Safety Topics FAQ
Compiled by Winter #1935
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attempting any work in this FAQ.
Last Updated: 12 Feb 2007, by Winter #1935
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This FAQ contains comments by various people on the topic of safety. Keep in mind some comments are based on opinion, and may not be backed up by factual information. The FAQ also contains images and stories from first-hand experiences in accidents. Hopefully these will remind you of the importance of ATGATT (All the Gear, All The Time).
|Training and Skills Practice|
|Words in a book or on the Internet are all well and good. However nothing beats a qualified motorcycle training course, and practice of the skills you learn in a controlled environment. In some places, it is not compulsory to undertake a training course - however it is still recommended you undertake a training course. Practice the skills you learn on a weekly or at least monthly basis. Because when you need those skills you will not have time to think about it.|
|In the forums you will often hear people talk about ATGATT, or All The Gear, All The Time. You are strongly encouraged to wear a protective helmet, jacket, pants, boots and gloves all the time. Even if it is just a quick trip around the block to test some maintenance you have just done. Remember, wearing ATGATT is not about preventing you from doing something stupid - it is about reducing the damage that could be done to you by someone elses stupidity.|
New Riders Approach to Safe Riding
Soon after I decided to get a motorcycle endorsement, I started researching the risks. Between my surfing and the MSF class, I got introduced to a long list of risks involved in riding a motorcycle. I had also realized that many of the risks could be mitigated or avoided by carefully thinking through them and using an abundance of caution, preparation, and common sense.
My plan outlined in the rest of the article is for the novice rider. While the experienced rider may find a bit or two of useful tidbits, the plan will largely appear to be onerous. If you are an experienced rider reading this, read it from the perspective of a novice rider and add your wisdom to what has already been accrued here.
The article identifies the various risks and lays out a plan to mitigate or avoid the risk. Some of the information presented here, not surprisingly, is endlessly debated on motorcycling sites and every experienced rider has his/her own opinion. This article errs on the side of caution and safety. The last thing you want in a plan is a source of confusion.
A catalog of risks
In no specific order, here are the risk factors contributing to accidents:
- Lack of training
- Inability to control the motorcycle
- Bad weather and road conditions
- Road hazards and traffic conditions
- Riding under the influence of alcohol/drugs
- Tight corners
- Insufficient or inappropriate riding gear
- Rider not visible enough among cars and trucks
- Inexperienced rider (less than six months of experience)
Tackling the risks
Some of the risks are very well discussed and publicized. Some aren't. There is no point in discussing the well known risks in great detail. In such cases, such as the risk of riding while intoxicated, I will write very little.
Lack of training
Most states in the US have a MSF BRC (Basic Riding Course) program. The program does a great job of introducing a newbie to motorcycles. This is a starting point for training, not the end. When you leave the class after the second day, you will have a lot of information to work with and you are well prepared to train on your own. I strongly urge riders to be prepared to commence riding their motorcycle as soon as practical after the end of the MSF class. Strike the iron while it is hot. The longer you wait between the successful completion of the course and getting to know your first motorcycle, the less you benefit from all the intensity and knowledge gained in the class. If you can't start right away and have to wait more than a couple of weeks before owning your first bike, consider the MSF ARC (Additional Riding Course). The local MSF training institutes offered these half day riding courses for those who successfully completed the BRC. This is a good way to work on skills already covered in the BRC that you think you need extra practice on. I took the ARC two weeks after the BRC and focused on cornering and full effort stops. The ARC was very helpful. If you already own a bike and are comfortable riding it to the ARC, you can receive that additional training on your own bike.
