5.4 Act

Imagine the motorcycle is a guided missile and your moving center is its guidance system
A motorcycle is like a guided missile
A motorcycle is like a guided missile

Act is the last part of the Scan-Plan-Act loop. Imagine the motorcycle as a guided missile with your moving center its guidance system. The missile is high speed, so what guides it has to be the same. As the missile flies, the guidance system constantly scans for obstacles  plans alternative routes and occasionally acts to change direction. This why to to ride a motorcycle safely, your mind must be clear of worries, distractions and unrelated concerns. Being in the here and now is also why riding is so great. Its the nearest thing to flying you can do on the ground.

The commit point

An experienced rider does not commit until the last possible moment
The commit point is when there is no cancel
The commit point is when there is no cancel

The commit point occurs when you go from plan to execute. Before the commit point you can abort at no cost, but after the commit you are in the middle of an act that may be hard to stop. For example, suppose you are waiting to pull into a stream of traffic. You see a gap coming and plan to go, but as you do another car pulls into that gap from a drive close-by and accelerates towards you. You didn’t expect that! You want to stop so they don’t hit you, but its too late, as your already into the road. A panic stop now will make you a sitting duck, so you accelerate and they just miss. Trying to stop after a commit is like “half-swallowing” a thing, i.e. choking! Inexperienced riders end up in such situations when they commit too early. An experienced rider does not commit until the last possible moment – their actions are always just-in-time.

Just-in-time action

The safe rider approaches the commit point slowly, then executes quickly after it

When committing to an action, there are two types of errors:

  1. Commit too early: To unnecessarily commit to a dangerous action.
  2. Cancel too late: Making things worse by cancelling an act half-way.
Motorcycle before entering a cross-road
Entering a cross-road

Commit too early is when you decide to go before you need to. Cancel too late is when you realize a problem mid-action and panic, like a deer on a railway line paralyzed by the lights of an oncoming train. Just-in-time action avoids both problems by not committing until the last possible moment, when the information is most complete. So when pulling into a cross-stream of traffic, start slowly and then quickly commit at the last moment. If another car pulls into the stream you see it and stop, or accelerate in front of it. In the fast changing world of motorcycle riding, dont go until you certainly can. The safe rider approaches the commit point slowly, then executes quickly after it.

Testing the waters

Testing the waters
Testing the waters
Testing the waters means making as if to go, but not committing to go

People taste food before swallowing it and test the water with their foot before jumping in. On a motorcycle, going where you dont know is like jumping into a pool if you dont know the depth – foolhardy. Suppose you come to to an uncontrolled intersection at the same time as car, and you both stop. It is unclear who should go first. If you just wait, the car driver could do the same if they are cautious. If you just go, the car driver could again do the same, giving a crash. What I do is “test the waters”, by making as if to go but not committing. If the other driver stays then I carry on. If they also go, I stop and wave them on, as they will go. If you try to wave on a cautious driver they will just wave you on back, and you both sit there begging the other to go.

Accelerate out of trouble?

You can accelerate into trouble
You can accelerate into trouble

When I was young, other riders often talked about accelerating out of trouble, which sounded quite impressive. With experience, I now realize that you can also accelerate into trouble. Motorcycle speed is not a substitute for safe decision making. As explained above, its only after the commit point that acceleration gets you out of trouble. Before the commit point, it just puts you in danger. When you come to an intersection or turn, don’t plan to accelerate out of trouble. Just as a little kid cant outrun a dog, a motorcycle rider cant outrun every speeding car.

Road position

Your position on the road can be critical
Your position on the road can be critical

Where do you position yourself on the road? Unlike cars, motorcycles only fill half a lane. Where your motorcycle is on the road affects what you can do in a situation. Do you sit to the left, right or middle of the lane? If there are three lanes on a highway, do you choose the slow lane, the middle lane or the fast lane? Most cautious drivers seem to prefer the middle middle lane as they think it is safer. In my view, the outside lanes are safer for a motorcycle as they give you options to pull to the side. Some reasons to adopt a road position include to:

  1. Make space: To give more options.
  2. Improve vision: To get a better view.
  3. Signal intent: To suggest your intent to others.
  4. Improve being seen: See Be Seen.

Lets look at these in more detail.

Make Space

Follow a car on one side or the other, so if they stop suddenly you can swerve around them
Follow cars to the side
Follow cars to the side

As you ride, try to make useful space around you. More space means more options and more options means less risk. Tailgating the center of the car ahead is stupid because if it stops suddenly, where will you go? A motorcycle rider who follows closely behind the center of a car is not threatening the car, but themselves. Follow behind a car to the left or right, on one wheel or the other, so if they stop suddenly you can swerve around them.

Improve vision

Get in a position to see, because on a motorcycle seeing is surviving
Cant see past trucks
Cant see past trucks

Riding behind a truck can block your vision. If you only see the back of the truck, you can only see one vehicle ahead. This is not enough. It means you are just about riding blind. You need to see several vehicles ahead to react in time if someone up ahead decides to stop suddenly. They won’t? Sure they will, sooner or later. On a motorcycle, you can move left or right to get a view ahead. This also lets the truck driver see you in their mirror. Get in a position to see, because on a motorcycle seeing is surviving.

Signal intent

Road cross-hatched middle area
Road cross-hatched middle area
When turning across the road, look for a middle area where you can stop safely to wait to turn

Where you are on the road indicates to others what you intend to do as much as your indicators. For example, when turning, move to the side of the lane you’re turning towards. If turning across the traffic, move to the middle of the road. If there is no gap in the oncoming traffic, you slowly keep moving or stop in the middle of the road. This may seem dangerous, but if your indicators are on others will see and avoid you. Why not fill the middle of the lane with your indicator on, like cars do? A turning car will block the lane but motorcycles dont, so cars behind will try to “squeeze” past you, which is dangerous. When turning across traffic, look for a cross-hatched middle area where you can stop safely to wait to turn across oncoming traffic.

Be effectual

If you want to do something complicated, break it up into action modules
Multi-tasking drivers are dangerous
Multi-tasking drivers are dangerous

People talking on the phone while driving want to get two results for the price of one time slot, but such “multi-tasking” is a major cause of accidents. Trying to do two things at once while riding is ineffectual. High skill tasks like surgery and motorcycle riding favor the opposite – being effectual. As the surgeon on the TV show MASH said: “I do one thing at a time, I do it very well, then I move on.” To be effectual on the road, break complicated actions up into modules. If you want to swerve and stop, both require friction of which the road has a limited amount. If you try to do both at once you will probably skid. Being effectual means you swerve if there is time OR you straighten up and stop. Not both at once. So if you swerve to the side of a road into gravel, straighten up first, then apply the brakes.

The slow lane change

The slow lane change essentially involves moving into another lane about three times slower than usual

Sometimes the weather is so bad that the usual options are shut down. In hard rain stability is an every moment thing, so turning your head to direct sight back before a lane change is  too dangerous and your mirror is just a blur. In this case the slow lane change is an option. It essentially involves moving into the other lane about three times slower than usual. First, move to the edge of the lane with your indicators on and sit there a while. Then slowly move to the other side of the line, and again sit there a while. Finally, occupy the lane in full. This move relies on giving other drivers time to avoid you.


5.4 Plan

The moving center has its own sense input constantly monitoring the space around you
Evan Longoria interview
Evan Longoria interview – click to see

A motor loop is an ongoing action-reaction sequence. Its not an output like a thought or feeling but an ongoing process, like a wheel that continuously turns. If the intellect is a sniper rifle and the emotions are a bomb, then the moving center is a machine gun that constantly fires. It is driven by feedback from the muscles and cycles so fast that only the moving center sitting atop the spine can pull it off. If the cerebellum is damaged, or affected by alcohol, the motor loop slows to give tremors, like a shaky hand. Parkinsons is essentially when the moving center fails. When this happens the “higher” parts of your brain can’t compensate because they are too slow. The moving center has its own high-speed sense input that constantly monitors for spatial intrusions. Check out Mark Wahlberg catching a ball during an interview, or Evan Longoria doing the same.

Changing a feedback loop is like changing a production line in a factory

People today ignore this “spider sense” but we all have it. Once when talking to someone my hand rose to catch an object that unexpectedly fell from a shelf above. Its there but if you don’t use it, it wont develop. Changing a feedback loop is like changing a production line in a factory – it happens faster if you plan the change. As a baseball player trains to catch sudden incoming balls, riders can train to respond to sudden motorcycle events. This means having a Plan B.

Have a Plan B

The moving center is smart not dumb, but it learns by example not talk
Imagine the shot then do it
Imagine the shot then do it

Plan A is the feedback loop the moving center is currently running, say balancing the bike as you ride along. Plan B is how this will change if something unexpected happens. A Plan B is necessary because things happen fast on a bike and there is no time to think. For example, if the car ahead screeches to a halt, do you swing left or right? It makes a difference because one way takes you to the side of the road and the other into oncoming traffic. Since it is better to swerve to the side, this is your Plan B but knowing it intellectually doesn’t make it happen in practice. There is no easy way to practice such events, so the answer is to “practice” in your mind. Just visualize the situation and imagine swerving to the side of the road. Sport psychology studies show that mental practice can improve motor skills, so basketball players who mentally rehearse an upcoming throw do better than those who don’t. On a motorcycle, imagine the car ahead stops and confirm your swerve response. Practice it mentally a few times then if it happens, that is the way you will go. Remember, the moving center is smart not dumb, but it learns by example not talk, even a mental example.

Don’t be an ostrich

Not thinking about bad things that might happen is like being an ostrich with your head in the sand
An ostrich with its head in the sand
An ostrich with its head in the sand

Some people dont like to think about bad things that might happen, maybe feeling that thinking about a bad thing can cause it to happen. This is like being an ostrich with your head in the sand. Unfortunately ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away. This eyes tight shut approach is the opposite of the eyes wide open approach proposed earlier. The better approach is to fearlessly face the fact that bad things do happen by means of “What if?” scenarios.

“What if?” scenarios

A “What if?” scenario is:

  • If this happens? Some unexpected scenario
  • Then I do that! How you want to react.
A little thing like a horn blast can be the difference between accident or not
Children playing on the side of the road
Children playing on the road-side

The job of planning in the Scan-Plan-Act loop is to come up with accident scenarios and define your response. Once riding becomes a natural skill,  part of you is free to think: If X happens, I will do Y. So if children are kicking a ball on the side of the road, you think what if the ball goes on the road with a kid after it? The Ready Reaction already given is a general utility Plan B that readies you to stop but what about the horn? Horn is good to warn the running kid to stop, so you add that in – left thumb ready over the horn. A horn blast can be the difference between accident or not. Readying the horn response makes it much faster, as your brain “factory” plans for it.

Younger kids follow
Younger kids follow

Even better than a Plan B is the ability to predict.

Predicting trouble

Prediction is the human super power of avoiding trouble in the first place
Goalie save
A miraculous save

What can you do in a half a second? People take that long to gather their thoughts. Those who study human reaction time find it takes about a quarter of second just to see visual stimuli, let alone react. But in some cases they found that people had zero second reaction time! How is this possible? The answer is they predicted, in what is called a feed-forward reaction. For example, a soccer goalie cant react fast enough to save a penalty shot if he waits until the ball leaves the boot and then reacts. Yet goalies do save penalty shots when they predict which way the kicker will will go. To do this he watches the kicker not the ball. The human “super power” is not speed or strength, jaws or claws, but prediction. Prediction is the avoid-trouble skill.


5.2 The Motor Loop

Learning to ride a bicycle
Learning to ride a bicycle
There are no shortcuts to learning a motor skill – its just practice

When you learn to ride a bicycle your moving center is learning a motor feedback loop. Note that you cant do it intellectually because the moving center has no language. Second, getting emotional slows down the learning, and a big fright can make you give up entirely. Third, you need to practice because this is how the moving center learns, maybe with someone helping you in the beginning. There are no shortcuts to learning a motor skill – its just practice. The good news is, we all have a moving center so we can all learn this way.

Three ways of knowing

Three ways of knowing
There are three ways of knowing

Three centers mean we have three ways of knowing:

  1. Intellectual. Analyzing sensory patterns gives thoughts and ideas.
  2. Emotional. Analyzing experiences gives likes and dislikes.
  3. Tacit. Analyzing motor feedback gives movement skills.

Most of us are aware of what we think. Many of us are aware of what we feel. Yet very few of us indeed are aware of tacit skills. Tacit knowledge is the stuff you know unconsciously, like how balance on a bicycle. Tacit knowledge is largely unsung, but it is the key to riding safely.

Falling over
Falling over

The way to turn intellectual knowledge into moving center knowledge is automation.


Only when your actions become automatic do you really “know” them
Automation is good
Automating riding is good

Automation suggests becoming mechanical, but here it means transferring knowledge to the moving center, which is anything but mechanical. What you read about riding a motorcycle is going into the intellectual part of your brain, but that knowledge is no use there. How do you “translate” intellectual knowledge into tacit knowledge? It seems hard but sportsmen do it all the time. If you need a better grip in a sport like golf, first you do it intellectually but with practice the moving center learns and takes over. Then you get the benefits. Likewise in riding, what you initially do with the clumsy intellect will transfer to the moving center by practice. Only when your actions become automatic do you really “know” them.

Learning a golf grip
Learning a golf grip

Academics who dismiss the moving center as a “reptile brain” don’t understand its potential. When a skilled pianist’s fingers fly over a keyboard, he or she doesn’t think “I will play A sharp”. Indeed their intellect can discuss the weather while the moving center alone controls their hands. The human moving center is under-rated because it cant talk, but it is the key to learning a motor skill like riding.


