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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Motorcycles and Gravel on the Road – Relax

If you clench your teeth and death-grip the bars at the sight of gravel in the road, you’re asking for trouble.

Yesterday, Jackie and I took a winter motorcycle ride to the Blue Ridge Parkway via NC 215. I’ve been riding NC 215 about every 2 weeks through the winter to monitor the road condition. Since it was paved with a ‘tar and chip” coating this fall, the surface of this outstanding climb through the national forest has been strewn with loose gravel. (See Map of this section)

photo-nc215

The loose surface of NC 215 can make you a better rider if you relax.

It’s certainly not as much fun to ride this classic motorcycle ride in this condition, but it shouldn’t be an exercise in terror either. One of the worst things you can do when riding a road like this on a motorcycle is to tense up, fight it, and over-react to slips.

Face up to it – on a loose surface, the bike is going to slip a bit now and then. Expect it. Accept it. You can’t prevent it. You just need to manage it smoothly as it happens and allow the bike to do what it needs to do. Almost every instinctive reaction we have makes the situation worse – hitting the brakes, cutting the throttle, and aggressive or stiff inputs at the bars only reduce traction further. Relax. Use the lightest touch you can and maintain your throttle so there are no abrupt weight changes on the tires.

Motorcycles function very well in loose conditions if you let them move about as they need to do to maintain stability. The wheels will come back into alignment when they find traction and the bike will self correct. Anyone who’s ridden a dirt bike knows the wheels are moving all over the place, the harder you fight it, the less control you have. You just keep it guided in the general direction and let what happens happen as you go.

It’s a delicate situation when a tire slips. You need smooth and gentle input on the controls but if you are all tensed up, you can’t react quickly and smoothly. If you panic, you’ll apply your controls too harshly or change them too quickly and buy a ticket to crash-land. Chop the throttle and you get an express ticket to trouble. Practice being relaxed and accepting whatever is happening.  Respond softly, gently, and maintain your throttle application through turns.

Photo-road-unpaved

Practice getting a little out of your comfort zone when conditions change. The skills you learn may save your butt on the pavement when you least expect it.

As you gain more riding experience, you’ll learn many techniques to help you manage traction better while riding your motorcycle. None of them will be effective if you don’t relax and perform them smoothly.

The next time you find yourself on a road with a loose surface, remember to relax and accept it. Recognize what it has to teach you –

  • You’ll learn how to gauge the limits of your traction and how to react when you exceed them.
  • Because you’re more familiar with riding at the edge of traction, you’ll have a better feel for knowing when you’re getting close to the limit.
  • You may not intend to ride at the limit of your traction on a nice clean road, but when the unexpected happens and a wheel slips on a slick spot, the reactions you’ve learned will be old habits.

NC 215 will improve with time. Rumors are it may get more paving in the spring, but I wouldn’t count on it. The next time you find yourself riding a road with a loose surface, appreciate the opportunity to hone your skills and learn how to deal with things when they get a little out of your comfort zone.

photo-bikes on gravel

Occasional rides on gravel are a learning experience. Just take it easy and avoid a crash course. You'll gain skills that will help you react better and be more comfortable when things get loose.

Tip – Where are your elbows? If your elbows are above your wrists, you’re not relaxed.

Read what other riders have to say about NC 215

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Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch - Cartographer

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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. 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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Just minding my own business? Not on a motorcycle!

Minding your own business while riding a motorcycle is a recipe for disaster!

“I was just riding along, minding my own business, when this cager came over into my lane and nearly hit me!” How often do you hear this said?

photo-when riding in traffic, ride to be seen.

When riding in traffic, ride to be seen.

Too often, if you ask me. It’s usually followed by a rant on how cars don’t look out for bikers and how stupid drivers are for not being more aware of motorcycles and tales of kicking doors, breaking mirrors, and other aggressive retaliation schemes by “some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet”.

Fault is always assigned to the auto driver, and it is with some justification, drivers should be more aware of their surroundings and pay more attention. But the saying is “it’s a two way street” and fault goes both ways. I never hear the motorcyclist taking any responsibility for what occurred. They were just riding along “minding their own business”.

“Minding your own business” on motorcycle is a recipe for disaster. If you’re not minding everyone else’s business out on the road, and actively working to insure you are always seen, that recipe can bake you some humble pie and a big plate of hurt.

Whenever I hear those “he came into my lane tales” I first wonder “Why did you let that happen?” You ride in a drivers blind spot and then get all bent out of shape when he doesn’t see you?

graphic-blind-spots

DON'T ride in the blind spots.

The remedy is to ride to be seen and pay attention to where you are positioned. Don’t ride in the drivers blind spot. Either fall back and give him room or roll on a little throttle and move ahead so you are clearly visible.

Assume and expect you are not seen, that other traffic will behave like you’re not there and ride accordingly. Mind what that driver nearby is doing. Watch their mirrors, where they are looking, the movement of their head as they glance up to check the review mirror or glance left or right. It can signal their intentions and alert you something is about to happen. You should always be watching for it.

