Everyone’s probably heard about the recent spill Hollywood cool guy, George Clooney, took while riding a rented Harley in Jersey. It’s unfortunate, but accidents happen, and luckily both riders were (pretty much) okay, although breaking anything is no fun! But this gives us an opportunity to raise a hypothetical question: Let’s say you’re you’re travelling 40-50 mph down a single lane road. A car ahead of you slows while approaching an intersection and appears to be turning left. You move to the right to pass him when he suddenly turns right into your path. Now what most of us would probably do in that situation is endeavor to crash as gracefully as possible. But since this is a hypothetical situation, we can get a little more creative and consider our options… What could you do?
Option 1 – BrakeHard!!!
This may sometimes be your best option. Especially if you’re in the habit of practicing emergency braking. You might even be smart to make the most of the rear brakes, especially if you have a passenger…
The main problem with this, however, is that braking is where motorcycles are weakest compared to cars; you can’t swerve while braking, and it’s very easy to lock up the wheels in a surprise situation. In real world driving cars can brake faster with fewer consequences than motorbikes. As a result option 1 is very likely to bring you to a crash – but you may be able to scrub off enough speed so that the crash is not too severe.
Main Difficulty – It’s easy to lock the brakes (especially the rear) in an emergency – a locked wheel doesn’t brake as efficiently…
Option 2 – Swerve Right!
If you’re a quick turn guru on a supersport, this would be your best bet. Most sport bikes can out corner cars going half their speed. The only problem is this is easier said than done! Your body has to be in the right position for a sharp turn -(i.e., low to the tank, or hanging off to the right) not to mention your passenger! This also depends a lot upon the type of bike you’re riding; good luck trying quick-turn an 800 lb Harley.
Main Difficulty – Emergency situations cause target fixation – it’s hard to tear your gaze away from the car. You need to quickly look in the direction you want to go and counter-steer aggressively to move in that direction…
Option 3 – Brake then swerve!
Scrub off some speed, THEN go for the quick turn. Unless you can get off the brake and get on the gas, there’s a good chance you’ll low side – but scrubbing off some speed may make the turn more manageable. But a note of warning for arm chair throttle jockeys, switching from hard braking to a sharp turn requires a great deal of skill.
Main Difficulty – You have to get off the brakes and on the throttle before turning. Not doing this will lead to a low-side (which might sometimes be a reasonable alternative to a head on crash). Once you’re off the brakes you need to look in the direction you want to go and aggressively counter steer in that direction…
So which is best?
Any landing that you can walk/limp away from is a good landing, but strictly from a theoretical perspective, the best option is #2, then #3, then #1… Why?
Even though motorcycle tires have less traction when leaned over, turning helps take that perpendicular momentum and redirect it. So instead of asking your tires to bring you from 50 to 0 in 20 feet (which is pretty much impossible), by turning the bike instead, in the same distance, the tires only need a fraction of the grip to bring the perpendicular speed (from point A to Point B) down to 0.
Now this is theoretical, in real life you have leaves and gravel and pedestrians – but it pays to consider your emergency options… Even if you are unable to clear the offending automobile with a combination of turning and braking, a collision at less than 45 degrees can greatly reduce the amount of impact of a straight collision. (I had a surprise run-in with a cab changing lanes, once, and managed to stay upright at around 35 degrees – my foot pegs gave the cab some nice scars too…)
Of course there’s one more option we haven’t mentioned: Option #4 – steer clear of these situations by being wary of drivers. Cars frequently turn left before turning right (seems to be a strange psychological tic people get from pendulums) or signal in one direction before changing their minds – these are precisely the moments when people aren’t aware of their surroundings… So option 4, the best option by far is to be aware and avoid these situations.
There are a million variables that could go into a real world situation – I only addressed a theoretical one. What would you do? Ever have this happen to you? Share the wealth and let us know…
[Good luck and a quick recovery to George and Sarah – hope we see you on the road soon!]