Riding safely is the way of water not the way of fire
Unlike fixed objects, water takes the shape of the container it is put into – the same water can fill a tall thin glass or a short fat one. Water adapts itself to its surroundings. A moving rock hits an obstacle in its way but water just quietly flows around it. If it cannot go left it goes right. If it cannot go under it goes over. When obstructed, water doesnt get angry or upset like we do, but just finds another way. And it always finds a way, as anyone with a leaky home knows. Water goes to the lowest point that other things avoid, and likewise the ready rider aims to go where others aren’t. If one way is blocked why get upset? It doesnt help. Just look for another way. If people obstruct you, like water, just go somewhere else. This principle, of adapting yourself to the road around is the key to riding safely. The rider aims to harmonize with the traffic rather than compete. Fight for your rights in society, but on the road aim to harmlessly fit in. Go where there is space not where there is conflict. Riding safely is the way of water not the way of fire.
Imagine a near miss on a motorcycle. Say you corner too fast and get a speed wobble on the back wheel but quickly shift balance to bring the bike back under control. Then you realize that you nearly wiped out, as even a little pebble in the wrong place might have tipped the scales against you. Check out your “near miss” attitude. Do you feel?
Its great to push the envelope.
I’ve always been naturally lucky.
This is a great story to tell the guys.
I was really in control the whole time.
The right attitude to near miss is to recognize it is a warning from life
If any of the above is “Yes” then consider this. When we survive a near miss the brain attributes it to “my skill”, but if on another day we do exactly the same thing and wipe out we call it “bad luck”. One cant have it both ways. The right attitude to near miss is to recognize it is a warning from life. Dont pat yourself on the back, take heed. A near miss is a premonition of a future accident. Dont be a fool and ignore it. Adapt so it doesnt happen again by expanding your safety envelope.
Defensive driving is the attitude of adapting to the road around you
Defensive riding is based on adapting to the world around you, and not assuming it will do what you expect. Its goal is to avoid accidents despite adverse conditions and the actions of others. So if the light is green and you have right of way, you still look. Riding defensively is not just hanging back and being slow. Speed has nothing to do with it. It is the attitude that you dont assume what others will do. Sometimes you speed ahead, sometimes you dawdle, but always you adapt to the realities around you. Let others do whatever they will – your goal is to survive regardless. You rely on yourself, not them. The words “should” and “shouldn’t” don’t exist in the defensive riding dictionary. Defensive driving is the attitude of adapting yourself to road around you.
To ride safely, skill is not enough – you need a good attitude to define your relationship to the world. New skills are easy to get by mechanical practice but to get a new attitude you must personally embrace it. You have to open the door and let it in. Unless you want it, it wont happen. Decide now what you want your attitude to be. It isn’t easy to overcome attitudes like fear, hurry or anger. You can’t stop fear by just saying “I wont be afraid”. You cant “delete” fear, hurry or anger, because they are built in! The only way to change a negative attitude is to put something positive in its place. That something is attention!
Put something in its place
Suppose you want to ride, but are afraid, arrogant or impulsive – or any or any one of a number of negative emotional states. What do you do about it? Common responses are:
Ignore it – just ride anyway. It then becomes your permanent safety handicap.
Run away – stop riding entirely. You then miss out on the fun of it.
Try harder – do whatever you are doing more. Doing what you are already doing more doesn’t help.
The only way to stop a negative state is to put something else in its place
These methods dont work. The only way to deal with a negative state is to put something else in its place. Negative goals, aiming to not do certain things, don’t work. People need positive goals. If you try to say deny fear, the opposite negative state will jump in, and you become foolhardy. This is called the “swing of the pendulum”, and is common in people. The pendulum swings you from fear to carelessness, and both are just as bad. Yet “Nature abhors a vacuum”, so to stop something you have to put something else in its place.To ride safely, the best thing to replace any negative emotion is full attention. Make getting on the bike your wake-up call.
Inattention is the main cause of accidents
Inattention is thinking about anything other than what you are doing right now – riding! Thinking how cool you look when you ride is inattention. Thinking what you will do when you arrive is inattention. Thinking some driver was bad to you is inattention. Most of the time, our attention is not unified but dissipated all over the place. We are like a leaky sieve, rather than a barrel with one bung-hole. We only usually only give half our brain or less to any particular thing. Normally that is OK – you don’t need your whole brain to make a cup of coffee. But on a bike, you cannot afford to be like this. You need your whole brain to ride a motor-cycle. Inattention is the main cause of accidents. Inattention makes you accident prone. People talk about speed or drink, and these are all factors, but the real number one road killer is inattention.
Falling asleep. I had a “near miss” when turning to merge at an intersection and I nearly hit an oncoming car. Fortunately they horned, so I jammed on the brakes and missed them. The stop was so sudden I badly twisted my wrist. Why did I turn without looking? I was thinking about something else. I was “asleep” and my brain-stem autopilot just did what it always did. After that, the sore wrist was a great reminder to wake up. Every day I bent the wrist to the point where it ached, to stimulate it to get better. After a few months it healed, but I still remember.
Attention is being all there
The first rule of getting on a bike is to be all there
One antidote to fear, hurry and anger is attention. Fear is a distraction. Hurry is a distraction. Anger is a distraction. Attention is when you center yourself mentally. If you give attention to everything around you, you can’t also be fearful. If you give attention, you can’t also be worrying about other things. If you give attention, you don’t worry what other people think of you. Hence the first rule of getting on a bike is to be all there. The enemy is inattention. The goal is full attention – or the best awareness you can muster.
Question: Why cant I ride a motorcycle in the casual, happy go lucky way I live? Who are you to say I must pay attention? My way is to not worry about a thing. Answer: You can. Nobody. Then go with your way. Karma treats everyone equally.
Attention is respect
Giving attention takes effort
Worry disrespects yourself and your ability. Hurry disrespects the world and its rules of cause and effect. Anger disrespects the world by wanting it to conform to you. In contrast, attention respects both the world and yourself. It is not doing nothing, though it may seem that way to others. Giving attention takes effort. Every part of you is contributing to being there. When you give attention, you are unified as a person. This awareness makes you mentally ready to ride.
