Category Archives: motorcycle safety

Riding Skills: Keep Your Head Up


One of the joys of driving a nice car is looking out at the road over a cool fighter-pilot inspired dashboard. Of course your eyes are on the road, but you can see the speedometer in your lower field of vision – always ready for a quick glance at the speed or rpms or navigation system. The problem is, this perfectly good practice of having the instrument panel in your field of vision when driving a car encourages a really bad habit for motorcyclists… In a car, you can see the instrument panel while seated in the proper driving position looking out at the road; but in a motorcycle, the only way to see the instrument panel is if you’re head is down looking at the front wheel.

This is why full race bikes do not have speedometers and many racing schools tape over the speedos of their school bikes. Because when you’re riding properly there’s no time to look down at the gauges… In the same way when you’re looking into a corner while turning, if you’re looking in the right place, you won’t be able to see the front of the bike: you shouldn’t be able to see the front wheel, or the gauges, or the mirrors (check your mirrors before you begin a turn) because you’ll be looking in a different direction entirely.

One of the reason people have trouble with sharp turns is because they’re not used to looking away from the bike deep into the turns. And one of the main causes of crashes is a rider being unable to turn the bike sharply (even though the bike is more than capable of the turn). Because the only way you’ll be able to (really) lean a bike over on its side is if you turn your head and look in that direction.

So here’s the tip: Eyes up here buddy! If you can see your speedo by just looking down with your eyes, then your head is probably in the wrong position. Learn to judge your speed with your eyes rather than using your gauges (that’s what the pros do)… Cheers!

Riding Skills: An Exit Strategy

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? Continue reading

Crazy (in a good way) Bikers and Chili Peppers

Today is a heavy traffic day. And it’s hot… And there are a lot more trucks than usual. And did I mention the temperature? But every time I think it’s too hot to wear a jacket or too difficult riding a sportbike I think of this guy… See video.

There’s another guy, Nick Sanders, who’s going around the world (for the 7th time!) on a motorcycle, and I think he’s doing it on a R1. But Sjaak (“shock”) Lucassen was probably the first to try and make a trip like this on a sportbike…and he wears full leathers…in the jungle…on an R1. Now I think he’s crazy, but this has got to be the epitome of motorcycling. The sense of freedom. The sense that you can, quite literally, go anywhere.

Let’s Talk Motorcycle Jackets

[Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Orlando Bloom in their leather jacket glory…]

Okay so here’s the truth about leather motorcycle jackets… And this is directed mainly at the men – women already have a good handle on this… Hey buddy, I know you THINK you look really cool in your motorcycle jacket – or you think you WOULD look cool walking around in that jacket – but you’d actually look like a dork (or an a**hole or scumbag, or like you’re going through a midlife crisis). There I said it. Even rock stars and movie stars look like that way – it’s just that they (sometimes) have enough cool to overcome it. Leather jackets don’t t actually make you look cool – I know you think it does, which is why your friends have asked me to tell you. It’s kind of sad. So thanks for understanding.

Now with that out of the way we can talk about motorcycle jackets. They’re for safety, not glamour. So you might want to spend the money on the parts of the jacket that are really worth it…

Comfort

Usually, the lighter and more comfortable something is, the less abrasion resistance it has… So mesh jackets (generally) have the least abrasion resistance, thicker textiles a little more, and leather even more depending on the thickness. But the best protection won’t be any good if it’s too hot and uncomfortable to wear… And safety gear isn’t very safe if it gives you heat exhaustion sitting in traffic.

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Three Ways to Make Motorcycles as Safe as Minivans

There’s something Darwinian about motorcycling that you don’t find with Minivans…” – Anonymous

In the end the death rate of motorcyclists and automobile drivers is and always has been 100%” – Anonymous

The problem with motorcycles (in the US) is that it makes up just 1% of the vehicles on the road, but 19% of the fatalities… So traveling by car is reasonably safe. And riding a motorcycle is still reasonably safe (compared to your odds of getting smoking related disease for instance); nevertheless you’re still 19 times more likely to be killed in a motorcycle accident than a car accident.

So what can we do to make motorcycles safer?

Get training and develop your skills – nearly half of all motorcycle deaths are in single vehicle accidents. And, along with that, half of all motorcycle fatalities happen while trying to negotiate a curve. Someone goes too quickly around a turn and winds up driving into a divider (for instance). These are the saddest kinds of accidents because they really don’t need to happen. With proper training and riding skills, and the wisdom to ride within one’s limits, there’s no need to be in a single vehicle accident… EVER…

I’m convinced that training is the key: It is very rare for a MotoGP rider to be killed in an accident…there has only been one in recent memory (and another Japanese rider who was killed in a traffic accident involving a truck). But NONE have ever been killed in a single vehicle accident. These are highly trained riders who take lots of risks. You too can be a highly trained rider – taking fewer risks – and eliminate your likelihood of ever being part of this unfortunate statistic altogether.

Wear a Helmet – You’ll find websites that argue against mandatory helmet laws… And they’ll argue that the number of motorcycle fatalities in helmet-law states are the same or higher than states that don’t have helmet laws… That may be true! BUT… Here’s the thing: 50% of all motorcycle fatalities are people who are NOT wearing helmets, with head trauma being the main injury (National Highway Traffic Administration). So whether or not it’s a law in your state, wear a full face helmet.

