Rider Behavior and Peer Pressure

Same, Same
There is comfort in conformity.

It may seem that peer pressure is something that we outgrow once we reach adulthood. But, even as grownups we continue to be influenced by people we associate and identify with.

As motorcycle riders, peer pressure can affect our behavior and influence our attitude toward risk. This can be very beneficial, or it can be detrimental, depending on the attitude and values of the group you ride or identify with.

I’ve seen otherwise really smart people do really stupid things on a bike because they do not think for themselves, and instead conform with the norms of the group. On the other hand, I’ve also seen reckless rookies become really smart and skilled riders through association with riders who value skill development and risk management.

Positive Behavior Change

The group mentality drives behavior.
Group mentality drives behavior, both good and bad.

Peer pressure and positive comparisons are one of the most effective ways to change behavior. A smoker who wants to quit is more successful if he or she doesn’t hang out with other smokers. The same goes for alcoholics.

A motorcycle rider who wants to increase the chances of surviving is smart to identify with riders who value risk management. This doesn’t mean riding without taking risks, but it does mean carefully considering the consequences of how you ride (and the protection you wear). Associating with risk-conscious riders is one on the best ways to manage risk.

The attitude of a group does not have to be overt. It can be sensed by how they act. For instance, riding with a group that values excellent control skill will challenge the others in the group to ride better. Good judgement is another skill that thoughtful riding groups value. By associating with these riders, your knowledge and skills will improve.

Style or Protection?

Is your choice of protective gear driven by your level of risk acceptance?
Is your choice of protective gear driven by your level of risk acceptance or someone else’s?

Protective gear is often dictated by style. This means that one rider will choose to wear a high-viz Aerostitch suit and full faced helmet, while another rider will choose a beanie helmet and black leather vest depending on the type of bike and riding he or she identifies with.

Style will inevitably influence riding gear choices, but should style really be the deciding factor in protection?

I’m reminded of a woman in a beginner motorcycle class I was teaching about ten years ago. We had just finished the segment on the importance of protective gear. This woman came up to me during the break looking upset. She preceded to tell me that what she had just learned scared her. It turns out her husband did not wear good protective gear and that she was sure she would be pressured into wearing a beanie helmet, jeans and t-shirt.

I’m not a therapist specializing in marital problems, but I did offer her a strategy that I thought may have helped her with an obviously overbearing biker husband. I suggested that she tell him that what she learned made her realize the importance of a good helmet and that she insist on wearing a helmet that helped reduce the risk of injury. I figured he couldn’t argue with that.

Fun at the Expense of Survival

If you choose to ride in groups, ride with people who respect the risks.
If you choose to ride in groups, ride with people who respect the risks.

The type of riding gear people choose is influenced by identity. But, even more concerning is how peer pressure and group identity can lead to some really ugly outcomes. This is often caused by group behavior that values “fun” at the expense of basic safety.

I’m the first to admit that riding fast is fun. But, I resist the pressure to ride fast on the street. Squidly sport bike riders who race and stunt on the street are highly represented in death statistics.

When it comes to the “biker” crowd, alcohol is a deadly combination that has been around for decades. Even though statistics suggest that there is less going on, drinking and riding it are still prevalent.

Pack mentality is tough to resist when you’re riding in a group. The most common result for sport riders is a steady increase in speed during group rides. For the cruiser riders, it seems to be an increase in raucous behavior.

Even when you ride alone, you are influenced by peers.
Even when you ride alone, you are influenced by peers.

But, I ride Alone

Riding solo is one way to “ride your own ride”. But, the fact is that group identity influences your behavior even if you strictly ride solo. For example, the type of bike you ride will likely define your choice of riding gear. Look around and you will be hard-pressed to find many cruiser riders wearing a full-faced helmet. You’ll also find it tough to spot a racerboy sportbike rider sporting a high-viz vest.

Yes, these are stereotypes, but am I wrong? Sure, there are those people who challenge norms by combining different styles of riding gear and bikes, but they are the exception.