Doing nothing, doing something. I once drove the family car on a long uneventful trip from New Jersey to Florida. At the end I was sore and tired but seemed to have done nothing in particular. The attention I gave and gave didn’t count because nothing happened. Nobody pulled out unexpectedly and nobody stopped suddenly. An inattentive driver could have done the same as me. And there is the rub. Only when something unexpected happens do you see the difference between attention and inattention. When a split-second action separates life from death attention has value, but otherwise it is “nothing”. You might think, why bother giving attention when nothing happened? This is a trap. You never know when something will happen!
You can have attention one moment and lose it the next
Think about a moment of great danger or excitement, when you really gave attention. That is the state you want when riding – all the time! Just as you center yourself physically to balance a bike, so you must center yourself mentally. The hard part of attention is you can have it one moment and lose it the next. It is an every moment thing, and for a rider, any moment could count.
Three monkeys. A hunter entered a forest clearing where three monkeys were hiding in the trees. One monkey said: “If we don’t talk, he wont be able to see us!” The moment he said that, the hunter heard him and shot him. The second monkey saw this, and said: “He was an idiot for talking!” whereupon the hunter also shot him. The third monkey sat quietly in fear, then said “I am clever and wont talk”. The hunter left with three dead monkeys. This story illustrates the moment-to-moment nature of attention, and how one must empty oneself to get it.
Your frame rate
There are many ways to improve your attention. One is to increase your mental frame rate, the rate you process input. When you watch a video, the action looks continuous but actually it is a series of static pictures that flick by at 80+ frames per second. You think it is continuous because the frame rate of your eyes is only 60 times per second. You don’t see the gaps in the film because there are gaps in your vision. Your brain processes vision just like a video camera, as a series of picture frames.
Frame rate explains why some people can hit a fast ball
Frame rate explains why some people can hit a fast ball in cricket or baseball, and others cant. If you have a low rate, you may see the ball leave the hand and in the next visual “frame” it is upon you, with no time to react. With a higher rate, you may also see it on the way, and thus be able to hit it. Now unlike a video camera, your brain frame rate is not fixed. It goes up and down with your attention. It takes effort, but when you give a lot of attention the rate at which you process the world goes up. Frame rate varies between situations and between people – some people can actually see the frames for low speed video. If you try to be more aware “from moment to moment”, you can increase your brain’s information processing rate, i.e. your attention.
It happened so fast. A snail was crawling along when two turtles chased and assaulted him. Later, when asked what happened, he said: “I don’t know, it all happened so fast!” The moral of this story is to do with frame rate.
When you ride, no-one hears you scream
To maintain attention you have to stay awake. Your arousal level comes from somewhere deep in your brain. One way to increase arousal is to drink coffee. Another is to do violent exercise. If you are riding a motorcycle, neither of these ways is convenient. But one way to increase arousal that can be used on a bike is yelling. When you ride, no-one hears you scream. It sounds stupid, but it works. When you yell loudly, your mind wakes up and you focus better. If I feel only half there when riding, I yell “Yeehah!” Try it. It’s invigorating, and no-one will know.
Tea or Death? I must tell a Darwin Awards story about New Zealand where narrow, windy mountain roads abound, and people like to have a cup of tea. A Christchurch women on such a road plunged over a precipice because she was trying to brew a cuppa while driving. Apparently they found her body in the ravine three days later, still holding a box of tea bags, with the mug wedged against the steering wheel, and a thermos at her feet. Life is indeed about your priorities.
On the road, people get angry when someone blocks them or gets in their way. When this builds up to road rage it is a common cause of accidents. Anger, like fear, was in people long before cars came along. It evolved because violence can be useful, say if someone is attacking you, and anger prepares the body to fight. If you can’t open a jar, get angry, the adrenaline flows, and you either get it open or bust it. Anger is basically a fight response that typically arises from frustration – when you dont get what you want or expect. Angry people are prepared to fight for their rights. Yet from a riding safely point of view anger is dangerous – for you! Anger makes you do risky things you wouldn’t normally do, like tail-gating a slow-poke in the fast lane. When angry people lose control bad things happen.
Road Rage. A New Jersey road rage case involved two women who “jousted” over several miles in a vicious cycle until one forced the other pull over. She got out of her car and walked over to the first, who pulled a gun from her glove-box and shot her. She later said she felt threatened, and now faces a murder charge. This is what happens when emotional children (with guns) interact. Riding safely requires an emotional adult.
Riding as “nobody”
The ego is not who you actually are but who you think you are
To deal with anger one must understand it. If you get angry when someone cuts you off, the “you” that is hurt is not your body because they didnt even touch it. Cutting you off hurt your ego,your idea of yourself as “somebody” important! The ego is the basis of all social interaction with others. Little babies for example dont have an ego, an idea of themselves as cute or whatever. In time they develop an ego based on what the people around tell them, that they are smart or dumb say, and act accordingly. Yet whatever your ego is, it is entirely a creation of your mind. It is not who you actually are but who you think you are. TV shows like American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent often show people who think they can sing but can’t, and some who think they cant but can. The point is, your idea of yourself is entirely imaginary. And when you get angry at being cut off, what is “hurt” is this imaginary you. If you ride thinking you’re important, you get angry when others disregard you. The alternative is to ride as if you are nobody.
The tunnel. Zenkai, the son of a samurai, once killed a man and ran off with his wife. He became a thief but later repented to become a wandering monk. To atone for his past, Zenkai resolved to accomplish a good deed in his lifetime. Knowing of a dangerous road over a cliff that had killed and injured many people, he decided to cut a tunnel through the mountain there. Begging food by day, Zenkai worked at night digging his tunnel. After thirty years, the tunnel was nearly done when the son of the man he had slain came to kill him in revenge. “I give you my life willingly,” said Zenkai. “Only let me finish this work. On the day it is done, you may kill me.” So the son awaited the day. Several months passed as Zendai kept digging. The son grew tired of doing nothing and began to help. After helping for more than a year, he came to admire Zenkai’s character. At last the tunnel was finished and people could use it and travel in safety. “My work is done,” said Zenkai “Now cut off my head.” “How can I kill my teacher?” asked the younger man with tears in his eyes. His anger had disappeared, like mist in the sun. Likewise, when riding a motorcycle, see everyone around as teaching you something and your anger will fade away.
