50 Ways to Save Your Life
By Motorcyclist Staff
Motorcyclist Magazine, August 2006
The best bike in the world is scrap—or
soon will be—unless you learn how to use it. The most powerful piece
of high-performance hardware is between your ears. To help you program
it with the right info rmation, we’ve assembled 50 potentially
lifesaving bits of street savvy. Some you’ll know, some you won’t. All
are worth remembering, because when it comes to riding motorcycles on
the street, the people over at the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (www.msf-usa.org)
have the right idea with their tagline: The more you know, the better
We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. - Aristotle
1. Assume you’re invisible
Because to a lot of drivers, you are. Never make a move based on
the assumption that another driver sees you, even if you’ve just made
eye contact. Bikes don’t always register in the four-wheel mind.
2. Be considerate
The consequences of strafing the jerk du jour or cutting him off start
out bad and get worse. Pretend it was your grandma and think again.
3. Dress for the crash, not the pool or the prom
Sure, Joaquin’s Fish Tacos is a 5-minute trip, but nobody plans to eat
pavement. Modern mesh gear means 100-degree heat is no excuse for a
T-shirt and board shorts.
4. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
Assume that car across the intersection will turn across your bow when
the light goes green, with or without a turn signal.
5. Leave your ego at home
The only people who really care if you were faster on the freeway will
be the officer and the judge.
6. Pay attention
Yes, there is a half-naked girl on the billboard. That shock does feel
squishy. Meanwhile, you could be drifting toward Big Trouble. Focus.
7. Mirrors only show you part of the picture
Never change direction without turning your head to make sure the
coast really is clear. Mirrors only show you part of the picture.
8. Be patient
Always take another second or three before you pull out to pass, ride
away from a curb or into freeway traffic from an on-ramp. It's what
you don't see that gets you. That extra look could save your
9. Watch your closing speed
Passing cars at twice their speed or changing lanes to shoot past a
row of stopped cars is just asking for trouble.
10. Beware the verge and the merge
A lot of nasty surprises end up on the sides of the road: empty
McDonald’s bags, nails, TV antennas,
ladders, you name it. Watch for potentially troublesome debris on both
sides of the road.
11. Left-turning cars remain a leading killer of motorcyclists
Don’t assume someone will wait for you to dart through the
intersection. They’re trying to beat the light, too.
12. Beware of cars running traffic lights
The first few seconds after a signal light changes are the most
perilous. Look both ways before barging into an intersection.
13. Check your mirrors
Do it every time you change lanes, slow down or stop. Be ready to move
if another vehicle is about to occupy the space you’d planned to use.
Scan 12 seconds ahead for potential trouble.
14. Mind the gap
Remember Driver’s Ed? One second’s worth of distance per 10 mph is the
old rule of thumb. Better still, scan the next 12 seconds ahead for
15. Beware of tuner cars
They’re quick and their drivers tend to be aggressive. Don’t assume
you’ve beaten one away from a light or outpaced it in traffic and
change lanes without looking. You could end up as a Nissan hood
16. Excessive entrance speed hurts
It’s the leading cause of single-bike accidents on twisty roads and
racetracks. In Slow, Out Fast is the old adage, and it still works.
Dialing up corner speed is safer than scrubbing it off.
17. Don’t trust that deer whistle
Ungulates and other feral beasts prowl at dawn and dusk, so heed those
big yellow signs. If you’re riding in a target-rich environment, slow
down and watch the shoulders.
18. Learn to use both brakes
The front does most of your stopping, but a little rear brake on
corner entry can calm a nervous chassis.
19. Keep the front brake covered—always
Save a single second of reaction time at 60 mph and you can stop 88
feet shorter. Think about that.
20. Look where you want to go
Use the miracle of target fixation to your advantage. The motorcycle
goes where you look, so focus on the solution instead of the problem.
Check your mirrors every time you change lanes.
21. Keep your eyes moving
Traffic is always shifting, so keep scanning for potential trouble.
Don’t lock your eyes on any one thing for too long unless you’re
actually dealing with trouble.
22. Think before you act
Careful whipping around that Camry going 7 mph in a 25-mph zone or you
could end up with your head in the driver’s side door when he turns
into the driveway right in front of you.
23. Raise your gaze
It’s too late to do anything about the 20 feet immediately in front of
your fender, so scan the road far enough ahead to see trouble and
24. Get your mind right in the driveway
Most accidents happen during the first 15 minutes of a ride, below 40
mph, near an intersection or driveway. Yes, that could be your
25. Come to a full stop at that next stop sign
Put a foot down. Look again. Anything less forces a snap decision with
no time to spot potential trouble.
26. Never dive into a gap in stalled traffic
Cars may have stopped for a reason, and you may not be able to see why
until it’s too late to do anything about it.
