Motorcycle madness: what you can do to stay safe on two wheels

Be aware all the time. As soon as you start believing in your own excellence, a farmer will back his tractor out of a field, some dolt will pull out of a driveway without looking, or something will fall off that truck in front of you and you’re in deep trouble.

At least half of the reported accidents involved middle-aged male riders who were obviously riding beyond their capabilities, or had been drinking, and lost control

Ted LaturnusAlthough I drive at least 100 new cars a year, I also ride motorcycles. In fact, I’ve been riding since 1965. And as far as safety goes, things are worse than ever for bikers. We’re getting killed or injured in increasing numbers every year.

The circumstances run the full gamut of riding situations and motorcycle types.

There was an elderly chap killed while piloting his electric moped along the highway – without a helmet. One younger rider died when his 250cc Honda trail bike smacked into a pickup truck – again, no helmet. Another younger rider rode his Kawasaki right into a rock face, at 200 km/h.

At least half of the reported accidents involved middle-aged male riders who were obviously riding beyond their capabilities, or had been drinking, and lost control.

And there were the usual sport bike incidents involving younger riders who just got in over their heads.

The RCMP makes the following points about motorcycle safety:

  • Helmets, safety gear, sobriety, experience, defensive driving and abiding by posted speed limits are good habits that will help our motorcycling road users stay safe.
  • Speed, racing, aggressive driving, no helmets, alcohol or drugs, and the incredible power-to-weight ratio of motorcycles are factors that define just how vulnerable a motorcycle rider really is.
  • Do we really need to travel at 260-plus km/h? Do we really want to wear inadequate safety gear?
  • Operators of passenger vehicles need to be aware that motorcycles are faster to accelerate turn and stop – and that they are much less visible. A fender bender to you is a certain death to these vulnerable road users.
Some of the bikes being put on the market are blindingly quick and too much for most riders

All good advice and I would like to add my own observations. And let me preface everything by mentioning that I’ve been riding for over 40 years, and have ridden super-powerful sport bikes, tippy-toe trail machines, overpowered and under-engineered choppers, luxury-laden tourers, heavy-at-the-helm cruisers, barely-able-to-get-out-their-own-way scooters, electric mopeds, adventure tourers, and on and on. I have also done several cross-continent rides and have ridden in a couple of foreign countries.

Here’s my two-bits worth of advice for riders:

  • I can’t over-stress this: pay attention!

You don’t usually get a second chance on a motorcycle, and if you gaze too long at that glorious sunset or pretty girl in the mini-skirt, the next – and last – thing you see may be the back end of the car in front of you.

  • Don’t get carried away.

One of the intoxicating things about riding a bike is you somehow – despite all evidence to the contrary – get a feeling of invulnerability when you ride. I call it a state of grace, where it seems nothing can touch you and you’re in complete control of everything around you.

Incorrect. Yes, you’re in control – to a point. But the faster you go, the less control you have. It’s a lot harder to react to a situation at 120 km/h than it is at 60 km/h.

  • If you simply must take corners as fast as possible, think about putting in some track time in a controlled environment to exorcise those demons.

I may not know everything, but I know that as soon as you start believing in your own excellence, a farmer will back his tractor out of a field, some dolt will pull out of a driveway without looking, or something will fall off that truck in front of you and you’re in deep trouble.

Once, on a road trip, I came within a whisker of visiting the local emergency ward when a pickup truck came flying out of a country lane and spilled his entire load of hay bales right in front of me. I had no choice but to keep on going and only luck  – and being alert – saved me from disaster.

  • Be visible.

I’m one of those who definitely subscribe to the loud-pipes-save-lives theory. I have experienced it many times: some driver not paying attention thinks about changing lanes in front of you and changes his/her mind only because they can hear you approach. This has happened to me more times than you’ve had hot dinners.

I draw the line at wearing a fluorescent orange vest but that could change.

And to those NIMBYs who want to make loud pipes illegal: ride a motorcycle for a week or two and then get back to me.

  • Ride a bike that matches your ability.

I think motorcycle manufacturers have to shoulder some responsibility here. Think about it: anybody with 10 grand can walk into a bike store and ride away on a machine that will take them from a standing start to freeway speed in three or four seconds. Some of the bikes being put on the market are blindingly quick and too much for most riders.

Do what they do in England and Japan: make it mandatory to participate in a safety course and issue motorcycle licences in a graduated way. In other words, novices are restricted to starter bikes and the more experience you get, the larger bike you’re licensed to ride.

And keep the shiny side up.

motorcycleTed Laturnus has been an automotive journalist since 1976. He has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist Of The Year twice and is past president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

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