When you ride, think of yourself as nobody important
To succeed in society, it helps to see yourself as important so others also see you that way, as in “positive thinking” books. But on a motorcycle, ego can kill you. Asphalt doesnt care about your ego. When the body meets the ground, thinking you’re “tough” doesnt count. Road justice ignores social “rights” or who “should” give way. So when a driver offends you remember that your imaginary ego is being offended. If a car speeds past you, let them go. They once had a race between a racing bike and a racing car and the bike won, so there is no need to prove it again. Riding is about the real world, not the courtroom world. In an accident, fault doesn’t matter. What matters is who is the pot, because when the pot hits the stone the pot breaks. On a motor-cycle, you are always “the pot”. So when you ride, think you are unimportant, like a leaf on a tree, or a grain of sand on a beach.
Dealing with idiots
Question : I was driving along and some idiot swerved out in front of me from a side street, so I had to jam on my brakes. Should I chase after him and give him the finger as I pass him?
Answer : No, avoid him. Idiots are accidents going somewhere to happen. If you chase them, you are going to the same place. Just be glad they he missed you, and let him carry on. The accident he is going to is not where you want to be. Always give idiots a wide berth.
When you hurry on the road your fixed goal takes priority over everything else – you “have to” get here or there. This focus on one thing makes you careless of others, and on a motorcycle that is dangerous. The hurrying attitude causes more accidents than speeding, as it makes people fail to give way and run traffic lights. Speeding can increase the consequences of a crash but the cause itself is the hurrying attitude. People associate speed with hurry because people who hurry usually also speed, but one can go fast without hurrying at all. Airline pilots go fast but they never hurry. Speed matters less than hurry on a motorbike because once you get above 60km/hr, the danger is always high. Hurrying is the real problem because it makes accidents more likely to happen. Riding safely has one simple rule: Never ever hurry!
Hurrying doesn’t work in the long run
When hurriers meet on the road, it is usually in accident alley
When you hurry, your attitude is GO! GO! GO! On a motorcycle, hurrying makes you forget to wear gear (reduces readiness), ignore weather conditions, and not recognize risk situations. Hurrying makes cars drive in the rain as if it was a sunny day. Don’t be misled because hurrying sometimes works. It always increases your accident probability, i.e. your risk. You can hurry 99 times and be OK, but one day you will be slowed down a lot. Hurrying is never worth it because it increases every accident cause. When hurriers meet on the road, it is usually in accident alley.
Never hurry situations
The never hurry rule applies especially in two road situations:
The decision to never hurry will reduce your accident chances enormously
Both these situations are cross-flow situations. Decide right now to NEVER EVER HURRY at intersections or when changing lanes. The decision to never hurry will reduce your accident chances enormously. When you hurry, you put yourself above the world. You have your plan which makes you hurry, but Life also has a Plan, and its Plan will always take precedence over your plan. Trust me on this. Hurrying causes accidents, as it disconnects you from the world as it is. Tune into the world, not yourself. It will tell you whether to go fast or slow. Never hurry, unless you want to hurry to disaster
An intersection is a high risk traffic cross-flow
Most accidents occur at intersections, so whatever your speed, always slow down at intersections. Never accelerate into an intersection, e.g. to beat a red light. I can’t stress this enough. If the light turns red, accept it and stop – that’s life. You can’t win them all (except in your dreams). At intersections the rule is: stop accelerating, drop a gear and cover the brake. Be ready to stop, because an intersection is a high risk traffic cross-flow.
A sudden lane change is an invitation to an accident party
Highways solve the problem of intersections but create another problem just as bad – that of changing lanes. Many highway accidents occur when people change lanes. So the rule is: never be in a hurry to change lanes. A sudden lane change is an invitation to an accident party. If you don’t have time to change lanes, then don’t. Just stay in the lane where you are, and then you will live well and prosper.
Question: Sometimes I find I am in the wrong lane for my highway turn-off. If I miss it, it means another 15 minutes to turn around further on. However to get it, I would have to cut across two lanes in busy traffic. What should I do? Answer: Miss it and stay alive. While you are going back around, you can remind yourself to get in the lane in advance. Learning is not time wasted.
Being in a continual state of fear is like wearing dark glasses all the time
An attitude is a way of looking at the world, it changes how you see it, like wearing colored glasses. If you wear dark glasses you see a darker world, which helps on a sunny day. Being in a continual state of fear, or anxiety, is like wearing dark glasses all the time, so everything around is like at night – dangerous!
The snake. The Hindus tell the story of a man who saw a snake in the dark and was so terrified he got no sleep that night. When he woke in the morning, the daylight revealed that the “snake” was really just a stick, so he had spent all night worrying about nothing.
Fear is a good servant but a bad master
To be always anxious is like living in a world where it is always night-time. Is it better to wear the rose-tinted glasses of faith, so you see only the good things around? This calms the fear but at the cost of seeing the world as it is. To ride safely, the color of glasses required is clear. Let politicians specialize in visions of what might be – the ready rider wants to see what actually is. If there is a benefit to fear and a benefit to no fear, the motorcycle rider wants both. Like anything, fear is a good servant but a bad master. When fear is the master you panic and over-react rather than act. What makes fear the servant is covered below in the section on Attention.
The benefit of fear
Without fear, we would not learn from failure
The job of fear to remember bad things, so we don’t repeat past mistakes. Without fear, we would not learn from failure. Fear reduces arrogance, carelessness, inattention, pride and all sorts of human stupidity, so we really need it. It focuses our mind on what might hurt us, or what we think might hurt us, like a big noisy truck nearby. But to get the real benefit of fear, motorcycle riders need to see the real dangers, which are not always the obvious ones.
The benefit of no fear
No fear means that in an accident you go with the flow
Drunks and babies often survive accidents, because they get one thing right – they don’t panic. No fear means that in an accident you go with the flow. It is a faith thing. For a child, faith in the mother is necessary, for the drunk it is induced, and for both it is from ignorance. They don’t know what is happening and so are not afraid. It is ignorance but ignorant faith is still faith, so it works for them.
You can’t always make things better but you can always make them worse
The faith advantage is that you don’t make bad situations worse. You can’t always make things better but you can always make them worse. There is no bad situation a bad reaction cannot make worse. For example, when you slip it is best to just relax and crumple. Parachutists are trained to do this. The worst thing to do is to panic, tense up and overreact. When older people fall, it is usually their violent reaction not the fall itself that breaks a bone. Riding a motorcycle needs this no fear virtue.
