March 2001

WHAT I'VE LEARNED IN SEVEN YEARS OF RIDING EVERY DAY REGARDING HOW NOT TO END UP DEAD ON A MOTORCYCLE

by Reuben Strayer

for my roommate Scott who since he started riding my motocycle makes me feel like a Jewish mother

1. Control the vehicle: develop instincts that will save you when you don't have time to think. Practice these on open roads every time you ride. Countersteer around obstacles (real or imagined); when no one is around brake HARD planning to end up 20 feet in front of the stop sign or red light; master the quick downshift-accelerate maneuver.

2. Look ahead, way ahead: your instinct is to fix your gaze just in front of the bike, so you must train yourself to look as far in front of you as possible. You will never look too far ahead because anything interesting in front of your gaze will catch your attention immediately - the converse is not true so force yourself to look as far out on the horizon as you can. This is the big overlooked lifesaver - when you have time to prepare, big problems are nonproblems. By looking ahead you also gain an appreciation of how people drive and become a much better predictor of what car drivers call unpredictable behavior.

3. Assume that unless you are directly in front of somebody (ie in the same lane, just ahead of them) you are not seen. An especially important corollary to this is never ride in his blind spot. If you can't see him, he can't see you; if you can see him he still can't see you.

4. Be wary of intersections. Something like 80% of all motorcycle accidents occur at intersections. Slow down at green lights, look both ways. Be especially suspicious of the guy facing you trying to make an unprotected left.

5. Be wary of speed differentials. Everyone going 85 down the freeway is a safe situation, when you see someone slowing down or driving slowly that means he is going to do something stupid in a second so be ready for it. I ride 5-10 mph faster than traffic if I can - you can't cut someone off when you're going faster than they are.

6. Know who is around you. Get to know your mirrors, love your mirrors, rely on your mirrors as they are much more useful than car mirrors. Check them all the time, especially before you make a turn.

7. Know when you're riding and what that means: everyone is running late in the morning so drivers are much more aggressive and much more prone to run reds. Thursday/Friday/Saturday nights you get the 'I am unstoppable' pre-drinking idiots and, later, the 'I am drunk' post-drinking idiots. Drivers' ability to see you (which you were assuming is zero) is decreased at dusk.

8. Crowded parking lot = death trap.

9. Unlike a car, when you're in a turn, your ability to change your speed or direction is greatly reduced. Rule #2 applies especially in turns, and is much harder to carry out. Look ahead. Straighten up before you do something leaned over. Doing things leaned over other than straightening up will result in a crash.

10. Keep your bike mechanically sound: kick the tires every day, check air pressures every few weeks. Brakes and suspension save your life, treat them with appropriate respect.