Riding is not an logical scenario because intellectual thinking takes too long
Scan-Plan-Act feedback loop
Scan-Plan-Act feedback loop

Motorcycle safety classes use the the SIPDE (Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide and Execute) approach. Its good to teach but I find it too complex to remember. Riding is not an logical scenario because intellectual thinking takes too long. For a fast motor feedback loop I prefer Scan-Plan-Act:

  • Scan: Scan the world to recognize risk.
  • Plan: Plan your next actions to minimize risk.
  • Act: Commit to execute an action.
“Thinking all the time” is the motto of the safe rider

Scan-Plan occurs as you ride along apparently doing nothing much, just just looking and thinking. By thinking here is meant planning your next move, not pondering the meaning of life. “Thinking all the time” is the motto of the safe rider. The Act part kicks in when you do something, like turn a corner. An emergency, like when you skid and recover, shows how fast a motor loop can be. It cycles in microseconds not seconds. Motor loops work best when you are wide awake, calm and giving full attention, without emotions like fear to interfere. Bodily distractions like being cold or wet also interfere, and alcohol or drugs affect motor loops directly. We now look at Scan-Plan-Act in detail.


5.3 Scan

Scanning is like a sonar that checks out all directions
Sonar is based on scanning
Sonar is based on scanning

The best defense against danger is to see it coming and avoid it. Kung-Fu experts can walk down dark alleys and defend themselves, but for the rest of us it is easier to just avoid dark alleys! Your motorcycle risk sense is mainly based on vision, which here means scanning. Scanning is not just normal looking. Normal looking say at a photograph or a book is about recognizing things, whether faces, objects or words. It is like a searchlight that illuminates one object. In contrast scanning is like sonar that checks for danger all directions.

Scanning is all-round vision

Everyone has two types of vision:

  1. Focal vision recognizes things in a small focus.
  2. Scanning identifies things moving anywhere in your field of vision.
All-round scanning is the key to motorcycle safety
We focus to read words
We have to focus to read words

You use focal vision when you read a book and focus on letters and words, but one cant take in a whole page at once this way. The focus has to move from line to line. In contrast scanning takes in everything in the field of view in at once, looking for movement and object contrasts. In our book/media world we habitually use point vision, but all-round scanning is the key to motorcycle safety.

Scanning is when you look around without focusing
Focus gives tunnel vision
Focus gives tunnel vision

Scanning is what your eyes do when you look at nothing in particular.To activate it, just stop focusing.Try it now – look up and just look around without focusing. Now your eyes take in everything around you, not just one or two things. Scanning is the opposite of focusing, which gives “tunnel vision”, a major cause of motorbike accidents. Scanning tells you when anything changes anywhere, not just at some focus.

Dont focus on the red light
Dont focus on the red light

Scanning is your radar

Radar locates then recognizes
Radar detects then recognizes
Radar locates then recognizes

Radar first sweeps a broad area to detect all incoming objects. Then when an object is detected, a more advanced (but slower) recognition system focuses on whether it is friend or foe. The two steps are:

  1. Scan for objects over a wide area.
  2. Recognize selected targets.

It has to work this way because initially one doesn’t know where the danger is. Your eyes work the same way for the same reasons. First peripheral vision identifies objects and movement everywhere, then foveal vision recognizes objects when you focus on them. If you look directly at something, that is foveal vision. If you see a thing “in the corner of your eye” that is peripheral vision. Why is this important? Because peripheral all-round vision is critical to riding safely.

To ride safely, always look many cars ahead
Look ahead not close
Look ahead not close

Peripheral vision activates when we look in the distance at nothing special. If you focus on anything, like reading a sign, it shuts off. When riding, focus on the cars ahead not down at the car in front of you. Set your scanning radar at maximum to give the best early warning. If you look to  the distance, your vision automatically takes in the car in front of you. If anything happens to it you will know directly. If a car unexpectedly comes towards you, you don’t need to know if it’s a Holden or a Ford! Recognition is irrelevant. You only need to know from where and how fast it’s coming! Your all-round vision will tell you this. Even better, it does so for your entire field of view. To ride safely, always look many cars ahead.

Road signs can distract

People reading road signs are dangerous because their all-round vision is disengaged
Road signs can distract
Road signs can distract

Reading road signs, or looking for street numbers, is dangerous because it deactivates your all-round vision. If you see a driver going very slow, or driving erratically, they are often trying to read signs or street numbers. Be very, very careful! Their all round vision is probably disengaged, making them literally blind to anything outside their focus. This tunnel vision means they may not see something as small as a motorcycle. In addition, their purpose may make them suddenly turn left or right. People reading road signs are dangerous because their all-round vision is disengaged.

Eventually, they put up Cash Keep Right signs
Eventually, they put up Cash Keep Right signs

Mirror blind spots

Use your mirrors, but never fully trust them
Motorcycle mirrors have a blind spot
Motorcycle mirrors have a blind spot

Motorcycle mirrors have “blind spots”. Sometimes you look in your mirror and see nothing in the lane next to you, then a car goes by in that lane from “out of nowhere”. It came from the mirror blind spot. It is scary when a lane you thought was empty produces a speeding car. The blind spot is about 45 degrees out from the mirror. By all means use your mirrors, but never fully trust them. For critical moves like changing lanes on a busy highway, use direct sight.

Direct sight

Direct sight is the best sight because it is 100% sure
A bicycle rider turning their head to check for traffic
A bicycle rider turning their head to check for traffic

Direct sight is when you turn your head and look over your shoulder to see traffic behind directly, in your peripheral vision. I always direct sight when changing lanes. Once I did an experiment, first using my mirrors then direct sighting to check before actually changing lanes. Within a month the mirror said “clear”, and I turned my head to see an oncoming car. This isn’t very frequent, but on a motorcycle it only takes one case. Direct sight is the best sight because it is 100% sure.

With practice, you can turn your head but not turn the bike

Direct sight sounds simple but turning your head without turning the bike takes practice. When beginners turn their head, the bike also moves that way, which is bad! Practice turning your head but not turning the bike. While riding straight, briefly turn your head to sight back to the area behind you. Don’t focus behind, just turn your head and use your peripheral vision. Just a glance tells you 100% if anything is there. As you turn your head, keep your body and shoulders straight so the bike doesn’t move. When you direct sight, the bike must not wobble. Decouple scanning done by the head from control of the bike by the body. When you can direct sight back without the bike wavering, you have a 100% reliable behind check (unlike the 99% reliable mirror check). Since turning your head can unsettle the bike, its not really for beginners. If you cant turn your head without wobbling then dont do it. I dont direct sight if the weather is so bad it is dangerous to turn your head, even for a moment. The alternative then is The Slow Move.

The riding skeptic

A riding skeptic is someone who doesn’t assume
Young lady or old lady?
Young lady or old lady?

Our brain is good at telling us what we want to know. In the picture you see a young lady, but look again and it is an old lady!  In the same way, your brain can tell you all is clear when it is not. A skeptic is someone who doesn’t believe but has to see everything for themselves. A riding skeptic is the same – they work on direct sight not assumptions. So while a green light should mean that other cars are stopped, you still look either side as you go. This is a healthy skepticism.

Dead space

It is called dead space because it can make you dead
Dead space behind a hill
Dead space over a hill

When scanning the world, one needs to know where the scan doesn’t work. Dead space, like blind spots, is space you cant see so you don’t know what is there. It is called dead space because it can make you dead. When turning a corner into a cliff you are going around into dead space. When going up a hill and you cant see the other side that is dead space. In the city, dead space is called a blind spot, a spot where something could be hidden, e.g. parked trucks can easily hide a pedestrian standing between them.

The answer to dead space is not x-ray vision but to approach with caution
Dead space round a corner
Dead space round a corner

Accidents happen when dead space is assumed empty but is not. The answer to dead space is not x-ray vision but to approach with caution. Don’t assume dead space is empty. If you come to a hill and cant directly see the other side, recognize it as dead space. It is probably clear but there may be a broken down car or even a cow on the road. If you cant see directly then drop a gear, slow down and cover the brakes.

Live cars

Live cars suddenly pull out or open their doors, dead cars don’t
Are all these cars dead
Are all these cars live or dead?

You see lots of cars parked on the roadside as you ride along. Those with no-one in them are “dead”, and those with someone in them are “live”. The difference is that live cars can suddenly pull out or fling open open doors, so you give them more distance.


4.7 Your State

The kingdom of the brain
The kingdom of the brain
The intellect is the whistle blower that can warn that all is not well in the Kingdom of You

When your state changes you may not be aware of it. After all, the “You” deciding if you’re drunk is drunk! Only your intellect can look at your behavior and conclude you are drunk, but in the brain the intellect is like the nerd in the high school movies that nobody listens to. But when it comes to your state, the intellect is the whistle blower that can warn that all is not well in the Kingdom of You. Whether or not the rest of you listens depends on the balance of power in your brain.


Alcohol double hits the brain
Alcohol is dangerous because as your skills go down, your belief in them goes up

Alcohol affects your brain in two ways:

  • Slows down movements. Slurred speech, stumbling walk and lack of balance.
  • Activates the emotions. Can make you happier and more confident.

Alcohol is extra dangerous because as your skills go down, your belief in them goes up.

Alcohol is like fatigue on steroids, so if you get drunk, sleep over or take a cab
Drive hammered, get nailed
Drive hammered, get nailed

When drunk, you cant take that corner as well but your emotions tell you you can do it better! It is a fatal combination. Most people “know” alcohol impairs their ability to ride. In this regard alcohol is like fatigue but it also raises your confidence. Alcohol is like fatigue on steroids, so if you get drunk, sleep over or take a cab.

How much is too much?

Usually two or three drinks affect riding and four or five drinks put you over the limit
How much alcohol is too much
How much alcohol is too much?

Most laws find you intoxicated at a Blood Alcohol Concentration of 0.08% to 0.10% and first time penalties range from fines to six months license suspension. Usually two or three drinks has an effect on your driving, and four or five drinks and you’re over the limit. What you drink also matters, as some drinks have more alcohol than others. These numbers are less for a small person or for women. If you wait for an hour, you lose about one drink from your bloodstream. Coffee has no affect at all on your blood alcohol level, nor does drinking water. In general, you can drink less than you think you can, but as you drink you think you can handle more. That’s because you’re drunk!


Fatigue slows down your brain and reduces your awareness of things around you
Driver tunnel vision
Driver tunnel vision

Fatigue slows down your brain and reduces your awareness of things around you. The human “battery” needs about eight hours of charging to run for only 16 hours! The brain copes with low energy by shutting down what it doesnt consider important. So when tired you get “tunnel vision”, which is like riding with blinkers on. Beware of fatigue, as you need all your brain to ride!

Even if the mind does not want to sleep, eventually the body just turns out the lights
Children fall asleep anywhere
Children fall asleep anywhere

Fatigue, like intoxication, can creep up on you. Hyped with stimulants like coffee or a strong desire, you may not realize how tired you are. The problem may build up over days, as you accumulate a “sleep debt”. Normally, when people tire they stop to rest but some people fight this. Some children get more active as they get tired. At nap time they run around in frantic circles until they finally collapse and fall asleep anywhere. Its a strange thing to watch. If the mind does not want to sleep, eventually the body just turns out the lights. This is exactly what you never want to happen on a motorcycle.

Falling asleep at the handlebars

Falling asleep at the handlebars can happen on long trips

Driving drowsy is like driving drunkRiding while drowsy is just as dangerous as riding while drunk. A surprising number of people fall asleep at the wheel in cars, usually with bad results. They are not lazy people but more likely the opposite – hard working A types who push their bodies around. One day they push too hard and lose. Falling asleep at the handlebars is unlikely, but on long trips it can happen if you want to press on and dont feel like stopping. You know you are tired, but maybe the weather is bad and if you stop you might not want to start again. Do you listen to your body or deny it? If you go against it, remember that ultimately your body not “you”, controls your “on/off switch”. If the body flicks this switch, then “you” disappear. You decide, but sometimes you really need to take a break.


Naps dont waste time, they save it
Naps are good
Naps are good!

If you are tired and stop, maximize the power of your break with a nap. Naps dont waste time, they save it, as the first part of sleep gives the most rest. Napping is a skill. The key to effective napping is to rest deeply but briefly. Even a short nap can recharge your body’s batteries. If the weather is fine, I find a clear grassy area, like outside a highway road-stop, and lie flat on my back. You rest best when horizontal. Then I forget the stupid world and “disappear” from it. In bad weather I find an indoor place where they let you sit, like a cafe, order coffee, then sit upright, close my eyes, and drift off. I find it easier to nap sitting upright than slumped. The second part of napping is waking up again. If you sleep for hours then it isnt a nap. I like a place with people moving or talking so I dont nap long.


Give your anger a rest while riding because it is unsafe.
Manage your anger
Manage your anger

Anger alters your brain to take more risks, so people do things when angry that they would not normally do. Angry time is risk time. And its not just a thought, as specific brain chemicals change how your brain works. If you ride while angry only half your brain is attending the road. The other half is getting upset and concocting elaborate schemes for revenge. If you are angry when you get on a motorcycle, you have to tell that half to “get with the program”, because you need all your brain. Give anger a rest while riding because it is unsafe. If you want, you can get angry again after you arrive.

Warm up your brain

Give your mind time to warm up by avoiding pressure when you start to ride
Warm up your brain before you ride
Warm up your brain before you ride

Just as it is a good idea to warm up your motorcycle for a few seconds if it hasn’t been used for a while, so it is a good idea to warm up your brain if you haven’t ridden for a while. So when you start riding, for the first minute or so take it easy. If you have not ridden for a week or more, then take it easy for five minutes. It takes time for the riding brain to kick back in. Your brain is a complex piece of machinery, so give time for the right circuits to activate. At the first intersection, take a second to breathe and focus. If pulling out looks tight, then just wait. Until your mind speed is up, keep your bike speed down.