Drunks and babies. In a news report a drunk driver drove right off an overpass into a car in the lane below. The drunk walked away, and couldn’t remember anything the next day. The other driver ended up in hospital with critical injuries. Another drunken driver veered off a highway onto a wide grass field separating opposite lanes. A lady saw the car coming across the median field, swerved suddenly into another lane, crashed, and was killed. The drunk’s car stopped on the grass, before it even reached the other traffic. Drunks survive accidents because they dont over-worry, and we likewise should not over-worry. On the other hand, drunks cause accidents because they dont worry about anything at all, so we do need to worry sometimes.
Fearless fear is like crossing a frozen river when the ice is almost breaking. Fear tells you it is dangerous to cross, but maybe you need to get to the other side. Fearlessness then tells you that the best way is to tread quickly. If you are too cautious and stay in one spot too long the ice will break, but if you shut your eyes and blindly run across you will hit a weak spot and go under. You need act quickly but still keep your eyes open. Soldiers in war face the same dilemma – to fearfully hide where the enemy will find them anyway or blindly charge to a probable death. Airplane pilots also need confidence and caution. The resolution in such situations is always different and always the same. You move boldly knowing a bullet might have your name on it but try to avoid it anyway. The Muslim saying for this is: “Trust in God and hobble your camel.”
Opportunity and risk are in life – you cant have one without the other
Seeing clearly means you see both opportunity and risk in the world, as both are part of life. You cant have one without the other. If you see only opportunity, then you will fall into avoidable risk. If you see only risk, then opportunity will pass you by. Riding safely means riding with both in mind!
Cowards die many times. The Greeks believed that the brave die only once, but cowards die many times. A story about Solomon illustrates this. Solomon was a king who, it was said, could talk to Death. One day, Death visited and looked strangely at a man in his court. Later, the man came to Solomon and said he had seen Death looking at him. He begged Solomon to magically send him to Bhokara, thousands of miles away. Solomon agreed, for he liked the man. Later, he saw Death again, and asked why he had looked so strangely at the man. Death replied “Because I had a warrant to take him that very day in Bhokara”. This story illustrates that none of us can run from our fate.
Put fear in its place
Before you ride fear is your friend, when you ride it is your enemy
Fear is good and bad. Before you ride, fear makes you wear a helmet, boots and jacket for protection. It makes you read this to learn to ride safely. But when you get on a bike, fear is a liability! It causes tunnel vision when you should look all about. Fear can paralyze you when you should act. Fear causes over-reaction effects like skidding. To prepare you need fear, but to act you must abandon it. Riders need some fear but not when they ride. Before you ride, fear is your friend, but when you ride, it is the enemy. To ride a bike you must put fear in its place, in the background. To ride safely, fear is not option. I decided long ago that if I got on a bike and felt afraid, I will stop riding.
Some thoughts I used to reduce fear are:
Others have ridden, and so can I.
The laws of physics are on my side (a wonderful thought).
Motorcycle accidents occur when risk probabilities cumulate
As noted earlier, motorcycle accidents are more about reducing risk probability than risk damage. The ARCS (Attitude-Readiness-Conditions-Situation) approach is a way to break down risk probabilities. It is useful because our brains handle probabilities so poorly, worrying about unlikely extreme events, like alien abduction, while ignoring how small probabilities add up. The brain also forgets that probabilities are inevitable, so they always happen eventually, e.g. you can go through a red light and get away with it often, but sooner or later the law of probability catches up. The approach here is that accidents occur when risk probabilities cumulate, based on:
If I am in a hurry, my attitude is bad. If I have no helmet, my readiness is poor. If it is raining, conditions are bad. Finally, if someone pulls out suddenly, that is a danger situation. In general, ARCS create accidents.
Safety is no accident
Most accidents are not 100% bad luck, as there was something you could have done to prevent them. Accidents with simple causes like dangerous driving can be prevented by not driving dangerously, but accidents with many causes catch out even good riders. These are the accidents this site is about. Anyone can figure out one-cause accidents, but riding safely over time is about dealing with multi-cause accidents. The general formula is:
There is also an element of luck in everything, but by definition that is something we can do nothing about.
He feels a peculiar crack as his head hits the ground
Example: Suppose Bob is late for a meeting. He hurries to his bike and doesn’t properly clip his helmet. He speeds off without gloves, jacket or boots. Soon the sun sets and it starts to drizzle. Conditions are dark and wet. At an intersection a person in a turning car accidentally clicks the wrong turn indicator. The green light turns amber, and Bob figures to pass the turning car before the light goes red. As he passes the car, it suddenly turns the other way. He brakes, but the bike skids in the wet. He hits the car front side, and goes awkwardly over the bonnet. The road rips his skin, and as he lands, his unclipped helmet flies off. He feels a peculiar crack as his head hits the ground.
When the driver indicated the wrong way, the accident was borne, but it was conceived much, much earlier
Bob wakes up in a hospital with a skull fracture and permanent road grazing scars. He thinks, “If only that stupid driver had signaled correctly!” Certainly, when the car driver clicked his indicator the wrong way, Bob’s accident was borne, but it was conceived much, much earlier. What really caused this accident? The stupid driver was the final cause, not the only cause! The real cause was that Bob was not riding safely.
What caused the accident?
Think what could have changed the outcome:
Bob didn’t hurry: He decided right away that even though he was late, he would not hurry. So he clipped his helmet properly, wore the right gear, and did not rush the lights. He noticed the car indicated one way then turned the other way, and thought “What a Turkey!”
Bob was ready: He wore his riding jacket and gloves. As he rode off a “helmet tug” revealed his helmet was unclipped. He stopped, and clipped it properly. In the accident, he rolled over the bonnet and walked away unhurt, without grazing or concussion, a little shaken but a lot wiser.
Bob adapted to conditions: Seeing it was dark and wet, he slowed down accordingly. Hence the crash was much less. He didn’t go over the bonnet, but just dented things (mainly his ego).
Bob recognized the situation: Seeing the indicator, he did not assume, but worked from real options, including a turn the other way. It was an intersection, so he slowed down, and adopted ready reaction mode. When the car starting turning the other way, he veered and halted, and with horn on, just “kissed” it. He cursed at the stupid driver.
No one thing alone entirely “caused” the accident
Any the above outcomes could have happened. Bob’s hospital trauma was caused by a combination of bad attitude, poor gear, poor conditions and an unexpected situation. No one thing alone entirely “caused” the accident. Bob had ridden in a hurry before, and nothing bad had happened. He had ridden without gear before, and nothing had happened. He had ridden when dark and wet before, and nothing had happened. Once he saw someone indicate wrongly, but nothing bad happened. However when all these things combined, the result was a serious accident.
