Friday, August 31, 2012

Motorcycle Vigilance

On Wednesday as I was going to work, two young boys on bicycles did something incredibly stupid. They left the sidewalk, rode out across a heavily congested Boise thoroughfare without warning, and subsequently caused several vehicles to slam on their brakes. Unfortunately, a black Harley Davidson Road King was embedded in traffic. The rider slammed into the car in front of him.

I was about 400 feet north of the accident and saw the whole thing unfold as I traveled south. The rider was flat on his back with a huge bloody laceration on the back of his head as I passed by. The throttle was wide open as the weight of the right side of the bike was bearing down onto the pavement. I'm not sure what happened to those idiot kids.

Several years ago, law enforcement fell into this trend of calling motor vehicle accidents "collisions" because as the theory goes..."accidents" were preventable and the term collision was more precise.  Such is the minutia of our age.

I have ridden a quarter million miles on motorcycles over 30 years. I have been in four accidents. They were probably all preventable. It didn't matter who had the right of way. In any collision involving a motorcycle, the motorcyclist loses. So the idea of simply riding and obeying the law will not work for riders. People running stop lights will kill you. It will not matter to your loved ones or your corpse who had the right of way. So what I thought I'd do today is list some things that have nearly killed me, wrecks that I have witnessed, things to pay attention to. My collective experience.

1. If you don't have to ride a motorcycle, don't start. They are extremely dangerous and if they were invented tomorrow, they'd be outlawed.

2. Now that you have ignored the sound advice listed in (1)... here is the list.

3. Learn HOW to properly ride a motorcycle. Learn how to lean, how to operate both brakes in unison. Learn when not to ride- like in rain, ice, or at night. Always check your bike's equipment, tires, brake lines before riding. Don't modify your bike with extreme accessories. Heavily modified bikes are harder to maneuver. Giant ape hangers will not help you avoid a collision. Modified bikes are in a proportionately higher amount of fatal collisions than less modified bikes. Some modifications are good. Consider those. Many bikes have anti lock brakes and Gold wings have airbags. Really.

4. Wear protective clothing. Closed footwear, gloves, leather. Protective eye wear. Cover areas of the body that will be struck by flying debris like sand, rocks, insects, or other airborne objects.

5. Wearing a helmet is up to you and the law where you live. In areas I am unfamiliar with, I wear the helmet. On local trips to the store and back, I don't. If I am familiar with a route, I will leave the helmet behind. If you are an inexperienced rider with less than 10 years time, I would say...wear a helmet. If you have a passenger- make them wear a helmet.

6. Always ride in the number 1 lane or near the crown (middle) of a road. You get a little bit more reaction time and objects around intersections become more visible. You have more room to maneuver rather than being pinned against a curb. Debris slides down the crown of a road and you are less likely to strike it.

7. Always watch for debris on the road. Rocks, loose sand, RV air conditioner lids, lumber. Never, ever ride behind a vehicle with an unsecured load. I watched a plastic cooler lid come out of the back of a truck once and nearly take the head off of a rider in front of me. In fact, I avoid riding behind pickups if I can- especially those just merging onto a highway.

8. Triple your following distances. You and your bike weigh a combined 1000 pounds. Trying to get that type of weight shut down using only about 3 squares inches of rubber on two tires- makes for some harrowing stops. That's why bikes get put down. They slow down (more friction) better on their sides and I am not kidding. Obviously, speed in excess of 70 calls for you to dramatically increase following distances. If it is raining, you are really in trouble. Wet brakes and a wet surface will virtually guarantee you will slide forever. I refuse to ride in rain unless I am someplace desolate or the rain is light or I can reduce my speed considerably. Even when it's dry, motorcycles are hard to stop. I left 140 feet of skid marks at 50 MPH once and still managed to break my arms, ribs, and put a 4000 dollar dent into a Ford F-150. 