4.6 Motorcycle State

Motorcycle flat tire
Too low tire pressure!

Many things affect the motorcycle state, including luggage, a passenger and a mechanical failure. The answer in every case is to first recognize that you are now riding a different bike, and second to adjust how you ride accordingly. For example, too low tire pressure causes sluggish, unstable handling and less responsive steering. Too high tire pressure lightens the steering and will wear out the middle of the tire faster.


Pencil balances when its weight is over the point
Pencil balances when its weight is over the point

Luggage is a problem if it changes the weight distribution of the bike. When riding, if the bike center of gravity is at the sweet spot, right over the wheels, it takes no more effort to handle a big bike than a small one. Likewise a pencil balanced on your finger is stable if the weight is over the point,  but if not, it starts to fall. On a motorcycle you adjust the weight to be over the tires as you ride. However loading one pannier but not the other interferes with this balance, so the bike handles differently when you corner. So when adding luggage, add it as close as possible to the bike’s center, and add evenly so the effect balances out. The best place to put luggage is directly behind you, where the passenger normally sits.


With a passenger, be consciously aware you have extra weight
Motorcycle passenger
Motorcycle passenger

Passengers that sit behind you dont alter the balance but they do increase the bike weight, and for a small bike the change can be significant. That the extra weight means you can’t stop as quickly is not immediately obvious, so be aware you need more time to stop. And this weight can move, so take it easy cornering for a while. For a new passenger, impress upon them that you want them to do nothing at all. Dont let them get on until you stabilize the bike, with both feet planted. Suggest they put one hand on your shoulder and with a leg on the peg, to get up vertical first, then slide the other leg across and sit. Its easier as a two-step process. Tell them to hold onto you firmly, not the seat or the sidebars, as a pillion passenger can fall off the back of an accelerating motorbike. When you stop, again stabilize before they get off.

Flat tire

When a tire blows you get a big wobble

When a tire blows you get a big wobble, so hold the handlebars firmly, keep as straight as you can and get to the side of the road. Your riding on the rim of the tire, so none of the normal controls work too well. The main thing is, don’t panic Hold as steady as you can and get to the side of the road, out of the traffic.

Bike suddenly stops

If your bike loses power for any reason, get out of the traffic flow before you run out of momentum
If the motorbike chain breaks, the bike stops
If the motorbike chain breaks, the bike stops

There are many reasons a motorcycle can suddenly stop. Brakes can jam, a chain can break, an engine can fail, or maybe you just ran out of petrol. Whatever the cause, you have a few seconds to do something about it. The main thing is get off the road before you stop entirely. Even on a quiet country road, get off it! If this happens on a highway, the problem is even more urgent because the traffic is so fast. Even if you are in the middle lane, if you feel the power go, get to side  right away. Dont wait. Dont worry about offending other cars. Stopping in the fast lane is a death sentence for car or motorcycle. If your bike ever loses power, for whatever reason, get out of the traffic flow before you run out of momentum.


4.5 Road State

Road State
Road state affects riding

Road state changes include jolts, slips, ruts, white lines, ice and gravel. The worst are those you don’t see in advance, like oil slicks. Understanding the road means knowing where such changes are likely to occur so you can be prepared. Road state affects riding so be ware of the road at all times for changes in state and adapt.


A road pothole
A road pothole gives a jolt

Jolts are caused by pot-holes or obstacles in the road that suddenly shock the bike. A jolt from hitting an object like a dead animal in the road can twist the bike so it falls or even throws you off. If you see a pothole, slow down and try to avoid it, but if you cant then at least hit it straight on. This avoids the twist and fall problem. Just before you hit, you can raise your body slightly with your legs to absorb some of the shock, and use bendable arms to absorb any forward shock. If a jolt lifts you off the seat don’t panic as the law of gravity will return you to the bike if it is straight. If you are cornering and meet a jolt, first slow down and straighten up, then as above.


If your front tire gets in a rut, it will follow the rut
Riding in ruts is dangerous
Ruts are dangerous as they take control of the bike

Ruts are ridges or channels in the road that take control of the bike and move it in the direction of the rut. On unpaved roads, ruts are commonly caused by water or wheels. On modern roads they can occur when lanes on highways are laid down separately and split apart over time. Tramlines also create a rut problem. If your front tire gets in a rut it will follow the rut, and often there is not much you can do about it. You have to follow the rut until you regain control. Dont try to fight it, as that can make things worse. Hitting a rut while turning a corner can be disastrous, as the rut sends the wheels one way and forward motion sends the bike another, flipping it to the ground. If you see a rut on a turn, slow and straighten immediately. If you are riding where there are ruts, be aware how dangerous they are. To cross a rut, increase the angle across it. So if there is rut between two lanes on a highway, turn into the other lane at a greater angle than you normally would.


On a bridge you may feel grill ridges controlling your tires in the direction of the grill
Cattle grills are not dangerous
Cattle grills are not dangerous

Grills are like minor ruts that interfere with bike control. They occur on bridges where the engineers put down steel ridges instead of asphalt for service reasons. As you cross the bridge you feel the grill ridges controlling your tires in the direction of the grill. Slow down, and try to drive in the direction of the grill. Don’t try to fight it. If you point the bike in the same direction as the grill, there will be some wobble but not much. It is disconcerting, but not dangerous. Another type of grill is a cattle grill that stops cows from walking over it. If you cross the grill at right angles there is nothing to worry about – it will just bump the bike up and down a bit, thats all.


A manhole cover
A manhole cover is a slip

Slips are parts of the road that have less friction. They include oil, ice and white lines. If you are riding straight ahead at a constant speed, a slip is not a problem as you just slide on over it, but if turning, stopping or accelerating they are a problem. A turning bike that hits a wet manhole cover can slip and fall. If the slip is brief the bike will recover, unless you are pushing the envelope or overreact. Worse than small manholes are the large metal panels sometimes used to cover road repairs. If you hit one of those on a turn, then you have a problem. But like all things what you see coming isn’t a problem – just take the turn slower or straighten up over it.

Oil patches

At stop signs or traffic lights, there is often an oil slick front and center
Oil on the road is dangerous
Oil on the road is dangerous

Oil patches are another type of slip but are hard to see, so know where they are likely to be. Oil leaks from cars occur in the middle of the road, or where cars often wait. For example at toll booths, the center can be an oil slick so slippery you could not even stand there, so keep to the side. Likewise at stop signs or traffic lights, there is often an oil slick front and center. This position is not where you want to accelerate off from.

Straighten up

Go straight across a slip

The solution to every case of turning on a slippery surface is to straighten and not accelerate or brake. You have to go straight across a slip. If anyone has a better solution, let me know. After the slip, you can turn again. If you feel a slip rather than see it, the response is the same – straighten up immediately. Bringing the bike upright in a slip usually restores stability, and then you have other choices like to brake or turn again.

White lines

When the bike is on a painted road marking you are in “slip alley”
Keep off white road markings
Keep off white road markings!

White lines, or any kind of road marking, are a special case of road slip. When you ride over road markings, especially in the rain, your friction is much less. If you apply the brakes, you may slip. In general keep your bike off road markings for this reason. Definitely don’t brake heavily while on the white lane direction arrows. If overtaking, keep off the lines separating the lanes. If stopped, keep your back tire off the stop line. This advice applies double in the wet. If your back tire is on a white line at a traffic light, and you accelerate off when the light turns green, there is a good chance you will skid. When the bike is on a painted road marking you are in “slip alley”.


If there is ice on the road, take the train

When traveling over ice, you have no control at all. You had better believe that ice is the perfect slip. The effect of ice is no friction, so you cannot turn, accelerate or stop. If you hit ice, all you can do is try to keep straight and steady. My advice regarding ice is DON’T RIDE. I ride in snow, rain, wind and storm, but in ice, I stay home. Clear day with snow on the ground – no problem. Pouring rain – fine. Thunder and lightening – I have rubber wheels. But if there is ice on the road, take the train.

Car tyres can clear ice
Car tires can clear ice

Even though I dont ride on ice, I have ridden when there was salt on the roads so the ice was patchy. The best bet is to stick to often used roads, as the cars using it melt the ice, and car tires can clear ice. When they salt the roads take the main roads and avoid side roads that are salted less frequently. Take the most traveled route, and stay in the vehicle tracks not the road center. Then remember not to go out on ice again.


Gravel is an unstable surface that moves if pressured in any way
Gravel moves when you ride on it
Gravel moves when you ride on it

Gravel and dirt are not really slips but they behave the same. Gravel is an unstable surface that moves if pressured in any way. If you try to turn in gravel the front wheel slips away and the bike goes down. So as with slips, keep straight until you can slow down. Some people like gravel, but most of us prefer to avoid it, which means knowing where it is. Most gravel sits on the side of the road. If you pull off a highway for any reason, beware of gravel and keep straight and stop slowly. Sometimes gravel is where you might not expect it, for example it builds up at the points between the flows on major intersections where car tires push it. So there can be gravel right in the center of an intersection, where the cars dont go. Watch out for these “gravel accumulation points”.


If something flies through the air at you, just duck
Debris in the road can fly up and hit you
Road debris can fly up and hit you

Road debris sitting on the road can fly through the air and hit you when a car runs over it. Maybe it fell off the back of a truck or an insecure trailer. Then cars ride over it until it disappears. If you see debris in the road there is not a lot you can do except prepare for a jolt, i.e. keep straight and let your legs absorb the jolt. If debris flies through the air at you, just duck, or drop your head forward momentarily to present a smaller profile. It then hits your helmet top rather than your visor.


4.4 Darkness

We are not night animals, so our night vision is not great

When the sun sets, our eyes go from color to black and white, like changing the film in a camera. Your night vision works differently from your day vision, so you may have good day vision but bad night vision. Since we are not night animals,  our night vision is not very good.

Night riding

At night your depth and speed perception is less than in daylight
Headlight distance is hard to judge
Headlight distance is hard to judge

Riding at night is different from riding during the day. In particular, at night our depth vision gets much worse, so you cant judge the distance of oncoming cars very well, or their speed. How far away is that car and how fast is it coming towards you? At night you know less than you think. So be extra careful when pulling into a traffic flow or changing lanes at night.

Blinding headlights

When you encounter blinding oncoming headlights, don’t look at them!
Headlights can blind you
Dont look at oncoming headlights!

Some drivers forget to dip their headlights for oncoming traffic. Some headlights are badly set so they shine into your eyes anyway. Some big trucks have lights so bright they are naturally blinding. And sometimes the headlights of a car coming up a hill shine at you even when dipped. One way or another, sooner or later, if you ride at night you will encounter blinding headlights. Don’t look at them, as one tends to go where one looks! Look to the side of the road, to the line of the road markers, or look to the traffic ahead. Fix your vision on a point of the road that you can see, and focus on that.

Sunrise, sunset

If the setting or rising sun is behind you, other drivers cant see you as well
If the setting sun is behind you, other people cant see you
Ride carefully if the setting sun is behind you

Sunrise and sunset are particularly dangerous, as when the sun shines in your eyes you cant see. On a bike you can temporarily raise your left hand to shade your eyes, but it is dangerous to ride like this. A better option is to drop your head so the top of the helmet acts as a sunshade. Or just squint. The flip side of this problem is if the sun is setting behind you, the other traffic cant see you. So if the setting or rising sun is behind you, give other drivers especial latitude.


4.3 Wind

Windy weather
Windy weather

Oncoming wind is a normal part of riding. Riding a motorcycle is like being in a wind tunnel, so a front wind isn’t a problem at all because the bike is designed for it. In fact, I quite like riding in the wind. However when its windy, rain, stones and even dust thrown up can sting sting the face and interfere with vision, so you need a full-face helmet and visor to keep your face and eyes safe.

The sail effect

The motorcycle solution to side winds is to not be a sail
Van blown over
The sail effect blew this van over

When you ride, some wind turbulence is normal. Fairings and wind-screens reduce front turbulence but as pointed out earlier, can act like sails if hit by side winds. When wind hits a sail it generates force and the bigger the sail area the bigger the force. Never underestimate the power of this, as vans with high flat sides regularly get blown over by the sail effect. The motorcycle solution to side winds is to not be a sail.

Wind is why umbrella raingear works on a bicycle but not a motorbike
This works on a bicycle but not a motorbike
Umbrella rain gear works on a bicycle but not a motorbike

A motorcycle should not present any large flat side surface that can act like a sail. After all, a motorcycle with wind protection all around it would be a two wheel car, and that doesnt work. Wind is why umbrella rain gear works on a bicycle but not a motorbike. You want any side winds wind to go through the bike, like a sail with holes in it. This is why I don’t like solid side farings for ordinary riding.

Wind wobble

Dont over-react to wind, as wobble when riding is  normal
A rodeo rider
A rodeo rider relaxes but grips with the legs

Wind makes the bike wobble but even normal riding has a wobble that the rider just naturally compensate for. Wind just makes the wobble bigger. The more stable you ride the better you handle wind. Handle it the way rodeo riders handle a bucking bronco:

  • Relax your upper body. Don’t grip the handles too tight to fight it but counter-balance the bike’s movement with your body.
  • Grip the bike with your legs to keep  firmly on and keep up the acceleration to push on through the  wind.

Your upper body goes with the flow, continually re-adjusting the center, while the lower body holds you on. Dont over-react to wind, as wind is part of riding and wobble is part of wind.