You have the levers in your hands that determine whether you have an accident or not
We like to say the other driver was “the cause”, but every accident has many causes, most of which you control. You control your attitude – you can choose not to hurry. You control your readiness – you can choose to wear proper gear. You control how you adapt to conditions – you can choose to ride slower in the rain. You control your ability to recognize situations – you can slow down at intersections. You have the levers in your hands that determine whether you have an accident or not. If you take hold of them, then what other people do matters less than what you do. If you choose to, you can reduce your accident chances considerably.
The accident ARC
Each person in an accident situation has his or her own ARC
Most accident causes occur long before the accident actually happens. For example, to hurry, to not wear protection, to ignore conditions and to not drive defensively. This is the ARC that brings us to the accident. Each person in an accident situation has his or her own ARC leading to the accident situation. The driver of the left turning car might feel the accident cause was a speeding motorcycle rider, who appeared out of nowhere. Accidents occur when ARCS intersect.
Riding safely is not about pushing risk boundaries but about creating a safety envelope
When accidents present, it is often too late to change anything. We have all seen drivers pushing hard through traffic, all acceleration and brakes, pushing their risk “envelope”. They are indeed “An accident on its way to happen”. Riding safely is not about pushing risk boundaries but about creating a safety envelope. The rest of this site tells you how to do this – how to add degrees of safety, how to improve readiness, how to adapt to weather conditions, and how to recognize risk situations. It is about avoiding accidents by reducing what causes them.
Risk involves both the amount and probability of hurt
Riding safely means managing risk, but what is risk? Risk on a motorcycle is about getting hurt. It has two parts, the amount of damage and the probability it will occur. So driving a car is about 7,000 times riskier than flying in an airplane because plane crashes are rare not because they do less damage. Riding a bicycle is less risky than a car because while crashes are probable the damage amount is low. Risk involves both the amount of hurt and the probability of hurt. This web site advocates reducing both the:
Amount of damage, by protective gear, etc.
Probability of an accident, by safe riding skills.
A good risk sense is critical for riders
Babies only see what is in front of their eyes, so if you cover something with a cloth, to them it just “disappears”. Soon they learn to “see” what is not directly visible, like an object hidden under a cover. Only when adult do they learn to see abstract “things” like risk, that are never directly seen. Your “risk sense” is the ability to “see” the probability of an accident. This sense is not like vision or hearing, as it comes from the mind, not your eyes and ears. A good risk sense is critical for riders. Experienced riders assess risk all around like a radar screen that “pings” every moment. Risk sense picks up danger like a Geiger counter clicks when radio-activity is near. Without it, you are a sheep among wolves. When you start riding, always listen to your risk sense. If you ride without a helmet, your risk sense tells you danger. If it starts raining, your risk sense tells you the accident chance is higher. What you do next is another thing and this site covers that, but to respond to risk you must first “sense” it. From moment to moment your risk sense tells you what is risky for you, if you listen to it.
Man’s intuition. Everyone knows of woman’s intuition, that sees into the hearts of others, to know what they feel even before they do. It lets one emotionally“do” by touching the hearts of others.In contrast, man’s intuition sees not into hearts, but paths in space and time. It lets one physically do by being in the right place at the right time. In action, time and place are everything. As there is no point giving the right feelings to the wrong person, so there is no point in doing a “right” action at the wrong place or time. Women’s intuition like magic reveals the unseen heart. Man’s intuition also like magic lets you be in the right place at the right time. Yet while woman’s intuition is recognized, man’s intuition is often seen as dumb luck. If a man catches a falling baby or stops a bowl of hot soup spilling, that is just considered “lucky”. If I am driving and by intuition slow down, speed up or change lanes for no apparent reason and avoid a crash, no-one in the car calls it man’s intuition. Even if their lives were saved, they don’t know what might have been, so it doesn’t exist for them. Yet man’s intuition really exists. One can know where to be and when. Anyone, man or woman, can use man’s intuition to see “best paths” in time and space.
The balanced approach to risk is to neither fear it nor court it
People tend to flip-flop on risk. They either shut their eyes and charge blindly ahead like a bull, or open their eyes to see the danger and run away like a frightened rabbit. Both these approaches to danger, fight and flight, have their problems. The approach taken here is to first face the risk to see it clearly, and then take steps to reduce it. The balanced approach to risk is to neither fear it nor court it.
Don’t tempt fate!
Taking risks proves you are not afraid, but it can also show that you are stupid
The strong among us often deal with risk by confronting it. They do wheelies and other risky things to “prove” danger has no power over them. They are not scared. It is a macho thing to take risks to prove you are not afraid. It also tempts fate to pretend you are above life. The Greeks called this “hubris” (or pride), and said ‘Pride comes before a fall”. They argued that we are not Immortal Gods, so to act like we are is to invite their revenge. It is to “tempt fate”. It is a law of life that “things happen”, and this applies especially to motorcycle riders. To tempt fate is to arrogantly think one is above this law of unexpected events. There is enough risk in the world already without asking for more.
Tempting fate. Daedalus, an ancient Greek, once designed some wings so he and his son Icarus could escape from a prison. Despite his father’s warnings, Icarus tried to fly up towards to the Sun. The heat of the Sun melted the wax holding on his wings, and he fell into the sea and was drowned. This ancient story shows how pride comes before a fall. In riding, it is equally important to know your limits.
Don’t ignore risk!
Ignoring a risk makes you feel better but doesn’t alter the risk
The opposite of tempting fate is to ignore risk entirely. While some unwisely tempt fate, others deal with risk by trying to shut it out entirely. They feel that by riding slowly on sunny Sunday afternoons, the risk will disappear. Unfortunately, ignoring a risk might make you feel better but doesn’t alter the risk. In fact it increases it, as a danger ignored is harder to handle. The best way to deal with a danger is to know about it. Risk is like a dangerous dog – the more you try to run from it, the more it may chase you. Its better to face it bravely while backing away. This is the eyes wide open approach to risk.
What are you scared of?