Inability to control the motorcycle
There is a wide range of opinion on what class of motorcycle is appropriate for a novice rider. An absolute beginner ought to be very comfortable with his/her motorcycle. They should be able to handle it easily. Handling means moving it around in/out of a garage/parking spot, picking up a fallen motorcycle without help (you can keep your embarrassments to yourself Smile ), being able to come to a stop securely and confidently (helps to have both feet touch the ground at the same time), and being comfortable with the controls, particularly throttle response (you don't want to give it a little gas and have it take off faster than expected). Generally speaking, the idea is to have full control over as much of the riding experience as you can. The motorcycle is an important part of the riding experience. You will probably look cool riding that 1000 cc, 150 BHP behemoth, but let it be the goal you are working up to rather than start an uncertain, accident prone relationship with your ultimate dream machine.
A common objection to starting small is that a novice rider would soon outgrow a low powered motorcycle. Given the choice between mastering a less powerful machine enroute to mastering a more powerful one and struggling with a fear inducing, unforgiving machine, the novice is likely to find a smoother transition into the hobby when he starts small.
Another common objection is that less powerful motorcycles don't have enough juice to help the rider run away from a dangerous situation. While that may be true for an experienced rider, I contend that a novice rider is unlikely to know how to use the power of her motorcycle at the right moment to scoot to safety. A better option for the novice rider is to avoid such situations altogether. Just say NO to busy traffic and high speed traffic (highways) until you are comfortable enough. Avoid getting into situations where you will have to rely on the power of a motorcycle to save your skin. Focus on learning how to swerve and or brake to avoid a potential accident.
There is a few worthy choices in the 250 cc range. I got started on the K*w*saki Ninja 250 because it was light enough to handle, had a friendly throttle response so I wouldn't get myself into trouble with unexpected bursts of acceleration, and had enough power to effortlessly handle highway speeds so I could have a motorcycle versatile enough to help me explore highway speeds. A first motorcycle is most likely going to lack many of the comforts and amenities of a more powerful machine. As you get familiar with the motorcycle and riding, pay attention to what you don't like on this motorcycle and what you wish you had and use that feedback to drool over your next motorcycle.
|A bigger cruiser is a heavier machine, which was mentioned. But I'll tell you that my HD sure don't turn quick either, and it's a way different world than the Dakar with its nimble handling and manners. Big cruisers aren't usually that much more powerful, but they take a special touch and that comes with experience. Like he said, start small...no shame in trading bikes a few times until you figure out the one that works for you...which should in all cases be the F650
Bad weather and road conditions
These encompass a wide range of conditions and situations. I will split these into two categories. First category is what you need to absolutely avoid. The second category is what you may tackle, but tackle with a healthy dose of precaution. It is hard to make a comprehensive list, so I'll focus on enough examples. At the end of these examples, the general approach should be clear and may be applied to your specific situation with relative ease.
Here are some conditions to avoid altogether. Not forever, of course, but as a novice rider.
- If temperatures were anywhere close to freezing in the last half day, assume that there is ice or frost on the road. The only way to be sure is to drive (as in a car; not ride) on the path you intend to ride to make sure there are no slippery conditions. Even if you ice has melted away, there is a good chance that sand/gravel was used on the road to benefit cars and trucks. Needless to say, if there is standing ice/snow, you are not riding.
- High wind and wind gusts mess up your handling as well as overwhelm you with high pitched noises.
- Combination of rain and dark. Rain or darkness in isolation may be approached with caution, but the combination compounds risk, especially on undivided roads. Visibility is poor in rain + dark; you have less traction; lights from oncoming cars blind you as they light up beads of water on your full face helmet or goggles (you are covering your eyes, right?) Just wait it out. If this condition develops halfway through your ride and you have no choice but to ride on (assuming you are unable to call some one to offer you a ride home), at least wait until traffic thins out so you can ride at your own pace and without the distraction of headlights from oncoming traffic.
- Long sections of construction zones are likely to be chaotic with unpredictable daily changes to traffic patterns as well as bad road conditions (unpaved surfaces; sharp edges; confusing road markings; road signs that drift away or go missing; etc). Take a different road.
Here are some conditions that need some extra caution and preparation.