Gusting crosswinds

Gusting crosswinds can be unsettling
Lean into a constant wind
Lean into a constant wind

Front winds are not a problem. Even constant side winds are not a problem, as you can just lean into them. However gusting crosswinds that suddenly push the bike sideways then stop can be unsettling. They can happen when you cross a river bridge or pass a large truck. Here is what I do:

  • Lower your profile. Drop the body to the tank a bit to lower your profile and reduce the crosswind effect.
  • Slow a bit. Going a bit slower can make the bike more stable, but not too slow as it is the centrifugal force of the wheels keeps you upright. Keep the revs up.
  • Knee tank grip. Grip the bike by pushing inwards with knees and feet for vertical stability.
  • Don’t panic. Worse than the wind is over-reacting to it. Stay calm and go with the flow.

Riding in the wind can be tiring, as you are continually working to balance the bike. The wind is one case where it helps to have a heavier bike.


Wasps sting you
Wasps sting you!

Insects rule the world, so sooner or later you will meet them on a motorcycle. They dont want to fly into you, so really you hit them. Bugs on your visor create a vision problem but bugs in your helmet are a safety issue. Insects that hit you on the outside bounce off, but you don’t want a wasp inside your jacket. Make sure gloves cover jacket sleeves, and leggings go over your boots. A point of entry often forgotten is the neck, so I wear a scarf to keep my neck sealed. There is nothing worse than a stinging insect down your neck.


4.2 Rain

Rain changes everything
Rain changes everything

Rain changes everything because it creates:

  • Wetness. That makes you uncomfortable.
  • Slipperiness. That can drop the bike.
  • Obscurity. That reduces visibility to see ahead.

Wetness, slipperiness and obscurity make rain dangerous for the unwary motorcyclist.

The rain prayer

The main thing is to put the thought in your head that rain changes everything!
The rain prayer
The rain prayer

I often  ride in the rain and so am not scared of it. If it rains, I go anyway. However before I ride in the rain, I say “the rain prayer”. It goes like this: “Let me take care out there!” Its also a sincere wish. You dont have to get on your knees or light a candle or anything. It only takes a second. The main thing is to put the thought in your head that rain changes everything! The problem is that habits die hard, so we tend to drive the same in the rain. You cant do that on a motorcycle. Most people see rain and worry about getting wet. If is warm, wet is no big deal, as we are all wet on the inside anyway. Getting wet doesnt hurt you at all. The big thing is: change your attitude when it rains. With that and wet-weather gear, rain is no problem.


Riders want to travel through rain and arrive as they started – warm and dry
eady riders arrive dry
Ready riders arrive dry

Rain soaks your clothes and makes you feel uncomfortable, and if it is cold doubly so. Wet gloves feel horrible and wet boots wrinkle your feet. When you arrive soaked, you feel a wreck and have to change clothes. For these reasons, riders want to travel through rain and arrive as they started – warm and dry. The answer is waterproof gear that sheds rain like water off a duck’s back.

Plug the gaps

You are as waterproof as your first leak
Leaks flow to the crotch
Leaks flow to the crotch

Water has a way of getting into places. At riding speeds, wind forces water into any gaps. While each thing you wear might be waterproof, their combination may not be. If you have a leak at one point, it will seep in and spread. You are as waterproof as your first leak. To keep dry, pay attention to the following gaps:

  • Neck: A scarf stops water dribbling down your neck and back.
  • Wrists: Gloves (gauntlets) should overlap your jacket sleeves.
  • Waist: Make sure your jacket is long enough to cover your leggings in the riding position.
  • Ankles: Leggings must be long enough to overlap your boots when crouched.

Very light raincoats

Very light raincoat
A windbreaker

I always carry a very light raincoat or wind-breaker. It is so thin it can crush to the size of a fist and is easy to carry on a bike. It has two uses:

  • Layering. Under your main jacket it is additional protection against water.
  • Passengers. If you have a passenger, they can wear it for protection.

When riding, always carry a spare very light wind-breaker, whether waterproof or not.


Whatever you do, do it more carefully in the rain
Caution! Slippery when wet
Caution! Slippery when wet

Rain increases road slipperiness so any safety practice you have, double it in the rain! This applies to cornering, stopping, speed and accelerating. You have only half the stopping power, so double your usual following distance. If you normally take a corner at a certain lean, lean a lot less in the rain. Wet roads also combine dangerously with other slip factors, like white lines and manhole covers.

The first wet

Take special care when riding in the first wet after a dry spell
Oil on the road
Oil on the road

During a dry weather spell, oil from cars builds up on roads. When it rains, the water cleans the roads by loosening these dried up surface oils and in time washes them away. But if you are riding in the first rain after a dry spell, take special care as these oils are still on the surface. The first wet is the worst wet, as rain after a long dry period makes roads extra slippery. Until they wash clean, the roads are extra dangerous for motorcycles.

Reduced Visibility

Sometimes at highway speed you can turn your head briefly so the wind flow blows the raindrops off
Visor drops obscure vision
Visor drops obscure vision

The main problem with rain is that it obscures vision. Rain drops on the visor outside make it hard to see. You cant clear the drops with your gloves as they smear the visor and make it worse. Sometimes at riding speeds you can turn your head briefly so the wind flow blows the raindrops off. If not, maybe the drop pattern has a clear patch you can see through – altering your head position in the helmet may help. If not, you have to stop and clear. It is worse when rain gets inside the visor to give an inner drop layer as well as an outer one. When two overlapping layers of drops obscure your vision, you have to stop and clear. Don’t ride on, as riding blind is not an option!


Fogging is really dangerous
Fogging is dangerous, so get anti-fog
Visor fogging in wet weather is my pick for worst riding problem

Fogging occurs when moist air condenses inside your visor. While raindrops partly obscure vision, fogging blocks it entirely. On a nice day you can lift your visor slightly to let the airflow clear the fog, but fogging is more common when it rains. Dealing with visor fogging in wet weather is my pick for worst riding problem. It is a catch-22 between visor down and fogging vs visor up slightly that gives water droplets inside the visor as well. If you wear glasses like I do, water drops on your spectacle lens mean three overlapping layers of droplets blocking vision. Thats bad! A fogging visor in the rain isn’t easy to deal with, but here are some options:

  1. Anti-fog liquid. Anti-fog liquid inside and outside your visor, and on your glasses if you wear them, reduces fogging and repels the rain. I always carry anti-fog for this reason.
  2. Visor vents open. Most visors have vents – check they are open in hot muggy weather.
  3. Lift visor slightly. Click your visor up a fraction, as even a little air flow can clear fogging. On a trip, over time rain drops will still get through, so stop periodically to clean the visor inside and out.
  4. Breathe down. Fogging often starts when you stop at traffic lights as there is no airflow. So while stopped I breathe out downwards to fog less, and might also temporarily raise the visor up a bit to get clearing air, then pop it down again when the light goes green.
Fit an anti-fog insert
Fit an anti-fog insert

The best solution is a visor that is anti-fog to start with, or buying an anti-fog visor insert to fit inside the visor. Visor fogging is so dangerous that I always fit an anti-fog strip inside any helmet that I buy. You have to take the visor off to apply it, so it often pays to do it in the shop when you buy. They may help you fit the strip right and get the visor back on correctly afterwards.


Fog happens, and when does visibility goes way down
Fog happens
Fog happens and when it does visibility goes way down

Fog is when droplets of water condense in the air around you to reduce vision. It is not common but fog happens, and when does visibility goes way down. There are stories of people being unable to see their hand held out in front of them in fog. Fog reduces your main line of defense – vision. And when your vision goes down, so must your speed. Speeds of 20 or 10 mph are not unreasonable in fog. Fog on a highway produces 50 car pile-ups when drivers ignore visibility conditions. On a motorcycle in bad conditions like fog, look for a “sweeper”, a large vehicle that can blaze a trail for you. Behind a big truck you can travel faster than your lights allow, as their lights see further.


Motorcycle crossing water
Motorcycle crossing water
Water-planing happens when riders try to force their way through water

Sometimes a body of water several inches deep or more forms on the road that you must ride through. If you hit solid water at speed it becomes hard, and like a water-skier you skid across it. This is called water-planing. So as for cornering, enter slowly then accelerate to push through it. A motorcycle can move through quite deep water, deeper than most cars, but the key is once you enter don’t stop. Keep the revs up and use the clutch to give more power as needed. Move through at a steady pace without trying to force it. Water-planing happens when riders try to force their way through water. If you go through gently, the water simply moves aside for you.


4.1 Cold

A warm rider is a safer rider
Snow on motorbike
Not motorbike weather!

On a motorcycle, wind chill can turn cold into very cold. For a rider at 55mph, it can turn a cool 63°F day into temperatures approach freezing point. So on a cold day, a rider gets really cold. Coldness distracts from riding, cold fingers cant feel the bike controls and a chilled body gives hypothermia where one cant think clearly. Yet with the right gear, you can be snug in almost any weather.

The layer system

It is not the thickness of each layer that counts but the number of layers

The layer system lets you adapt to the cold. I have a warm jacket but sometimes in winter it is not enough. The layer system lets you add layers for extra warmth. It is not the thickness of each layer that counts but the number of layers, because the air between layers is also an insulator. On a long cold trip, I might wear:

  1. A warm body vest (thermal optional).
  2. A warm shirt over that.
  3. A warm woolen waistcoat over that.
  4. A light windbreaker over that.
  5. And a full riding jacket over it all.
The layer system gives flexibility
Light windbreaker
Light windbreaker

Can it really get that cold? Sure it can, especially on a long trip! The layer system gives flexibility. If it warms up, take a layer off, like the waistcoat or windbreaker. If it gets colder, stop and add one. I always carry a windbreaker as a spare layer. Layering also works for rain, as if water gets through one layer, the next one stops it.

Glove liners boost your gloves in cold conditions

The layer system also works for feet, hands and legs. Two pairs of socks, an thin inner pair and an thick outer one, are better than one very thick pair. Glove liners, thin fingered gloves worn inside your main gloves, increase warmth in cold conditions. In extreme conditions, glove covers worn outside your gloves give extra warmth and waterproofing. For the legs, inner long-johns add warmth, and lightweight leggings can pull over heavy leggings for an extra layer.

Don’t be an iceberg

When traveling, keeping warm is mostly about hanging on to the heat you have
Dont be an iceberg
Dont be an iceberg

Even with good gear, in mid-winter you can often only go an hour or less before you have to stop. When the body isn’t regenerating the heat you are losing fast enough, you slowly turn into an iceberg. Normally you generate heat by moving about but its dangerous to move about to warm up while riding. Recognize that once your main body heat drains away, you have to stop. It only gets worse from here. And when you stop at a cafe to warm up with a coffee, it can can take 10-20 minutes for your main body heat to return. Stopping every half hour is not a good way to take a long trip so warm gear is the way to avoid that. When traveling, keeping warm is mostly about hanging on to the heat you have.

The weakest link

A scarf can keep the chill wind from your face
A scarf can work like a balaclava
A scarf can double as a balaclava

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so what about a freezing wind coming up under your helmet on a cold day? As you go faster, the problem increases and a frozen face is bad news. I find a scarf helpful here. Push one end up under the helmet to stop the wind chill on your face. A balaclava is better, but you have to put that on in advance under your helmet. A scarf is like a cheap balaclava that you can just pull up over your face as needed. Flexibility rocks!


1.8 Basic Skills

To be effective, skills must be automatic
Basic skills
Basic skills

Skills are the physical actions a rider uses to ride. They are learned by practice, not words. To be effective, skills must be automatic. There are two types of skills, basic and advanced. Basic skills are what you learn right away, including getting on the bike, take-off, riding and stopping. You use these skills all the time, so might as well start right. If you start wrong, then you are just practicing mistakes. If you are experienced, then you can skip this section.

Getting on

When you get on a bike stand close to it
Mounting a motorcycle
Mounting a motorcycle

Getting on a motorbike is the simplest thing in the world, right? Wrong! When you get on a bike, especially a big one, stand close to it and grab both handlebars firmly. Probably it is on a side stand leaning towards you. First straighten the handlebars and pull the front brake on so you have control. Why close?  Well if for some reason the the bike falls away from you it can be really hard to stop. Why the brake? Well on a slope when you push it off the stand it can move. Now swing your leg over by sliding the bent knee over the seat. Don’t hurl your leg back, as this puts you off balance. If you have a pack-rack bag, there is no room to do that anyway. Just raise the bent knee and push it over the seat. Now you are on, vertical the bike and kick the stand away. Then plant your left foot, lean the bike onto it, and put your right foot on the break. This frees your hands to adjust your gloves or jacket before you put it into neutral to start. Next is the take off.

Take off

To take off increase throttle and release clutch
To take off increase throttle and release clutch

Sitting on the bike, open the choke as necessary. Put the gear in neutral, then turn the ignition to start the bike. Give it a moment to warm up, then plant your right foot and kick back the stand. With all four fingers of the left hand, pull in the clutch, and with your left foot engage first gear. You are now stationary, with front brake still on, but ready to take off.

The POE is when the clutch lever lets the engine’s power go to the wheels

Slowly open the clutch to the point of engagement (POE). The POE is the point when the clutch lever lets the engine power go to the wheels. It varies from bike to bike, but at the POE the bike will start to pull and the engine revs decrease. The POE can be altered by a knurled adjuster where the cable leaves the clutch lever. When you get to the POE, you have to do two things at the same time:

  1. Release the front brake so the bike can move.
  2. Open the clutch to transfer power to the wheels.
  3. Turn the throttle to keep the engine revs up.

