The Top 2 Survival Tips That Will Save Your Life

Both speed was and lack of visibility caused this crash.

Both speed was and Lack of Visibility caused this crash.

I know what you’re saying. “You’re telling me that there are only 2 things I need to do to survive riding on the street?” You betcha. So, here is the caveat to this sensational statement; there are more like 1 Gazillion things you need to know to be the safest rider you can be. But, I don’t have that much time and you’d be bored by the time I got to number 15,000. So, I’m going with my top 2.

And with no further ado, here they are. The envelope. please.

#1 Being “Speed Smart”

#2 Being Visible

Of all the things you can and should know about riding a motorcycle, these two strategies will allow you to avoid 80 to 90% of the most common situations that lead to motorcycle crashes. I hear you yelling at your laptop or smartphone saying “What about [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE STRATEGY HERE]”. I understand… really. There is way more to know to avoid becoming roadkill than just these two strategies. But, I contend that most close calls and crashes can be avoided if you follow my suggestions and focus first on these two strategies. Let me elaborate.

All photos © Ken Condon


Top Motorcycle Survival Tip #1: Be Speed Smart

Jeannine being Speed Smart

Jeannine being Speed Smart

Being “Speed Smart” doesn’t necessarily mean sticking to the posted speed limit. I’m no angel when it comes to ignoring ridiculous speed limit signs, especially when the payoff is worth the risk of a ticket ( a great section of twisty tarmac with little traffic). No, I’m talking about being smart about when and where you wick it up. You can avoid a majority of close calls if you just keep the throttle under control. Here’s how.

Ride at “Expected” Speeds

It’s important to ride close to the marked speed limit when riding through town centers, and whenever you are near other drivers, especially when riding through intersections. Riding at a speed that is greater than is expected will likely result in the driver pulling in front of you, thinking he or she has time to go. This is largely because a motorcycle has a narrow frontal area, which makes it more difficult for drivers to judge your approach speed and distance.

Ride Slow in a Slow Environment

One of the most common reasons motorcycle riders crash is because they ride faster than the environment will safely allow. Riding at the speed limit makes total sense when there is a lot of traffic, but what about when the road opens up? It may be tempting to go WFO, but no matter how much you wish the road were a racetrack, it is not! You can get away with excessive speed for a while, but some day it will bite you. I can almost guarantee it. Really fast sport riding belongs on a racetrack, dummy.

Even if you are a racetrack hero, you must understand that the unpredictable nature of the street does not allow you to exercise your full cornering prowess. With hazards such as road surface hazards, unexpected changes in radius and camber, or other vehicles crossing into your lane you can easily exceed the limits of the environment even though you may be nowhere near your personal limits.

Cornering Correctly: Slow in, Fast out

The vast majority of single-vehicle crashes are the result of riders failing to negotiate a curve and a common reason for this is a rider entering a corner at a speed that is too fast for the conditions or for the rider’s ability. The best strategy is to slow to a conservative speed and then gradually accelerate when you are sure it is safe to do so. Keep in mind that you can always get on the gas, but you can’t go back in time to enter the turn at a slower speed.

Respect Time and Space

Still not convinced just how significant speed is to keeping you safe? Then consider the timing and circumstances of a typical 30 mph crash. At that speed you are traveling at 44 feet per second (1 mph = 1.47 ft/sec). Getting a motorcycle stopped at 30 mph takes just over two seconds and requires about 35 feet of space. But, braking distances include more than just the time and space to physically stop your motorcycle. It also includes “thinking time” and “reaction time”. At 30 mph you can count on using about .7 seconds or 31 feet to realize that there is a problem. It then takes you another .3 seconds or 13 feet to react by rolling off the throttle and reaching for the brakes. That means you traveled 44 feet before even touching the brakes. Finally, it takes you about 2.2 seconds or 35 feet (with a typical deceleration rate achieved by the average rider) to bring the motorcycle to a halt. Add this “braking time” to the “thinking time” and “reaction time” and you’ll need a total of 3.2 seconds and 79 feet with which to stop.


Top Motorcycle Survival Tip #2: Be Visible

"SMIDSY"= "Sorry Mate, I Didn't See Ya"

“SMIDSY”= “Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See Ya”

The most common phrase uttered by drivers who are involved in a motorcycle crash is; “I didn’t see him”. It’s easy to blame the driver for being inattentive. After all, texting, NAV systems, and other distractions are vying for drivers’ attention…you know who you are. While this is a reality on today’s roads, too many riders fail to recognize their role in being visible, choosing to wear dark colors and riding in a way that hides them from other drivers.

Even being seen is not as reliable as we would like. Most motorcyclists have stories of drivers pulling out in front of them even though the driver was looking directly at them. What would cause a driver to proceed if the rider was in plain sight? It’s common for a driver’s brain to dismiss the appearance of a relatively insignificant (small) vehicle (motorcycle) on the roadway and pull out without ever “seeing” the motorbike.

Use Effective Lane Positioning

In traffic, it’s important to constantly evaluate your ability to see and for others to see you. Poor lane position is a factor that can prevent you from being seen and seeing hazards. This includes not having sufficient following distance. Ample following distance provides a wider angle of view to see past the vehicle and allow other drivers to see you.

Proper lane positioning also includes your location within the width of your lane. Motorcycle riders have the option of riding in the left, center or right portion of the lane. This gives you the ability to place your bike where you can see farther ahead and where other drivers can see you. Exactly what is the best lane position? In many situations, riding in the left/center of your lane makes the most sense. This position allows you to see past the vehicle ahead and gives you a good angle of view of the oncoming lane.  Certain situations require you to alter this position, such as an oncoming vehicle threatening to cross the centerline.

