Group Riding: Safety in Numbers
Although motorcycle riding is primarily a solitary activity, many experienced riders enjoy traveling with friends. When you find someone else who shares your passion for this hobby, there's no greater excitement than a weekend road trip with your buddies.
Before you hit the road, everyone who will be in your group should hold a brief meeting to discuss the important details of your trip. For example:
- What route will you take?
- What rest stops are along the way?
- Who will lead the group? Ideally, the lead rider should be an experienced motorcycle operator who is very familiar with the route you are traveling.
- Who will be the tail rider? Ideally, the tail rider should be an experienced motorcycle operator who has a cell phone to call for help if necessary.
- What will you do if someone becomes separated from the group?
Generally, experts recommend that you limit your motorcycle riding group to between five and seven riders. In a larger group, it's too difficult to keep track of everyone. If you must travel with a larger crowd, divide yourselves into two or more smaller groups.
It's a good idea to assign someone in your group to carry a first-aid kit, cell phone, and basic tools. Motorcycle riding can be unpredictable, so it's important to be prepared for any emergency situation.
On the day of your trip, fill up your gas tank and inspect your bike for any mechanical problems. Your motorcycle should be in good running condition before any group riding experience.
When riding in a group, you should always follow the same safety procedures you'd use when traveling alone. However, the close proximity of other riders does add to the risk of operating a motorcycle. To stay safe in a group riding situation, remember the following tips:
- Use a staggered riding formation to provide a sufficient space cushion between group members. Each rider must have enough space and time to react to any hazards that you might encounter.
- If you're traveling on a curvy road or visibility is poor, ride in a single-file formation.
- Side-by-side formations should be avoided whenever possible. If you're traveling in this manner, you may not be able to swerve if you encounter an obstacle in your path.
- Riders one the same track should have a distance between them of at least 2 seconds.
- If your group must merge with another group at some point in the trip, let the first group lead.
- Motorcycle operators carrying passengers should ride on the right whenever possible. Novice riders shouldn't carry passengers at all.
- If someone in the group is riding a motorcycle with a sidecar, have him/her ride at the rear or front of the group.
As you're riding, periodically check your review mirror to make sure the person behind you isn't falling behind. If necessary, slow down to allow him/her to catch up. Don't allow anyone to get separated from the group.
Ideally, your group should include people with similar skill levels and riding styles. But, if you are traveling with both new and experienced motorcycle operators, keep the novice riders in the middle of the group to prevent them from falling behind.
Under no circumstances should you mix alcohol and motorcycle riding. Do not allow anyone who has been drinking to travel in your group. A single unsafe rider puts everyone at risk.
Using Hand Signals to Communicate
When traveling with a group of motorcycle riders, hand signals are the best way to communicate. Using hand signals appropriately keeps everyone informed of the group's plans and reduces the risk of an accident caused by a surprised rider. Here are a few of the most popular:
- To signal that you need to stop for fuel, place your arm out to the side and point to the tank with your finger extended.
- To signal that you need to stop for refreshments, keep your fingers closed and point to your mouth.
- To signal that you need a rest stop, extend your forearm, keep your fist clenched, and make a short up and down motion.
- To signal that there is a hazard in the roadway, point with your right foot or your left hand.
- To indicate that you wish to have another rider follow you, keep your arm extended straight up from the shoulder and keep your palm forward.
- To indicate the need to speed up, keep your arm extended straight out with your palm facing up.
- To indicate the need to slow down, keep your arm extended straight out with your palm facing down.
How to Ride in Heavy Traffic
There are few pleasures on the road equal to riding a motorcycle. The idea of being out on the open, scenic roads alone or even with a group of like-minded riders conjures up images of perfection. But with every good thing on a motorcycle there always tends to be an opposite danger involved.
Getting to those lonesome roads in the middle of nowhere (if that is even possible) usually means having to endure a bit congestion first. That is, fleeing the urban matrix for a bit of respite. Heavy traffic is an extra hindrance for motorcyclists and presents dangers and obstacles that require premium skills and hyper-awareness.
Control the Situation
You can never expect other drivers to be on the lookout for you on a motorcycle. That is not the way it works, and if you expect those insulated in their mammoth SUVs to be on the watch for two-wheeled speedsters, then you may be in line for an accident. You need to be in complete control, not only of your bike, but also of the street (through keen observation and prediction), and of your mental state.
Thus, if you just saddled up and hit the road after an argument with your spouse or boss, you can bet you will not be at your best emotionally. Your emotional state has a direct effect on your overall mental processing.
