Safety on a motorbike depends on your brain not your body, so train your brain to ride safely.
1. No fear
Fear is good and bad. Fear before you ride is good as it makes you wear a helmet and learn to ride safely, but after you get on a bike it's a liability! It causes tunnel vision, worry, over-reactions and inattention!
Abandon fear when riding or give it up entirely, as fear makes what you fear come true. Fear is a deer in headlights too scared to move. Fear kills the ability to rightly act so as the Greeks said: The brave die once but cowards die many times. The point of life is to live it not to fear it. Drunks and babies often survive accidents because they get one thing right - they don't fear. In its place they have faith. A child needs faith to evolve so Life provides it, while the drunk gets it from alcohol. In both cases they don’t fear because they don't know what is happening, but ignorant faith is still faith, so it still works. Take the case where a drunk driver veered off a highway onto the grass field between the lanes. A driver seeing him coming swerved to avoid him and was killed in a crash in the other lane. Meanwhile the drunk's car stopped on the grass before it even reached the ongoing traffic. Babies often survive accidents because they don’t worry so lets do the same.
2. All round awareness
Everyone has two different types of vision:
- Point vision: Focal vision
- All-round vision: Peripheral vision
You use point vision to read a book word by word but on a motorcycle all-round vision is more important because it takes in the entire field of view at once. The two types of vision work together, as a radar sweeps a big area then uses a more advanced (but slower) system to identify objects found. All-round vision is the first vision and point vision is the second vision. When riding, use your vision this way: don’t look at the car ahead but look many cars ahead. Your vision automatically takes in all the near cars so if anything happens with them, you will know directly. When riding, look nowhere in particular to look everywhere at once. This is important - trust me. If a car is coming at you, you don’t need to know if it’s a Holden or a Ford. You need to know how far and how fast and your all-round vision will tell you this. Even better, it instantly does it for your entire field of view. Peripheral vision rocks! Test yourself this way. Next time you stop at a red light, don’t look at it. Look ahead down the road. The red light is still in your field of vision. When it changes to green, your vision will tell you. You don’t need to look directly at the light to see it change. You just need to have it in your “radar”. You may feel a real desire to look at the light directly, in case you miss it. This is your insecure conscious mind. Ignore it, because it can't ride a motorcycle for nuts. If you miss the light, don’t worry. If the cars behind honk this might wake up your natural peripheral vision. If you use it, your all-round visual radar will tell you when a light changes. On a motorcycle, you really need this skill.
3. Don’t hurry
When you hurry, your attitude is GO! GO! GO! Hurrying makes you not wear gear, not respect the weather and ignore road situations. It sometimes works, you can hurry 99 times and be OK, but one day you may be slowed down for life. Hurrying is never worth it. When hurriers meet on the road it is usually in accident alley. The dont hurry rule applies in all cross-flow situations, like:
- Changing lanes
Decide right now to NEVER EVER HURRY intersections or lane changes. This one choice will reduce your accident chances enormously. Accidents occur at intersections so whatever your normal speed, reduce it for an intersection. Never accelerate say to beat a red light. I can't stress this enough. If the light turns red, accept it and stop - that's life. You can't win them all except in your dreams. The intersection rule is: stop accelerating, drop a gear and cover the brakes with foot and hand. Be ready. To hurry is to put yourself above Life. You have your plan and it makes you hurry, but Life also has its Plan and it takes precedence. To hurry is to hurry to disaster. Highways have no intersections but changing lanes is just as bad. Accidents also happen when people change lanes so: Check all is clear, indicate for a second then move gradually into the new lane. A sudden lane change is an invitation to an accident party. If you don't have time for this don't change lanes. If you are in the wrong lane for a highway turn-off and it will take 10 minutes to get back, don’t suddenly cut two lanes in traffic to get the exit. It isn’t time wasted because while going around you can remind yourself to get in the right lane next time.
4. Be defensive
The goal of defensive driving is to adapt to other drivers. Not to maintain my road rights. Not to win a race. Not to look good. It is to consider, compensate for, adjust to or adapt to Life. Everyone else on the road is Life, and it is bigger than you. Defensive drivers flow on the road like water, filling the places others aren’t. If water can’t go one way it goes another. It offers no resistance but always finds a way. Defensive driving is respect for Life: sometimes you go fast, sometimes slow, always you adapt. Those around you define it. In a courtroom fault matters, but in Life, when a rock hits a pot the pot breaks, A motor-cycle rider is always the pot. If some idiot swerves in front of you don’t chase him to give him the finger. Avoid him. He is an accident going where you don't want to go. A New Jersey road rage case involving two women who "jousted" over several miles, until one made the other pull over. She got out of her car and walked over to the first, who pulled a gun from her glove-box and shot her. She later said she felt threatened, and now faces a murder charge. This is how emotional children (with guns) interact. Defensive driving is being an emotional adult.
5. Be all there
Most motorcycle accidents are caused by inattention: thinking about anything other than what you are doing right now. Our brain is divided so we can give part of it to many things, but you can’t ride a bike like this. Inattention is the number one killer on the road, not speed or drink, so smartphones are more dangerous than alcohol. Riders can’t text, but the mind can still wander. Inattention is the rider’s number one enemy, so what is it? If you think you are cool, that is inattention. If you are thinking of when you arrive, that is inattention. If you are angry that is inattention. Fear is inattention, because part of the brain is busy with something else. The antidote to fear is attention, being mentally one, so the first rule of riding is to be all there. Paying attention takes effort whose value is only sometimes obvious. I once drove my family from Florida to New Jersey to arrive safely after an uneventful trip and was exhausted. Was my hour after hour attention effort “wasted” because nothing happened? If another car had pulled out unexpectedly my attention would have been our protection, but it didn’t. Yet how could I know that in advance? Attention seems like overkill - until a split-second action separates you from death. As someone once said, expect the unexpected for it will surely happen.
