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Failure to do a “walk-around”

Last fall I did something I almost never do. I left in a hurry and took my motorcycle. The previous night I had done some work on the bike which necessitated removal of the seat. I carry a spare helmet on the seat behind me secured with a bungee webbing. After I put the seat back on I apparently failed to bungee the spare helmet to the seat. I live on a mountain of sorts, so a mile down the road on a steep hill I felt something slide into my back, I reached around and sure enough, my spare helmet was rolling around back there. I pulled over, put the 4-ways on and got off to secure the helmet. The V-Strom has a notoriously short kickstand and the hill was sufficiently steep to cause the bike to immediately topple over.

The topple over knocked loose the kickstand sensor on the handlebar so I was unable to start the bike once I’d lifted it. As a result, I was forced to roll quietly down the hill to a flat spot where I could safely reattach the sensor. Of course, during the course of all this at least three cars passed by and offered assistance. An embarrassing episode but one that drove home the importance of not leaving in a hurry or without doing a walk around.

Ride safe.

Gearing Up

It occurred to me this morning that “gearing up”, the actual act of dressing to ride, serves to focus a rider’s mind to the task at hand. It’s akin to dressing for battle. You are, after all, entering a situation where you have to protect yourself.

It starts with the bike. I commute and carry a lunch, a laptop and rain gear. 10 hours and 80 miles can take you through a few weather systems and things can change over the course of a day so I need to carry gear for various weather considerations. So my “gearing up” starts with packing the bike. I have side cases for rain gear and my lunch and a top box for my laptop. Attention has to be paid to unlocked or open cases, straps or other items that may be sticking out or loose. Once packed and secure it’s time to dress. Boots, jeans (or over-pants), helmet, gloves and eye protection. I take care to make sure pockets are zipped, gloves are closed, boots are tied and strapped, helmet is secured. Lastly I do a walk around the bike to check everything and make sure I haven’t left any tools lying on the ground from any maintenance I may have done the night before and that the coffee cup I brought outside with me isn’t on the seat. A start of the engine, check of the gas level, a final check that each case is secure and I’m off.

It sounds like a lot; but it only takes a few minutes and can save you a lot of misery. A simple distraction is enough to divert your attention and cause a crash. The simple routine of gearing up serves to focus your attention to the ride ahead and is one more element that makes for a safe ride.

High beams in the daytime?

Commuting can get hairy at times and there are situations and roads that call for me to use my high beams during the day for safety reasons. In general I don’t but in the case of 4-lane roads with traffic entering from both sides and merging going on all around I’d rather make sure I’m being seen.

I’ve seen this topic debated in magazines and on the web. Blinding other drivers isn’t really an issue given that it’s daytime and their pupils aren’t dilated so the amount of extra light is minimal. It may be an annoyance but I’m of the opinion that if you’re annoyed, you at least see me.

I don’t use high beams on 2-lane roads or highways but in high volume areas with lots of cross traffic it feels safer and that’s reason enough.

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.