Motorcycle Awareness Month – The Wrong Way Down

Motorcycle Awareness Month – The Wrong Way Down

A controversial viewpoint that looks at motorcycle safety from the other side of the looking glass

I’m a lifelong motorcyclist. I’m a professional rider, I earn my bread from the seat of my bike. I been a trainer, had training, been all over the country and overseas, led tours, coordinated events and rallies, read the books and every accident study I can get to. I’ve had my share of spills, close calls, and mistakes and I’ve got the scars to remember them by.

May is motorcycle awareness monthMotorcycle Awareness Month doesn’t even make the list of  “commemorative months” on wikipedia and is about as effective as “National Ice Cream Month” (which does make the list) – It’s the wrong approach to the problem of how to be safer riding a motorcycle on our increasing dangerous roads.

Image - Watch out for Motorcycles

False Hope

“Watch our for Bikers” is wishful thinking. It puts the responsibility on someone else – “You need to watch out for me”. Believing that little yellow diamond is going to penetrate the brain of a pony-tailed soccer mom with a minivan full of kids rushing to get to the little  league game is quite a leap of faith. Or that the road warrior salesman is going to suddenly take his mind off his next meeting as he’s fighting his way through the traffic on his way to Des Moines. That the old codger in the Buick with a line of traffic a half mile behind him is going to suddenly wake up and recognize there are other vehicles on the road? That teen is gonna put away the cell phone and start driving the car? Not my experieince. Not the real world. YOU need to watch out for YOU.

Even if you could get through and alert every other driver on the road you’re not going to change the laws of physics. Motorcycles are just plain hard to see because they are the smallest vehicle out on the roads. They are comparatively rare so people don’t expect them. They are easy to lose track of surrounded by so many larger vehicles. Every one of us knows a driver can look right at you and not see you coming. Accept it – you’re virtually invisible to others the road.

motorcycle-wreck-maggieThe “motorcycle awareness” that will keep you alive longest is the awareness that you are responsible for your own safety on the road. You need to up your riding game. Distracted driving is the leading contributor to accidents on our roadways. The counter strategy is increased awareness on the part of the motorcyclist, not all the other people out on the road. They’re not going to change, you need to change to adapt to the conditions that exist.

We know the most common causes of motorcycle accidents related to other vehicles – car pulls out or turns in front of motorcycle, car changes lanes on highway into motorcycle, car runs into motorcycle stopped at intersection.

The motorcycle awareness we need is to deal with these situations as riders as effectively as possible. This is what happens – expect it and assume it will every time.

  • Ride as if that car IS going to pull out or turn in front of you. Be prepared to react to it. Every car, every time.
  • Constantly be aware of your position to surrounding traffic on the road and don’t ride in blind spots. Don’t assume that car next to you sees you – if he needs to swerve I’ll bet he’d rather hit you than a truck. Move out of the situation. When they crowd in on you get out of the situation as soon as possible.
  • Position yourself to be visible when stopped. Don’t sit right behind a car, move out to create a silhouette that stands out from behind. Keep the bike in gear and have an escape route ready in case you see that car running up on you too fast.

learn-to-ride-safe

The roads are getting more crowded and more dangerous. There are new challenges to face. People are just going to keep doing what they’re doing, they are not going to change. If you want to be safer, take your safety in your own hands – the others are too busy to bother.

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wayne busch - Smoky Mountain Motorcycle Rider.com

Wayne Busch

– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here – AmericaRidesMaps.com

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Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Safety Tips

Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Safety Tips
Courteous Passing  and Signal your intentions

I’m opening myself up for some criticism by posting this, but when motorcycle riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway and you need to pass, one safety tip I’ve found helpful is using better communication and courteous passing. While passing may be illegal, it’s a frequent occurrence. Here’s how I deal with it.

Why take the criticism? Because I see it so often – it’s a rare stretch of the 469 mile long Blue Ridge motorcycle ride that isn’t painted with a double yellow line. Passing zones are few and far between. Crossing the double yellow line is breaking the law, so consider that before you do it. If something goes wrong, you’re at fault, and any ticket you get is deserved.

Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway - Safety Tips Courteous Passing  and Signal your intentions - Crossing the double yellow line is illegal. Legal passes are safe passes.

Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Safety Tips – Courteous Passing and Signal your intentions – Crossing the double yellow line is illegal. Legal passes are safe passes.

Still, I can’t recall a recent motorcycle ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway where it didn’t happen. It’s a common situation as the comfortable travel speed for many car drivers is around 35 mph on this mostly 45 mph road. While most bikers are content to adapt to the lower speed and relax and enjoy the scenery, the situation can get frustrating when the curves get tighter.

Motorcycles and cars approach curves differently. Cars tend to get off the throttle and slow down when going through a turn. Motorcycles want to be on the gas to gain traction, ground clearance, and stabilize the bike in a turn. Applying the brakes when behind a car in a turn makes the motorcycle want to stand up when it should be leaning and it’s harder to steer and more unstable.

Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway - Safety Tips - Courteous Passing and Signal your intentions - There are lots of overlooks through the most scenic sections. Use your signal lights to communicate to the driver ahead.

Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Safety Tips – Courteous Passing and Signal your intentions – There are lots of overlooks through the most scenic sections. Use your signal lights to communicate to the driver ahead.

In a perfect world, you follow along to the next pull-out, the car slips in and lets you by. Give the driver that opportunity, it’s the best, safest, and legal option. A lot of times that happens. Sometimes it takes a couple overlooks before the driver recognizes the easy solution.

Just as often though, you’ll come up on a car which slows and starts waving you by to make an illegal pass. Here’s how I approach it –

  • If you don’t want to pass, drop back and give the car some space.
  • If you do want to pass, but it’s not safe here due to an approaching curve, limited visibility, or other traffic, be courteous and work with the driver. Drop back a little and signal your intent that you do want an opportunity to pass by using your turn signal.

Communicating to the driver by using your turn signal lets him know your intent and you can work together to make the pass as safe as possible.

The driver may wait for the next pull off, give him the opportunity to use it, as it’s safest for everyone and the legal way to do it.

Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway - Safety Tips - Courteous Passing and Signal your intentions - Choose your passing spots carefully and wisely.

Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Safety Tips – Courteous Passing and Signal your intentions – Choose your passing spots carefully and wisely. This is hardly the place to even consider it. Wait patiently for those sections where you have a long view ahead and plenty of road before the next curve.

If you do choose to pass, do it politely and with some respect. Don’t blast by at warp speed with the pipes screaming. Stay in as high a gear as you can and make it a smooth and controlled quiet pass. Wait for a long enough section of road with clear visibility and enough margin for safety so you don’t convince the driver all bikers are dangerous and out of control or end up proving it as well. I usually give a wave of thanks to those who let me slip by, I appreciate their courtesy and respond in kind.

In summary;

  • Use passing zones when available
  • Crossing the double yellow line is illegal
  • Give the car a chance or two to exit into an overlook and let you by
  • Communicate with the driver by using your turn signals
  • Wait for a safe opportunity
  • Pass quietly and with respect
Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway - Safety Tips - illegal passing is not without risks and potential consequences!

Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Safety Tips – Illegal passing is not without risks and potential consequences!

At some point on your Blue Ridge Parkway motorcycle ride you’re going to be presented with this dilemma – to pass or not to pass. There’s a darned good reason crossing the double yellow line is illegal, it’s dangerous! In a dangerous situation one of your best tools is good communication. Use those signal lights and show some thanks if you decide to take a ride on the wild side of the line. A lot of times, seeing your signal lights alerts the driver and results in a safe and legal passing event and a better Blue Ridge Parkway ride for everyone.

These tips work with bicycles as well, be kind and let’s all enjoy our ride!

See the Blue Ridge Parkway Park Service Safety Page

See the Blue Ridge Motorcycling Parkway Safety Tips Page

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Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch – Cartographer

Total Rider Tech Logo

Learn Total Control

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– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here – AmericaRidesMaps.com

Wayne is an advanced motorcycle instructor for Total Rider Tech teaching Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Courses. Isn’t it time you looked into advanced rider training to ride more confidently and safely? It can transform your mountain riding experience.  Total Rider Tech

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Motorcycle Safety & Why We Get it Wrong

“Watch out for Bikers”“Loud Pipes Save Lives” , and other such “be safer riding” campaigns get a lot of attention from motorcyclists, but when you look at the science, they approach the problem from the wrong side.