Ask a young child what they fear most, and they might say tigers, sharks or fire. But these are not what actually kills most kids. The biggest killer of kids in most countries is cars driven by ordinary people. So tell your kids to fear cars, especially not to crawl under or hide around them. Another unrecognized killer of children is water. Swimming pools just sit there looking harmless, but if a kid slips in they drown in minutes. Tell your kids to fear water! Ask kids how they will defend against danger and they will likely say run away fast! Again they are wrong. They cant run from a speeding car or a pool drowning. The best defense against danger is to see it and avoid it. Tell your kids their best defense is their eyes not their legs. Likewise on a motorcycle, what you fear most is often not what is most dangerous. A big truck might look scary, but the bigger danger might be a lane that looks empty until you enter it. Just as society flags unseen dangers, flag in your mind known danger situations on the road, like intersections or lane changes. This is the eyes-wide-open approach to safe riding.
Eyes wide open
Risk seekers are just as obsessed by risk as risk avoiders
Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to riding a motorcycle. They say know your enemy, an on a motorcycle your enemy is risk. Deal with it not by seeking it or ignoring it, but by knowing it. If you know your enemy, forewarned is forearmed. Risk seekers are just as obsessed by risk as risk avoiders. The answer is to not to be hypnotized by risk. The eyes wide open approach to risk has three parts:
• Face the risk to understand how it arises.
• Reduce the risk by safe riding practices.
• Accept the risk whatever it is.
Facing risk means looking at it fearlessly. Reducing risk means changing the factors that affect it, as outlined in this site. Accepting risk means understanding that Life has no guarantees. This approach lets you think on the unthinkable. For example, who hasnt at some time thought “What if a car coming the other way suddenly swerves into my path?” The usual reaction is to just put it out of your mind. Indeed, in all my years riding I’ve never seen it. But the eyes wide open approach says – it could happen so what can you do? I decided it would be better to turn into the oncoming vehicle and fly over the top than turn away and be trampled! Finally the accept part lets you just pack it away in the part of your head that includes being hit by a meteorite.
Keeping upright and not falling off is probably your main goal.
When you start riding, fear reduces arrogance, so overconfidence is not usually a problem. Keeping upright and not falling off is probably your main goal. You need to get confidence, so for your first ride, go somewhere safe with someone experienced. First, just watch them ride and then ride on the back ride with them, just to settle down. Then have a go yourself. If you do it and succeed, don’t get too cocky. When you start, take it easy in the early days. You have to practice. Keep going to an empty parking lot or quiet cul-de-sac, where no one is around, and practice over and over. You learn better when you don’t have to worry about other people on the road.
There are three steps to any ride:
Starting and stopping are the hard parts, so focus on them
The riding part is easy, as anyone can turn an accelerator. Starting and stopping are the hard parts, so focus on them. The first skill is a smooth start. This means don’t trail your feet along the ground. Foot trailing on take off is dangerous. If your foot hits something, it can pull the bike over. Plus you can hurt your foot. When you take off, just accelerate, lift your feet up and go – no fear remember?
Anyone can fly a plane, but only a pilot can take off and land.
Once you get going, don’t ride fast. Your riding skill is not how fast you go, but how smoothly you stop and start. It is like flying a plane – anyone can fly a plane, but only a pilot can take off and land. The 9/11 terrorists only wanted to learn to fly, not to land, because they were destroyers not creators. When riding, your skill is how smoothly you start and stop, not how fast you go.
Basic skills must be over-learned
It is not enough to do basic skills once. In traffic, your mind is busy elsewhere, so basic skills must be “over-learned”. Like army drills, they must be practiced until automatic, then they will still work in traffic. Most of this site is not about basic skills, because you can’t learn basic skills by reading. So go to an empty parking lot and practice your basic skills until they become automatic. Over-practicing is not time wasted. Once you can ride around and not fall off, read the rest of this site, as riding is a lot more than just that.
A motorcycle is a complex piece of machinery, so the decision to ride should not be taken lightly. This section helps you decide if you should ride a motorcycle or not. Motorcycle riding is a personal choice that no-one else can make for you. If you ride when you shouldn’t, you may get hurt. If you don’t ride when you could, it is an opportunity lost. Consider, are you:
Freedom to ride is not freedom from consequences and on a motorcycle the consequences can be big. A crash that dings a car panel will dent your skin. In riding, if you do 100 things right and one thing wrong, what counts? It seems unfair, but it is the one error that counts when riding . Riding safely for 99 days doesn’t offset one act of stupidity on day 100 that puts you in hospital for three months.
Do you have accidents when walking?
Are you an impulsive type, who does spur of the moment things? Are you an emotional reactor? Do you have regular “Uh-Oh!” accidents, and trip over, knock down or break things unexpectedly? Are an accident prone area? Do you have accidents when walking? If so, you are still a good person, but maybe you shouldn’t ride. An artist creating with paint on a canvas is one thing, but a rider creating with their body on pavement is another!
If Life is talking to you, better listen!
If you already ride, do you fall off every month? If so, perhaps Life is telling you something, so better listen! Little accidents often precede big accidents! If you don’t change yourself to fit Life, it may change you – permanently. If your accidents don’t decrease after a year, think about giving up the bike. This site won’t work if you are genetically impulsive, because to ride a bike safely needs ongoing impulse control. Your experiences over time will tell you if you have, or can develop, such control. If unsure, ask your friends. They will know if you are accident prone and should not ride a motorcycle.
Can I change? Sure you can! I was a young idiot, but I’m still riding because I learned from my mistakes. If you feel your many “accidents'” were solely due to stupid others, nothing to do with you, then my advice is don’t ride. Life can teach you, but you have to listen. On a motorcycle, it doesnt matter who is at fault, you will “wear it”. Change is possible only if you feel you cause what happens to you. If you feel in charge of your life, then you can change, even if you are impulsive.
Riding fearfully is a recipe for disaster
It is an odd fact that our lives today are safer than ever before but people have more fears than ever before! The Internet and media flood our minds with all sorts of fears. Fear is an old emotion that in the wild was a good thing. When the hawk flies overhead, its shadow frightens the rabbit to stop moving, which makes it less likely to be spotted. Fear makes animals “freeze” when predators are around, so they are not seen. Fear can paralyze you for the same reason, but that is not a good thing on a motorcycle. Riding fearfully is a recipe for disaster because when you ride, your reactions keep you alive.
For many people, fear is a prison that stops them doing things. The only way to get out of this prison is to do the thing you fear in a safe environment. You cant “logic” away fear because it is an emotional thing, and for the emotions only experience counts. When doing what you fear, take it easy at first because little steps are big steps here. If you make every step a winning step, with experience the fear will fade, until one day you will wonder what you were so worried about!