- Rain reduces traction on the road, reduces visibility, and if you are inappropriately dressed, makes you uncomfortable. If you anticipate rain or heading into rainy weather, the least you can do is dress appropriately for rain. A comfortable rider can focus on the ride better than an uncomfortable rider. Reduced traction and reduced visibility translate to reduced speed. Unfortunately, cars and trucks barely slow down in rain. You, the novice rider, have no choice. You will need extra braking distance. You also need to be more visible. Don't forget to have a Hi-Viz jacket or at least a Hi-Viz safety vest. I use a bright yellow safety vest with tiny blinking LED lights to handle the reduced visibility on a rainy day. Yes, I sure looked like a dork when I rode with the lights blinking on my vest, but at least I was visible. Judging by the movement of traffic around me, I am convinced that the extra visibility helped. Better to look like a dork than be invisible and become a statistic.
- Darkness reduces your vision and reduces your visibility. Do what was suggested above to increase your visibility. In addition, slow down to compensate for your reduced vision.
- If possible, avoid unfamiliar roads. Unfamiliar roads add mystery to your trip. An experienced rider can comfortably handle unfamiliar roads, but a novice rider may be overwhelmed by the addition of uncertainty that comes with unfamiliar roads. The best way to deal with this is to drive (in your car) on the unfamiliar road before you ride on it and make a mental note of things that might potentially make your ride challenging. Note road conditions, presence of sand/gravel, traffic patterns, intersections etc. This pre-ride also helps you get familiar with the path of travel and when you ride soon after the pre-ride, your comfort level is much higher. Sometimes it is not practical to ride the entire length of the unfamiliar road or the unfamiliar part may be at the tail end of the planned route, too far away to merit a pre-ride. In such cases do the second best thing. Get on the internet (or an interactive up to date road map on your computer) and use your favorite directions/mapping site to get familiar with the unfamiliar part. All major map sites (Yahoo, Google, MSN, Mappoint etc) have enough road map + satellite view to help you get familiar with the details of a route or a location. I particularly like Microsoft Live for its aerial views (where available). These have much more detail of an area than is provided by a satellite view. Help get familiar with the path of travel so you have fewer surprises as you ride in an unfamiliar neighborhood. For example, if the detailed map shows that the freeway exit is too sharp for your cornering comfort, maybe you can take the earlier or next friendlier exit ramp. Better to know what lies ahead and reduce the element of surprise.
- Pay attention to weather and live traffic reports before you leave on a ride. Plan an alternate route if you hear of any potential surprises such as an accident that is causing traffic to be diverted.
- I used the pre-ride the first few days even on familiar roads. Just wanted to make sure there are no unexpected changes (e.g. a party in the neighborhood means erratic parking and too many drivers who don't know their way around) in the scene and no surprises such as fallen twigs (common after a wind storm) or gravel on the road.
- While we are on the subject of precautions, consider riding your first few minutes around the neighborhood close to your home. As a newbie, you are overwhelmed with many details and it is easy to forget some small details that have a big impact on your ride a few minutes later. It is not uncommon for newbie riders to forget to turn on their gas. Better to run out of gas in a familiar, low traffic surrounding than in the middle of a busy road. Also, as a newbie, you are likely to be experimenting with different settings on your motorcycle or modifications to your riding gear (different gloves or new riding boots etc). Some of these modifications affect your ride and it takes a few minutes to get comfortable. If you are living in a cold climate, an engine that isn't sufficiently warmed up may be less friendly/flexible. Better to use that ride in the familiarity of your neighborhood to warm up your bike.
|I've got 21 years riding experience (since I was 10!) and one time I really try to avoid is riding at that weird, mid twilight time. First, animals are EVERYWHERE. Adding to this is the fact that there's not enough light to see by, but too much light to get much out of your headlights. Oncoming car lights blind you even further. I commonly take a rest at this point, until it's closer to dark, even though I don't really like riding in the pitch black. I frankly think twilight time is worse than true night.
Road hazards and traffic conditions Plus Intersections
Some of these have already been addressed above. By road hazards, I am referring to unfriendly conditions such as the presence of wild life or obstacles.