Image - Watch out for Motorcycles

False Hope

Studies show the greatest improvements in motorcycle safety are gained through better riding skills and awareness. 

I recently spent as much time as I could stand reading through studies on motorcycle accidents from the early 70’s through the mid 80’s – I found little data after that. The most notable of these is the Hurt Report, though there are also a couple big ones from Europe.

The results of these studies are consistent over time and irrespective of location with similar conclusions.

  • The most common multiple vehicle accident is caused by a car turning left in front of a motorcycle at an intersection – about 2/3 of multiple vehicle accidents.
  • The most common single vehicle motorcycle accident is running wide in a turn and leaving the road or sliding out – about 1/3 of single vehicle accidents.
  • In about 40% of motorcycle accidents one of the contributing or cuasative factors is inexperience or lack of skills to evade or avoid the accident by the motorcyclist

photo-motorcycle-crashAll of these are best addressed by the motorcycle rider through increased awareness and better skills.

Those popular “Watch out for Bikers” and “Loud Pipes Save Lives” campaigns are not supported by the science. They may be popular, and it’s easy to put the blame and shift the responsibility to cage drivers, but it’s an ineffective approach.

Watch out for bikers? Size Matters;

The studies go in great detail examining how visible motorcycles are on the road; color, frontal area, bright clothing, lights on/off, etc. While each of these things does increase visibility and have an impact, overall it’s not significantly relevant.  Bottom line is motorcycles are small compared to any other motor vehicle out on the road. You can do things to be more visible, but don’t count on it helping much.

image - Loud pipes save lives

Too little, too late

Loud Pipes Save Lives? What’s that Noise?

We are primarily visual creatures. Biologically, we process and intake information visually. Auditory input is secondary. We listen to the radio or books on tape when driving because we know we process our driving information visually.

There are no scientific studies that examine whether loud pipes have any impact on driver awareness. The evidence is anecdotal or assumed – “I know my loud pipes kept that guy from moving into my lane”. Not if he didn’t see you. When it comes to the most dangerous situation for motorcycles, approaching an intersection, you can draw your own conclusions from a simple experiment. Next time your sitting at an intersection, note when you hear an approaching motorcycle. It’s long after you can see it. By the time the sound is loud enough to draw attention, it’s too late. Whatever is going to happen has already started.

 Photo-motorcycle crash How to ride safer:

Riding a motorcycle in traffic is like  a mouse running through a heard of elephants. Be alert and ready to take quick evasive actions or you’ll be crushed.

  1. Always ride like you’re not seen. Expect the most common accident, that car pulling out in front of you. Intersections, side streets, and anything that obstructs the view tells you to get ready to react. Develop that second sense and practice spotting these hazards.
  2. Be Ready to React – ease off the throttle, get your hands ready to brake / clutch, get your feet off the highway pegs, down where you can get at the controls and position yourself to respond quickly.
  3. REACT – here’s where most failures occur and where better skills make significant statistical difference.

Once is not enough:

Typical motorcycle fail in the studies – car pulls in front of bike. Biker jams rear brake. Bike either skids upright into car or is “laid down” and slides uncontrolled along the ground. If you did take a Motorcycle Safety Course you have been exposed to how to brake and swerve – once. That was in a parking lot, at low speeds, with nothing to run in to, when you were totally focused on what you were doing. If that was the last time you practiced braking and avoidance, you are an accident waiting for an opportunity.

Motorcycle Safety  – Getting it Right

photo-motorcycle-rider-crashingThe science shows improving motorcycle riders skills are the most effective means of reducing accidents.

1) Up your skills with practice –

I can’t ever recall seeing anyone practicing motorcycle skills independently. One reason may be you find a secluded safe location to do it so it happens out of sight. I have my own “secret test track” not far from home where I go to hone my skills on a regular basis, but then I’m a motorcycle instructor and demand a high level of personal performance so I  can demonstrate skills well for my students.