Fearful people usually won’t touch a motor-cycle with a ten-foot pole.
Fortunately, fearful people usually won’t touch a motorcycle with a ten-foot pole. They naturally avoid any situation that puts them in danger. So typical new riders are young males with a testosterone fueled fear deficiency. Nature gave young males the job of going out and trying stupid things because a. Sometimes they work, and b. Males are expendable. On a motorbike, the resulting accidents lead them to do one of two things:
Become afraid of motorcycles and give up.
Learn to ride safely
Often, after a few crashes, the fear kicks in and they stop riding entirely, perhaps with a little help from a mother, girlfriend or wife. Others decide to face the fear and deal with it, i.e. to ride safely.
The Wishing Tree. An adventurer wandering in a forest found a wishing tree. He wished for food, and it appeared. After eating, he then wished for gold and treasure, and it also came. Then he wished for a palace with servants, and it also appeared. With all these possessions, he become worried and thought, “What if robbers should kill me, and steal my treasure?” Immediately the thought occurred, because of the wishing tree robbers appeared and did just that, leaving him dead. Life is like a wishing tree. What you think tends to happen, though not instantly as in the story. For example, fear is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as fear attracts what it fears.
Coordination is your ability to physically control your body in motion. Some people have better coordination than others. A good predictor of motorcycle riding success is prior bicycle riding experience. If you rode a bicycle as a child, you probably fell off and learned stuff. Falling off when young hurts, but you recover quicker, and the memory helps you later on a motorcycle. A motorcycle differs from a bicycle in the hurt potential, but otherwise many principles are the same.
If you can’t ride a bicycle safely, you can’t ride a motorcycle safely either
Sometimes people in their 30’s, 40’s or 50’s see me riding and say, “I can do that.” Being older, they have enough money to buy the bike they couldn’t afford when young. I ask them: “Did you ride a bicycle when young?” If not, I suggest they try riding a bicycle on the road for two weeks, to see how it feels. If they can’t handle that, a 1200cc roadster won’t be any easier (or safer). If you can’t ride a bicycle safely, you can’t ride a motorcycle safely either. If you think a big motor-bike will “protect” you more than a little bicycle, think again. In both cases, the protection is you, not the machine. Motorcycles are faster, so the damage is greater. If you cant imagine yourself riding a bicycle exposed on the road, don’t imagine yourself riding a motorcycle because so many things are the same. Here are some of the things riding a bicycle teaches you:
Being physically exposed
Ongoing awareness of surroundings
Balancing at the center
Asserting your visibility
Signaling your intentions
For example, to turn across the traffic on a two-lane road at traffic lights, you have to assertively signal and move your bicycle to the middle lane while respecting existing traffic. Riding a bicycle is a cheap way to find out if a motorcycle is for you.
Being impulsive, fearful or uncoordinated are not bad in themselves. Impulsiveness is an aspect of creativity. Fear helps us not get killed. Everyone begins life with poor coordination. Its just that these properties do not fit well with riding a motorcycle. We all react, run away and fall over many times, but we learn. So that is the answer. On a motorcycle, control not creativity keeps you alive. On a motorcycle, courage not fear keeps your mind clear. On a motorcycle, physical not intellectual skills keep you upright. The point is, can you restrain your impulsive nature? Can you put fear in its place? Can you develop riding skills? If you are impulsive, know that without impulse control there is no riding safely. If you are fearful, know that one cannot ride safely while fearful. And if you cant control the bike physically, know that without stability one cant ride safely.
As a young man, I was fearful, impulsive and unskilled
As a young man I was impulsive, fearful and unskilled, yet I still rode. Of course I fell off, but helmet and jacket kept me in one piece. I had one rule – learn from your mistakes. I rarely fell off twice for the same reason. Over time, I controlled my foolish impulses. Over time, I restrained my fears. Over time, I became coordinated. What counts is where you want to be, not where you are now. I took as much care as my hormones allowed and listened to reason not fear.
What counts is not where you are now, but where you want to be
Now when I ride, I don’t react impulsively. There is literally no fear – just attention. My stability sits at a central point, and skills are automatic. Reactions just come, but this is not where it began forty years ago. I repeat, what counts is not where you are now, but where you want to be.
Everyone has a MTBA
MTBA stands for Mean Time Between Accidents. Everyone has an MTBA even if they are not aware of it. For any vehicle, MTBA is the average time from one accident to the next, where an accident is any human or vehicle damage, not a “near miss”. To find your MTBA, count your accidents over a period of time, regardless of fault. So one accident per year is an MTBA of one and one accident in 20 years is an MTBA of 20. If you haven’t ridden or driven, your MTBA is undefined. The MTBA of young people learning to ride is usually under six months. That means they are lucky to go six months without a dent or a scratch. With experience (a few crashes), their MTBA soon rises to one or two years. Experienced car drivers have an MTBA of about five years, i.e. every five years something happens they didnt expect. Usually the crash is not their fault, but MTBA has nothing to do with fault – it just measures what happens. Good car drivers have an MTBA of about 5-10 years.
To ride a motor-cycle safely you need a car MTBA of 10-20 years
To ride a motor-cycle safely, your goal is a car MTBA of 10-20 years! This is better than the average car driver. I had better add that when I started riding, I fell off every few months for various “reasons”. Not making the same mistake twice increased my MTBA, but even so, only better than average car drivers make good motorcycle riders.
The Ready Rider
If you want to ride, you can
What if I am fearful, careless and incompetent? Well there is hope, as I was like that, but clearly you have to change. Do you want to ride? If you can be careful once, you can do it again. If you can do what you fear once, you can do it again. If you can learn one skill, you can learn another. So, if you want to ride, you can.
Riding safely is balancing opposites not climbing a ladder to “excellence”
Riding safely is balancing opposites, not climbing some ladder to “excellence”. Imagine a pendulum swinging between carefulness and carelessness. You choose carefulness right? But carefulness can create fear, giving worry and doubt, which sap the confidence you need to ride. If you are too careful, you won’t ride at all!
Now imagine a pendulum swinging between doubt and confidence. You choose confidence, right? Yet bold action can breed pride, and pride comes before a fall. Confidence helps doctors, salesmen and politicians succeed by making others believe in them, but it doesn’t change road realities. Asphalt ignores your convictions. It does not hear your justifications. For riders, as for pilots, over-confidence is a recipe for disaster.
