Riding in and around NY is probably not quite like riding in other motorcycle towns. You don’t have windy roads with scenic outlooks, you have windy cabs with aggressive drivers on cell phones. The apex of a canyon turn never changes, but the proper line between an SUV, a cab and a delivery truck is constantly in flux. All the traditional advice holds true here: “ride like no one sees you”, “ride like they’re trying to kill you.” To which we can add one more: Always have an exit strategy! A VIABLE exit strategy…
How do you define a viable exit strategy? If any of the cars or trucks near you decided to suddenly come into your path, a viable exit strategy = having someplace to go and the time to get there. So if there’s a car ahead of you in your right lane, a possible exit strategies might include: [a] brake hard (if there’s no one behind you and you’re going at a reasonable speed); [b] swerve left (if there’s no one to the left or rear of you); [c] swerve to the right (to where the offending car came from). The point is that you should ALWAYS have an exit strategy should a driver decide to become inadvertently homicidal toward bikers. And it should be a VIABLE exit strategy meaning: Can you actually brake in time if that car decided to swerve (or are you going too fast)? Can you actually turn in time (or are you too close)? Can you actually get into that space if this truck decided to swerve for a pothole?
Some common problems to watch out for:
- Cars that swerve right to make a left turn (and vice versa) – I don’t know why people do this, but it seems to be a quite natural reflex. If there is a sharp left turn people steer right (first) and then left. This is dangerous for motorcycles in two ways.  Often the car will slow down a bit and begin to swerve…this can prompt a motorcyclist to try to pass the car. If the car swerves right, the motorcyclist tries to pass on the left and gets hit.  The car signals left and slows down, the motorcyclist goes to pass on the right and gets hit as the car swerves right.
- Cars stuck in a slow lane jumping out into the faster lane – This is a problem especially when you are in the free lane to the right…but it’s also a problem when you’re in the left lane as some cars have a bigger blind spot to the left.
- Cars and trucks swerving for potholes…
- Oncoming cars making left turns into your path – This is one of the most common causes of accidents…especially when you’re going fast. Even when they see you many drivers have trouble judging the speed at which you’re traveling toward them.
- Cars slowing down to make sudden illegal u-turns – Happened to me the other day…on a one-way road. The car slowed and pulled to the right lane while it was far ahead of me, then unexpectedly (to me) turned left and blocked the entire road in order to make a u-turn (did I mention it was a one-way street)…my only option was to emergency brake… What’s ironic about this is that the road was fairly empty – which probably contributed to this driver making such a bonehead move.
- Trucks making wide turns – When a truck makes a right turn there’s it will first move to the left of the lane and then turn late in order to clear the curb. If you’re making a right turn, it’s tempting to just pass it on the right. How fast is the truck moving? If you’re in that turn when the truck turns in you’re toast.
- Taxis crossing several lanes to get to the curb – this past holiday season an older couple was hurt and killed as a cab they were hailing crashed into another cab careened out of control and pinned them to a lamp post. Crazy! Most cab drivers are reasonably professional, but a few of them are exhausted and have little love for humanity… Cabs hit pedestrians all the time, so they’re the number one thing to watch out for in Manhattan. Most cabbies, when they see you, will make room for you to pass. But if a cabbie makes eye contact and still aggressively inches into your path, then be forewarned, he’s not one of the friendlies!
- Cars Trucks or Taxis running a red light – Just because you have a green light doesn’t mean it’s safe to go. Watch out for that red-light runner before you cross the intersection.
- Pedestrians – because we live in a society that values human life, there are many people walking the streets who have no common sense when it comes to traffic. Don’t just look for cars, look for pedestrians and have an exit strategy should one break loose from the curb unexpectedly.
- Buses and the cars stuck around them – Buses, especially the extended double buses, are some of the biggest causes of traffic along the Avenues. Whenever there are two or more buses you can expect zig zagging cars trying to get out from behind and pedestrians running into the street. Watch out because they can also be quite aggressive in taking over lanes.
Right now all the non-riders and non-New Yorkers are thinking, “Why would anyone want to ride in a place like that?” It’s often not as bad as it sounds. But like motorcycling in general, you need to manage risks effectively… And one of the key ways we manage risks riding in the city is to ALWAYS HAVE AN EXIT STRATEGY. It’s not enough to ride slow – riding slow can put you in danger. Ride smart, ride safe! Cheers!