Honestly, without such a motivation I rarely practiced riding skills on my own previously in any serious manner. We all know we could be better with focused practice, but riding time is so precious, it’s tough to give up a fun ride for the rigors of working on skills and practicing technique.  Let’s face it, it’s the rare motorcycle rider who ever does any independent practice.

2)  Use the force – No Pain, No Gain –

At least swap one type of pain for another –  a little financial pain can save you a whole lot of potential physical pain, as well as the attendant monetary consequences that result from even a minor accident. Since we’re unlikely to practice skills on our own, force yourself to do it. Pay for it and you’ll be motivated to give up the time and get your money’s worth.

3) Get ‘er Done

While there are plenty of things you can do to learn to be a safer rider, online sources, books, etc, or occasional practice on your own to improve skills, if you wan’t to get the quickest, best, and easiest  results find professional structured instruction. You’ll accomplish more in less time, and progress more quickly to being a better safer rider.

 Are you going to be safer next year?

It’s time to start thinking about those New Year resolutions. Becoming a safer rider is one to put on your list. Whether it’s repeating a basic course you’ve already had, or scheduling a track day to work on advanced skills, take action now and find an appropriate class for you. I know you want to ride more next year, don’t we all. Let’s all be safer riders as well.

Commit to taking motorcycle instruction to become a better and safer rider right now – scientifically sound advice.

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Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch - Cartographer

Total Rider Tech Logo

Learn Total Control

– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here – AmericaRidesMaps.com

Wayne is an advanced motorcycle instructor for Total Rider Tech teaching Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Courses. It’s time you looked into advanced rider training to ride more confidently and safely, it will change your mountain riding experience. It worked so well for me I became an instructor! Total Rider Tech

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Boston Bans Aftermarket Exhausts – Comments

Photo: Is your bike next?

Discussion has been pretty widespread on the net re: the new law in Boston which bans aftermarket exhausts for motorcycles. Rising above the usual spew regarding such controversial issues I look for insight from within the industry. The issue has been posted on LinkedIn in the Motorcycle Industry Professionals group of which I am a member. http://www.linkedin.com/groupAnswers?viewQuestionAndAnswers&discussionID=4714375&gid=139818&commentID=4747099&trk=view_disc

I posted my opinion as follows which may or may not agree with yours.
It’s the handwriting on the wall guys, something brought upon us by a few who felt their “freedom” to enjoy loud pipes was more important than their freedom to ride in the first place. The city is taking the easy way out – easier and more effective than enforcing noise ordinances. I won’t be surprised to see more of it. Now it’s into the courts to spend the time and expense to try to reverse this before it spreads and comply with it in the mean time. More big brother telling you what you can and cannot do. That’s sad.

Living in a motorcycle tourist destination I deal with this issue first hand. While there are those who welcome the motorcycle tourist and recognize the benefit of them, there are those who despise them for disrupting their solitude. I’m at the Chamber of Commerce meetings as events are opposed and cancelled. I see the “noise ordinance enforced” signs with motorcycle icons on them going up in the small towns. Loud pipes close doors and windows as well as minds.

I realize this rant will followed by others from the “loud pipes save lives crowd”. It always is with all the examples and instances of prior escapes from catastrophe. Your bike already has an audible warning device – it’s the button with the little horn icon on it. If it’s not loud enough, upgrade. It’s cheaper than straight pipes. How long do you think you’d tolerate or be tolerated riding around holding down your horn button? To many, it would be just as annoying as your thumping or screaming exhaust notes.

You want respect? You gotta show respect. Freedom comes with the burden of responsibility. Act irresponsibly and suffer the consequences. We’re faced with a choice – we can either address this problem ourselves or others will impose their solutions on us. At this point the opposition has the upper hand. Choose wisely – your choice is affecting my freedom and impacting my wallet as well as yours.

How far are they from banning motorcycle traffic in the city when this fails? They do it with trucks, no “jake brakes”, routing them around towns, etc. now in many locations. People don’t want to hear them. You may be next.

Wayne@americaridesmaps.com

>> Go To America Rides Maps.comhttp://americaridesmaps.com

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