By November 11, 2009

Random Motorcycling Tip #08: Surviving a highway off-ramp

I wrote about how I merge onto the highway on my motorcycle last month. Now that you’re on the horse, we’re going to discuss the dismount. Here’s how you can stay safer when exiting the highway.

You really have to look out for two things when leaving the highway: cars also trying to exit and your turn entry speed.

Slow down and watch your entry speed on the off ramp.

If you listen to most motorcyclists, the #1 enemy of a rider is an automobile. According to crash stats, your worst enemy is yourself. Motorcyclists tend to crash up more by themselves than when contacting a vehicle, and the majority of those incidents occur during turns.

There are three kinds of motorcyclists:

  1. Road/touring motorcyclists such as myself who practice navigating traffic safely and add in a dash of “speed” training/practice.
  2. Racing motorcyclists who spend time at racing schools and racing tracks, learning to navigate turns at great speed safely, and maybe add in a dash of “street” experience.
  3. The majority of motorcyclists who never take any training, may or may not have a license, and will probably have an accident within six months of learning how to ride — quite often avoidable or mitigated by training and protective gear. These people are squids and I pray they are not on my insurance carrier.

Anyway, the reason for this distinction is that racing techniques such as trail braking, getting your ass off of the seat, etc are nice to know but not very relevant for the street. Yes, you may be able to carve a perfect line and drag your knee through the apex of a turn while lightly working the rear brake on a smooth-as-glass-track. However, riding that close to the performance edge of your machine on the street is asking for an accident you may not be able to walk away from.

So, slow it down. Yes you may be able to haul ass on your bike. Yes you may have received training or burned through several sets of tires on track days. Trust me on this, I have rounded the off-ramps near my work and house plenty of times to find traffic at a dead stop due to an accident or congestion. Bombing an off-ramp is a really bad idea.

Watch your six … and your ten … and your eight … and …

If you’ve spent any street saddle time on your motorcycle you may have already developed an obsession about watching your mirrors. There was an accident on the commute home from work on Monday; I had to shed a lot of speed quickly as the cars in front of me dove and skittered. I turned my head so that I could see what was going on with one eye and my right mirror with another. I wasn’t so worried about stopping in time as I was the car behind me not noticing the action and running me over.

When you deal with an off-ramp you need to keep an eye on the car behind you. Especially if you took my first point of advice and slowed down. Cars take off-ramps differently, and often enter “hot” and brake like morons as they realize they are going too fast. Quite often I enter an off-ramp with a car on my ass; by the time I make my exit they are far behind me. My speed is consistent, but theirs was not. Watch your behind.

The added “thrill” of a high-activity off-ramp occurs from people not knowing where they are going or driving too aggressively. The worst is a combination of the two: that pissed off guy in the BMW 328i who is lost and cuts across three lanes of highway traffic to squeeze onto a 25MPH exit ramp.

Keep an eye out for people trying to exit at the last moment. They may be lost, and will be so concerned with making their exit that they won’t see you.

Keep an eye out for people trying to sneak ahead of just one more car. They may be going too fast and commit to a lane change, only to see you too late to do anything.

Exiting might seem like a blessing when you first start out riding a motorcycle on the highway. Riding at potentially lethal speeds makes everything seem more difficult: lane changes, overtaking slower cars, negotiating turns. Getting back to street-level speeds might seem like such a reward that you let your guard down once you approach an off-ramp. Just keep in mind that the most activity on the highway between the greatest number of vehicles at the most varied range of speeds occurs on off-ramps and on-ramps.

Stay mindful of your surroundings, and keep the shiny side up.

Posted in: motorcycling

1 Comment on "Random Motorcycling Tip #08: Surviving a highway off-ramp"

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  1. Ric says:

    In the UK, my approach is to exit and aim to maintain a speed that allows me to stop in the space ahead that I can see to be clear.

    If a loon behind me forces me to ride faster than I’m comfortable with, I plan and position myself to start filtering if I encounter stationary traffic at a speed too high for either me or the person behind me to stop safely.

    I’ve needed to use this planning once, and watched the person who had been following me pile into the back of the traffic queue from my mirror as I filtered down the outside of the queue, gradually scrubbing speed off.