Riding Safely depends on your brain above everything else. More than what you wear or what you ride, your brain keeps you safe on a motorbike. One in three motorcycle accidents occur when riders are all by themselves, with no-one else around. The main cause in these and other cases is not recognizing danger and/or rider errors like over-braking or cornering too fast. Motorbikes have no seat belts so it all depends on the rider – and that means your brain. The best way to increase safety is to retrain your brain to ride safely. You cant change what others do but you can change yourself, so take charge and train yourself to ride safely.
1. No Fear
Fear makes you wear a helmet and ride safely, but on a bike it’s a liability, as it reduces your ability to act. Fear is an attention thief that causes tunnel vision and makes you over-react to events. It is a gremlin that sits not under your bed but in your head. Indeed if you ride in constant fear, better give it up entirely. Yes a motorcycle is risky but all life is risky. People die walking. And fear doesn’t stop death, it just stops life. On a motorcycle, full attention puts fear where it belongs – in the background. When you get on a motorcycle say “No Fear!” and mean it. Train your brain to put fear aside when you ride.
2. All-round vision
All-round vision is different from the point vision you use to read a book. It is critical on a motorcycle because it takes in everything at once. All-round vision works best when you don’t focus on one thing but look to the distance. So when riding, don’t look at the car ahead, look many cars ahead. Your all-around vision will then tell you if anything happens with the nearby cars. If a car is incoming, you need to know how far and how fast, not if it’s a Holden or a Ford! Your all-round vision does this for your entire field of vision! Train your brain to use your all-round vision.
3. Don’t Hurry
Hurrying makes you want to get somewhere quicker and take more risks. It is different from speed, as an astronaut going fast in a speeding rocket needn’t hurry. When you plan, remember that Life also has a plan, and its Big Plan always has priority over your little plan. Hurrying is not worth it because you can hurry 99 times and be OK, then one day be slowed down for life. This applies especially to risk points like intersections. Decide right now to never hurry at an intersection. This one choice may one day save your life. When hurriers meet on the road, it is often in accident alley. Train your brain to never hurry.
4. Ride Defensively
Defensive riding is adapting to other drivers regardless of road rights. A defensive rider flows on the road like water, filling the empty places others don’t want. If water can’t go one way it goes another. Just as water goes around obstacles and does not oppose them, so when riding go with the flow. Riding safely is adapting to other road users, not confronting them. If some idiot swerves in front of you, don’t chase him to give the finger. Avoid him. He is an accident going somewhere you don’t want to go. Train your brain to ride defensively.
5. Be All There
Inattention is the number one killer on the road, not speed or drink. Cell phones are more dangerous than alcohol. Our brain can do on many things at once but you can’t ride a bike like this. Inattention is thinking about anything other than what you are doing right now. If you think you are cool, that is inattention. If you are thinking of when you arrive, that is inattention. If you are angry that is inattention. The cure to inattention is to be mentally one, so the first rule of riding is to be all there. Train your brain to be all there when riding.
6. Be seen
On a motorcycle, seeing is your best defense and being seen is the next best. If a driver can see you, they can avoid you. In over two-thirds of bike-car accidents, the driver didn’t see the motorcycle coming. Some ways to be seen are:
• Headlights. Always ride with headlights on.
• Visible Gear. Wear visible helmet and gear.
• High Beam. Flash your high beam when needed.
• Visible Position. Ride so drivers can see you easier.
• Indicators. Use your indicators to help others to avoid you.
Always indicate when changing lanes, even when no-one is around. Make no exceptions. One day, when you think no-one is there and there is, it may save your life. Train your brain to be seen so others avoid you – always use your indicators.
7. Ride to conditions
Conditions are the circumstances in which you ride, including the weather, day or night, the road, the bike, and even your body when affected by alcohol, drugs or fatigue. When conditions change the laws of physics that govern riding, you have to change how you ride! When it rains, stopping and cornering are very different, much more for a motorcycle than a car. Its like playing a game of checkers that suddenly becomes a game of chess. Yet we are creatures of habit, so accidents happen when you ride as before in the rain – conditions have changed but your brain hasn’t. Riding to conditions means adapting to change – when you hit a patch of oil on a turn, its a whole new set of rules! So in fog, how slow should I go? The answer is slow as you have to. If necessary, get off the bike and walk. Train your brain to ride to suit the conditions, whatever they are.
8. Build safety habits
Riding a motorcycle is about building habits by practice. Since you must build habits to ride, build safe ones. In the Army, when we had rifles on exercise the safe habit was to always point them in a safe direction, whether loaded or not. Practicing unsafe habits is like plotting your own downfall. Not accelerating at intersections is a safety habit. Riding to the side of the car ahead is another one, as is always indicating. Safety habits sound like work, but a good habit is no more work than a bad one. And once established, habits are no work at all because they happen automatically. Look after your habits and one day they will look after you. Train your brain to acquire safety habits.
Stability is more than just not falling off the bike, it is how well you balance. With experience, you reduce the natural wobble that occurs as you ride. New riders wobble a lot, skilled riders don’t. Good riding, like good wine, is smooth. Stability shows most when you start and stop. In a stable start you just lift your feet and go. An unsteady start requires swerving and foot dragging that wears out your shoes. Motorcycle skill is not how fast you can go, but how slow you can go. Any fool can twist an accelerator, but to bring a bike to a complete stop, stay vertical, then calmly drop a leg, takes skill. Train your brain to ride with stability.
10.Recognize risk situations
Risk situations are the scenarios in which accidents likely occur. Experienced riders avoid accidents by recognizing risk scenarios. Studies show that in 90% of accident cases, the risk is directly in front of the rider before the accident and they did not recognize it. For example, riding alongside a truck puts you in its blind spot but this is not obvious – until it suddenly pulls into your lane. Experienced riders always cruise behind or in front of a next lane vehicle for that reason. A common rider accident situation is overtaking a car that has slowed or stopped in the road for no apparent reason, when it suddenly turns and you crash into it. Again experienced riders recognize the car is “unknown” and stay behind until what it is doing is clear. Innumerable situations lead to accidents, but in every case recognizing and avoiding them is better than riding risk blind. Train your brain to recognize risk situations.