Don’t Drink and Ride – People often get by driving a little tipsy… You shouldn’t do it! But people do – and they get away with it for a long time… However, you absolutely cannot, and should not ever try to ride a motorcycle under the affect of any alcohol or drugs or prescription medicines… 31% of fatal motorcycle accidents involved riders who were intoxicated.  You can even do one better by not riding while exhausted…being exhausted or sleepy can be just as dangerous as being under the influence – mtorcycling requires too much concentration for that…

Notice – just by sticking to these three principles you can lessen the statistical danger of motorcycling to a level comparable with driving a car. Add to that some good safety gear, and a healthy does of common sense and you’re in suburban soccer-mom territory (with regards to safety). Accidents will happen, but with a little effort you can prepare for them and avoid the unnecessary risks that make motorcycle statistics look grim.

Best Practices: Xena Disc Lock

Hey we’re in the middle of the motorcycle theft season… So if you have a type of bike that’s often stolen (in NY that’s most sportbikes…) then you always want to make it a little more difficult for would-be thieves… My usual practice is…when I park my bike on the street over night I’ll usually chain up the front wheel to a post using two OnGuard Beast chains and locks and on the rear disc I’ve used a little Bully disc lock (these things are cheap – $16 – and work great).  But recently I got a Xena disc lock – and if I had known how nifty these things were I would have gotten one sooner!  So here’s a little mini-review of the thing…

It’s pricey for a disk lock (but cheap for an alarm) at around $70 for the XR-1.  This one has a 6mm locking pin that fits into the holes in the brake calipers on most sportbikes.  It’s also small enough to fit under the seat of my 600RR (the other models run around $100 and are a little bulkier).  These sometimes look a little flimsy in the pictures but when you hold one you can see how solid it is, it seems heftier than the Bully…and the polished metal is cool looking…

The alarm comes with two sets of batteries and a hex wrench to get at the alarm component.  It arms itself when it’s locked onto something.  There’s a sensor in the mouth of the alarm that senses if there’s something in the mouth of the lock which arms the alarm.  This way you can store the unit locked or hang it off your passenger pegs without the alarm activating… Just locking the pin doesn’t activate the alarm, there has to be something in its mouth… This is a great idea – on the one hand you’ll never forget to arm your alarm.  On the other hand, you won’t set off the alarm just carrying it on your passenger pegs or trunk.

The alarm is NOT terribly loud – much quieter than a car alarm (and less annoying), but I can hear it from my apartment if my bike is parked outside…especially at night when it’s quieter.  And it’s not supersensitive: the wind hasn’t set it off, but tilting the bike does…  Also you can use the disc lock without the alarm (or if the batteries die – they’re supposed to last 8 months), and according to the company you can replace the alarm without replacing the entire disc lock.

So if you’re looking into getting a little added security for your bike – I give the Xena two thumbs up…  If you are riding a high theft bike – get some chains, and if you have money left over a Xena for the rear…  If you are a more sensible type and ride a bike that isn’t a common target of theft – then a good disc lock is probably all you need – but the Xena might give you a little extra peace of mind.  Cheers!

Body Positions: Hanging Off…

“Hanging off” is mainly a road race technique – but I think there is a place for it on public roads in situations where you need to turn but want to keep the bike as upright as possible. Now this isn’t for emergency maneuvers, and this isn’t something that most people need to think about – beginner riders should be much more concerned with getting locked into a good position, one that enables you to steer, accelerate and decelerate quickly. BUT….there is a place for hanging off, because hanging off is an effective way for you to lean the bike less while getting the same rate of turn. So take this, for what it’s worth – as a more advanced riding concept/technique.

How do you do it?

It’s a very simple idea (although difficult to do properly). The key is to first find a good upright riding position, then sliding over so that you’re sitting on one butt cheek with your shoulders lined up facing straight ahead. Your head should sit straight pretty much above your torso and at the same time be at or past the rear view mirror toward the inside of the turn. Here, Pedrosa’s head is all the way to his right (where the right mirror would be)and his torso is pretty much lined up straight with his chest facing forward. You are literally shifting over one butt cheek to one side, but everything else remains straight.

What NOT to do…
You don’t want to do what MOST people do when they try to hang off: which is, get your butt way off the seat but leave your head and torso pretty much in the center (behind the windscreen). That’s called being “crossed up” – the lower half is hanging off, but the upper half is in the same place. It’s actually the upper part of your torso that you want to be concerned with. As in most of life: It’s where you place your head that makes the biggest difference, not your butt.

To experiment with this concept, try this when cornering: First take a turn the normal way, locked in, sitting straight up on the bike. Then try it a second way… Stay seated as you normally would, but put your head as far as you can to the inside (try to ‘kiss the mirrors’). You should notice a huge (depending on how much you weigh v. your bike weighs) difference in how much you need to lean the bike for the same corner speed. The idea of hanging off is that it simply enables you to get your head even further to the inside of the corner…

What professional riders do on the track is, as they approach a turn they get into their full hang-off position as they are braking, and when they turn in they are already in position to minimize lean angle (or maximize speed). You need to get in position before the turn…which is why this isn’t all that useful on the street in emergency situations. It can however be useful on long turns (like entrances and exit ramps) when the ground is slick or questionable – you can get around safer by keeping the bike more upright through turn leaving you a greater safety margin in case you hit a slick spot or gravel.

How does it work?

The basic idea is that if you look at where the weight is placed on the tire during the turn, figure A is identical to figure B, but it can be accomplished with less lean. The heavier you are, and the lighter the bike is, the more impact your body position will have on the lean angle. *Good note for scooter riders!* If you’re tired of scraping the center stand, you can work on your body position during turns… The principle is the same. Cruiser riders will get less benefit off of this, but there is still a noticeable difference that may make it worth your while.

So that’s the idea, but of course you don’t get better reading a blog, so get out there and ride safe!
Cheers!