Thursday, September 29, 2011

How To Not Die On A Motorcycle

Earlier this week in Seattle another area motorcyclist was killed due to a driver "not seeing him". He died after a BMW cut across two lanes of traffic and forced him to brake so severely that the bike crashed.
It's easy to blame the driver whenever there is a car vs. motorcycle incident, and in many cases we should blame the driver. However that blame can sometimes feel like an admission that as riders we have no control over the situation, and are helpless in the face of four-wheeled mayhem.
The ugly truth is that we are not as good at riding as we think we are. Combine this with the fact that most car drivers are incredibly bad at driving, and it leads to us getting injured and killed. We can ask the drivers to pay better attention, but we can also improve our own riding skills and take steps to increase our safety. Below is a list of some steps I think we can all take to make our riding safer. We can't control every factor, but we can improve our chances out there.

  1. Get a copy of Proficient Motorcycling. Read it all the way through, and then read it every winter after that. It really does help keep your riding skills sharp.
  2. If you haven't already taken the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Beginner Rider Course, consider doing so ASAP. You can find a location near you by clicking here. If you've already taken the Beginner Rider Course, consider signing up for the Intermediate or Advanced Courses offered at most locations. These are not just for motorcycles! Scooterists will learn a great deal from these courses, and have a much better sense of control on the road.
  3. Seriously consider switching to a full-faced helmet. The most common area of the head that impacts the ground or other barrier in a crash is your mouth and chin, and although an injury there may not kill you, it will maim and hurt you. Full-face helmets may look dorky if you're on a scooter, but they are great protection in a crash.
  4. On a similar note, consider some safety gear other than a helmet. Gloves are very nice when you come off the bike and instinctively put your hands out to stop your fall, and they keep your fingers warm. An armored jacket from Corazzo or other Tourmaster or another vendor will seriously improve your chances in a crash. A friend of mine was t-boned by a truck while riding her scooter and ended up sliding about 40 feet on her back down the road. She was wearing an armored jacket and was able to limp the bike and herself home after recovering. The bike was completely totaled.
  5. Practice makes perfect! Every spring I like to find a huge parking lot with no traffic and practice slow-speed turns, weaving, sudden stops, etc. Sidewalk chalk is cheap and useful for marking out a course, and you can use old tennis balls that have been cut in half as low-cost "cones". If you can find a current or old MSF parking lot that isn't being used, it will already have a course marked out for you. Usually a few hours of practice makes me feel much more confident and in control.
  6. It may seem odd, but I found that the Twist of the Wrist II DVD was pretty useful to me as both a motorcyclist and a scooterist. Keith Code's tips in the video helped me ride my scooter better than I every have before.
  7. If you've already mastered all the MSF courses, consider attending one of the more advanced schools out there that can push your capabilities up into unreal levels. The Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic is a touring clinic designed to improve your riding by giving you incredibly advanced control over your particular bike. Instructors have been known to knee-down a Honda Goldwing at low speed to demonstrate how any bike can be piloted better. The Keith Code Superbike School provides the bikes and lunch, and will improve your riding on the road while teaching you how to ride very well on the track. He uses a lot of specially designed bikes to teach various lessons on the track. There are lots of other advanced riding courses offered around the world; check your local area to see what's offered.
  8. [Self-promotion] If you're in the Seattle area, consider stopping by one or more of the Cafe Clinics at Cafe Racer. They're intended for all levels of rider, for scooterists and motorcyclists alike. Come early to have some breakfast and talk about riding with other folks who might have some tips on any problem areas you have, and then stick around for a short talk about the topic of the week from yours truly. Most of the data I present is taken straight from the other sources listed above, and so far people have been pretty happy with the format. [/Self-promotion]
That's quite a list, but the tips above may be the difference between that idiot in the car killing you, and just missing you. Ride safe.

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