Safety and survival tips

By admin - Posted on 29 April 2008

Compiled by LT Snyder

The following tips may appear to be common sense. But when you're looking around after a sudden preventable accident, sometimes common sense is nowhere to be found.

Don't Follow that Line!

I recently avoided a crash precipitated by following a rider's line into a corner. The rider passed me in the twisties of Georgia, headed into the next turn too fast, panicked and hit the front brake. His bike stood up, and..well... you know the rest... he highsided himself over his bike and down a 30 foot embankment. Fortunately, he escaped unscathed other than his pride. His bike was not so lucky. I learned a lesson from the incident -- don't assume the fellow in front of you has the right line and speed through the turn. Different riders and bikes have different traits. Unless you know the person in front of you like the back of your hand, DON'T TRUST HIS LINE! If his or her line is wrong and you follow, you could both end up some place you didn't intend to go.

Inspect & Detect

Do you remember how safe a driver you were when you left a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Course? I remember the checklist they make you memorize --- check brakes, mirrors, headlight, turn signals, horn, and tire condition. When was the last time you did that before you rode? That's what I thought... If you're like most of us, you put the key in, turn the ignition to on, start it up, and head off. Yet we all know that motorcycles are maintanance intensive. The MSF teaches fundamentals for a reason... it saves lives..

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

I read a Motorcyclist issue a few months ago that espoused the rigors of riding in the rain. Here in Florida we get some gully-washers. At such times it rains hard enough and fast enough to soak even the most properly prepared rider. During such storms cars even pull over to the side of the road when visibility lessens. While I don't encourage riding under such conditions, I have learned a great deal about the capabilities of my bike and its tires while caught in downpour conditions. It's amazing what a bike can do in the rain. If you're careful, watch out for puddles, avoid rain tracks in the lane, and prepare more for braking, it can actaully be fun. More importantly, it builds confidence. If you haven't ridden in the rain, how do you know you have the skills to survive a downpour? It's all part of riding. Liquid sunshine brings out the best and worst of all riders.

Know Your Limits

Don't plan on 500 mile days, if you haven't ridden in a month. On long trips, statistics show that on day seven, the typical long distance rider will cover about 65 percent of the average daily mileage on a two-day trip. This means fatigue is progressive over days throughout a multiple day trek. Plan ahead for this fact. There's nothing worse than rushing a trip and getting to see nothing but yellow lines flash by next to you. While the miles may add up, you'll having nothing but stories of fatigue to show for it.

Forget High Speeds

Data shows that high speeds and distance are not correlated on motorcycle rides. Higher speeds exponentially wear out the rider and spoil fuel efficiency. You'll spend more time refueling or signing your name on traffic tickets. Dodging traffic also increases fatigue, as well as increases your blood pressure and those around you. Driving at high speeds also tarnishes the sport. Did you ever wonder why some people have attitudes towards motorcyclists? Perhaps its due to throttle jockeys who love to lane-split their way down open freeways... enuf said....

Know Your Riding Buddies

Know and trust who you're riding with. The quickest way into a sticky situation is in riding next to someone. This allows you only 1/2 of your lane to maneuver and multiplies the chances for an accident. Experienced riding partners ride in a staggered formation and learn to sense when the other is braking and accelerating. By working together you can reduce the chances of accidents by doubling your visibility and using you buddy as either a shield or as a shield to him.

Leave The No-Doze at Home

Drugs and stimulants don't work. If you need stimulants to keep you awake, including coffee, tea, or other cafffeine shocks, you shouldn't be riding. A good sign of fatigue is an inability to maintain positioning in your lane or difficulty in maintaining a set speed. You want to be riding a long time.... Protect that right by riding only when your senses are sharp.

Pack it Right

The right way to pack is as important as what to pack. Make sure that your load is centered, stable, and that only the right stuff is loaded. A good rule of thumb is as follows: You can't get very far if your bike breaks down, so bike maintenance items should take priority. Second priority should be personal comfort items, including motorcycle riding gear and camping items. Third on the agenda are things that you'd like to take, but aren't quite sure if they will fit, like portable washing machines, hair dryers, etc.... Part of the fun is knowing what to pack, and what not to pack.

Practice Your Art

The only way to keep your skills honed is to ride and practice. While riding pick out spots on the road and imagine them to be debris. Practice avoiding such spots and other make-believe obstacles (don't try real ones, such as people please). Following at a safe distance is a godd way of increasng your reaction time to such obstacles. The finer arts of riding can be obtained by practicing slow speed drills. Most of my spills have been during low speed maneuvers, such as parking or making U-turns. Another tip is to treat every turn as if sand were there. Don't trust the surface to provide friction unless you've been through it already. This is especially true at intersections, but is equally likely on any corner where automobile or truck tires push around dirt.

A Healthy Paranoia

Ride scared. I've heard some people state that aggressive defense is a good way to drive. Whether you call it aggressive defense or paranoid driving, just do it! The best way is to learn the proper techniques through the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's beginner's and advanced rider's courses. Scanning is the number one best way to stay out of trouble. If you see a target in front, to the side, or behind you develop the knack of making mental notes of their possible actions and your reactions. And if anything remotely smells of trouble, cover your brakes. The plus side is that while you can get into some sticky situations, a twist of the wrist can often get you out of them.