If you do this right, opening the clutch as you turn the throttle gives a nice, smooth, controlled take off. Since you are balancing two things, two things can go wrong:

  • Too much power. You take off too fast and lose control or skid.
  • Too much clutch. The engine lurches and stalls, and you don’t take off at all.
Take off is a point of high acceleration

Don’t worry if you get it wrong first time – it takes practice. When you take off, you need power to accelerate to a safe speed quickly, like when a plane takes off it needs plenty of power to get airborne. At take off, your speed is low because you start at speed zero, but your acceleration is high. Take off involves high acceleration, so if you are on a slippery surface, like a white line, or in gravel, you can easily skid. If you skid while perfectly straight the back wheel spins in place, but any lean and it slides out left or right and you fall off.

High revs and slow clutch gives a smooth takeoff

The other likely outcome for beginners is to stall. This means too much clutch and not enough throttle. Go easier on the clutch and get the engine at higher “revs”. Dont be afraid of high revs as they dont affect anything until the clutch is out. Get the clutch to the point of engagement slowly but this time keep the revs high. The higher you rev the engine the less chance there is of stalling, and the slower you let the clutch out the less chance of takeoff “lurch”. High revs and slow clutch gives a smooth takeoff.


Sitting Upright
Sitting upright is easier on the body
Sitting upright is less effort

Posture is how you sit on the bike. You can lean forward, lean back, sit upright or some combination. Racing bikes are designed so riders crouch forward to reduce wind drag, but this becomes uncomfortable over time. Easy rider bikes let you lean back but oddly this is also uncomfortable over time. Touring bikes, designed to ride for long distances, favor an upright posture. Upright is less effort, because the body supports itself, giving a more relaxing ride. Upright gives better vision, because the head is higher. Finally, it gives better control, as the body is not leaning on the hands or feet. Leaning pressure can interfere with hand/foot control actions. Its also better for your back to be upright.

Can you move your hands or feet without affecting the body balance?

Check your posture when you sit on the motorcycle – can you lift and move your hands and feet without affecting the body? If you relax your arms and fall forward, you were leaning on them. Your hand must be entirely free from body pressure because it interferes with bike control. Another way to check your posture is go on a long trip. If you have a sore back or shoulders at the end of the day, your posture is not right. When you sit upright, you retain a lumbar arch – that arch in the lower back is an important part of good posture. Find a posture that suits you and stick to it.

Foot off the brake

If you lurch forward with your foot over the brake, you can accidentally apply it

There is some discussion about this. If you ride with your foot right over the brake, then any sudden bump can result in accidental braking with potentially dangerous results. Here’s why. You hit a bump, maybe junk on the road and as the body lurches forward, the foot over the brake accidentally presses the brake on. Unexpectedly stopping or even slowing down like that for no reason is very dangerous, in traffic for example. If you are heavily thrown forward foot on the brake can even throw you off the bike. So I always ride with my right foot to the side of the brake pedal, maybe pointing the foot a little out. With your foot to the side of the brake, if you lurch forward for any reason, the brake is not affected. I only put my foot over the brake when in the ready reaction position, i.e. when braking is needed.


The main brake is the front brake but it is good practice to apply both brakes gently at once
The front brake is most effective
The front brake is most effective

There are two brakes, front and back. When stopping, the weight of you and the bike are thrown forward, pressing the front wheel down. This gives the front wheel more friction and so more stopping power, but if you brake too hard you can go over the top. The most effective brake on a motorbike is the front brake. Experienced riders often mainly control the bike with the front brake because it is so effective, but others suggest learners use the back brake at first for the same reason! I prefer to apply both brakes gently at once, on the principle that how you stop normally is how you will stop in an emergency. So I normally use both brakes at once so my brain will follow the same steps in an emergency. My normal stop and my emergency stop are the same pattern. You cant expect your body to behave differently in a rare emergency from its usual habit. It wont suddenly learn new skills in an emergency, as when the adrenaline is pumping, habit dominates. Practicing using both brakes when normal stopping is building a habit that may save your life. Applying front and back brakes together is a skill that must be practiced until it is automatic. It should be a single gentle action.

When stopped at a red light keep the bike in first gear with the clutch pulled in
Stop with left foot planted
Stop with left foot planted

When you stop, plant your left foot, lean the bike and press the brake with your right foot. Don’t put down both feet, as it is less stable. When stopped at a red light, don’t put the bike in neutral gear! Keep the bike in first gear with the clutch pulled in. This lets you react faster, which is what riding a bike safely is all about. For example, if someone coming up behind doesnt look like they are going to stop, you can immediately move forward out of their way. If you are in neutral you may well be rear-ended.


Bike Parked on a Slope
Bike Parked on a Slope

Dismount and park is the opposite of mount – with the bike vertical and in first gear, front brake on and two legs down, kick the stand out. Then lean the bike on the stand until you feel it is secure, switch it off and get off. Be careful parking on slopes, because a bike pointing down the slope can roll off the side stand. I usually point it on an angle up the slope to park. Also remember that a bike has no reverse, so if someone parks in front of you pointing downhill you can get stuck, if you are unable to pull the bike back uphill. This especially applies to big bikes.

Controlled braking

If you jam the brakes too fast you skid and crash, but if you brake too slow you also crash.
Best Stop Button
Best Stop Button

Stopping in an emergency is all about controlled braking. If a car suddenly pulls out in front of you, STOP AS FAST AS YOU CAN is NOT a good reaction, as if you jam on the brakes too fast you skid and crash all by yourself. On the other hand, if you brake too slow you hit the car. What to do? As with the clutch, the answer is to know your brake point of engagement (POE). My aim is to quickly get to the brake point of engagement (POE), then slowly squeeze the brakes. You separate braking into stages, one done at maximum speed and the other done with maximum control.

Stopping is a two stage process.

First,get to the braking POE as fast as you can: right hand gets the front brake to the POE and right foot gets to the brake pedal POE. At this point, you can still choose to not brake. Then, apply the brakes with control not panic. The two stages are:

  • Engage the brakes fast.
  • Squeeze the brakes slowly, with control.
Get quickly to the POE, then gently apply the brakes

The two stages are different. If you vigorously engage and press the brakes, chances are you will skid and lose control, especially in the wet. If you cautiously engage and press the brakes, you may crash before they activate. Get quickly to the POE, then gently apply the brakes. Emergency stopping is a fast as possible “kick in” followed by a controlled squeezing of the brakes! And if you learn this in normal braking you have a better chance to apply it in emergency braking.

In panic situations, controlled braking is hard to do

There is no question that in panic situations controlled braking is hard to do! For the front brake, the initial “fingers to the lever” action is fast but the rest is steady and controlled. For the back brake, first “cover” the brake with minimal pressure then apply controlled pressure. To get control, the pressure is from the ankle turning around the pivot of the heel. It’s a controlled ankle turn, not a stomp down with the whole leg. The end result is a smooth and controlled emergency stop.


3.8 Advanced Skills

Advanced riding skills are those you need occasionally or in special circumstances. They develop over time. Dealing with other people on the road, including anticipating, positioning and signaling, are covered later under Situations.

Vertical stability

Use your legs as shock absorbers
Off-road rider
Off-road rider

Occasionally you hit a hole in the road that almost bounces you off the bike. It is a scary feeling, as your body leaves the bike and rises in the air. The bike’s shock absorbers are designed to take care of such events, but when they aren’t enough you can use your legs as shock absorbers. You see off-road riders riding with their body raised off the seat for this reason, to absorb hard bumps. They are using their legs to absorb shocks that might otherwise bounce them off the bike.

If you see a big pothole in the road ahead, push down with your legs as you hit it

You dont have to stand up on a bike to do the same thing. If you see a big pothole in the road ahead with no chance to miss it, push down with your legs as you hit it. Even if your body doesnt raise much, this will help absorb the vertical shock. I routinely do this when crossing “speed bumps”. Note: you need footwear with a heel to lock against the foot-pegs, so the foot cannot slip off. Dont try this if you are struggling with normal riding!

Forward stability

Shock absorbers absorb shock, they don’t oppose it

If you hit something on the road and are thrown forward, your arms must act as shock absorbers. If you ride with your arms rigidly “locked” they wont be good shock absorbers. A rigid arm is trying to oppose a shock that it should be absorbing it. If you press down on the front shock absorbers of a motorcycle, the bike goes down, it doesn’t rigidly resist. Your arms need to work the same way if you are thrown forward.

The “bendable iron arm” gives you forward shock absorbers
Bendable iron arm
Bendable iron arm

The bendable iron arm is a martial arts way to effectively absorb a shock to the arms. To try this, hold your arms forward, curved at the elbow, and palm down. The arms are bent in a natural inward pointing curve, not rigid, so your elbows don’t “lock” . Now do the same when you hold the motorcycle, with palms down and thumbs lined up against the handle grips. Imagine your arms as “bendable iron”, so your body, arms and the handlebars form a circle, that under forward pressure bends but does not break. Your arms are the shock absorbing part of the circle. Since you never know when you will suddenly hit a pothole or an object on the road, set your arms for forward stability as a safety habit.

Sideways stability

The knee tank grip can control sideways forces on a motorcycle

Your arms and legs give forward and vertical stability, but what about sideways stability? Sometimes winds or ridges in the road push the bike sideways. There may be rut that pulls the bike to one side. Or you may hit an object that twists the bike. How can you straighten a sideways movement? The knee tank grip can control sideways forces on a motorcycle. With a firm hold of the handlebar, grip the tank with your knees and push your feet in. This lets you keep the bike from wobbling sideways.

How slow can you go?

Good riding, like good wine, is smooth
otorcycle stability training
Motorcycle stability training

Stability is how well you keep your balance and how little you wobble. With experience, you reduce the natural wavering that occurs as you ride. New riders have a lot of wobble. Skilled riders have very little. Good riding, like good wine, is smooth. Wobble is not bad – it is natural – but the less there is the better the rider.

Unstable riders tend to wear out their boots

Stability is especially evident when you start and stop the bike. A stable start means you just lift your feet and go. An unstable start involves swerves and foot dragging. A stable stop means you stop, then calmly put your feet down. An unstable stop involves feet scraping the ground while the bike is moving, with a heavy heave at the end to stop it falling over. Unstable riders tend to wear out their boots.

Motorcycle skill is not in how fast you can go, but in how slow you can go

When you go fast, centrifugal force keeps the bike vertically stable. When you go slow that reduces, so then you find out how stable you are. Your motorcycle skill is not how fast you can go, but how slow you can go. Any fool can twist an accelerator, but to come to a complete stop, stay vertical, then calmly drop a leg, takes skill. The more stable you are, and the less you wobble and the safer you are on a motorcycle, at any speed.

The two-part hand grip

Your right hand controls both the accelerator and the front brake
Motorcycle hand controls
The two parts of right hand control

The controls of a motorcycle are sensitive, so a fraction of an inch too much or not enough can cause a crash. Especially important is the right hand, that controls both the accelerator and front brake. I keep these two functions separate, as follows:

  1. Accelerator Control: “Choke” the accelerator grip as far up the hand as possible, so it sits in the base of the thumb and forefinger “V”. Turning the wrist then turns the accelerator.
  2. Brake Control: The above lets your fingers pull on the front brake. To check this, with the bike running in neutral and all fingers pulling the brake lever, turn the accelerator. If you can’t do this while your fingers are braking you are doing it wrong.
The extended right forefinger “reminds” my hand where the brake lever is

I ride with my right forefinger always extended over the front brake lever. The rest of the fingers curl around the handle, but the extended right forefinger “reminds” my body where the brake lever is. The rest of the fingers follow the forefinger when needed. This is part of the “quickly engage” part of a sudden stop sequence. Meanwhile the wrist turn quite separately takes care of acceleration.

Non-visual handling

If you cant handle a control without looking, perhaps you wont handle it at all
Motorcycle controls
Motorcycle controls

When you ride, can you operate the controls without looking? This includes front light, high/low beam, indicators and horn. Try beeping your horn without looking down at the controls (to see where the horn button is). Why do this? In a “situation” you will almost certainly be busy looking elsewhere. If you cant handle a control without looking, perhaps you wont handle it at all. When you shower, do you need to look at each part of your body to wash it? Of course not. Your kinesthetic sense based in your muscles tells you where everything is! So use this sense, which everyone has, to do things like dip the beam or press the horn. Like all things, practice until you know where each control is by touch, not by sight.


Slow down into a turn, then accelerate out of it
Turn by leaning
Turn by leaning

You turn a bike not by steering it, or twisting the handlebars, but by leaning or “falling” into a turn. Your forward momentum then makes the lean create a turn. Going too fast into a turn can run you off the road or put you into oncoming traffic. Either way is a problem, but judging the line of a turn before you enter it is not easy. So the general rule is slow down into a turn then accelerate out of it. Slowing down into a turn lets you judge the line of the turn, then when you get that you accelerate out to increase control. Accelerating into a turn is like diving into a pool when you dont know how deep the water is.

Choose the turn line according to the situation
Cutting a corner
“Cutting” a corner

Judging the lean needed to give the right trajectory line on a turn requires skill. So take it easy early on. With experience, you will “see” the curve the bike should take as a turn line. The turn line also varies with the situation, so when turning where there is oncoming traffic, you might keep to the side of the road away from them. In wet weather you have to lean less because of reduced tire friction. You can reduce the amount of turn by “cutting” the corner, start outside the lane, then go inside, then back outside again.

Drag your vision up from the front wheels, and extend it out to the turn end-point
Look where you will be
Look where you will be

Normally when riding you look where the bike is pointing, as that is where it is going. But when turning, where the bike is pointing is not where it is going. As you turn, you will be looking at the road side, not the road ahead. So drag your vision up from the front wheels to the turn line end-point. Lock your early warning risk “radar” to where you are going, not where you are pointing.  When you turn, unlock your eyes from your habitual “front” to look ahead where the turn is taking you.