Only the brave get on a bike, but only the cautious stay there.
Balance stops these pendulums in the middle. All life is about balance. Between carelessness and doubt, choose neither. The careless stupidly disrespect the world and the doubtful stupidly disrespect themselves. The careless don’t ride long, but the fearful dont even begin to ride. Be careful and courageous. Courage enables action, and carefulness avoids danger. Only the brave get on a bike, but only the cautious stay there. Be both!
Who do you want to be?
What sort of a motorcycle rider do you want be?
1. The Barbarian. With t-shirt, bandana, sandals and sunglasses, weaving through traffic at high speed protected by tattoos. Also known as: The Risky Rider Motto: The world is my oyster. Thought: I want it all and I want it now.
2. The Rabbit. With fixed and fearful gaze, cautiously crawls along highway slow lanes on Sunday afternoons. Also known as: The Timid Rider. Motto: Life is dangerous. Thought: Please don’t hurt me!
3. The Fox. With a balance of boldness and caution, ends up where trouble is not. Also known as: The Balanced Rider Motto: Thinking all the time. Thought: Look! Listen! Learn!
Motorcycles usually use less than half the petrol a car would. A motorcycle saves money you would otherwise burn up in smoke. It also saves your country money, as if a more people rode motorcycles, dependence on foreign oil would reduce. Motorcycle riders are leaders in petrol conservation.
Easier to maintain
In many ways, a motorcycle is only half a car
Motorcycles are easier to repair. Firstly the engine is more accessible. You go to the bike, pull off a side cover or seat, and there is the engine. Secondly, there is less to maintain, e.g. two wheels not four. In many ways, a motorcycle is only half a car. If your costs for routine maintenance are not less than for a car, consider a new garage. Finally, many repairs you can do yourself, like changing spark plugs or fitting a new battery.
Easier to park
People who take half an hour to get to work, may take as long to find a park
Motorcycles are easier to park than cars. People who take half an hour to get to work, may take just as long to find a park and then walk to work. What if you could ride right up to your building, get off, and walk in? For most motorcycle riders this is the case. A bike parks in a third of the space of a car, so you can angle park a hundred bikes where only 30 cars will fit. Even in the busiest of places, there is usually a spot to park a bike.
Harder to tow
Towing a bike can be a drag
Being towed is a reality of life, along with death and taxes. If you are the wrong place at the wrong time you will be towed. For cars, they just lift the front or back, and tow it off. Towing a big bike is more difficult. They can’t just drag it away. It must be winched onto a trailer, and then carted off. If you chain the bike to a fixture, like lamppost, it is even more difficult to tow, as the chain must be cut. Even for a clamped bike, the owner can often lift it and cart it away. However it is not impossible, so be careful.
Can stop anywhere
A bike can pull over anytime
The ability to pull over anytime is a real bonus. Imagine cruising a big city on a bike, and you get lost. On a bike you can pull over anytime, look around, read road signs and check map directions. In a car, stopping in a city will usually block the traffic flow. When a bike pulls over, traffic flows around it, but in a car, the traffic flow forces you on, even in directions you don’t want to go! Sometimes people end up miles from where they want to be, because they could not stop and look at a map. Even on narrow city streets, a motorcycle can pull onto the sidewalk, for a brief “reconnaissance”. Riders can stop and look at the view, when a car must press on. A motorcycle is great for sightseeing and looking around new places.
Parking on the pavement. In America, I enjoyed taking the bike into New York. Sure there were tolls but the bridge views were magnificent. Once in the city, there were hardly any bikes. A cool thing was that the gun-toting police just didnt care about a motorcycle parked on the pavement. They had bigger fish to fry. So you could park right outside any cafe, anytime, and have a cuppa. Chatting police looking for gun threats would just walk on by my bike parked on the pavement. In New Zealand, police are so bored they leap at the chance to ticket a motorbike parked on the pavement. It makes their day.
Flexible in traffic
In traffic jams, a motorcycle can usually wend its way forward
It is a terrible feeling of helplessness, being in a stationary line of cars with some block up ahead. Maybe someone had a crash. In a car, you have to wait, however long it takes. You dont even know how many miles the line stretches ahead. However in traffic jams, a motorcycle can usually wend its way forward. Flexibility is why many cities are bringing back motorcycle police – they can go where cars cant. A motorcycle needs only half the space of a car to move. A common city situation is drivers who cant go when the light turns green because there is no room on the other side of the intersection. However a motorcycle can always find a space on the other side where they arent blocking traffic. It is a rare case when a motorcycle has no movement options at all – after all, you can even get off and walk the bike along!
Motorcycles wake you up
The main cause of car accidents is inattention. Falling asleep at the wheel, often momentarily, happens more often than most people think. A car is comfortable, so if you are tired, your body tells you it is time to take a nap. Unfortunately, even a brief mini-nap can put you into oncoming traffic. In contrast, motorcycles wake you up, as on a bike you feel the wind, the wet, and the cold! So you are less likely to nod off “at the handlebars” than at the wheel. Riding can be unpleasant, but boring it is not, and this is an advantage.
If you want to get girls, get a car
The bad-boy rider certainly has appeal, but riding to look cool, and attract the opposite sex, is a poor reason to ride, as “showing off” makes you do stupid things, that defy common sense, like “wheelies”. You already have two wheels instead of four, why cut it down to one? If you want get girls, get a car. Girls are more comfortable in a car for a start. There is not much conversation on a bike (some guys find that a plus). Putting on a helmet messes up hair and make-up. Riding picks up road dirt. Those spare gloves can smell If it rains, forget taking your girlfriend on a bike – unless it is a test of love. What girl wants to arrive at a party looking like the thing from the swamp?
The lesson? For some time I tried to convince my wife it would be great to go into New York on my motorcycle. She let several days pass then suddenly said “OK”. We had to wear gear even though it was hot, and there were long lines into the narrow Holland tunnel lanes, with no lane “sliding” allowed. We arrived wet not from rain but sweat. That parking was so easy made up for it a bit. After a good day, the weather suddenly turned dark, with rain, thunder and lightning . We waited out the worst, then I decided we had to head home in the dark with pelting rain. I remember it well – the world flashed with light, wet and wind, and she held on behind. Fortunately I am still both married and riding. Still don’t know whether choosing that day was her plan to teach me a lesson.