Be Seen

One of my favorite comedy skits was performed by Monty Python on "How not to be Seen". While comical, on a motorcycle this tendency leads to accidents. I've read stories of motorcyclists who made direct eye contact with drivers, only to have them then pull out in front of their bike. Trust no one! The best way to avoid placing any trust in other vehicles is to stay away from them. This includes placing a buffer zone around your bike and maintaining it. By protecting your safe zone you maintain visibility and increase the chances of your anticipating any unforeseen events. This is a difficult feat in heavy traffic. At the very least avoid travelling directly behind trucks. When you do you are placing your future in that driver's hands and minimize any possibility of you avoiding objects in your path.

Dress it Right and Cover Down

Anyone in the military has heard those words at one time or another. Proper dress can save your skin. This is a difficult feat amidst blistering summer temperatures, but while those shorts may be nice and cool, they lend little protection in a fall. I can remember driving across Arizona in the daytime in the summer, and quietly thanking the state for not imposing a helmet law (which has, since that time, become a reality). Let's face it, when the temperature climbs above 90 degrees in high humidity or 100 degrees in low humidity it is downright uncomfortable riding in leathers and a helmet. I've seen all kinds of tricks, including riding with a wet shirt underneath to allow the wind to cool the body. I've tried it... it's not that pleasant. he way I look at is this... If it's too hot to wear a helmet, it's too hot to ride. If you commute, try avoiding the hottest parts of the day. Most of this discussion goes away in the winter, since we all don whatever windproof apparel we have. But in the summer I continually witness riders in shorts, without shirts on and using tevas as their feet armor. I don't think these riders have ever witnessed what happens to human flesh after it slides 50-100 feet on the tarmak.

Position Yourself

If the car you're following has its left turn sgnal on, move over to the right side of the lane. This allows the cars following you to see without obstruction the turn signal of the car ahead and warns them of stopped vehicles up in front. If the car you're tailing has its right turn signal on, move over to the left side of the lane. This again permits cars following to see more clearly. But just before you stop behind the car, move over to the right hand side of the lane. Being stopped behind the car on the right hand side offers an escape route if in fact the cars behind do not stop in time to avoid a collision.

Avoid Rush Hour

I don't mess with rush hour in my own city. I wouldn't even think of doing it in an unfamiliar city. If your senses are overloading while looking out for potential dangers, then its time to give your senses a rest. Park it and wait until your 2 wheels stand a better chance of survival.

What you can't see can hurt you

Blind corners have claimed many motorcyclists. A good survival rule of thumb is never to rely solely on signs. If you've never been on the roads you are ridging on, you are, in essence, a rookie. And rookies should never push it to the limit. Rarely do signs warn of gravel in the middle of the turn, off-camber turns or decreasing radius turns. Local riders will know every inch of each turn, but you won't. Twisties are the greatest invention since sliced bread, but a sliced rider can't twisty. Ask any racer if they mentally prepare for each track they are on.

What's new can kill you

What's worse than having a new rider on a bike they've never ridden? -- Perhaps a new bike that an experienced rider hasn't ridden. Just because you've conquered your last bike doesn't mean that you can ride anything. Unfortunately, experienced riders often forget to be humble when handling a new toy. Different throttle responses, braking tendencies, cornering ability, center of gravity, and ergonomics can really throw you off. Treat any bike you haven't mastered with respect. If you don't, you may find they bite as hard as they bark. -- This tidbit comes from an experience by Neil Murfitt.

It's the Slow Stuff We Tend to Forget

The first skill to deteriorate after months out of the saddle is the slow speed stuff. To freshen up my skills I grab some traffic cones and head to a deserted chunk of parking lot. By practicing what the MSF courses teach with regard to countersteering and body weight transfer I find my skills are quickly polished. What you'll find is that slow speed skills are directly transferrable to the high-speed stuff. Prehaps the most essential survival skill is quick braking. If you've never panic stopped your bike, how do you know you'll perform under pressure. Learn to know the warning signs of front and rear wheel lock. Stopping quickly is a good thing. Doing a stoppy over the handlebars is as uncool as sliding 100 feet on the rear tire.

You Go Where You Look

I learned a valuable lesson at my first race school -- look through the turn. Keith Code of the California Superbike School preaches the benefits of avoiding your survival instincts. Survival instincts lure us to look at danger areas in the road, such as obstacles in our path or at the outside of turns in which we are running wide into. Your bike will go where you look. Rather than look where the danger is, try looking where the danger isn't. This will prevent you from fixating on the danger area, and keep you out of harm's way


I approach my riding as a lifetime endeavor. This includes wearing the proper gear, includng ear plugs. This piece of gear is essential for a lifetime's worth of safe riding. Wind noise at highway speeds is in excess of 110 decibels. For perspective, a noisy restaurant produces about 80 db of noise, a subway about 90 db, a rock band about 110 db, a car horn about 115 db, and a gunshot about 140 db. Helmets alone cannot prevent long-term hearing loss. Osha says that hearing loss can begin at 90 db. Max safe exposure at 110 db is 1 hour, and only 15 minutes to sounds in excess of 115 db. Unless you want to spend the rest of your life saying "huh?" protect your hearing. I also discourage the use of walkmen and ear speakers. Even with earplugs in I can hear the sounds of my bike and any sirens from approaching safety vehicles.

The Feb 1996 issue of "Rider" is packed with more safety tips. Anything I can use to save my life is fodder for my brain.