The Ready Reaction

Getting in a ready state is all about reducing response time
The ready state
The sumo ready state

Before the brain reacts to any situation it has to prepare and preparation time can be as long as the reaction time. If it takes half a second to react, it might take half a second to decide what the reaction is. Getting in a ready state, as in the sumo wrestler picture, is all about reducing response time, and the ready state is:

  • Front brake. Extend one finger over front brake lever.
  • Back brake. With heel on the peg, the right foot “covers” the back brake.
  • Accelerator. Right wrist stops any acceleration.
  • Clutch/Gear. Left fingers extend over the clutch lever and left foot recognizes the gear.
What initiates a ready reaction is your sense of risk
The ready reaction is DEFCON3
A ready reaction is DEFCON3

Interestingly, the same principle of readiness applies to societies, e.g. the U.S. military five levels of readiness, from DEFCON 5 (safe) to DEFCON 1 (severe). The motorcycle ready reaction is like a DEFCON Yellow, which is “On Guard”. It is not a big deal, like some red alert, but a precautionary state that improves reaction time. Fingers on front brake and foot over back brake makes you ready to stop if necessary. Not accelerating makes your speed reduce. Clutch and gear are ready to drop down a gear if needed for more control. And of course your awareness goes up. What initiates a ready reaction is your sense of risk, that something might happen, as when going through an intersection.

The ready reaction is the most valuable safety skill you can learn

The ready reaction as an advanced riding skill must be practiced until it is automatic. You say “Go!” and it happens right away. All of the above happen simultaneously, but in itself the ready reaction does nothing at all – it just gets you ready to do something. And when automatic it happens with no effort, almost subconsciously, so it took me a while to realize I was doing this. Many times you may go to ready mode and nothing happens, e.g. when you see children on the side of the road. If nothing does you have lost nothing, but if something does you are ready. The ready reaction is the most valuable safety skill you can learn because it saves vital half-seconds that may make all the difference.


3.7 Maintenance

Maintenance means checking your bike
Maintenance means checking your bike
Maintenance is part of life

Readiness is not just getting ready, but also staying ready. Maintenance means checking your bike every now and again. By the Law of Entropy, everything gets old and wears out, so maintenance is part of life. It lets you catch little problems before they become big. A little time spent checking your bike can prevent a lot of trouble later. Putting your bike in the shop regularly for a check is just part of the cost of running a motor vehicle.

Keep your bike clean

A filthy bike suggests to a mechanic that you don’t care
Keep your bike clean
Keep your bike clean

How shiny a motorcycle is doesn’t affect how well it runs, so why bother keeping it clean? Won’t a dirty bike run as well as a clean one? It sounds good in theory but in practice a clean bike means:

  • You see problems. If you clean your bike regularly, you are more likely to see developing problems, like a nail in a tire, or a dry chain.
  • Mechanics respect it. If you put your bike in for service, the mechanic sees if it is clean or not. . If you don’t care, why should the mechanic? If it is clean you check it regularly, so they will more likely do a good job.
  • You feel good about the bike. Finally, a clean bike makes you feel more positive to your motorcycle. It means you care.

Check your mirrors every time you ride

Before you ride, always check your mirrors

Should you check tires, oil, chain tension etc every time before you get on the bike? Its a good idea, and some riders do, but if you never find a problem, as the bike is regularly serviced, it becomes a pointless chore and then you dont bother checking anything. But every time I ride, one thing I check without fail is that my visor and mirrors are clear. If not I clean them. Good vision is so important that this is not an option. Even if late, it only takes a moment to breathe on and polish a mirror or visor. Seeing is surviving, so never set off without clear rear vision mirrors.

Check your tires

It only takes moment to check tires
You can often see a nail in a tyre
You can often see a nail in a tire

My main weekly check is that the tires are not slowly deflating. If tires go down suddenly, you can tell, but if they go down slowly, you may not notice. You need a tire gauge to check the pressures. It only takes moment to check tires. If your ride feels a little “spongy”, check your tires right away. You can usually see or feel if a nail is in the tire

Service checks

Every six months your bike needs a maintenance check and tune up
Motorcycle shop
Find a personal motorcycle shop

Every six months or so, your bike needs a maintenance check and tune up by an expert with the right equipment. Some things you can do yourself, like change the oil, spark plugs, air filter and grease the rear chain, which is important as a dry chain can break. Putting grease on a chain is not that hard and grease is cheap. You can change the oil yourself with an oil pan and oil. It can get messy but you need to keep some oil around anyway in case it needs topping up. Yet since you need a service check anyway, why not leave it to the mechanic?

Find a personal motorcycle shop
Ask to talk to the person who did the job
Ask to talk to the person who did the job

The problem many people have with mechanics is they charge a lot. Some shops pressure mechanics to replace everything they can, even if it doesnt need it. They call this “efficiency” but you call it “being ripped off”. When you go into a big franchise to pick up your bike you talk to the front desk whose job is to tell you a story and take your money. You are talking to to the organ grinder not the “wrench monkey” who did the job. I always ask to talk to the person who worked on my bike. This is not being cynical, it is just that the best person to tell me about my bike is the person who worked on it. So find a personal motorcycle shop, where the person who talks to you is the person who did the work.

A motorbike service schedule
A motorbike service schedule
Use the maintenance schedule in the bike manual

Use the service schedule in the bike manual to specify exactly what to check, and leave the manual with them on the bike with that page marked. They should give an estimated price. Give your cell phone number to call you immediately so if something comes up, they can check with you first. When you get the bike back, go down each point and ask about it, to learn not just what was done but also what is likely to go in the future. Was the oil low, maybe a leak? Was only one spark plug gone? Ask to see any replaced parts, like spark plugs, to see how bad they were. You are entitled to those parts, as they are yours. Then ask them to sign or stamp the service in your manual, with the date and mileage, as a record for next time.

Maintain your battery

Battery Tender Saves Time
Battery Tender Saves Time

The battery is the “heart” of a bike and a flat battery is like a bike heart attack. To make it easy to keep your battery healthy fit a battery tender. It provides wires from the battery terminals to an external plug point for convenient charging. To charge the battery, just plug the charger into the battery plug point when your battery is getting flat, say you haven’t ridden for a while. No need to take off a side cover or lift the seat to mess with battery terminals. With a battery tender, its just plug and play. The battery tender should sense when the battery is charged and stop charging.


Water-proofed boots
Water-proofed boots

Once a year, I waterproof my gear, usually on a sunny day in summer. Over time, jackets, gloves, boots and leggings tend to leak, mainly at the joints. Of the various waterproofing products, I prefer the solid ones that melt on with warmth, like Sno-Seal. The spray on types don’t seem to last as long. On a sunny day rub the proofing into your gear to keep the water out.


3.6 Luggage

If a bike cant carry a simple briefcase, its luggage capacity is poor
Motorcycle luggage
Motorcycle luggage

A properly kitted motorcycle can carry quite a lot. I’m not allowed to tell you the things I have carted from A to B on my bike over the years, but even just riding to work you need to carry a briefcase. If a bike cant carry a simple briefcase, its luggage capacity is poor. You would be surprised how many so-called “big” bikes cant carry a simple briefcase. Sooner or later we all want carry things on our motorcycle, if only a spare helmet. So how can you do this safely? A motor-cycle can carry luggage on the:

  1. Side of the bike (side-panniers/bags)
  2. Back, behind you (back-pannier or pack-rack).
  3. Tank, in front of you (tank-rack).

All affect bike balance, width and wind-flow differently, and some need special fitting.


Often your square briefcase wont fit into the round side-pannier
Side panniers
Side panniers

Side-panniers are popular because they are easy – just open them and drop luggage in. They are fixed form, lockable and waterproof, and usually curved so the wind flows over them. Yet often a square briefcase wont fit into a round side-pannier, nor will a spare helmet. Conversely large side-panniers that carry what you want jut out, making the bike less maneuverable.

Side saddlebags are made of a more flexible material, but often small and again cannot fit a helmet or briefcase. They are not as waterproof as panniers. Carrying luggage in side-panniers or bags can affect the bike’s balance if you only load one side.

Back panniers

Back pannier
Back pannier

Back panniers sit behind the rider, so the wind resistance problem is less. Nothing juts out on the left/right, so maneuverability is not affected. A weight at the back moves your center of gravity back, but usually not by much. A back pannier is always a good option, even if small, but a pack rack is more flexible.

Pack Rack

Pack rack
Pack rack

My preferred luggage means is a backpack that slides on a pack-rack fitted on the bike. The advantages are:

  • Backrest. Even without the backpack, the pack rack is a passenger safety backrest. It stops them falling off the back if you accelerate and they dont hold on, which happens!
  • Central. A backpack on the pack rack sits directly behind you, where the passenger normally sits.
  • Flexible. If you have a passenger, the pack can flip around to be behind the passenger.
  • Mobile. When you arrive, you lift off the pack and walk away.
A pack rack and a pack is the ultimate luggage flexibility
Motorcycle back pack
Motorcycle back pack

For me, a pack rack and bag is the ultimate luggage flexibility and safety. Putting luggage weight where the passenger sits suits the bike design. It is mobile because when you park, you walk away with the backpack on your shoulder. A good bag is large enough to carry helmet, jacket, leggings and gloves. When you arrive, put your helmet and gloves in the bag, lift it onto your back and walk around hands-free to shop or whatever. Or leave the bag behind a counter knowing your  expensive helmet isn’t visible. When traveling, you can add a sleeping bag on top with a bungee cord. And finally, it is the best way to carry  a spare helmet if you need to give someone a lift.

Tank Rack

A tankrack
A tank rack

The advantage of carrying stuff on the tank is that it sits centrally and doesn’t affect bike balance. The disadvantage is it wrecks your tank paintwork and you need to hold it in place with something. A tank rack avoids the paint problem and gives a place to bungee cord items on, or hold them between your knees. A tank rack can also attach a small bag to put things you need often, like a map.

Helmet lock

Helmet locks were not not designed to carry a helmet while riding
Detachable helmet lock
Detachable helmet lock

Helmets are awkward things to carry around, and if you drop a helmet on concrete you may have to buy a new one. What to do with your helmet when you arrive is a rider problem, so some bikes have a helmet lock. It lets you lock the helmet on the bike after you stop, so you don’t have to carry it around and no-one can steal it. It was not designed to carry a helmet while riding, so NEVER use it for that.  You can get a detachable helmet lock or helmet carry bags, but I prefer to put it in my pack bag and take it with me.

Bungee cords

Bungee cords are the most useful addition to a motorcycle’s carry capacity
bungee cords
bungee cords

Bungee cords are used to attach luggage to a bike, given somewhere to hook the ends. You can use several cords from several angles, then a final cord to tension the other cords. Even a pack rack bag can bounce off if you hit a big bump. If that happens one cord stretched diagonally will hold it on. I always carry a set of bungee cords for unexpected luggage demands. There are also “bungee nets”, stretchy webs of nylon, that are great for traveling. Bungee cords are the most useful addition to a motorcycle’s carry capacity.

Personal backpack

Satchel with a long strap
Satchel with a long strap

What about putting a pack on your own back to carry things? A small backpack can carry light stuff like a drink but if you are student say, putting a pack full of heavy textbooks on your back and riding to university is a bad idea! The weight on your back strains the body and affects control of the bike, which is dangerous. Not a good idea. A satchel with a long strap that goes around your neck is OK, as you can swing it around to rest on the tank. Lean on it with your tummy so it doesnt move while riding.

What to carry in your jacket?

Here are some things I carry in my jacket when riding:

  • Copy of license/insurance – in case you forget your wallet.
  • Toll money – coins as needed.
  • Tire gauge – to check my tires any time.
  • Tissues, lip chap, sun screen and whatever
  • Map(s) – for when lost.
  • Visor defogger spray/fluid – for hot wet weather.
  • Glove liners – Light inner gloves for cold weather or passengers.
  • Spare $ – as you never know.

Other just in case things I carry on the bike are:

  • Basic tools: pliers, Philips/slot screwdrivers, plug socket, crescent and spanners.
  • First aid: Band-aids and antiseptic.
  • Balaclava – just in case.
  • Wind-breaker – for passengers and just in case.
  • Bungee cords – for unexpected luggage.
  • Large black plastic bags – to put luggage in when it rains.


3.5 Boots-Gloves

Boots and gloves need to protect you, feel comfortable and be easy to put on and take off.


If you cant afford proper bike boots, at least wear boots that cover your ankles
Motorcycle boots
Motorcycle boots

Ankle covering boots are important because stones from the road can fly up and hit your feet and ankles. If you cant afford proper bike boots, at least wear hiking boots that cover your ankles. Riding boots extend up the calf to protect from road stones and hot exhausts. And if you have leggings, they go up enough so the rain doesn’t run into your boots. Good boots are waterproof and warm. They close with zip and Velcro, not laces that can come loose and tangle in moving parts. I  like my boots to look nice when walking so when I arrive there is no need to change shoes. If you pull your pants over the boots it looks like you are just wearing ordinary black shoes.


Protective, insulated, water-proof, breathable, lightweight – gloves have a lot of demands!
Heavy gloves
Heavy gloves

Gloves protect your hands with extra padding at hit points, like knuckles. They keep hands warm but not sweaty, if made of a material that insulates but still breathes. Heavy gloves should be waterproof, as wet gloves make your hands stink. Gauntlet gloves are long enough to cover over the jacket sleeve, so wind and water can’t come up the arm. Finally, you want gloves as light as possible, so your hands can feel the controls. Protective, insulated, water-proof, breathable and lightweight – gloves have a lot of demands! I usually have two pairs of gloves, heavy for winter and light for summer. Heavy gloves are bulky but keep the rain and cold out. Light gloves give better finger control at the handlebars but still offer protection in an accident. In heavy rain, water goes up the sleeve because the jacket sleeves go over them.

