September 15, 2005

Manifesto: safe motorcycling is possible, but is the responsibility of the rider

Motorcycling: it's just suicidal isn't it? A mad gamble with death in the name of speed. After all, no matter what a rider does, no matter how skilled, its always the other drivers who are the threat. NO! This is a myth, It is simply not true, and the statistics prove it. Most motorcycle accidents can be avoided through better riding skills, better observation, more intelligence, experience, and better precautions. Many of them are caused by motorcyclists just making really basic mistakes. Here's the statistics for causes of accidents, along with the widely accepted methods of avoiding them.

The advice is compiled from advanced motorcycle training guides, and much experience, as in 75,000 miles of experience. It is also the result of a fundamental difference between car drivers and motorcyclists. Car drivers pass their test and never give a second thought to road safety and driving skills. Pick up this months copy of the leading motorcycle magazine RiDE, and you'll see that the main article (featured on the front cover) is an in depth analysis of safe overtaking techniques.

The guiding principle behind much work by the police, DoT and other bodies is that by applying these principles, accidents can be reduced dramatically. This is well worked out craft. The police even have a formal system governing every aspect of how they ride. Obviously some accidents will still happen. For example, a rider being hit by debris on a Catalan motorway can do little to predict or avoid disaster (although wearing a helmet gives him a life-saving advantage over a car driver who would be killed by an object smashing through their screen).

To begin, we have the most dramatic statistic, proving what all motorcyclists know, that they get it wrong in bends.

  • lost control on right hand bend – 16.7%
  • lost control on left hand bend – 13.7%
  • motorcycle crosses carriageway on l/h bend and collides with oncoming vehicle – 5.9%
  • motorcycle crosses carriageway on r/h bend and collides with oncoming vehicle – 3.9%

Yes, the fact is that most accidents are caused by riders simply not understanding how to go around corners. This is essentially alleviated by a formal method of control: adjusting the speed of the bike in accordance with the distance of the "vanishing point" of view away from the direction of travel of the bike.

Here's the trick: the further to the left or the right the point is, the more extreme the bend. If the point is moving quickly away, then the bend is tightening fast: slow down. If the point suddenly moves to the center, and forwards observation (of tree lines, hedges etc) suggests that a straight is ahead, it is time to accelerate. If the point stays to the side but is stable, then you're on a perfect sweeper. This is a technique that requires practice and constant monitoring. It must be taken very seriously.

The aim is to enter a bend so that sudden deceleration in not necessary, and the bike can smoothly accelerate through it. In addition, the official police method advises that the position of the bike be adjusted to gain a better view around the bend. For example, in a left hander, move over to the right to get a better view. Further issues to be taken into consideration include the observation of adverse camber, road surface and debris, and mid-bend junctions. Speed must also be adjusted so that the motorcycle may be braked within the limits of forward vision available into the bend. In other words, don't ride around a blind corner and slam into a stationary vehicle.

  • right turning vehicle hit by overtaking motorcycle – 12.7%

Simple. Absolutely never overtake at a junction, or anywhere that this may happen. However, it is probably the case that many riders just do not realise that they are overtaking at a junction. This is alleviated by adopting the correct observation position on the road whilst judging if the overtake is safe. That means dropping back and moving around the road to take better information. If there is any doubt, just don't do it. There will always be another opportunity to pass a little further down the road. As a final extra precaution, during the day go to full-beam and produce more noise before commencing the overtake.

  • motorcycle hit by emerging vehicle at junction – 9.8%
  • motorcycle collides with vehicle turning right across its path – 7.8%

Forward observation is essential. Always assume a road position that offers as wide a field of view as possible. That means dropping back from the car in front. Always ensure that drivers of cars at junctions are looking your way. Use your horn and engine noise to attract attention. If in any doubt, slow right down – this makes little difference to a bke, which can easily gain speed again.

  • motorcycle collides with rear of stationary vehicle at junction – 7.8%

I can't imagine how this can be caused by anything other than tiredness or riders not appreciating that their bikes accelerate twice as quickly as a car.

  • fell off – 6.9%

Practice control! Many of these are slow speed manouvres, particularly difficult on sports bikes with limted steering lock.

  • collisions on roundabouts – 6.9%

I assume that there are three causes for this:

  1. The traffic on the roundabout suddenly stopping (a common occurrence), the bike is cranked over to enjoy the corner, and hence cannot do an emergency stop. Solution: never lean hard in a roundabout that has traffic in front.
  2. Spilt diesel on roundabouts. Scumbag drivers of poorly maintained commercial vehicles spill diesel as they go around. For a cranked-over motorcycle on a wet road this means loss of control. Go slow on wet roundabouts.
  3. Vehicles coming onto the roundabout into the path of the bike. Solution: never ride beyond the limits of your view. If you can't see what is coming onto the roundabout, slow down. Secondly, never trust car drivers to see you at a junction. If necessary, slow right down. Use your horn, that's what it is for.
  • stationary motorcycle hit from behind – 5.9%
  • There are two causes of this, the first of which is entirely avoidable:

    1. The braking power of modern bikes is far greater than any other vehicle. This is good if you have to stop in a hurry. However, you will always out-brake the moron tail-gating car driver behind. They only ever watch brake lights, they will not predict that you are about to stop dead in a fraction of a second. Solutions: leave plenty of space for smoothe slow braking. Control the car behind through slowing it down, and through touching the brake leaver early to engage the brake lights, even when not actually braking.
    2. You are at the back of a stationary row of traffic. A driver simply fails to see you. Solutions: high visibility clothes. Also, always leave some space in front so that you can roll into it if a car seems to be driving towards you to quickly. Car drivers will find this hard to believe, but if I am ever in this position, I watch what is happening behind, and I will roll forwards just in case.
  • others – 2.0%
  • OK, ultimately the world is not entirely predictable. Random accidents happen. For example, I once saw a car the screen of which had been punctured by iron bars knocked from a fence on an overpass above. In such a case there is nothing that can be done. If you buy the best helmet, kevlar armoured clothes, gloves and boots, you stand a better chance of survival.

    The ultimate aim of motorcyling, whether as a sport or as a daily activity, is as follows: make rapid progress, smoothely, in complete control, and without any mistakes. Remember that Valentino Rossi is MotoGP champion because he goes fast, stays in control, and doesn't crash.

    - One comment Not publicly viewable

    1. David

      I concur with Robert O'Toole.
      32 years ago when teaching me to ride a motorcycle my father told me: "It is ALWAYS your fault." Meaning every dangeours situation can be predicted and managed. I took this advice. He taught me many techniques that are today classed as "advanced riding".
      After 40 motorcycles and 750,000 miles I have yet to have an accident. Thanks Dad
      On the otherhand my nephew who has just acquired a moped had a minor crash after slipping on a fuel spill. His CBT trainer had not explained the dangers of manhole covers, fuel spills and other slippery surfaces. Things I was taught before I was allowed to sit on my first bike.
      Are we really making progress here ?

      12 Oct 2005, 13:39

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