You’ve gotten past the part where stalling the motorcycle at lights is the norm, and you’ve eliminated the “coast to a stop” as your standard mode of deceleration. A certain degree of confidence is beginning to show itself, and that’s good. Now is the time to “up your game” a little bit, and start learning little tricks that can make your motorcycle riding career safer and smarter.
Plan an Escape Before You Stop!
When you stop at a light, or behind a car, DON’T put the motorcycle in neutral and take your hands off the bars. Always keep your motorcycle in gear, clutch pulled in and a finger or two on the front brake. Maybe when the guy behind you stopped he gave you some space, but there’s no guarantee the guy behind HIM isn’t too busy yelling into his cell phone to notice everyone in front of him is already stopped! People often don’t do well at judging how far away they are from motorcycles, especially coming up from behind. You’ll find that cars will often get UNREASONABLY close to you and you should be ready to MOVE at any moment; a “fender bender” in a vehicle is a trip to the hospital for a biker.
Watch For Oil or Other “Car Blood” On The Road
Some guy had a bad vehicular day, and his transmission spit fluids everywhere. He didn’t have a good day – and you can have a worse one if you stop in a puddle of oil or other shiny gunk. Oil and bike tires are a bad match. When a motorcycle tire is coated in slick oil or other “vehicle blood”, even the slightest twist of the throttle can break the rear tire loose. Cool if you’re in the D1 Drift Circuit, not cool if you’re on a motorbike! Sand can also cause a graceful stop to become a floundering one. Being road aware at all time, not just when you stop, can prevent you from becoming part of the asphalt.
Stay Visible In Your Lane
Keeping yourself in the exact centre of the lane feels like a good thing, and while you’re moving, it can be. When coming to a stop on a motorcycle, drift a bit to the left as you aim your front wheel past the vehicle in front of you. When people are driving they tend to focus on what’s directly in front of and directly behind them. Since the steering wheel is on the left side of the car here (the CORRECT side), drivers are naturally going to be more aware of what’s going on in that plane of vision. By stopping your motorcycle in the left side of the lane, you can be sure that you’re getting the attention of drivers both in front of and behind you. Any attention you can draw to yourself on a bike, outside of making rude hand gestures, is good attention.
The Space Question
We’re beating this to death, but it’s extremely important to keep your options open for a split second escape when stopped. “How much space do I leave?” you ask. Leaving more than a couple of bike lengths between your motorcycle and the next car, encourages dummies to try and turn into the “vacant” space and not leaving enough can mean that you get put in a bad spot, should you need to escape in a hurry. There is no “correct” amount of stopping distance from the car in front of you but a fairly reliable yardstick is two motorcycle lengths. There’s nothing that will fill your pants faster (with you know what) on a bike than seeing a car in your mirror coming up fast behind you and having nowhere to go! You can’t fix the other drivers, but you can be ready for them.
The Mirror Trick
One final suggestion: while you’re stopped on your motorcycle – clutch in, first gear selected – is to tilt your handlebars a bit and rock the bike to the side so you can see a few cars behind you in your mirror. If one of them doesn’t seem to be slowing fast enough, or suddenly locks up all four and starts sliding, you have a couple of seconds warning – and for a bike, that’s usually enough time to get out of the way. Now go home and change your pants!
Riding a bike has incomparable moments of joy; but leathers, brains and reflexes are your only defences if someone else screws up – planning escape routes before you stop and being aware of oil and debris on the road at all times can prevent a good ride from turning into a bad ride. If you’re checking out the babe in the next car, who is also checking out you and your bike, don’t forget to notice when the light changes… Blaring horns totally ruin the moment!
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