- Avoid high speed travel on roads where deer or similar wild life is likely to appear. You practiced full effort braking, but doesn't mean you have to put yourself in situations where you might actually need it. At least not until you gain more experience.
- Very careful around construction zones as they are likely to have some surprises by way of road hazards as well as changed traffic patterns.
- Avoid very busy roads, especially during commuting hours. Cars and trucks are in a hurry with distracted drivers trying to gain an extra minute or two. They are less patient as they to/from work in busy traffic. Particularly tricky are collector/distributor zones and roads around highway on/off ramps. It is very easy for a bike to become invisible amongst hundreds of cars busy changing lanes.
- Similar problem with intersections. Lots of cars and trucks in a hurry to change lanes and direction. Remember that an intersection is not just your standard four way intersection with traffic lights. Any place where two or more roads meet is an intersection. If you are driving in a commercial or residential neighborhood with driveways coming onto the road, each driveway is an intersection. When possible, stay in the right lane. When the right lane is next to the lane carrying traffic in the opposite direction, prefer the left half of the lane so you are away from oncoming traffic. Every little bit helps.
- Remember what the MSF instructor told you about intersections. Stay in first gear and be ready to move out. Don't move out soon after you see the green light. Look sideways to make sure someone isn't running the red light. Need lots of precaution at intersections. This is the wrong place to fumble with your controls. Be sure you have practiced the basics well enough that you don't stall when you move out and that you are in first gear as you come to a stop so you reduce the risk of stalling (as you try to move out from a higher gear). These are no-brainers for experienced riders, but may not be so for a nervous novice getting familiar with his motorcycle and the riding experience under pressure from an impatient cager. I suggest you encounter all your intersections in your path of travel when traffic is non-existent (example, early in the morning well before the commuting hour starts) and keep coming back to these intersections repeatedly, with each encounter made a little more challenging than the previous one as traffic increases. When you encounter a busy intersection, you don't want to be in the middle of it for the first time. Familiarity raises level of comfort.
- While driving a car we don't always slow down when approaching a traffic light (as we are supposed to.) We slam on our brakes or speed up on a yellow light. May work in a car. A newbie riding a motorcycle can't afford to be caught in a situation where she has to choose between a maximum effort stop or speeding through a yellow/red light. Maximum effort stop, even when properly executed, may leave you right in the middle of an intersection just when the light has turned green for the other traffic. Speeding through a light that just turned red may work for a car or a truck, but a motorcycle may not be noticeable. Be sure to pay attention to traffic lights and slow down as you approach it and be prepared to stop.
|The inconspicuous, innocuous little intersection in the middle of nowhere can be EVIL! Usually, especially in the midwest, these peaceful places usually hide a nice, thick spray of gravel and if you hit them too quick (especially on a turn) it won't be good news. Compounding matters is the fact that you won't see it until you're on it. I think what makes these even more dangerous than "obvious" curves is the fact that they aren't, well, obvious.
Riding under the influence of drugs/alcohol
Enough has been written about this. My rule of thumb is to stay away from alcohol for at least half a day before getting on a bike. As a novice rider you need all the attention you can bring to the ride.
...and one more thing. Besides the usual "don't ride if you're drunk/stoned/on any other drug" i'd like to stress the "don't ride if you're in any way upset". That is if your girlfriend dropped you or moved again your tools from their place, your cat peed on your favorite t-shirt, your boss gave his good-looking secretary the raise that you deserved or you found an unexplaianble scratch on your bike, don't ride until you have reached your zen point.
I have done my share of stupid things, and rode in conditions i shouldn't have, but the times i lost control were when i thought i had it, but my mind was somewhere else and p***ed off somehow. Evil or Very Mad. It's increadibly easy to use the machine as an exhaust for anger when you haven't let it out, and that's a very bad spot to be in.