So you are automatically creating a hazardous condition because you are sacrificing an element of control. The stakes are high in heavy traffic and you have to use your size and vision to compensate. They are your allies, and hindering them by not being as sharp as you should only means you increase the possibilities of making a mistake.
Distance is Your Friend
The best way to assume control riding on the motorcycle is to create space. Much like a football running back attempts to find gaps that increase the field of vision, you will have much more success maneuvering in traffic if you have some breathing room. These gaps may be essential for quick reaction and narrow escapes, but they are also key to observing the whole road in front of you. The more you see, the more you can predict.
If you are riding two feet off the bumper of a Hummer with tinted windows, odds are you will not see much besides the license plate and paint job dings. If the driver of the Hummer slams on the breaks your options will be completely cut off. Because you could not predict what was happening up the road (or even see it), the consequences will not be good even with the swiftest reaction.
Thus, even in the heaviest traffic (think L.A. or D.C.), try to keep around two to four seconds of length between you and the car in front. How do you measure time? Just base it on your speeds and guess. If you are in a slog and only moving around 10 miles per hour (mph), then a car length or two will suffice. But if you are pushing upwards of 50 mph then you should considering sitting back four or more car lengths.
A single lane is divided into three riding areas: right side, center, and left side. Obviously a road can have all sorts of lanes and a rider's positioning will essentially depend on that. For example, if there is only one lane in your direction (i.e., two-lane road) and you are in traffic, odds are you will not want to be in the left portion of the lane, especially if there is a curb.
This is because you have just reduced your options almost to nil if a situation arises. Not that you necessarily want to be hovering over in the right side of the lane, either, with oncoming vehicles barreling toward you. Here is a good instance where riding in the center, with distance applied, can be your best bet.
However, if you are on a major highway with four to six lanes in one direction, the center is most likely the last place you want to be in traffic. Most riders are taught to slice and dice to the far left lane (minimize obstructions to one side completely) and then ride in the right side of that lane. Some riders will stay one lane from the left, but ride in the far left of said lane.
Of course, if you are in city traffic, the left lane may be a real hindrance because of left turning vehicles, so opting for the center lane may be the best option. It really just depends where you feel comfortable, while at the same time keeping control and maintaining good distance.
Motorcycle Theft Prevention
Try following these tips:
- Always lock your ignition and remove the key.
- When looking for an object to wrap your bike lock around, think heavy and difficult to dismantle.
- Lock your bike around other bikes if you can.
- Try not to park your bike between cars, as doing so provides some visual protection for a thief.
- If staying at a hotel with parking lot security cameras, park your bike in view of the camera. If that's not possible, try to park it as close as you can to either the front entrance of the hotel or to your room.
- When storing your bike in your garage, try to station your car in front of your bike. Obviously, be sure to close the garage door. You might also want to install a burglar alarm inside your garage.
- If you store your bike outside, consider installing a motion-sensitive bright light nearby.
- Use a plain, dull motorcycle cover―one that doesn't draw attention to your bike or loudly proclaim the name of the manufacturer. Or, use the cover from a company that thieves generally don't target, such as a BMW cover over a Harley.
- Consider doing something "crafty" with your bike after parking it. Maybe loosen a spark plug cap, or pull the main fuse. Doing so may fool a thief into thinking there's something wrong with your motorcycle after trying to start it, and they'll quickly move on.
- Put a unique marking on your bike, which discourages thieves, as well as aids in theft recovery.
You might want to add security devices to your motorcycle too. It's best to take a layered approach to security, meaning using more than one device. Remember, thieves are generally in a hurry. The harder and longer they'll have to work at stealing your motorcycle, the more likely they are to move on to an easier target.
Besides simple chains and padlocks, consider the following:
- Disc locks
- Steering column locks
- Hidden kill switch
- Tracking systems
A little caution and some well-spent money can help protect your prized possession for years to come.
Motorcycles and Weather Conditions
Motorcycles can be a fun and affordable form of transportation. However, they can also be downright hazardous under adverse weather conditions.
If you're a fairly inexperienced rider, the best way to stay safe is to avoid riding your motorcycle when it's raining, too hot, or excessively cold. Listen to your local weather forecast before riding. If rain seems likely or extreme temperatures are predicted, consider using a different form of transportation or postponing your trip.
If you have to venture outside in poor weather or you find yourself unexpectedly riding through less-than-ideal conditions, remember the following safety tips:
- Take a short break at least once every two or three hours. Fatigue contributes to many motorcycle accidents.