Also keep an eye on what’s going on ahead of both you AND the car nearby. Slower traffic ahead in their lane or a flash of brake lights in the vehicle ahead of them means they may take quick and evasive action that involves the space you are occupying.

Above all, stay out of those blind spots. Recognize when you are in these danger zones and move out of them as quickly as possible. Minimize your time at most risk. When you find yourself alongside another vehicle you should be taking action to move out of the situation – that is what minding your own business should mean on a motorcycle. Drop back or move ahead.

If you’re going to ride in traffic you’ve got to both ride to be seen and assume you’re not.

Ok, so this is “Motorcycling 101”, everybody knows this stuff. Yet on any day you can visit a forum or social networking site and read scores of posts about how “some car came into my lane”. Knowing it is one thing. Apparently applying that knowledge is something we need to work on. Don’t let it happen to you!

Here’s a great site for more detailed review. http://www.motorcyclebasics.com/blind-spots.html

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Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch - Cartographer

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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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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

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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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This motorcycle training changed everything for me

A Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Clinic taught me how to ride a big cruiser, dual sport, sports bike, or touring bike better and more safely. After 37 years, it has changed the way I enjoy riding any motorcycle, and now I’m working to make this knowledge available to you.

SportBikes4Hire

Contact Greg McCoy at http://SportBikes4Hire.com

Earlier this year I got a call from Greg McCoy at SportBikes4Hire.com. Greg is an outstanding rider and occasional track racer with an impressive stable of performance motorcycles (see them here). He had taken a Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Clinic and was so impressed with it he felt compelled to bring this advanced motorcycle skills training to the Smoky Mountains so others could benefit and enjoy this powerful knowledge and be safer on the twisty roads we love.

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http://TotalRiderTech.com

Greg called me because he needed help. He’d  been working with Total Rider Tech, one of the companies which offers Total Control training as well as other motorcycle rider programs. Both SportBikes4Hire.com and Total Rider Tech run very professional and service oriented businesses with high standards and great results. Based in Milwaukee, Total Rider Tech does a lot of programs with Harley-Davidson and the states throughout the mid-west. As much as these instructors love the chance to come ride the best roads in the nation in our Smoky Mountains, bringing them in to teach classes is costly. Greg needed to find local candidates to become instructors. Was I interested in helping him out?

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www.americaridesmaps.com

Looking back, I might have thought harder before I jumped at the chance. I had no idea how much time and investment would be required to meet the goals, but I trusted Greg’s judgement and was honored he thought I might be up to the task. The first step was to take a class myself, see the program, and experience what it offered.

I took my Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Clinic this summer in Robbinsville, NC, near the infamous Dragon at Deals Gap (read about my student experience here). After my class, I was sold. My riding improved immediately and dramatically. My enjoyment of riding since has skyrocketed. The knowledge I gained about how a motorcycle works on the road and how I can ride it better is astounding.

photo-total-rider-tech

Altering your center of gravity while turning with correct body position is critical on any style motorcycle.

What most impressed me is the way Total Rider Tech teaches. You don’t learn “riding tips”, you learn and understand the technology of riding a motorcycle so you recognize how to improve your riding for the rest of your life. What you learn you take away and won’t ever forget because you understand how and why it works. You can apply it to any bike, in all conditions, even with a passenger.

Over the past couple months I’ve been studying, training, and shadowing classes. Honestly, I’ve had to put much of my America Rides Maps business on the back burner, a tough and costly decision. I sacrificed time on the road for time studying and perfecting my presentations. Hours of video sit unedited. Digital map formatting was stopped in its tracks. I’ve barely had time to post to my blogs and networks. Everything has been on hold as I devoted all my effort to my Total Control instructor training.

Photo - Wayne Busch and Lee Parks

New instructor Wayne Busch & master Lee Parks

I am proud to announce I’ve just returned from Milwaukee, WI, and Geneva, IL, where I successfully completed a week of training with Lee Parks and Total Rider Tech to become the first Total Control Advanced Rider Clinic instructor in the Smoky Mountain region. I’ve demonstrated to Lee Parks I have the extensive foundation knowledge, can perform and demonstrate the advanced riding skills, and have shown my ability to observe and coach students to develop their skills on the riding range. Greg will be following along this same path to become a Total Control instructor for Total Rider Tech.

Sport Bikes 4 Hire and America Rides Maps have teamed up with Total Rider Tech to bring Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Clinics to the top motorcycle riding area in the nation, the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains.

Last Chance in the Smoky Mountain Area:

While we are scheduling classes for next year, there is one more opportunity to get into a Total Control Advanced Rider Clinic in the Smoky Mountain area this year – October 15 & 16th in Maryville, TN. You need to register right away to take advantage of it – (go here to sign up). I promise you it, regardless of your previous experience and training, Total Control will dramatically improve in your riding and safety on the road. LAST CHANCE THIS YEARSign up now!

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Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch - Cartographer

– 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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