There are several factors involved in motorcycle safety. Gear and skills are some of the main ones but they’re also only part of the equation. The habits we have behind the handlebar also have a huge role in how safe we really are.
In the most extreme cases, some of our habits can, on the contrary, put us at risk. For instance, going double the speed limit, knitting your way through heavy traffic, using the shoulder in traffic jams (unless you’re in Hawaii), and following vehicles up close with little to know buffer zone are habits that increase the risks of incidents.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some habits can help decrease those risks and the folks over at FortNine documented five of them. Considering how important this information can be, we thought we’d pass it along. Here are five habits that could help save your life.
Preload the Front Brake Lever in Traffic Situations
There’s a common belief that keeping your fingers on the brake lever and even gently pulling it in just enough to reduce the lever’s “travel distance” to the engagement point (or the moment in the pulling motion when the brakes react and bite down on the wheel) but not so far in that the pads are in contact with the wheel can result in a smoother emergency braking experience.
Ryan F9 goes into an elaborate scientific explanation as to how and why it works, but in summary, it all comes down to how close to the engagement point the lever is. Though the distance between the lever in a fully opened position and the engagement point is relatively short, it’s actually long enough for your squeezing motion to gain momentum. This usually results in an aggressive, jerky front braking maneuver, the kind that suddenly shifts all the weight forward and can make a rider lose control.
Preloading the front brake means keeping the lever close to the engagement point so that there is little to no acceleration before the brakes react to the motion and they, therefore, don’t bite down as quickly and aggressively. This should, in turn, result in a smoother, easier-to-control maneuver.
Just be careful on bumpy surfaces not to unwillingly pull the lever all the way in. Also make sure the pads don’t actually touch the wheel—it should be able to turn freely—or else you’ll use the brakes prematurely.
Our brains are wired to read information from left to right which is also how we scope potential threats. Think about when we’re taught to read: Western standards have us read from left to right. Now, think about when you were taught to cross a street in the U.S. as a kid: look left, then right, because a car coming from the left is in the lane closest to you and would be the first to hit.
It makes sense, then, that on the road, we follow the same pattern. The biggest difference, however, is that the most immediate threats, if you’re riding in the U.S., will come from the right. Think about vehicles making a turn into your lane or leaving a parking spot, or a bicycle making its way up the street. We drive on the right-hand side so our most immediate interactions are with road users also on the right.
FortNine’s recommendation? Train your brain to scan your surroundings from left to right to left (acknowledging the center section in the process of course). According to studies they’ve unearthed, being able to read information right to left as fast as left to right increases our ability to react and stop faster.
Baby, it’s Cold Outside and it’s About to Get Colder
Riding when it’s cold can suck. Really bad. Especially if you’re not prepared and equipped for it. What do we do when we’re cold? We tense up and try to make ourselves as small as possible to keep warm and expose the least amount of body surface to the cold.
As Ryan F9 succinctly puts it, however, tensing up to keep warm also means tensing up on the handlebar. By trying to protect ourselves, we lose freedom of movement, which can in turn result in loss of control.
His recommendation is to fight against the need to tuck into the bike and to keep an open, flexible stance that allows us to move more freely and therefore react better to the unpredictable. Stop more frequently to warm up and gear up accordingly instead.
Put the Left Foot Down
This is something I vividly remember from my riding lessons, over a decade ago: put the left foot down so that the right one can remain on the rear brake. The instructors at the time didn’t go into as much depth as Ryan F9 does in his video, but this habit has always been ingrained in my brain.
As Ryan explains, putting the left foot down when coming to a stop does several things. First, it allows you to keep your right foot up on the peg and pressed down on the rear brake pedal which keeps the brake light on so the road users behind you are aware of what you’re doing.
Pressing the rear brake instead of the front one also makes a difference in how your motorcycle will react if you get rear-ended. If the front wheel is locked, chances are an impact will jerk the handlebar to one side, push the bike into the fork, and make you tip and fall to the side. If the rear wheel is locked, the energy will transfer forward and push the bike—the entire bike—increasing your chances of staying in the saddle, possibly even upright.
Plus, as he puts it, the middle of the lane is usually where residues such as gravel and fluids from cars tend to end up. Putting the right foot down means balancing on a sometimes compromised surface.
The Accordion Effect
This is something you’ve likely experienced while riding in a group. It’s like an elastic continuously stretching and retracting between riders traveling at different, varying speeds. The most common occurrence is when the rider at the front picks up the pace. By the time the rider at the back notices and catches up, the rider slows down, which forces the rider at the back to slow down as well with a split-second delay. Then the leader accelerates again with the follower reacting another split second later, and so on.
The risk of the accordion effect lies in the fact that the second rider’s reaction time is slightly delayed compared to that of the leader. So, if the rider at the front accelerates and is then suddenly forced to slow down or punch the brakes, the accelerating rider tailing them won’t be able to react as quickly and that can sometimes have catastrophic results.
We always promote riding within one’s comfort zone, but sometimes, the need to try and keep up becomes too strong, either because we don’t know where we’re going or because we want to look as cool as the rest of the group.
Ryan F9 suggests putting the slowest, least experienced rider(s) at the front to set the pace. It might be a bit frustrating for the faster, more experienced members of the group but this remains the safest way to ride in a group and to ensure everyone is having a good time. If the need for speed is too great and following an inexperienced leader isn’t fulfilling enough, then, finding a group of peers or riding on your own are probably the better options.