27. Don’t saddle up more than you can handle
If you weigh 95 pounds, avoid that 795-pound cruiser. If you’re
5-foot-5, forget those towering adventure-tourers. Stay in your
comfort zone riding with a group.
28. Watch for car doors opening in traffic
And smacking a car that’s swerving around some goofball’s open door is
just as painful.
29. Don’t get in an intersection rut
Watch for a two-way stop after a string of four-way intersections. If
you expect cross-traffic to stop, there could be a painful surprise
when it doesn’t.
30. Stay in your comfort zone when you’re with a group
Riding over your head is a good way to end up in the ditch. Any bunch
worth riding with will have a rendezvous point where you’ll be able to
link up again.
31. Give your eyes some time to adjust
A minute or two of low light heading from a well-lighted garage onto
dark streets is a good thing. Otherwise, you’re essentially flying
blind for the first mile or so.
32. Master the slow U-turn
Practice. Park your butt on the outside edge of the seat and lean the
bike into the turn, using your body as a counterweight as you pivot
around the rear wheel.
33. Who put a stop sign at the top of this hill?
Don’t panic. Use the rear brake to keep from rolling back down. Use
Mr. Throttle and Mr. Clutch normally—and smoothly—to pull away.
34. If it looks slippery, assume it is
A patch of suspicious pavement could be just about anything. Butter
Flavor Crisco? Gravel? Mobil 1? Or maybe it’s nothing. Better to slow
down for nothing than go on your head.
35. Bang! A blowout! Now what?
No sudden moves. The motorcycle isn’t happy, so be prepared to apply a
little calming muscle to maintain course. Ease back the throttle,
brake gingerly with the good wheel and pull over very smoothly to the
shoulder. Big sigh. Hedge your bets at intersections.
36. Drops on the faceshield?
It’s raining. Lightly misted pavement can be slipperier than when it’s
been rinsed by a downpour, and you never know how much grip there is.
Apply maximum-level concentration, caution and smoothness.
Emotions in check?
To paraphrase Mr. Ice Cube, chickity-check
yoself before you wreck yoself. Emotions are as powerful as any drug,
so take inventory every time you saddle up. If you’re mad, sad,
exhausted or anxious, stay put.
38. Wear good gear
Wear stuff that fits you and the weather. If you’re too hot or too
cold or fighting with a jacket that binds across the shoulders, you’re
dangerous. It’s that simple.
39. Leave the iPod at home
You won’t hear that cement truck in time with Spinal Tap cranked to
11, but they might like your headphones in intensive care.
40. Learn to swerve
Be able to do two tight turns in quick succession. Flick left around
the bag of briquettes, then right back to your original trajectory.
The bike will follow your eyes, so look at the way around, not the
briquettes. Now practice till it’s a reflex.
41. Be smooth at low speeds
Take some angst out, especially of slow-speed maneuvers, with a bit of
rear brake. It adds a welcome bit of stability by minimizing unwelcome
weight transfer and potentially bothersome driveline lash.
42. Flashing is good for you
Turn signals get your attention by flashing, right? So a few easy taps
on the pedal or lever before stopping makes your brake light more
eye-catching to trailing traffic.
43. Intersections are scary, so hedge your bets
Put another vehicle between your bike and the possibility of someone
running the stop sign/red light on your right and you cut your chances
of getting nailed in half.
44. Tune your peripheral vision
Pick a point near the center of that wall over there. Now scan as far
as you can by moving your attention, not your gaze. The more you can
see without turning your head, the sooner you can react to trouble.
Everything is harder to see after dark.
45. All alone at a light that won’t turn green?
Put as much motorcycle as possible directly above the sensor
wire—usually buried in the pavement beneath you and located by a round
or square pattern behind the limit line. If the light still won’t
change, try putting your kickstand down, right on the wire. You should
be on your way in seconds.
46. Every-thing is harder to see after dark
Adjust your headlights, Carry a clear faceshield and have your game
all the way on after dark, especially during commuter hours.
47. Don’t troll next to—or right behind—Mr. Peterbilt
If one of those 18 retreads blows up—which they do with some
regularity—it de-treads, and that can be ugly. Unless you like dodging
huge chunks of flying rubber, keep your distance.
48. Take the panic out of panic stops
Develop an intimate relationship with your front brake. Seek out some
safe, open pavement. Starting slowly, find that fine line between
maximum braking and a locked wheel, and then do it again, and again.
49. Make your tires right
None of this stuff matters unless your skins are right. Don’t take ’em
for granted. Make sure pressure is spot-on every time you ride. Check
for cuts, nails and other junk they might have picked up, as well as
50. Take a deep breath
Count to 10. Visualize whirled peas. Forgetting some clown’s 80-mph
indiscretion beats running the risk of ruining your life, or ending