- If visibility is poor, slow down. Make sure you are riding at a speed that allows you to stop in the distance that you can see. It may take you longer to arrive at your destination, but a late arrival is still preferable to an emergency room visit.
- If you're in the middle of a long trip, consider renting a hotel room for the night. Operating a motorcycle at night can be difficult even under normal weather conditions.
Riding in the Rain
When you're driving in your car or truck, you're protected from the rain. When you're riding a motorcycle, you're exposed to the elements. However, motorcycles do offer some advantages in wet weather. They provide a superior view of the road, easy maneuverability, and more escape routes from any potentially dangerous situations.
If you're riding in the rain, remember the following tips from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation:
- Aim for smooth control. Be gentle with your brakes and throttle, but balance your grip. When you're riding in the rain, aim to complete your turns before you accelerate.
- Avoid last-minute reactions whenever possible. In wet weather, you must plan ahead to determine when you will need to accelerate or brake. Using engine braking for corners and junctions will reduce the risk of skidding.
Avoiding hazards is extremely important in the rain. Watch out for the following obstacles when you're riding your motorcycle in wet weather:
- Slick concrete surfaces
- Manhole covers
- Railroad tracks
- Oil spills
When you're purchasing tires for your motorcycle, avoid tires that are labeled as "long-lasting" if you plan to do a lot of riding in wet weather. Many motorcycle owners think this purchase is a good way to save money. However, these tires are typically less tacky and can't provide enough traction to keep you safe in wet weather.
Riding in Hot Weather
It's a proven scientific fact that your physical condition affects your ability to react to dangerous situations. Most riders know that you're more likely to be involved in a motorcycle accident when you're tired, angry, or exhausted. However, few realize the impact excessive heat can have on your safety.
When you're riding your motorcycle on a hot summer day, the best safety precaution you can take is to stay hydrated. Take plenty of water breaks. If you don't like the taste of water, drink sports drinks instead. However, you should avoid soda whenever possible. The caffeine and sugar will add to dehydration.
Dressing appropriately can keep you comfortable on a hot day. However, it's not a good idea to ride your motorcycle in shorts and no shirt. Keep as much of your body covered as possible. Skin exposed directly to the sun will evaporate water significantly faster than skin that is properly covered. Plus, overexposure increases your risk of sunburn.
Another easy tip to keep you comfortable on a hot day is to open the vents on your motorcycle helmet to increase air flow. Just remember to bring along some extra lip balm, since the additional air will dry out your lips.
If you're riding on a hot day, watch for signs of heat-related illnesses. Heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or heat cramps can happen to anyone. However, alcoholics, older people, the obese, and those taking certain prescription medications are at an increased risk.
Riding in Cold Weather
To the casual observer, riding a motorcycle seems like an activity best left to warm days. However, the enthusiastic rider will often want to venture outside under colder conditions. Dressing appropriately is the best way to keep yourself safe while riding your motorcycle in cold weather. Remember the following tips as you're selecting your motorcycle apparel:
- Keep your hands and feet warm. Invest in a good pair of gloves and some high-quality motorcycle boots.
- Keep your torso warm. If your torso is cold, it will restrict blood flow to your hands and feet.
- Wind-proof your body. Make sure the outside layer of your outfit is made of a material that will stop the wind.
- Seal the openings in your outfit. Don't let air come in through the neck opening in your jacket, the sleeves of your shirt, or the bottom of your pants.
- Choose a good insulating material. Wool is the best natural fiber insulating material, but synthetics such as Thinsulate work well also.
If your bike allows it, you may also want to consider installing a windshield. If you plan to ride in cold weather on a regular basis, a windshield will keep you warmer than if you simply dress in appropriate motorcycle apparel.
While riding your motorcycle in cold weather, it's wise to watch for signs of hypothermia or frostbite. If you start to feel uncomfortable, stop your bike and seek medical attention.
Safety Tips for Passengers
Before you carry passengers on your motorcycle, give them a quick safety lesson. Don't assume that your passenger understands what he must do.
The following tips will help keep your passenger safe:
- He must be tall enough to reach the footrests
- He must keep his feet on the footrests at all times.
- He should keep his legs away from the mufflers, since they can get very hot.
- She must wear a helmet and other protective gear.
- She must not turn or make sudden moves that could affect your ability to safely control the motorcycle.
- She must hold onto your waist or the bike's passenger handholds.
- If your passenger is heavy, he must brace with his hands against the tank when braking to keep from pushing you over the bars.