As a novice rider, it helps to avoid tricky corners such as hairpin bends on mountain highways. With these tricky twisties out of the picture, a novice rider is likely to encounter the trickiest corners on highway on/off ramps. The advantage with highway ramps is that you can examine them up close using an online map service and plan your corner well before you get on that curve. All I had to do was do my part right - slow down to the indicated speed, look, lean, and roll. That eliminated much of the risk posed by corners. When the roads were wet or when I suspected or actually noticed gravel, I slowed down to a comfortable speed and negotiated the curve.
Once I got a little more comfortable with riding, I poured over the map of the local area in search of twisty local roads. Roads that looked winding on the map often turned out to require little or no cornering skills as the curves were rarely sharp enough to demand extreme cornering skills.
Insufficient or inappropriate riding gear
Much has been written about the need to wear the right gear (ATGATT - all the gear all the time) when riding. There are way too many choices out there for each and every part of the riding gear. It is easy for a novice to be lost in all the choices, so here is some big picture advice:
- ATGATT. No exceptions.
- Safety comes first. Whatever you are wearing has to protect you.
- Being visible is being safe. Err towards making yourself more visible.
- Comfort is about as important as safety. The more comfortable you are, the less distracted, therefore you are more likely to be safe.
- Pay attention to your appearance only after ensuring safety and comfort haven't been compromised.
- MSF basic rider course usually has minimal requirements for gear. They often provide you with a basic helmet. While the requirements meet safety requirements for the controlled conditions, they may not be comfortable when weather turns sour. It is hard enough for a newbie to learn the basic skills in a classroom environment. No need to have a cold shower drench you and make you wet and miserable when you can least afford that distraction. I strongly recommend you attend your MSF course with the best gear you can procure. This often means spending more money than the minimum necessary and/or doing some legwork to borrow some gear from rider friends. IMHO, you want to start right. Set yourself up for success from day one. Most folks pass the MSF course in the first two attempts, so any money spent on gear is what you would end up spending down the road anyway.
Rider not visible enough among cars/trucks
We already touched on this several times earlier in the article. It is unfair that car and truck drivers don't pay as much attention to their surroundings as they ought to. Do whatever you can be to stay visible. A hi-viz vest, preferably with tiny blinking lights for extra dark conditions (rain + dark; fog), is strongly recommended. You may catch unnecessary attention with a hi-viz vest. Wait, there is no such thing as "unnecessary attention" when you are novice biker. Grab all the attention you can; just do it legally.
There are also techniques to stay visible while riding in traffic. Constantly change position within your lane. Stay out of blind spots. Use legal, aftermarket lights to increase visibility of your headlights and brake lights. Whatever it takes.
Inexperienced rider (first six months)
For obvious reason, the first few weeks and months are challenging to a novice rider. A lot of the discussion above talks about various ways of staying safe. A novice rider doesn't automatically become an experienced rider by safely parking his bike in his garage for six months after the MSF course. In my book, six months means six months of regular practice and use. Practice is what turns a novice into an experienced rider. Carefully think about circumstances and control whatever you can to minimize the element of surprise and to elevate your level of comfort and safety as you gain more experience. Think of the first few months as investment in a long term relationship. Fully immerse yourself in the hobby. Read all you can. Practice whenever you can. Talk to other bikers. This takes time and resource commitment. That is the only way to set yourself up for success. As they say, you are starting with a bucket full of luck and an empty bucket of experience. Your mission is to fill your empty bucket of experience before your bucket of luck runs out.
ATGATT - Protecting Yourself
|Warning: Some pictures may be disturbing|
Please note some pictures in this section are not for the faint-at-heart. There are images of injuries sustained in accidents, or of what was required to fix those injuries. All images of injuries have been included as links, so you can choose to look at the image or not.
Remember: Riding a motorcycle is loads of fun - getting injured is not. Wearing ATGATT can reduce your injuries significantly.
Without Gear - SScratch
Helmets - NB and Winter
- NB's helmet after a 20mph face plant... No other part of my body made contact with the cement before my face... so nothing else absorbed any of the fall except my head.... I had blurred vision for the next two days...
