. If you look at shots from MotoGP riders, you’ll notice that they aren’t even remotely looking directly in front of them. Their heads are often at a 45-degree angle of the current angle of the bike. They are looking at the exit of the corner.

Rossi's head angle going through a corner

I personally started forcing myself to do this on weekend sport riding. It feels a bit odd at first, to not look just a bit ahead on the curve, but WAY ahead to the exit. This has 2 effects: first you can see cars or other dangers way in advance. Second, it actually helps you go faster by reducing your sense of speed, with less Code Brown moments. It gets much easier not to concentrate on that guardrail or any other distractions in the turn, that can give you the “oh crap, I’m going in too hot” moments at turn-in of an unknown corner.

Use The Whole Lane

“Altitude and airspeed are your friends” is a saying in the flying community. Likewise, space is your friend in motorcycling.  A car takes up a whole lane, whereas a bike uses maybe a third of it. A smart rider uses this to their advantage to give them space from surrounding hazards. If passing a line of parked cars on your right, shade as far left as you can in your lane, to give you extra room in case someone hasn’t read my last article and pulls a Crazy Ivan. If someone is riding the white line of their lane near you, also shade over in your lane to create more space.

I’m also a strong proponent of coming to a stop sign or stoplight at either the right or left side of the lane, as I learned in the intro of the article. This does 2 things: it keeps you out of the oil and junk in the middle and allows you an out if you see someone behind you not stopping. Several of my personal “oh crap” moments have come from stopping in the middle of the lane at a light. After sliding through an intersection twice due to crap on the road, and nearly being t-boned, I’m convinced Northwest Highway is trying to kill me.

Wait To Ride

A lot of folks take the MSF course and think they are ready to hit the road. Very few of them are correct. A lot of folks need more parking lot and back street drills before they are ready to head out into real traffic. I’ve personally coached several people through this phase, helped them buy gear, and they are still here to talk about it.

I’d also wait until you have some driving experience under your belt, before hopping on a motorbike. There’s certain things only a good amount of driving time will teach you, and I’ll be the first to admit that getting something wrong is safer in a car than on a bike. So, if you’re 16, just got a license and now want a bike, go buy a car first. Get the whole driving thing down, THEN learn to enjoy a bike.

I personally started riding at 28, and know that all my years behind the wheel helped a lot on how to handle certain situations, and generally how to spot jackwagons on the road. I know the guy I was at 18 likely woulda killed himself on a fast motorbike.

Ride At The Right Time

In Greek, there’s a word “kairos” which basically translates to things being done at the right time, or at an opportune moment. The is very true for motorcycles. A lot of the time I see folks posting up on Facebook groups about late night rides. Usually, this is a group of folks that like to do max speed on the highway, and are often running from the cops. I see tons of “rider down” posts from these groups too, including some deaths. Very few good things come from riding a bike late at night. You know who’s out driving at 2 am? Drunk people.

Wear Gear

The best rider can predict and prevent nearly all truly dangerous situations, but no one is perfect. There’s a very good reason the best riders on the planet wear the best gear that money can buy, in case they make a mistake.

That Tahoe that pulled out in front of you suddenly doesn’t care what you’re wearing, what track you won at last week, or that your name is Valentino Rossi. Doesn’t matter. Do what you can to stay safe if something happens.

You get used to what you normally wear as normal. Our minds are funny that way. If you’re used to wearing sneakers, cargo shorts, a wife beater, and a helmet and like to post on Facebook about “BikeLyfe”, then that’s what you’ll be used to. If you normally wear boots, moto pants, jacket, helmet, and gloves, you’ll feel naked when some of those items are missing. I know, I’ve tried it, as have many others.

Anticipate Actions

I’ve heard an apocryphal story that anytime a motorcop from the California Highway Patrol gets in a wreck, it’s marked up to a “failure to anticipate.” A lot of us can take this same philosophy on the road. So many people in cars just plain tune out while driving, so motorbike riders have to be doubly alert. Some of you are saying “But they should….” Doesn’t matter. Much like boats, tonnage gets the right of way. And you can be “dead right” sticking to traffic practices that others obey sometimes. In fact, if we did away with most road signs and let people drive how they think they should, accidents would actually go down.

Riders should take the best precautions they can to continue to enjoy the freedom and sport we love. Sometimes things are just out of your hands. But for the things you can control, do the best you can to keep on riding.

Are there any other things a motorcyclist should do to ride defensively?

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