5 Ways to Avoid Being a Dumbass on a Motorcycle

Because I’m considered a motorcycle skills and safety “expert”, some people think I’m immune to doing dumb things. Well, I got news…I am just as susceptible as the next guy at being a dumbass.

The results of ignoring my inner voice.
The results of ignoring my inner voice.

I will concede that I am probably above average in the “ride smart” category. I should be…after years of coaching, writing and lecturing about how to ride “right”. But, it tns out training and knowledge can only go so far in mitigating the influence of the dumb-dumb gene. See the Crashing Sucks article for proof.

In the end, we all must realize that we are fallible. Thankfully, there are a few things we can do about it.

1. Get Smart

There are riders out there who learn to “operate” a motorcycle without ever really knowing how to “ride” their machine. The difference between these two things is more than semantics.

  • “Operating” a motorcycle means you can get it to go, stop and turn with enough competence to get around. That is a very loose definition of riding.
  • “Riding” means being able to not only operate the bike proficiently, it also means you can predict problems, strategize to prevent conflict, and then control the machine when shit goes wrong.

Too many riders think that having the ability to clutch, shift, brake and turn well enough to get to the local hangout without injury is sufficient. In reality, the basic skills needed to truly minimize the likelihood of an expensive and painful ride to the nearest medical center are simply not enough.

Doing a track day will increase your riding smarts…a lot.

This is the risk posed by giving new riders a motorcycle endorsement after only a weekend of basic training, which essentially gives the newb a false sense that they are proficient riders when in fact they are not even close.

I know what some of you are saying…”I never had no stinkin’ training (or no further training beyond the BRC) and I’m doing just fine.” The question is, How do you measure “fine”?

Remember that what skills and habits you have are the only tools available (besides dumb luck) when a catastrophic event unfolds in front of you. In this case, most riders’ definition of  “fine” is nowhere near good enough.

So, the first thing to do to avoid being a dumbass is to get smart. Read, take parking lot courses, on-street training, track days, or simply practice on your own or with friends to keep your “safety/skills” muscle active and to combat complacency.

Taking a breath will help prevent close calls like this.

2. Take a Breath

Sharing the road with idiots is infuriating. Many drivers are mindlessly “operating” their vehicles, putting little value in courtesy or your safety. But, don’t make a bad situation worse by succumbing to road rage. There are a bunch of YouTube vids showing riders being total asses to a driver who made a mistake. Keep in mind that those drivers are NOT out to kill you. They are humans who make mistakes.

And if you reflect on your last driver-versus-rider situation, you will likely see that YOU contributed to the driver making a bad decision.

When it comes to tailgaters, it takes all kinds of willpower not to react in frustration and anger. But don’t. Read this article about tailgaters before your next ride.

3. Listen to Your Inner Voice

At the risk of sounding all new-agey, I must point out the importance of developing a relationship with your inner voice. Yes, you have an inner voice. Some people call it a gut feeling, but for me I actually hear a voice. This voice isn’t the product of some mental condition, rather it is a trait of very sane people who pay attention.

Example 1 (Good): I’m approaching an intersection at or slightly above the speed limit. Everything looks to be in order with cars stopped at the traffic light and pedestrians waiting patiently. But a faint voice tells me to slow down. I roll off the gas just in time for a dog to run out from the brush. Whether a part of me actually saw movement in my periphery, I cannot say. All I know is that my gut said to slow, so I did.

Example 2 (Bad): I see a particularly beautiful vista that I want to photograph, so I stop on the edge of the remote road. The front of my bike is pointed down a rather steep hill, but instead of shutting down the motor and leaving it in gear, I click the transmission into neutral and keep the bike running. I dismount and check that the sidestand is fully lowered and tug on the handlebars to make sure the bike won’t roll forward.

But, as I start to walk uphill to snap the photo, my inner voice says “are you sure leaving the bike in neutral is wise?”. I remember looking back one more time to make sure the bike was okay and ignored the voice. I took a photo, then started walking a bit further up the hill when I heard the sound of plastic on asphalt (see opening photo). Dumbass.

