In a motorcyclist’s perfect world, the roads would all be curved, empty, and soft if you fell, and every day would be 70 degrees and sunny. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and road conditions will always be less than perfect, to say the least. Here are some tips for tackling some less-than-ideal, or even potentially dangerous, riding environments.
Navigating City Streets
Riding through crowded city streets offers a host of disadvantages for motorcyclists. For starters, your body is exposed, you are on a smaller vehicle, and are less visible than the cars, monster sport-utes, and industrial vehicles around you. Plus, the drivers of these vehicles are also more insulated from what is going on around them, and are often distracted by stereos, phone calls, and the occasional fast food snack during their commute.
The key to riding safely in dense urban traffic is pretty simple: stay out of the way of vehicular traffic as much as possible. This means staying alert and keeping your eyes down the road and your head on a swivel. Try to recognize potential hazards as far down the road as possible to give you time to react. Also, make sure you stay visible to other drivers as much as possible. When approaching vehicles from behind or when riding alongside them, try to make sure you can be easily be seen in their mirrors. Lastly, don’t forget to use your horn if someone starts to creep into your lane.
Riding the Highways the Right Way
Riding on highways, freeways, or interstates can be some of the most boring and uneventful riding you can do. Mile after mile of wide, straight, and flat pavement is enough to lull even the best riders into a daze. So, step number one is keeping yourself alert.
When it comes to merging onto a highway or freeway, make sure to increase your speed to match the flow of traffic, and keep an eye out for other vehicles trying to enter the same lane you are trying to take. Once you are on the freeway, you will want to safely make your way to the left lane, since then you’ll only have traffic on one side of you to worry about. This is a general rule, however, and will change based on the flow of traffic. Remember, your main goal is to avoid being clocked by a chatty motorist in a three-ton SUV.
You should also use your peripheral vision to keep an eye out for what is going on around you, and give yourself plenty of time to react to traffic in front of you. This is especially important at highway speeds, since debris that is run over by other motorists will be shot back at you.
Weathering the Storm
If you are the type of rider who rides your bike daily, then at some point, you are going to be riding in some bad weather. Choosing the right gear when riding in wet or cold weather is absolutely critical: your gear should not only keep you safe and warm, but also keep you as dry as possible. Being wet on a cold day while doing highway speeds is not only uncomfortable, but also downright unsafe. This is especially important when it comes to your hands and feet, since they are the parts of your body actually interacting with the controls. You don’t want them to become numb from the elements!
Riding in the rain and cold also means constant bouts with foggy helmet visors. Most helmet manufactures sell anti-fog visors, or you can also use a breath guard in your helmet to deflect warm breath away from the cold visor, thus reducing your chance of fog. Also, prep your bike before riding in the rain by cleaning the windscreen, and making sure you have plenty of tread left on your tires since the tread is what actually channels the water away from your tires.
As far as making adjustments to your riding style in the rain or fog, you should increase your following distances to give you more time to react if something goes wrong in front of you. Also, keep to the right or left of the lane you are traveling in since other vehicles leak oil and other fluids in the center of lanes. This is a good rule of thumb in any weather, but is especially apt in wet weather because the tires of automotive traffic will clear water and debris from either side of the lane. This means better grip for you. You should also avoid any sudden control inputs, especially when accelerating, as it can cause a break in traction. Lastly, try to avoid any painted lines, man hole covers, or pavement sealer. They all become very slick in cold, rainy conditions.
Becoming the Night Rider
An absolutely essential part of motorcycle safety is making yourself as visible as possible to other motorists. This becomes even more critical at night. While most motorcycle safety gear is predominantly made in darker colors, you’ll want to switch to a set of night riding gear that includes bright colors and strips of reflective material. If buying a whole other set of riding gear isn’t economically feasible, you can also buy reflective tape for your gear or motorcycle, and attach additional reflectors to your bike.
Besides making yourself visible to other drivers, you will want to adjust your riding style. Make sure to reduce your speed in areas with low lighting since it will give you more time to react to potential problems. You will also want to increase your following distances for the same reason. Lastly, pay attention to what the headlights and taillights of traffic in front of you is doing. If you see the headlights of the car in front of you bob up and down, that means there is a sizable bump ahead, and you should adjust your riding accordingly. Watching for brake lights will also help increase your reaction time in an emergency stop situation.