6. Be seen
Seeing and being seen are two sides of the same coin. If seeing is the best defense, being seen is the next best. If the other driver can see you, they can avoid you. A motorcycle is harder to see than a car because it is smaller, and many accidents occur when drivers dont see the motorcycle. Some ways to be as visible as possible are:
- Headlights: Ride with your headlights on at all times
- Visible Gear: Wear light or bright helmet and clothing, with reflective strips for night
- High Beam: Flash your high beam if you see a "situation" evolving, e.g. a car inching out of a side-street. The high beam ensures the driver has seen you.
- Visible Position: You are more visible in the road center where drivers see you easier. What gets attention is change so a deliberate “waggle” of the bike will get attention. WWII pilots would waggle their wings to communicate. Occupy your lane confidently - dont creep along the left or drivers will push past you dangerously.
- Indicators: Indicators tell others what you are going to do, so if you don’t see them they can still avoid you. Always indicate, even when no-one is around to make it a good habit, an automatic thing you always do when changing lanes. Make no exceptions. Then one day, when you think no-one is there, it may save your life. Give others a chance to avoid you - always use your indicators.
7. Be flexible
On a motorcycle, you interact with Life in a feedback loop based on the laws of physics. As you ride you learn the rules: how far to lean on a corner, how long to stop and so on, but conditions change the rules drastically. Rain is different rules, as it takes twice as long to stop and you can’t lean as far. If it rains, you must double the following distance to keep the same risk, but how many drivers in torrential rain follow as close as usual? The risks have changed but their brain hasn’t. They want business as usual in unusual conditions, so when the car ahead stops suddenly they crash into it. The argument is that if they hang back other people push in, but my answer is let them. The same applies to many other changes condition like fog, gravel, ice, darkness and wind – they all change the rules of riding in different ways. Flexibility is hard if the change is sudden, as when you hit a patch of oil on a turn, because it isn’t just changing what you do, it is changing your whole action framework. It is like playing a game checkers that suddenly turns into a game of chess, where all the rules change. So say in fog, how slow should I go? The answer is slow as you have to. If necessary, get off the bike and walk. Flexibility has no limits – drive to suit the conditions, whatever they are.
8. Direct sight
I direct sight when changing lanes. I did an experiment using both mirrors and direct sight to check and within a month a situation occurred where the mirror said “clear” but I turned to see an oncoming car. This isn’t frequent but on a motorcycle one accident is one too many. Once I rode through Newark to work and people said “Isn’t it more dangerous?” but I replied “No, in New Zealand a dangerous event occurred once a month while in Newark it was 3 times but I can no more afford to crash once a month than three times a month.” Direct sight is the best sight because it is 100% sure, unlike the 99% mirror check, but it takes practice. While riding straight, briefly turn your head to use your all around vision to tell if anything is there. Don’t try to focus, as it is just a glance. It takes practice to turn your head but not the bike. Keep your body and shoulders straight, or the bike will move. When beginners turn their head the bike also moves, which is bad! Direct sight works on what you see, not what you assume. When you have a green light still be aware either side as you go. Take it all in. Your best protection on a motorcycle is your eyes, so use them and dont assume.
9. Automate responses
If you fall the best thing to do is to relax! When old people fall, it is often their violent reaction that breaks their bones, not the fall itself. Go with it and you are less likely to get hurt. Now you know this intellectually but when you fall off your bike, will you relax? Or will you panic and tense? Riding responses are “real time”, so your intellectual brain doesn’t control it, but it can train your instinctive brain to do this. Instinct learns by practice not thought. When I was in the army we did night exercises and in New Zealand the water from the rain creates quite deep channels you couldn’t see at night, and sometimes your foot slipped in them. If you tensed the result was often a sprained ankle so I learned to relax when that happened. On a bike, you can learn this it in your head: visualize falling and practice the relaxing a habit. I know it can be done, because I’ve done it. On a motorcycle, rapid reactions must be automated, e.g. in a crash ahead do you swing left or right? One way is oncoming traffic and the other the road side hedge. Visualize and "imagine" swerving the right way until it becomes a habit, then if it happens that is the way you will go. Look after your habits and they will look after you!
10. Be steady
Being steady is more than just not falling off the bike, it is how well you balance. With experience, you reduce the natural wavering that occurs as you ride. New riders wobble a lot, skilled riders don't. Good riding, like good wine, is smooth. Wobble is natural but the less there is the better the rider. Steadiness is most evident when you start and stop. In a steady start you just lift your feet and go but an unsteady start requires swerving and foot dragging, so unsteady riders tend to wear out their shoes. In a steady stop you stop the bike then calmly put your feet down. An unsteady stop involves feet scraping the ground while the bike is moving, with a heavy heave at the end to stop it falling over. Your motorcycle skill is not in how fast you can go, but in how slow you can go How slowly can you turn the loop and keep control? When you go fast, centrifugal force keeps the bike stable. When you go slow, that reduces, and you find out how stable you are. Your motorcycle skill is not in how fast you can go, but how slow you can go. Any fool can twist an accelerator, but to bring a bike to a complete stop, stay vertical, then calmly drop a leg, takes skill. The more stable you are, the safer you are on a motorcycle, at any speed.
Written by Brian Whitworth and presented by Jackie Mason
Check out ridingsafely.com for more useful advices!