Collarbone-XRay4. Remember that Crashing Sucks

Believe it or not, a lot of people never think about what it would really be like to crash. This is why so many riders choose to stunt and race in public and why people choose not to wear full protective gear. It’s really common for someone to suddenly “see the light” and start wearing a helmet, or armored gear, or real riding pants, or a back or chest protector, only after he, she, or a friend suffered an injury that would have been prevented by any one of these pieces of protection.

Same applies to behavior…people ride like idiots until someone gets really hurt, or until they get in legal trouble. Only after they’ve paid some crazy fine and lost their license do they figure out that there are ways to have just as much fun without so much risk, and at less cost. Cough…track days.

So, remind yourself that riding a motorcycle exposes you to risk of serious injury. This truth doesn’t have to kill your riding buzz; rather having a healthy sense of self-preservation helps you make better decisions and opens your mind to options that are just as much fun but with less risk.

Personal bests, competition, camaraderie... photo: otmpix.com
Track Days and Racing is a smarter and safer way to scratch that adrenaline itch. photo: otmpix.com

5. Wake Up!

If the thrill of high-stakes risk is your thing, but your riding smarts don’t match your risk-taking, then the likelihood of you being a dumbass is higher than most.

Unfortunately, I probably will not be able to change your mind. Like an addict, you can only help yourself and that usually only happens after you’ve reached your own personal rock bottom.

I just hope your rock bottom doesn’t include taking out a family in a mini-van or one of your buddies. Wake up before it’s too late. Seriously. Cough…Track days…. Cough…Racing.

What am I missing? Add your comments below.

Remember that I moderate comments and it may take a few days to approve yours. But, rest assured, your voice will be heard.

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12 Replies to “5 Ways to Avoid Being a Dumbass on a Motorcycle”

  1. Unfortunately, nothing is idiot proof to a sufficiently talented idiot. On the plus side, there’s plenty to go on in here for those of us less talented and committed.

  2. One thing even seasoned riders have bad habits.One of my pet peeves is riders not leaving themselves two ways to excape.I ride as close to the centerline as I safely can… That way I can go either left or right to avoid an accident. If you’re a gutter rider your in trouble… And I explain another reason I ride near the center line. If you have a car behind you and the car behind him decides to pass the car behind you if he sees you he’ll pass both of you.. But, if you’re a gutter rider that passing car will pull in, in front of the car he just passed and the gutter ride will be forced off the road… My friend’s 17 year old son lost his leg on a guard rail.I club raced and had a AMA Pro license had a TZ250.. And I still went to two schools one was for advance riding skills and I have been riding over ahem.. 40+ Years…

  3. Another fantastic read Ken. Spot on too. Sometimes that bad voice just talks a little louder than reason. You forgot another bad influence. Spectators. I find that my sense of what is OK changes when there are people (Chicks) to impress… 🙂

  4. Yup, been there. Like the time I lifted the kick stand to move the bike and then got to talking and I needed to talk with my hands to tell the story… So I did… Sigh…. Did I just admit that?

  5. My inner voice says things like “let’s see if we can hit 120 on this stretch of Rt 1!”. “Brake later bro — four out of five times, there’s nobody walking a dog around this blind turn!”

    My inner voice is a bugeyed maniac.

  6. Outstanding piece, Ken, as always. My wife and I each ride adventure style bikes and we have a pair of Scala Q3s. We wore out our previous Scala Q2s after 40,000 miles. We accept the fact that while riding is fun, it does up the risk factor. To mitigate said risk, one thing we do is we actually talk to each other . A lot. I mean a LOT! When I lead, she scans the big picture and I focus mainly on the 5-second picture. We chatter continuously in traffic or even on open roads, exchanging fun info but also talking about hazards, critters and the like. If we lose comms, we pull over until we fix it. We think it’s that important. It has saved our bacon many, many times over the last 60,000 miles. I enjoy every one of your articles and look forward to them in my Inbox. Keep up the fine work and the rubber side down. PK

    1. Thanks for sharing, Paul. My wife and I have been using comms for years and also find them useful for alerting us of dangers and for keeping each other (ok, me) in check when we (me) start getting too rambunctious.

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