Issue 2 Nov 10, 2017
Motorcycle Riding Tips
The most important tip is to see everything.
By Billy Bartels Motorcycle Cruiser
New riders frequently will ask me for motorcycle riding tips, which is invariably to take as many rider training courses as you can afford to on street and track, regardless of the kind of motorcycle you ride. If they’ve already done all that (or are in the process of doing so), I give them just one more nugget: “See Everything.”
Part of seeing everything is keeping track of everything. I read an asinine article recently in another motorcycle magazine about how you should adjust your mirrors to see what is right next to you, not what’s coming up behind. Well, if you’re keeping track of everything, you should already know what’s right next to you.
I play a little game with myself that I call Paranoia. I pretend that every car on the road is constantly looking for both an excuse and a means to take me out. In my fantasy world, they still have to make it look like an accident, so it’s not enough to make me completely insane (or so I like to tell people). This healthy little exercise is easily done on surface streets and backroads, and is similar to what they teach in an MSF course: watch the driveway…car in oncoming lane…is he weaving…etc. Think of who could possibly hit you and try to calculate the odds of them actually doing so. Part of Paranoia is hopefully knowing what the other driver is doing before he even knows.
So now that I’ve whipped you into a paranoid frenzy, what do you do about it? For many riders the thought of every driveway, car, bicycle, and dog on earth as a threat is enough to get them to park the bike permanently in the garage (or find a new home at eBay Motors).
To paraphrase the Alcoholics Anonymous prayer, you can only control so much. The trick is to only pay attention to probable threats, and attempt to prioritize. Obviously this needs to come after all of those classes I mentioned first—if you’re on a nice curvy piece of road and all you can think about is not flying over the edge or tucking the front end, you probably don’t have any attention span left over for what to do if a truck comes over the double yellow.
Obviously these threats can come fast and furious, and it can get a little overwhelming, so use your relative speed to help control how fast the world comes at you. Obviously, one way to do this is to literally slow down. Sometimes the difference between riding on the edge and riding in a relaxed state well within your abilities to both control the motorcycle and see everything around you is 2–3 mph. On back roads and city streets its frequently a good idea to roll off a little if there are multiple threats on the horizon and position yourself in your lane to best deal with them.
On the flip side, sometimes a good way to slow things down is to speed up. This is a strategy best employed on large, busy streets, highways and interstates. Football players and racers frequently talk about “slowing it down.” They do not mean actually slowing anything down, but rather a perceptional change. When things are flying at you, surprising and overwhelming, it seems like its all going too fast. Which is exactly what can happen when you’re going at or near the speed of traffic on a busy road, with cars constantly coming at you in your mirrors and a bunch of other cars hanging out near you.
So, not to advocate blatant law-ignoring behavior, but riding about 5 mph faster than the general flow of traffic, will effectively slow things down by putting most of your threats in front of you. Instead of constantly seeing threats in your mirrors, you’ll see them out in front and get to study their behavior a bit before passing them. Obviously twitchy drivers (probably cellphone-wielding) should be given a wide berth. Passing is easier when you pick out a spot in front of a car that’s currently in front of (or next to) you, pass them and then take a space you know is clear. The power-to-weight ratio on most bikes is better than most cars, so even if the car in question decides to jack you, you should be able to outrun them. You’re controlling traffic instead of letting it control you.
It also gets easier to check for cops, as the number of cars coming up fast on you is likely to be greatly reduced. In my time of using this strategy I’ve gotten no speeding tickets when actually following my own advice. I have gotten a few while going way faster than I should, but that’s a whole other story.
Freeways are spookier than just about anything else when using this mindset, especially in my home state of California, where the speed of traffic is sometimes 85-ish. There are also a ton of fast moving objects that can flatten you from any one of up to six lanes, sometimes seven.
Obviously, this is a very conditional and flexible strategy. I can’t stress enough that you need to ride within your abilities. If you can’t handle going at least the speed of traffic on a given highway, you might need to pull off and take secondary roads, or take more rider’s training. Sometimes even cruisin’ takes skill.
Billy Bartels Motorcycle Cruiser contributor