Lighter gloves
Lighter gloves

I wear lighter gloves when possible because they give better control. Don’t buy the “finger free” gloves hunters use. They look good, but dont protect your all important fingers. And don’t use mittens – they keep your fingers warm, but you have terrible lever control. Some gloves have a little zip pocket on the back. If you go through tolls, you can keep coins in there, and get at them easily.


Leggings must be long enough to go over your boots when you bend your knees
My leggings easily slip on and off over boots
My leggings easily slip on and off over boots

Leggings are not pants, they are what goes over your pants, and also go over skirts by the way. The main thing about leggings is they must be easy to put on and take off with boots on – or you wont use them. Good leggings are wide and have zip at the bottom to ensure this is always possible. Riding in shorts is stupid. If you come off, say goodbye to the skin on your legs. If you normally wear shorts, at least put on lightweight leggings when you ride. I wear lightweight leggings even just around town because they protect my nice pants from dirty road grime, not to mention the occasional flying road stone. With leggings, you can arrive looking good. Leggings also let you jump onto a wet motorcycle seat without flinching. Leggings must also be long enough to go over your boots when you bend your knees, as you do while riding, not always easy if you are tall. If not, the leggings just channel the rain right into your boots.


A scarf can be useful
A scarf can be useful

It can be good idea to wear a light scarf to seal your neck against cold and rain if the jacket doesnt have a collar that goes right up. It also stops the jacket Velcro from scratching the neck and feels nice. Finally, it stops nasty insects flying down your neck when your riding. The ends of the scarf can also be a useful warmth addition to tuck down the front of your jacket if it suddenly gets cold.


If your watch strap breaks open or unclips while riding at 80mph down a highway, then your watch is gone forever. You will not get it back. So I wear a watch strap that unclips to a continuous loop. If the strap opens up, the watch still stays on your wrist.

Easy on, easy off

Most important, leggings must also slip on and off easily
My boots with zip and velcro close
My boots with zip and velcro close

With gear, the time lost getting it on and off can cancel out the time saved because bikes are quicker. So make “easy on, easy off ” your overall number one gear requirement. Who wants to spend 15 minutes getting ready to ride? Gloves need a smooth inner lining to slip on without fuss. Helmet should be flip and clip. Boots should be zip and Velcro close. In  the Army, I had boots that were great protection but took ages to lace up. If what you wear is fiddly, you will tend not to use it. This applies most of all to leggings, that must also slip on and off easily. No item should take longer than a minute to get on, and most should be less. So like a hard boiled egg, I am ready in three minutes.


3.4 Jacket

The riding jacket separates the pro’s from the bro’s

Without a good riding jacket, you can be cold, wet, wind-burnt, sun-burned and injured. The riding jacket separates the pro’s from the bro’s. A motorcycle jacket has no hood, as the helmet keeps the head dry. A jacket is your most expensive gear, but after the helmet it is the most important for safety so it pays to get it right. It costs the most because it must be

  1. Protective: Rip proof, absorbs damage, protection pads.
  2. Warm: Good insulation, internal winter wool insert.
  3. Waterproof: Pocket flap seals, closed wrists and collar, zip overlays.
  4. Ventilated: Breathable material, back vents, underarm vents.
  5. Wearable: Not too heavy, stays clean, adjustable waist, nice design.
  6. A carryall: Wallet pocket, map pockets, side pockets, inside pockets.


The many types of jacket material include:

  1. Leather
  2. Polyvinyl or nylon
  3. Synthetic
Leather protects as skin does, by absorbing an attack
Leather Jacket
Leather Jacket

Leather motor-cycle jackets can be heavy, bulky and not entirely waterproof (the leather jacket one wears to a club is not a motor-cycle jacket). Leather tends to be expensive, but is warm, and does one thing well – protect in a fall. Leather protects as skin does, by absorbing an attack. If you hit the pavement, the jacket rips but you don’t – it takes the hurt for you. The gravel bits stick in the jacket, not your skin, which is good.

Polyvinyl is fully waterproof but isn’t designed to absorb damage in a fall
Vinyl Jacket
Vinyl Jacket

Polyvinyl or vinyl is the cheaper alternative to leather. Originally designed for road-side workers, rain suits often come in glaring colors, like yellow or orange. They arent designed to absorb impact in a fall. Polyvinyl is fully waterproof and tough, but being thin tends to just rip in a fall. It also isn’t that warm and doesn’t “breathe”, so in summer it can feel like your in an incubator. Wearing a woolly jumper under a vinyl jacket is a cheap way to add warmth and improve fall protection.

Synthetic jackets are expensive, but worth it.
Synthetic Jacket
Synthetic Jacket

Synthetic jackets are the ideal motor-cycle solution. If you can afford a quality synthetic jacket get one – they are worth it. They breathe, are fully waterproof, are warm and give at least as much protection as leather. They are made of Gore-tex, a Kevlar like material used in bullet proof vests, and have protective pad inserts at important “hit points” like the elbows. Finally they have great pockets to carry all sorts of stuff. Synthetic jackets are expensive, but worth it.


On a water-proof jacket, all zips and water entry points have covering flaps
Waterproof Jacket
Waterproof Jacket

You find out if a jacket is waterproof or not when it rains heavily and you have some distance to travel. You feel a damp spot, often beginning at the front where the rain hits, that slowly spreads. For jackets, the fabric may be waterproof, but leakage occurs at the joints, especially the main front zip or button up. The more joints (zips and pockets) a jacket has, the more places it can leak. Good jackets have a waterproof flap system that covers the zips to ensure they don’t leak, held in place by Velcro or metal clips. On a water-proof jacket, all zips and water entry points have covering flaps, so you cant see the main zips directly. Velcro straps on the wrists close up stop water entering there. Likewise the neck needs a button up Chinese collar, to cover and seal with a pull-around Velcro strap. Does all this matter? When you are traveling for an hour in solid rain it does!


A good jacket insulates you from wind chill

Most jackets are lined inside to be warm, so I wouldnt get a jacket with no lining at all. Air flow has a wind chill effect, so if you ride at speed in cold weather, it is much colder. The windchill can easily be below zero even if the actual temperature is not. Unfortunately, a heavy jacket for winter it is not pleasant in hot summer, and vice-versa. Some jackets let you get the best of both worlds, with an inner lining both for body that can be unzipped and removed in summer when it is hot. I usually get this type, as they cost more but it is cheaper than buying two jackets!


On a hot day you can be wet from sweat not rain

Ventilation is how well a jacket handles warm weather. A jacket needs to “breathe”, or let air in and out. A vinyl jacket is impermeable to water, but also to air. On a hot day the body generates water as perspiration. Vinyl keeps outside water (like rain) out, but it also keeps inside water (perspiration) in. On a hot day you can be wet from sweat not rain. A good jacket keeps rain out but still breathes, due to zip vents that allow airflow at the back or sides, where rain does not come in.


A wearable motorcycle jacket is one that still looks good when you get off the bike
A cool leather jacket
A cool leather jacket

Most fashion leather jackets are wearable around but neither warm nor waterproof on a motorcycle, as they have open fronts and collars. It is hard to get riding functionality and good looks in a single jacket. A wearable motorcycle jacket is one that still looks good when you get off the bike, so you can walk around in it without looking to out of place. Heavy or bulky jackets that make you look like a polar explorer are not “cool”. Leather jackets that look good are often too short to cover your bottom part, especially for tall people like me. When it rains, the water runs down goes to the groin and a wet crotch is not cool. In the picture of a cool leather jacket, note that it stops a few inches short of his belt, so even with leggings, in the crouch position on a bike the water is going to go in there.

Synthetic jackets are longer
Synthetic jackets are longer

Synthetic jackets are longer to cover better, and look good if they have a fitted look. They also come in various design colors and styles. To justify the cost, you are getting two jackets in one, one to ride and one to walk around in. And the material does not fade – even after years they look as new.

A carryall

For convenience you want to be able to pull your money out like you do with a normal jacket

A motorcycle jacket needs waterproof pockets, including:

Pulling money out of a jacket
Pulling money out of a jacket
  1. Wallet pocket: In the old days getting out your wallet with a motorcycle jacket on was a major undertaking. Today’s jackets have a zipped breast pocket that sits outside the main front zip, so you can pull out your wallet without unbuttoning the jacket at all.
  2. Front map pockets: These can hold a large flat object, like a map, and are very deep. To get at the map requires opening a side zip or Velcro rip.
  3. Side pockets: If zipped with a Velcro flap, they can hold items like toll booth coinage or tire gauge, on both sides.
  4. Inside Pockets: Have to open the jacket to get at these pockets, but they are useful to keep things really safe and dry, like for example your license or insurance.

A jacket can carry the things you need, from lip chap to map, and keep them dry if it rains.


3.3 Helmet

Full-face Helmets

A full-face helmet protects all your head from all the turmoil of riding

To protect your head, get a full face helmet as most head accidents involve the face. It protects your face and chin from damage and also keeps out wind and road noise. A full-face helmet protects from flying road debris, like stones thrown up by cars. Your eyes are too fragile to ride at speed without a visor. You can buy goggles, but why bother? It is just one more thing to worry about. Wind rush affects your eyes, ears (the noise) and skin. A full-face helmet protects all your head from all the turmoil of riding. Your brain deserves a full-face helmet.

Cap Helmets

Unless you fall vertically onto the top of your head, cap helmets are no use
Cap Helmet
Cap Helmet with goggles

Cap helmets just cover the top of the head leaving the face free and open. Since they just cover the top of your head, unless you fall vertically on the top of your head they don’t work. They dont protect your face, and as you ride faster in the rain each drop becomes like a little stone that can hit hard enough to bruise, not to mention a truck in front throwing out a stone into your face. Seeing also becomes difficult, so with a cap helmet you also need goggles. When it rains, cap helmet wearers must “toddle along” because they have no face protection, so cars whoosh past covering them in a dangerous wet flurry.

German Military Helmet
German infantry helmet

The popularity of cap helmets seems to be their association with the world war two German army helmets. But while the main danger for infantry is artillery fire from above, a motorcycle rider faces danger mainly from the front. Except for riding in show parades, cap helmets dont do the job.

Helmet fit

What you want is a firm fit.

A helmet that is too loose, could slip off in a crash, but a helmet that pinches or rubs as you ride is distracting. You want a firm fit, so when you shake your head from side to side, the helmet does not move. Fit a new helmet as snug as you can, as with time the foam padding inside compresses and loosens up.

Helmet visibility

Motorcycle Helmet Reflective Tape
Motorcycle Helmet Reflective Tape
Even more important than color is that the helmet is reflective at night

Your helmet should be as visible as possible, so white is the best color and black is the worst from a safety point of view. Does it really matter? Well as explained before, there are no certainties here, only probabilities. If you wear a black helmet will you die? Probably not, because lots of people do, but it is certain that black is harder to see. If you slip in the wet and are lying on the road a white shows up the bit that cars should not hit. One thing for sure, if you are lying on the road, its too late to change your helmet. For me, I always go white for better visibility. Even more important than color is that the helmet is reflective so it shows up at night. Its another feature that doesnt seem important, until it is! Some US states mandate that every helmet must be reflective for safety. It is easy to put tape on the sides and back, so do it.


Make sure the visor is scratch proof
Helmet Visor up
Helmet Visor up

The visor is the part of the helmet you see through, so it needs to be scratch proof when hit by sandy bits thrown up on the road. Otherwise over time you wont be able to see through it. Visors also fog up on the inside in hot rainy weather, which is a serious problem because suddenly you cant see at all! Even your breath can fog up a visor in humid weather. The simple way to clear fogging is a good air flow, so check the top and side vents are open. The visor should also click up and down to allow low, medium and high set positions. Then if the vents dont work and the visor fogs, you can click it to the low position to allow more airflow. Check the low setting gives a nice small gap, so the the rain doesn’t force to the inside of the visor, as that also lowers visibility.

Flip the helmet on

The helmet flip stops irritating hair sticking out of the helmet

To put on your helmet, hold it by its straps in two hands in front of you. Flip the helmet front up to your forehead, then slide it back over your head in one easy back motion. Pushing your hair back like this stops irritating bits sticking out of the helmet. If like me you wear glasses, take them off first and do the above with the glasses in hand. Once the helmet is on, open the visor and slip the glasses back on.


The best helmets have a fail-safe, one-click, mechanism
Strap on the Helmet
Strap on the Helmet

A good helmet should “click and secure” easily. When someone is injured because their helmet “flew off” in an accident, the straps were not secured properly. The best helmets have a fail-safe, one-click, mechanism. Push the straps together, and the click confirms it is secure. An alternative is the two-ring tie up, where one strap must be folded back through two rings. It works fine too, but depends on you doing it right. Remember that when you do up your helmet you usually cant see what you are doing.

Helmet strap “tug”

Did I clip my helmet? The helmet strap tug is a simple check

It is easy to put your helmet on but forget to tie the straps. Maybe you got distracted. Once you are riding, you may wonder “Did I clip my helmet?”. You cant tell as it feels tight, but in a crash an unclipped helmet could fly off, negating the whole point of having a helmet. If you dont feel like stopping, just pull on the strap with one hand at a safe moment. If it is clipped, you feel the resistance. If not, immediately stop and do it up. Believe me, I am careful, but every so often I forget and ride off with an unclipped helmet, which is like riding with no helmet at all! The helmet strap tug is easy to do while riding, takes just a second, and is always worth doing if you are not sure.


