By October 14, 2009

Random motorcycling tip #04: Watch the front wheels!

I’m not entirely sure if single vehicle accidents or multiple vehicle accidents are more common with motorcycles in the US right now. A single vehicle accident is when you lose control of the bike somehow and crash your shit up. These comprise the majority of the accidents I know about, usually in the form of taking a corner too fast. I see this type of accident as easily prevented, especially if you ride frequently. Not only do you get more experience when you ride a lot, but you may be less compelled to “cram in” all the good emotions of riding by hauling ass on the weekends — and ending up in a ditch.

Multiple vehicle accidents are the ones I am concerned the most about as a commuter. I also count smashing into deer or other animals as “multi-vehicle,” because really, who doesn’t hate deer? These are also the accidents that really piss off the motorcycling community. Just yesterday, a fellow member of an FJR forum was t-boned in an intersection by an old woman who ran a red light. Even though they are in the (perceived) minority, accidents involving an outside influence loom the largest in everyone’s mind. Even if most of the time it’s our fault by taking a 15MPH curve at 45, the accidents involving being rear-ended or turned in front of are larger specters.

Here are some techniques at avoiding being struck by a vehicle when you are approaching an intersection.

  • Watch the front wheels. This is a huge one. Start behaving extra cautiously if the wheels of the car in an intersection move, no matter what direction. This could mean the car is going to pull out in front of you. Sometimes it is okay if the car starts to move: they may be turning the opposite direction you are going. However, always be cautious.
  • Slide to the opposite side. If the car is on your left, slide to the right hand side of the lane. If the car is on your right, slide to the left half of your lane. This does a few things for you:
    1. It puts you further away from the car in case the driver pulls out in front of you. It buys you time.
    2. It might put you more in the driver’s field of vision.
    3. It introduces movement to the person about to turn. People are not good at evaluating the speed of oncoming objects. By moving laterally, you help give them a sense of speed as well as capitalize on a physiological attribute of the eye: peripheral vision is very good at capturing movement. The driver may notice you moving about in your lane as they check left, right, then left again.
  • Keep your finger on the horn. I’ve only had two drivers pull out in front of me in four years of riding. Neither one of them responded to my horn, but I let ‘er rip anyway. Horns seem to be more effective when people are coming into your lane. However, every little bit helps.
  • Do the Bee Dance. Bees communicate with each other by shaking their asses and flying in patterns. Do the same when approaching an iffy intersection. I weave, gently and under control, in my lane. I stop as I get closer to the intersection in case I need to make an evasive maneuver. I have done this many times and it works. It works particularly well on more remote country roads, where car drivers don’t expect any traffic at all, let alone a motorcycle. If you ride in a group, this also alerts the people behind you to pay attention.

There are some other, general visibility tips that apply to motorcycle safety in general. Honestly, I think that it only makes you more noticeable to people who would already see you — people who claim they “didn’t see the motorcycle” probably won’t notice if you are wearing a white helmet and hi-viz green gear. That being said, visibility stuff is “free” as far as techniques go and don’t require any concentration or practice on your part. I believe that all visibility defenses are secondary, and you should never count on someone seeing you. I’ll go into visibility tips in another post, but motorcycle safety is an aggregation of technique, mindset, equipment, and experience.

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