9. Do not ride at night if at all possible. If you must, know the route well. I cannot tell you how many riders I know that have been killed and injured by loose livestock and wild animals. The number of DUI drivers tend to increase after 11 PM. I hit a giant pothole one night in Kansas City which threw us both off the bike and caused 2 grand worth of damage. At 5 MPH. I would have seen that giant crater during the day. Bad things happen to motorcycles when it's dark out.

10. Notice blind intersections on routes you use frequently. They kill and injure riders all of the time. If shrubbery, buildings, planter boxes, signs, and other obstacles are blocking another motorist's view of you- you won't see them either. Never enter a blind intersection, even with a green light, without looking for idiots running through it. Three times this has saved my life- last year I had an idiot running a red light miss me by less than a yard. I forgot this rule and almost became roadkill. Note blind intersections and never forget them- avoid them where you can.

11. Never, ever, trust other motorists. With the advent of cellphones this has gotten worse. When changing lanes, always physically glance. I still do. Every once in awhile I catch someone in a blind spot that I didn't know was there. I don't ever trust turn signals.

12. Most collisions with other vehicles occur when someone exits parking onto a roadway quickly or turns left in front of you. These types of collisions are hard things to prevent such as deer running out of roadside trees. This is the best case I can make for wearing a helmet. Sometimes collisions are unpreventable.

13. Know the routes you are traveling in advance on long trips. Avoid chip sealed highways and highways where they are stripping and eating the pavement away as they prepare for a new layer of asphalt. These areas of road "destruction" can be very hazardous. Especially when people are exceeding posted speeds on chip seal that has not been swept.

14. Gut instinct. If something doesn't feel right, don't act irrationally. Years ago I was following a farmer doing 50 MPH in a 60 zone in Iowa. I was going to pass him but I didn't. I could see his head bobbing around. Suddenly he turned left, no blinker, right through a ditch to a field service road I would never have noticed. Had I been passing him...ugh. Be very careful around farm machinery also. They turn suddenly. In Idaho- we are mostly an open range state. Cows wander around and they are plenty stupid. Give all of those things a wide berth.

15. Don't ever drink or drug while riding. Don't subject yourself to diminished reaction times. Taking a dangerous activity and making it even more dangerous- thins the herd quickly.

16. One last thing that I almost forgot. Always check your mirrors when stopped in traffic at a light or a sign. Be prepared to run a light if you have to. People rear end motorcycles too. 

17. Don't ride motorcycles.

Years ago, my boss suggested getting motorcycles for the police department. I politely refused. Motorcycles offer no cover and they are simply too dangerous where kids (young cops) are concerned. And when I say kid- I am talking about anyone under 30. Ten years of riding experience would be my bare minimum plus training courses. I love motorcycles. I don't want to discourage anyone from riding but riders should understand the dangers. They are plenty and they can be grievous. I have had two broken arms, a few broken ribs, and more lacerations and road rash than I care to remember. If you ride- please stay vigilant at all times.

Having said all of that, it is time to hop on my motorcycle and go to work. I wish you all a wonderful and safe Labor Day weekend.



Anonymous said...

Great post from someone with a ton of experience but re: No. 8 - in my experience (and I defer to yours), motorcycles do not slow better on their sides and a rider should gear down, brake, swerve and/or perform any other avoidance maneuver before "laying it down" as a very last resort. That said, I enjoy your site.

Anonymous said...

I've been riding bikes for almost thirty years, too, and would like to add:

#4 and #5. "Wear protective clothing". A helmet IS protective clothing. I won't get on a motorcycle without one, and neither should anybody else. That damn do-rag I see riders wearing all the time doesn't offer jack shit of protection to your brain.

#18. "Loud pipes save lives". BULLSHIT. Loud pipes destroy your hearing and everyone else's around you. They don't make one bit of impression on the idiots in their cars with their thumpthump stereos cranked up to where their ears bleed, and they make it harder to hear emergency vehicles as they approach. Just remember the ambulance that you aren't yielding the right-of-way to because you can't hear it may be carrying your wife or kid.

Just my $.02..........