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Tapping the brakes to signal drivers

I’ve gotten into the habit of tapping my brakes when I have traffic behind me and I’m about to initiate a turn or there’s congestion or an obstruction ahead. Motorcycle turn signals are entirely too small and hard to see. Tapping the brakes blinks the brake lights and can help get you noticed. There’s nothing worse than hearing the squeal of brakes behind you because an approaching driver didn’t notice you.

Modulated tail lights are a good idea too. The kits don’t cost much and they can be programmed to flash at different intervals. Every time you apply the brakes the lights flicker at a predetermined interval.

Swerving around turning traffic

On the way home I noticed another situation that can get ugly in a hurry. The car in front of me was waiting to turn left on a 2-lane road with traffic approaching in a 4-way intersection. In that instance, as a motorcyclist you’re left with a decision to make. Do you swerve around him or wait until he turns? Typically I’ll judge whether or not I have a clear view of what’s coming my way. If there’s another car coming toward us with a left turn signal on there’s no way I’m swerving around and entering his path; but if there’s approaching traffic, if I have room and a clear view I’ll slow up, tap the brakes, cover the front brake lever and swerve around him. As usual you have to be concerned with traffic behind you, in front of you and coming from both sides as well as the state of the pavement you’re about to swerve into. Above all controlling the bike is of the utmost importance should you need to react in any way.

In the instance in which I don’t intend to swerve around I generally try to move to the right third of my lane to discourage the driver behind me from trying to pass us both. I’ve been in the situation in which I didn’t move right, the guy behind me swerved around us both; but by the time he re-entered my lane I was beside him because the car in front had completed his turn and I had accelerated. Blocking, in that case, is a wise thing to do in my opinion.

Ride safe.

Dangers of anger

One evening I was headed home through a mall shortcut I take that keeps me away from a large, dangerous intersection. A driver ahead of me and to my right was waiting to pull out into my direction of travel. She saw me, I saw her and thought she would wait. Seeing traffic behind me, she decided to try and beat me which caused a panic stop and a grab of the air horn. I was so furious at nearly being taken out that I pulled alongside her and offered her a piece of my mind. As I looked back to the road I realized I was now in a curve and was heading for the curb. Now I was in a dangerous situation of my own doing. I had to throw my left leg out, lean and steer away from the curb.

I made three critical mistakes: 1) assumed the driver would wait 2) hit the air horn in anger which startled the driver and caused her to brake in front of me and 3) I let my anger divert my attention from my environment.

As motorcyclists we get angry, we’re exposed and vulnerable; but if we let our anger control our actions we often create situations far worse than the one we’re responding to.

Neutral or not?

There are different schools of thought on whether or not to put a bike in neutral at a stop light. I ordinarily stay in gear. The only time I go to neutral is when the person behind me has come to a complete stop and there’s no possibility of getting hit from behind. I’d much rather stay in gear and scan my mirrors to give myself an escape route should the car behind me not see me or should I need to take evasive action for another reason.

I also choose to stay well back of the car in front of me and to one side or the other. Again, this is to allow a buffer area and escape route. In neutral you are a sitting duck with no ability to act on your own behalf. There are of course situations on my commute where I need to stand to stretch or adjust my jacket. After 10 years I know which lights are long enough and which intersections are safe enough to do so in; but in unfamiliar environments it pays to give yourself an out.

Scanning the people around you

When pulling up behind someone at a light I always take notice of what they’re doing. Are they on the phone? Are they looking for something in the car? Are they eating? I do the same with people next to me and behind me. It’s just one more facet of being constantly aware. Noticing the habits of those around you gives you insight into their likely driving behavior. If a driver is distracted they may not know you’re there and will not take you into account, may change lanes without signaling,  may not be aware of other traffic, may not see you stop at a yellow light.

In most cases a driver of a car will turn his or her head slightly before turning, I watch their hands and heads and even take note of the condition of the car they’re driving. Anything and everything can clue you in and make it easier to ride defensively. It pays to be aware at all times, of the kind of environment you’re riding in.

Dangers around large, slow trucks

During my commute I’m always on the lookout for large, slow moving trucks (box trucks, semis, cement trucks, etc.). The reason is people commuting don’t want to get stuck behind them and as a result will often change lanes without signaling. In addition it’s difficult to see around them so if you were to pass them and don’t clear your blind spot you may find yourself in the path of another vehicle that merged when you couldn’t see it.

It pays to be wary of what goes on around these types of vehicles.

Waiting after green

I had another occasion where a light turned green and rather than pulling right out, I waited a second or two while clearing both opposing lanes visibly before proceeding. Sure enough a car coming from the side, ran the light and, had I pulled right out, may have hit me from the side. It’s a good rule to follow. Just because a light is green doesn’t mean the intersection is clear to proceed through. I always try to wait a heartbeat or two and on 4-lane roads I even use the car next to me as a screen for an extra level of protection. You have to always be mindful that you’re on a motorcycle and not in a car, you’re exposed so you have to think differently.

Ride safe.

How to handle a vicious animal ;-)

Many years ago I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation beginners’ safety course with my brother Dave. During the classroom portion we divided into groups, read the manual and took turns answering the questions as groups. We covered how to tackle an obstacle in the road (railroad tracks or a 2-by-4 for instance). The rules were “slow up, stand, bend your knees to absorb the impact, hit the obstacle square at 90 degrees, throttle up and ride over it and away”. Simple enough.

Next we covered what to do if an angry dog comes at you. It was my brother’s turn to answer for our group. Just before he answered I saw the grin creep across his face and he answered “slow up, stand, bend your knees to absorb the impact, hit the obstacle square at 90 degrees, throttle up and ride over it and away”.

Everyone roared, touche Dave.

Ride safe.