3.2 Gear

Comfort is part of safety

Gear keeps you warm and protects you from bad conditions! It has two main purposes: protection and comfort. Protection reduces your damage in an accident. Comfort is part of safety because discomfort is distraction and distraction causes accidents. Remember, any fool can be wet, cold and miserable.

Why buy gear?

Invest some of the money you saved not buying a car in riding gear
Motorcycles can be safer than Cars!
Always ride with gear!

When you buy a motorcycle you save money, as there is less to a bike than a car, e.g. two wheels instead of four. So put back some of the money you saved into buying riding gear. A car has a metal protective shell, but a bike does not. Compensate for the lack of vehicle protection by buying body protection. Say for $6,000 you can buy a bike that is equivalent in age and miles to a $12,000 car. Why not spend 20% of the money saved on safety gear, i.e. about $1,200? Buying body protection is just common sense.

Protection level

My protection in order of priority is

  1. Helmet
  2. Jacket
  3. Gloves
  4. Boots
  5. Leggings
Riding without any personal protection is a false economy
Motorcycle Gear
Motorcycle Gear

Riding without any personal protection is a false economy that will cost you in the long run. Riding without a helmet is suicidal, as the head is so fragile. Riding without a jacket is dangerous because it protects you the most. Riding without gloves or boots is careless, because hands and feet are easily hurt. Riding without leggings is unwise, because roads are dirty, dusty places. You decide your level of protection.


Good gear insulates you from the chaos
A safe place for your head
A safe place for your head

The purpose of gear is not just to protect you in an accident but also to provide the comfort to make good decisions. Being cold, wet or uncomfortable distracts you from riding safely. Without a helmet, face and eyes are battered by wind and rain. Without a jacket, clothes flap and slap and get soaked in the rain. Without gloves, wind chill and bug splat affects your hands. Without boots or leggings, stones from the cars ahead strike your legs and feet. Good gear insulates you from the chaos. It gives you a peaceful place to make the right decisions when riding.


3.1 Choosing a motorcycle

There is no one bike for everyone
Choosing a motorcycle
Choosing a motorcycle

There is no one bike for everyone because people want different things. Motorcycles can be designed for:

  • Speed (sports bike)
  • Rough terrain (off road bike)
  • Touring comfort (touring bike)
  • Ease of use (scooter)
  • Appearances (chopper)
No-one looks cool in a hospital bed

There are many reasons to pick a bike other than safety, but the fact is that no-one looks cool in a hospital bed. You decide, but here are some safety factors to consider:

  1. Size and Power: Power to weight ratio
  2. Width: Keep it narrow, to avoid “clip and flip”.
  3. Front light: Powerful light to be seen.
  4. Rear light: Big bright braking light.
  5. Indicators: Big, stick well out, bendy.
  6. Horn: As loud as you can get.
  7. Mirrors: Big enough, stick out, both sides.
  8. Brakes/Suspension: Get the best you can.
  9. Seat: Comfy, wide.
  10. Battery: Holds a big charge.
  11. Foot pegs: Large enough to stand up on.
  12. Tires: All weather.
  13. Luggage: Away to carry extra stuff safely.

Size and Power

Motorcycles can be:

  • Small (150cc or less)
  • Medium (up to ~400cc)
  • Large (is 500 – 900 cc), and
  • Very large (1,000+cc).
Can you pick the bike up if it drops?
Motorcycle and your size
Motorcycle and your size

A factor in choosing a bike size is your size. How big are you? Can you pick the bike up if it drops? There are many reasons to drop a bike, mostly harmless, but if you cant pick it up that’s a problem. On a slope, petrol may leak out of the tank cap. Smaller people are less for the bike to carry, so may not need as much power.

Heavier motorcycles tend to be safer

Heavier motorcycles tend to be safer as they absorb more in a crash and have better brakes, suspension and lights. They also avoid the small bike “insecurity complex”, so you ride them more sedately. Do people on little motorcycles feel they have to go faster to prove themselves ? I dont know – but sometimes it seems that way. On the other hand, bigger bikes can also mean bigger crashes.

Put a powerful engine on a lightweight bike and you get a death trap
Racing Bike
Racing bikes have a high PWR

Most important is the power-to-weight ratio (PWR). A heavy bike with a weak engine has a low PWR, not much power and a lot of weight. It is “sluggish” and doing anything takes a while. This can make it safer, especially for beginners. A high PWR is a light bike with a powerful engine – now the slightest accelerator touch gives an immediate response. Such “racing” bikes are dangerous for beginners who dont have the necessary control. There is nothing wrong with a powerful engine on a big frame with good brakes, but put a powerful engine on a light bike with weak brakes and you get a death trap.


The fatter the bike, the less maneuverable it is in a tight situation
Panniers make this bike wide
Panniers make this bike “fat”

One of the things I always consider is how wide the motorcycle is. A “fatter” bike is less maneuverable and so less safe. It doesn’t take much to tip a bike, as only balance keeps you up. So you don’t want things sticking out the side that can catch and drag you down. This is why most indicators are bendable. Note that a big bike need not be “fat”. In an emergency, you may have to swerve to avoid the car or truck ahead. The fatter the bike, the less maneuverable it is in a tight situation. If the cars ahead stop suddenly, a narrow bike can swerve into a tight gap between two cars. In a such a situation inches can be the difference between coming off or not. For safety reasons, I choose a narrow bike over a fat one, as narrower bikes have more options.


A scooter
Scooters with little wheels are less stable

A motorcycle’s stability comes mainly from its wheel’s rotation. The bigger the wheels, the more stability they create when moving. Strangely, while the frame of scooters makes them look more stable, their little wheels mean are less stable in practice, i.e. easier to tip over. If you ride a scooter, be careful of the gravel on the edge of the road, as they tip easily. However scooters are also closer to the ground, and generally don’t go as fast, so riders who fall off often just get back up. Scooters are designed to be easy to ride rather than safe, as you just step through them, and they have an automatic clutch.


Off Road bikes have a high COG
Off Road bikes have a high COG

Every bike has a center of gravity (COG) and ground clearance. A high COG makes the bike easier to tip but low COG usually means poor ground clearance. Poor ground clearance means that when you ride over a bump or kerb you hear a “clunk” as the bike scrapes the ground, and the jolt can throw you off. Off road bikes have a high ground clearance to avoid this. Touring bikes have a low COG, as it is assumed they will always be on flat highways. For safety I choose a low COG bike that also has reasonable ground clearance.


“Easy rider” bikes look cool, but are unstable
Easy Rider Bike
Easy rider bikes are unstable

The bike COG should be mid-way between the front and back wheels, to give both wheels traction. So when you apply both brakes, both wheels have stopping power. When you sit on the bike, your center of gravity should sit over the bike’s COG. You can see in the picture that on an easy-rider bike the weight of the rider is too far back. This means the rear wheel has good traction but the front wheel is “light”. So when cornering the handling is bad, because you need front wheel traction to guide the bike round the corner. “Easy rider” bikes look cool but aren’t safe from a handling point of view. Conversely if you sit too far forward, as in badly designed sports bikes, a sudden stop can lift up the back and put you over the handlebars, which is not good. I prefer a bike where my weight is pretty much in the middle between the wheels. This balances the weight so you and the bike as one, in a stable combination.


Get a powerful headlight, so cars will see you coming
Headlights make you visible
Headlights make you visible

Your headlights make you visible, so others see you and don’t crash into you. So look for big, bright lights. Tiny lights make you hard to see, especially at night. When drivers hit motor-cycle riders, the most common comment is: “I didn’t see him ”. So get a powerful headlight, then they will see you coming. One advantage of bigger bikes is they tend to have bigger batteries that allow bigger headlights. Also check the high beam throws a good extra surge of light that gets attention. The rear light is even more important than the front light, so people don’t hit you from behind. Check the rear light is big, bright and red, not just a designer afterthought. When you touch the brakes, it should glow extra bright.


Indicators should be large and noticeable
Indicators should be big and bendy

Your indicators tell others you are turning. Some bikes have tiny dot indicators on tiny stalks, that faintly flicker when you try them. These bikes are clearly not built with safety in mind, so dont choose such a bike. Indicators should be large and noticeable, because it is very important that other road users see and know when you are turning. They should stick well out from the side of the bike, and be visible. Check they are bendy not rigid, so if swiped they don’t pull the bike down.


Avoid big bikes with baby horns
Choose a loud Horn
Choose a loud Horn

Your horn is a quick way tell other drivers “I am here!” It should be as loud as possible. When a car starts to move into your lane as you pass it, a horn is the best and quickest response. Horns are also useful for warning wandering pedestrians and wavering bicyclists. A tiny horn on a big bike is a sign the designers dont care about safety. What other corners have they cut? Avoid big bikes with baby horns.

Brakes and suspension

A good braking system stops you in a controlled way
Disc Brake
Disc Brake

Brakes and suspension work together to stop you in an emergency. Good front and back disc brakes give stopping power, and a good suspension absorbs the shock of stopping. Without suspension, the sudden shock of stopping could throw you off the motorcycle. If you hit a sudden bump, or stop suddenly, you will find out if the bike has good suspension. Rocking the bike can give you a feel for its suspension, but to really evaluate brakes and suspension, read the specs.


Not all batteries are borne equal
Get the best battery you can afford
Get the best battery you can afford

When you buy a bike, you don’t know how good the battery is. Often the factory battery is not the best, for cost reasons. I usually replace it with the best battery I can get. Why? Not all batteries are borne equal. Some hold charge better than others. If your battery fails the bike wont start, so it also fails. This usually happens at the worst possible time (like at traffic lights). You need a good battery if you:

  • Ride in traffic with lots of starts and stop.
  • Spend time idling in a toll lines (with your headlight on).
  • Have a big bike (starting a big bike takes more power).
  • Have an older bike that needs two or three tries to start.

If you press the ignition and the engine slowly turns then dies, you need a better battery. Get the best battery you can afford – you wont regret it!


You realize how important the seat is when you go on a long trip
Seat lifts up
Seat lifts up

The seat supports your backside, which supports your body, which controls the bike. You realize how important the seat is when you go on a long trip. Body discomforts (like an itch, ache or soreness) are the sort of distractions that cause accidents. Comfort helps safety, and a good seat avoids discomfort. Its shape should fit your shape. A tiny or narrow seat won’t do (unless you have a tiny or narrow backside). Custom shaped seats are nice, but they hold you in a fixed position. I prefer a wide flat seat, so I can move backwards or forwards to adjust my riding position. This is important if you are a different size from normal, which I am. If the seat lifts up for storage, that’s good too.

Foot pegs

Foot pegs keep your feet from hitting the ground and touching the hot exhausts, so make sure they are not too small. Sometimes you want to stand up on a bike, so the foot pegs must give a solid platform to stand. Make sure the foot pedal is “full-foot”, not a little half-wide knob, that your foot can easily slip off.


Mirrors help you see behind, like an extra pair of eyes
Mirrors should be big

Your mirrors must be big enough, and be on both sides. They must extend out far enough to give a clear view behind. You have to sit on the bike to check this, as it depends on your size. If your arm blocks half the mirror, that’s still ok, as you can pull your arm in when you view the rear mirror. Mirrors help you see behind, like an extra pair of eyes. I prefer larger mirrors that give a clear back view, not tiny little cheap ones. Never buy a bike without mirrors – they are essential! Getting a good set of mirrors needn’t cost much, and they are easy to fit. When buying a bike, ask the dealer for better mirrors for safety reasons and they may be thrown in for free.

Fairings and windscreens

Cross-winds can turn a fairing into a sail
From the side a fairing can be a sail
From the side a fairing can be a sail

A motorcycle fairing is a shell over the motorcycle frame to reduce air drag. Some people like them and others dont. Racing bikes often have fairings because they reduce wind drag at high speeds, making the bike faster. But while a fairing works for front winds, for side winds they can act more like a sail. When I cross the Auckland harbor bridge for example, there are often side gusts that push the bike about in a scary way. In an open bike the wind mainly flows through the bike, but a fairing presents a flat surface for the wind to push against. I prefer a “naked” bike with no fairing because it is more stable in side winds, and maximizing speed is not my priority. The same goes for windscreens that pretend to protect you from the elements when rally that is the job of other gear. A windscreen on a bike seems to me more symbolic than functional.


There are many types of tires, even snow tires, but in general there are two main types:

  • Fine weather tires are hard, to minimize friction and increase speed.
  • Wet weather tires are softer to give more friction and better stopping in wet conditions.


Get the best tires you can afford – everything rides on them!

A wet weather tire will “grip” the road better in the rain when a fine weather tire will slip, but for the same reason are slower and wear out quicker. Fine weather tires go faster in fine weather but slip more in wet weather. To go really fast, hard high-speed tires are best. For general safe riding, always choose tires with some wet weather capability. So called all-weather tires aim to give good fine weather performance but also work in the wet. They can be expensive, but are worth it. Get the best all round tires you can afford, because on a bike everything is riding on them. Since you only have two tires, make them good ones. When you buy a bike, have a mechanic check the tires are not cheap fine weather hard tires. If they are, change them!

So there  it is! Now you know my safety factors to look for, you can choose what you want. Note if you buy from a dealer, they might swap-out things you dont like, such as tiny mirrors, worn tires or weak battery for better ones, just to sell you the bike. They might also be willing to give a good price for fitting a luggage option like a pack rack, and give reduced prices on other gear. This gives you a total $ all-up price to compare with other sellers.