- This is the result of a woopty-doo... The chin guard of my helmet slammed into the screen... My jaw was a tad sore the next day and my lip was busted... nothing major though.
- NB comments: I think the first one may have done some serious damage if not for the helmet. I think I would be missing a lower jaw if not for the helmet in the second picture...
- Winter's helmet after a 40kph T-bone
- Winter's helmet after a 40kph T-bone
- Winter comments: The helmet was 3 months old, and you can not see it well, but the crown of the helmet was badly cracked. It definately saved my skull.
Slip Sliding Away - Damalden
- Back in Nov 2005 I hit a patch of gravel whilst navigating a 90 degree corner on Old English Crossing Road located just south east of Bandera TX. I was travelling about 30 mph and leant well into the corner, when I saw the gravel patch and my front tire in it, the front end washed out. It was one of those times where half a second seems like half a minute. The turn is a right hander, so as I went down on right elbow and hip Betty was released and left to her own devices. I slid about 20 feet and jumped up before I came back to walking speed while Black Betty continued onto the opposite side of the road.
- After about 30 feet she came to a stop with her engine in gear and running.The saddle flew off and took a few nicks and cuts. I reached down and hit the kill switch. Silence, and the gravity of what just happened began to sink in. A couple of cars just passed by slowly gawking at my predicament as I easily heaved my moto off the ground and onto her center stand. I restarted the bike and did a quick inspection.
- Right brake lever instantly bent back into workable position. Rear brake lever, same. Saddle replaced and locked down properly. Just then a big hairy dude and his 'ol lady pull up in a clapped out Citation. "You okay man?" he queried with a genuine concern. I replied,"Not sure. But the bike looks pretty good considering the slide", was my response. "I been there, you want I should sit with you a while?", this biker was not your weekend-dressup village people lookalike type, he was a good person.
- He sat quietly with me for about five minutes and asked again if I was good to ride. As I watched them drive away I put my helmet and gloves back on. If you fall off, get right back on, somebody once said. Riding home that day, with what can only be described as wreckless abandon I was scared and on the lookout for road hazards. I rode faster than I had ever ridden the bike.
- It amazed me how quickly the bike hit the road and in the same moment the time and space reel went into slow motion. Today the moment of impact is clear in my mind. Recalling that day helps me to be more aware of road conditions and reminds me that I am truly lucky there was no oncoming traffic at the time we went slip sliding away.
- Still pretty amazed that the brake lever survived. NB gave me some new hand guards cos he love me too much. For the next year or so he fell more and more out of love because I never installed the new ones. Each time, my excuse was that I did not want to mess them up
- The stock pipes are gone to Tennessee but the battle scars remain on the side panel. Sometimes I color the scratches in with a sharpie.
- I had my raingear on but it was dry, it had rained on the way to Bandera. There is a small hole torn into the right sleeve. I had a JR Phoenix mesh jacket underneath, the sleeve rode up and I had a tiny road rash about six inches back from the wrist.
- The rain pants had a hole torn in the ass and at the right knee. Confession time folks, I was not ATG, only had Wranglers on under the rain pants. My theory on why I did not get torn up by the pavement is this. There was so much gravel in that curve that I was like a huge shuffleboard puck and the gravel acted like shuffleboard dust on the road surface so I glided across the road until I jumped up. My hip was sore for three weeks or more, no other pain to report thank goodness
- These are some JR waterproof gloves, and the right one slid for a good ways and showed zero signs of ripping or abrasion. $40 bucks, and still use them infreqently. Everytime I put them on it reminds me to be more careful.
The people I ride with and I have some basic rules...
First and most important is ride your own ride. If you are not in "the zone," then ride at a slower pace at which you ARE comfortable.
There is no shame in being the last to arrive. Crashing sucks and can screw up more folks day than your own.
NEVER turn off the road we are on without catching everyone back up.
- Flash #412