When you carry passengers on your motorcycle, they should consider themselves to be second operators. Don't allow someone on your bike who doesn't obey your safety instructions.
Children should not be carried on a motorcycle without the permission of a parent or legal guardian. Even if the child is wearing the appropriate protective gear and follows all safety recommendations, riding a motorcycle still poses a safety risk. In addition, some states have legal requirements for the minimum age of a passenger on a motorcycle.
If you plan to have someone frequently travel with you on your motorcycle, ask him to complete a basic safety course. Even if he never learns to operate a motorcycle, this course will provide a better understanding of the procedures necessary to avoid accidents while you are riding together.
Riding Safely While Carrying Passengers
When you're carrying passengers on your motorcycle, you'll need to make some adjustments your riding. A passenger's extra weight will substantially affect your bike's handling characteristics. To help compensate for this difference, remember the following tips:
- Allow more time and space for passing.
- Be cautious when turning corners, since clearance may be affected.
- You'll need to brake sooner than normal when carrying passengers.
- The extra weight of your passenger will increase the stopping power of your rear brake.
- You'll need greater clutch finesse and more throttle when starting from a stop.
- If your passenger is heavy, it will take longer to turn, slow down, or speed up on your motorcycle.
- Avoid traveling at extreme speeds.
- Be prepared to counter the effects of wind when appropriate.
When traveling with a guest, remember to start your motorcycle before your passenger mounts the bike. The stand should be raised and the motorcycle should be securely braced before the passenger mounts.
Tips for a Safe Ride
Whether it's a quick trip to the corner market for a few things, or a two-week touring trip with friends, there are plenty of things you can do to ensure your motorcycle driving is safe and enjoyable.
It would be nice if the road was always smooth, and without bumps, but those bumps, potholes, breakdowns, lost riding moments and more are out there. The best way to avoid trouble from these instances is to be prepared. You can also improve your own safety, as well as that of your passengers and vehicle, by not only following the laws and rules of the road, but also by knowing them well and always practicing courteous and calm driving.
Safe from the Start
The best way to start off right and ensure you have a smooth ride, and to anticipate problems that may occur, is to prepare and pack for your trip, bringing water, extra clothing, a map of the area you're driving, or other items that might be necessary, depending on your trip. You should also be sure you have some safety basics, particularly a first-aid kit, and a charged mobile phone if possible.
It is also important to make sure that your bike is well-maintained and checked, and that all fluids and major systems, including braking and lights, are in working order. You cannot predict and prevent all vehicle failures and breakdowns, but you can reduce the risk by maintaining your motorcycle.
Next, you will need to make sure that you, as the driver, and any passengers are properly seated on the bike. This means sitting squarely on the center of the seat with feet on foot pegs and hands holding handlebars or the rider. Also, make sure you and passengers are always wearing protective helmets. It may not be the law in every state, but it is common sense for safety.
One of the most obvious things you can do to make sure your driving is safe is to practice defensive driving. This does not mean you have to drive extra slow, but you should use extra caution at all times, and remember that other vehicles are not just other cars and trucks, they are people. Defensive driving consists of a few basic driving tips that are intended to help keep you focused on the road, raise your awareness of your surroundings, and prepare you for a fast reaction to avoid a crash.
A List of Defensive and Safe Driving Skills and Practices
- Avoid distractions, including mobile phones and other devices, which can divert your attention, even with hands-free functionality.
- Aim high when looking out over the handlebars at the road.
- Keep your eyes moving, meaning don't just stare at the road ahead; check mirrors and other views frequently.
- Leave yourself an out; this means anticipating what would happen if you had to swerve or slam on the brakes.
- Position both hands firmly but comfortably on handlebars.
- Never drive while feeling drowsy or sleepy; pull over at a rest stop or other safe place to take a break and get some real rest.
Courtesy is Cool
It is easy to get caught up in rushing yourself, as well as other motorists, when riding. It is important to remember that although you may be late, or another driver may have cut you off or otherwise disregarded the rules of the road, riding is no race or competition.
One of the biggest causes of accidents is vehicles following each other too close. The general rule of thumb for driving is one car-length, but it never hurts to extend the buffer between yourself and the vehicle or vehicles in front of you, especially on a motorcycle. This can also help you maintain a smoother ride that saves fuel and wear and tear on your bike. If you are spinning out every start and constantly hitting the brakes, you are accelerating too fast and following too close.
Courteous driving also consists of allowing other motorists to merge into traffic by giving them the space to do so. Similarly, if you are merging, maintain a safe speed, but do your best to quickly accelerate to the flow of traffic.