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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.

The Epitome of Cool

When my father died suddenly I asked my brother to keep his eyes peeled for a motorcycle that looked safe and only cost a few hundred dollars. I’d thought about learning to ride for years and my father’s passing sort of kick started my desire again. I figured if I hated it I was only out a few dollars and if I loved it I’d have something to share with my brother on weekends.

It didn’t take him long to find me a black 1981 Yamaha Maxim. I stored it under an old blue tarp near my woodpile and would uncover it, admire it, tinker with it, polish it. One day I threw the tarp aside, climbed aboard and headed off through the hills around my home in Pennsylvania. I found myself behind a car with two young ladies in the backseat. They were staring, waving, pointing at me, me, the nerd with a math degree, seasonal allergies and no game. It was probably the first time in my life I ever felt cool. A little while later I passed a father and son in their yard raking leaves. They waved, pointed and hollered as the Maxim’s throaty “airbox-less” growl drowned out their voices. I imagined the father yearning to get away and be where I was, feeling the wind in his face and the call of the open road. This sort of attention was exhilarating, life changing, things were gonna be different, I’d walk with confidence through the world, I’d be kickin’ ass and takin’ names from now on. The epitome of cool.

As I road home I was filled with confidence and bravado, the world seemed to stretch out before me filled with new possibilities. It wasn’t until I parked my trusty new steed and dismounted that I noticed the 8 foot long tarp I’d been dragging for the entire ride.

At that point I became just Bud again, with a whole lot left to learn.

Countersteering with more than your hands

There’s only one way to steer a motorcycle: countersteering. We all learned it in the safety course. “Push left go left, push right go right.” The physics are simple enough, to initiate a turn you must initially steer in the opposite direction. It’s something we do instinctively. However, I’m often surprised at the number of riders I come across who aren’t aware that it’s possible to use more than just one’s hands to “steer” a motorcycle. On a recent ride one of our more experience riders had an occasion to ride without his hands on the bars. Another rider asked how he was able to control the bike in a gentle curve with no hands. I myself have had occasion to adjust my gloves or jacket by removing both hands. The technique involves squeezing the tank between your legs and using pressure on the foot pegs to adjust your direction of travel.

You can test it easily and safely. With both hands on the bars, and traveling in a straight line, squeeze the tank with your knees to stabilize yourself and apply pressure to the left foot peg. You’ll feel the bike pull to the left. Once you get a feel for it applying the same pressure in curves will make your riding much smoother, requiring less input than before.

Ride safe.