Safety - Motorcycles

Every spring the motorcyclist emerges from hibernation to face a new season of fun and freedom. Every May we have “Motorcycle Safety & Awareness Month” to commemorate the new riding season and promote a safe riding season.

The Safety part of the month applies to the rider. The rider’s skills may be rusty as a result of their long winters nap. The roads are cold, dirty and slippery. This combination can be fatal to the unsuspecting rider. Therefore, it is important to spread the word of safety to our fellow riders each spring.

At the same time automobile drivers have become quite accustomed to driving without the worry of their exposed two and three wheeled counterparts. The auto drivers must have their optics reprogrammed to see motorcycles. Without the programming riders will be invisible even when they are in clear sight.

Riders can do many things to help them stay safe. Skill improvement through additional training. Practice is important before the rider embarks on extended journeys. ATGATT stands for All The Gear All The Time. Even a quick trip warrants proper protective riding gear.

Drivers can add motorcycles back to their visual menu. Be alert and be aware.

Safety Tips

Comfort begins with having your bike set-up for you. Motorcycle Ergonomics 101 will tell you that every motorcycle made can be personalized. Short or tall seats may be available for your bike that will make it more comfortable and easier to touch the ground when you stop. Controls are adjustable so that you can change the reach or the angles of the brake and clutch levers.

The same applies to the brake pedal and shift lever. If you’re not experienced with wrenches, you should consider booking an appointment with your dealer’s service department to have them customize the fit. Proper ergos can make a night and day difference to your comfort.

The second comfort zone revolves around your riding skills. If you are a new rider, you may shy away from moto socials because you are not comfortable riding in a group. You may not like roads with lots of turns or you may not like stop and go traffic. The only way to get more comfortable is to gain more confidence in your skills. Confidence is easily acquired if you practice your riding skills and/or take riding courses. A training course can break any bad habits and teach you great practice drills including practising your brakes, your turns and emergency maneuvers.

Speed can also be intimidating. It can quickly take you out of your comfort zone. Your comfort with speed is directly related to how far you look ahead. It is also dependent on your ability to plan for changes in speed. If you want to stay calm and well within your comfort zone you need to get in the habit of looking far enough forward to be able to react to changes well in advance. If you feel a sense of panic or anxiety it is a signal to look up and look where you want to go.

A little practice and a few tweaks to your motorcycle’s ergonomics can ensure your rides are enjoyable experiences. You should always aspire to be the best rider that you can be and take all the available steps to get there.

You don’t have to be a mechanic to do routine maintenance checks on your motorcycle. Routine checks all start with your MOM. That’s right, your Motorcycle Owners Manual! If you don’t have one you can probably buy one at your local dealership or download a copy.

Tires are the most important check. Under-inflation is a common problem that leads to accelerated and uneven wear. In order to check your tire pressure you should have a tire gauge and a pump or source of compressed air. Your Motorcycle Owners Manual should explain the procedure and the pressure range. It is important to note that the pressure indicated on the tires sidewall is the recommended pressure with the maximum load on the bike.

As you work your way up the bike your next stop should be the brakes. Most of the time the pads are pretty hidden from the untrained eye. If you can’t confirm that there is brake pad material left at least confirm that the discs have a uniform wear pattern without deep grooves or uneven markings. The pads should contact the entire surface of the disc area. It’s best to check the brakes before a ride to avoid getting burnt on hot brake discs.

You will probably find a whole section on checking your fluids in your MOM. Engine oils generally start out honey coloured. If it’s now black it’s probably time for a change. Generally there are two ways to check the level or quantity of your motorcycle oil. One is an oil sight window, the other is a dipstick. Both methods require the motorcycle to be vertical when checking the level. This can be done while the bike is on a centre stand or when it’s being held vertically. This is a great two person job. The oil sight window is pretty straight forward, the oil level should be in the middle of the window. A dip stick is to be dipped in the hole, not threaded in. Wipe it off, dip it in, pull it out and read the level. Remember to thread it back in before riding!

Antifreeze is generally checked in the coolant reservoir. Keep it between the lines and add motorcycle approved coolant if required. Never loosen the rad cap when the motorcycle is hot.

Control fluids like brake and clutch fluids are rated by DOT value. The top of the reservoir should specify the grade. When it’s fresh it is a golden colour and when it’s black it needs to be flushed. It’s important to know that DOT4 brake fluid can ruin paint. Have brake cleaner handy and immediately clean off any spilled fluid. As you know, brakes are really important. If you’re not sure what you’re doing, have a licensed mechanic service your brakes.

Brake levers, clutch levers and throttle should all snap back when released. If any controls hesitate or release slowly it is a sign that maintenance is required.

A quick circle of the bike when it’s running will confirm that all lights are functional. A dab of the turn signal, brake lever and brake pedal will confirm that the lights are working.

All of the periodic maintenance listed above is best done on a clean bike. Washing and polishing your bike is a great way to identify any loose parts or potential problems that might need the attention of a mechanic.

A clean and maintained bike is a safe bike to ride!

Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery of complex skills. Three questions jump out at this theory. 1 – is motorcycle riding a complex skill? 2 – can I fast track it? 3 – what happens if I practice the wrong skills?

Motorcycle riding is a very complex skill that involves the use of both hands and both feet to operate the controls. Sort of like a drummer in a band. It takes tremendous coordination especially when at speed.

Achieving mastery can happen fast for some and slower for others. Motorcycle rider training schools can definitely accelerate the process. There are basic, advanced and refresher courses available across the country. Your ability to fast track your learning curve is a little dependent on genetics and a lot dependent on the effort you put into improving.

Practicing the wrong skills can decelerate the learning curve. Training courses extend beyond the classroom and practice area. The class drills can easily be replicated in a vacant parking lot. Skills like looking where you want to go can be practiced every day.

Practice may not make you perfect, but it will make you the best rider that you can be.

Do you know that certain person that always needs to be the center-of-attention? They dress brilliantly, they dance around the party and command your attention. If the road was a party and you’re a motorcycle rider you need to be that person.

Step 1, dress for success. high visibility clothing works and the higher you wear it on your body the more visible it is. Your helmet and jacket create the biggest wow. It’s motorcycle eye candy to the oncoming driver!

Step 2, your riding habits can also make you conspicuous. Just like playing pool, angles matter when it comes to visibility. If there is a line of cars oncoming you need to be wary of someone pulling out to pass or turning left in front of you.

Although we are taught to ride near the centre line (left tire track) for visibility, a gentle shift to the right side of the lane will give the second, third or fourth car a better angle to see you. The whole width of the lane is yours, use it wisely.

A good habit to use when approaching an intersection is to gently weave across the lane. The eyes of the oncoming drivers will pick up lateral motion. This is a “Hey, I’m here, look at me” manoeuvre.

Use all the tools at your disposal to stay safe and stand out in a crowd. Take an advanced riding course, dress for visibility and use your angles and lateral motion to be seen.

Braking is the art of slowing down. Breaking is misjudging the process and breaking something on you or your bike.

The key to hard braking is to do it when the bike has zero lean angle and to react quickly but smoothly. Zero lean angle means you have maximum contact patch available for braking forces (see “The Fight for Traction”). It is important to remember that most of your braking should be done before you turn into the corner. Hard braking after the turn in point will make the bike stand up and run wide. This may result in you crossing the centre line into oncoming traffic or running off the road.

It is important to react quickly. A motorcycle travelling at 100 kph gobbles up almost 28 meters/second. In 3 seconds a motorcycle will travel the length of a football field. Good reactions come from good vision (see Eyes Part 1, II & III).

When you are motorcycling and you are faced with an emergency you can either “PANIC” or “REACT”.

When you panic you give up control. You might hold your breath. You might close your eyes or target fixate on the problem. You will grab the grips so hard that you can’t roll off the throttle or use the brakes. You are headed for disaster.

Now replace the word panic with react. As in, “when I am faced with an emergency situation I PANIC REACT”!

Generally, there are two ways to react. #1 is to brake. If someone turns left in front of you, react by braking hard. #2 is to swerve. If braking hard doesn’t work, try swerving around the problem.

You may also have to react to debris on the road by altering your line (swerving). Debris, sand & gravel should be approached when the bike is vertical with no lean angle. There should be no sudden inputs. There should be no sudden changes in throttle, brakes or direction when you’re riding through the debris. Once you are through the debris you can react again to resume your direction of travel.

When reacting it is important to note that a motorcycle will do one thing very well but not two things at the same time. Therefore, braking and swerving should not be combined at the same time. Brake hard, release the brakes, swerve and then brake hard again if necessary. You have a toolbox full of reactions, use the response that best suits the situation.

Replacing PANIC with REACT isn’t an immediate process. You must train your brain. Panicking is easy, reacting is a greater skill. The easiest way to learn to react is to take a course. Have a professional train your brain.

Once your brain has passed “Reaction 101” you need to practice until reacting becomes second nature. Once you replace “Panic” with “React” you can also replace “Aw Shoot” with “I got this”!

Eyes are the windows to your brain, they control what you see and how you react. You have probably heard of target fixation or, conversely, “to look where you want to go”. The first, target fixation, is a must not and the second, “to look where you want to go”, is an absolute must.

Eyes may not naturally know to look where you want to go i.e. “look at that squirrel”. You do need to train your eyes to identify where you want to go. Looking far enough ahead is a learned skill. The faster you go the more you need to prepare for the circumstance around you.

Training your eyes how far to scan ahead is very important to your safety. Looking at your front fender or hood ornament will not give you enough time to react in an emergency. SIPDE is an acronym that means the rider:

Scans far enough ahead

Identifies any potential risks

Predicts traffic patterns

Decides an evasive maneuver if required

Executes the action to avoid a collision

Everything to do with SIPDE relies on your eyes. It is being proactive rather than reactive. If you actively train your eyes you will eliminate most surprises and be a much safer rider.