Lane position changes continually depending on the road surface, other drivers, and your angle of view.

Loud Pipes

Basic science says that sound is not a reliable source of information. Sure, loud pipes increase the likelihood that drivers will know you are in the vicinity, but don’t be fooled into thinking that sound will help a driver locate where you are in traffic. This is why installing loud pipes is not a great strategy for increasing safety.

A much more reliable strategy is to be more visible. A driver who sees you and is able to accurately judge your speed and distance is much less likely to pull out in front of you. The importance of using strategies for being seen cannot be overemphasized. Unfortunately, too many riders don’t seem to understand this.


There are lots of other tips that are important for surviving on a motorcycle like don’t ride drunk or stoned, be attentive, etc. But. if you can follow these two strategies I outlined, you are well on your way to making it home at the end of a great day of riding.

OK. Now it’s your turn.

I know you’ve been chompin’ at the bit to tell the world what you think is the most important tip for surviving. So, let’s hear your comments.
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Ken is author of "Motorcycling the Right Way” and "Riding in the Zone" (book and blog). He is also the "Street Savvy" columnist for Motorcyclist Magazine, and former longtime author of the Proficient Motorcycling and Street Strategies columns for Motorcycle Consumer News. Ken is Lead Instructor for Tony's Track Days, a 20 year Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor, and owner of Riding in the Zone Motorcyclist Training.

Posted in All Things Motorcycle, Motorcycle Safety, Rider Education, Riding Technique & Tips Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
13 comments on “The Top 2 Survival Tips That Will Save Your Life
  1. Tom says:

    whenever you can pick a route that is less traveled. Whenever you are among cars try always to keep them all ahead of you or all behind. And, never run neck and neck with a car.

  2. Scott says:

    Thanks for all the helpful info. I personally like ” always look for the out” as you don’t have all the space necessary in tight city traffic.

  3. Jeff says:

    Ken,

    Awesome job. Your analysis of 1) Perception Time, 2) Reaction Time, and 3) Braking Duration Time is very good. We all need to remember the three time-eating components of a stop. Sadly many riders do not realize that a very small amount of greater following distance or a slightly lower speed can mean the difference between a very bad day or an uneventful one.

    35 years ago, on a smokin’ hot summer afternoon on the Southeast Expressway in Boston the highway traffic came to a screeching stop. I was a rookie ride on my bitchin’ KZ-400D3. Terrified I managed to stop, 6 inches from the rear bumper of the car in front of me. That was a very good lesson. I don’t follow nearly as close especially as speeds go up.

    Keep up the great work!

  4. Robert Day says:

    I have been riding my bike for about a year. I appreciate all the great information and tips. God bless

  5. Larry Towers says:

    This goes out to everybody! If your mind is NOT into the ride, high Viz nor anything else will help you and or your riding pals. So, if your mind is not fully into the ride, do YOURSELF as well as those around you one huge favor, STAY HOME, and ride another day.

  6. Zack Hoffman says:

    Great points Ken. I ride as if I’m invisibale. Expect the unexpected. I fully agree about the speed, I know I can make the corners faster, but it is so much easier to speed up than to slow down in a corner. HiVis riding gear is just make good sence. Last but not least ATGATT.
    Thank You Zack

  7. T E Kerkering says:

    Well stated Ken. I have always told new riders that the throttle is both friend and devil. Judicious use of the throttle can help get you out of trouble but overuse will almost always bite you in the end. (pun intentional)

  8. Leo Stemp says:

    Ken, IMO, the #1 rule of staying visible is wearing Hi-Viz clothing. There are lots of stylish Hi-Viz jackets on the market now, along with Hi-Viz helmets.

    #2 after that, is staying where drivers can see you. Wearing Hi-Viz clothing takes precedence though, bec you can’t always be sure about where you should be so that drivers can see you, and you won’t always be aware of all drivers who might have an impact on your path of travel.

    If you want to see some really gruesome videos of the consequence of failing to stay visible, go to Utube. You can find videos of bikers literally being run over like animals on the road.

  9. Jeffrey Meyers says:

    Another excellent article that really distills down so much of safe motorcycling in a very digestible piece. The one thing I would add involves both lane positioning and cornering speed: Outside-Inside-Outside path of travel when entering a corner when possible. Following this rule – positioning yourself to the outside of the corner at the beginning, the apex on the inside of the corner in the middle, and drifting to the outside of the lane at the end – allows for greater site distance in the turn as well as minimizing lean angle (thus maximizing traction). Thanks Ken!

  10. Glenn says:

    glad you post these Ken. I think you have already addressed in maybe a different way, but maybe I notch it up a little bit and try to think ( especially at intersections/stop signs ) that the other vehicle WILL pull out in front of me. That being the case, I say to myself, could I stop or avoid him now if he did? This being the case, I tend to go through intersections ( especially stale green ) ones a little slower than others, but it has paid off with 0 accidents ( in my adult career!)

    • Ken says:

      Glen, I couldn’t agree more. I am always playing the “What if” game and always looking for the escape strategy if I need it. Thanks for the comment.

  11. patrick bolduc says:

    Once again, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Great article.

    • Ken says:

      Thanks Patrick. I encourage all my blog friends to share these posts with their riding friends who might not be as aware of the risks they encounter as they should. We all know someone. 🙂

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