It doesn’t matter if you ride alone. You are part of a larger group whether you like it or not. Your choice of riding style is an identification with the biker crowd, the touring crowd, the sportbike crowd, adventure crowd, or some other group. Accept it, but be sure you make decisions that are in line with your beliefs, not the beliefs of others.

I challenge you to look at your personal values and make choices based on your level of risk acceptance and go against the perceived norms of your riding genre if they don’t match.

Share your thoughts below.


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How to Develop a Traction Sense

Tony-leanI’ve been thinking a lot about traction lately, partly because it is kinda scarce around my house with ice covering my driveway and walkways, making every step a leap of faith. The other reason I’ve been thinking about traction is because I’m putting the final touches on a presentation on Traction Management at the new Thompson Speedway next week.

Writing the presentation outline made me think how much traction management is a part of almost every moment of our lives. Walking, driving, and even showering all require a certain level of traction management. We don’t always think of these mundane things as tasks that require “traction”. But, our brains are constantly calculating whether our footing is secure enough to prevent us from slipping in the shower, or sliding down stairs, or careening off the road.

Traction Senses

Having enough available traction is critical for safely riding a motorcycle. But, are you as sensitive about your tire’s traction level as you are the traction level of your footing when you step into a shower? Most people would have to answer “no”.

That’s partly because when you are riding a motorcycle, the interface between your nerves and the ground is insulated by tires, suspension, a frame and a seat. When you’re standing in the shower the nerves in your feet are almost directly connected to the tub so that it is easy to tell whether the surface has enough grip to not slip. If you’re not sure, you simply move your foot along the surface to determine whether you must take extra care.

Once you’re out of the shower and dressed, your shoes separate the bottom of your feet from direct contact with the floor, which adds a level of complexity when determining traction. In this case, we rely more on the whole nervous system to tell whether our shoes have enough grip or not.

Your proprioceptive senses are the senses that communicate with your brain and muscles to keep you safe. Proprioceptors tell you about the relative position of body parts and strength of effort being used as you move. They are located in your muscles and joints and help you perceive your body in space. A slight slip will trigger your proprioceptive senses to tell your brain and muscles to react to regain balance.

Riding stiff in low traction situations is a bad idea.
Riding stiff in low traction situations is a bad idea.

Get a Grip

On a motorcycle, you must develop the ability to sense whether your tires have enough grip on the road for you to remain upright. But, how is this possible?

First, you must learn to “read” the information being delivered by your motorcycle’s tires and chassis. Your bike’s components are speaking to you through the language of slip angles and aspects of balance that include roll, pitch, and yaw. As your bike leans, dives and squats, your nerves are calculating whether your bike is in balance and on the intended path or at the beginning of a loss of control.

A relaxed posture allows clear communication between you and your tires.
A relaxed posture allows clear communication between you and your tires.

You feel this through the footpegs, handgrips, and seat. Keeping firm, but relaxed contact with the grips and pegs and riding with a relaxed posture will allow the best transference of information between your tires, the suspension and your nervous system.

Everyone who rides has a traction sense, otherwise we would never be able to trust that we would make it out of our driveway, let alone negotiate corners at speed. A rider who is able to manage less-than-ideal traction situations is highly proficient at sensing what the tires are doing. The information is there, you just have to listen.

Share your thoughts on developing a traction sense.


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How to Survive Hairpin Turns

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Practice tight turns in a parking lot.
Practice tight turns in a parking lot.

The biggest problem riders have when dealing with hairpin turns is their anxiety about being able to make the turn. It’s a good idea to practice tight turns in a parking lot before you encounter challenging hairpin turns. Read more about slow speed riding techniques.

Slow Approach

One of the most likely reasons for a crash in a corner is entering too fast. When dealing with downhill hairpin turns, you also have the additional force of gravity pushing you downhill.

The trick is to get your bike slowed early and smoothly and then carry a bit of brake force past turn in to keep the bike stable, Read about trailbraking for more detail. Just be sure the surface is clean enough to allow slight braking while cornering.

Throttle On

When making slow turns, it is important that you maintain slight, steady forward drive for stability. If you chop off the throttle, you’ll probably fall.

A bit of forward drive takes some of the load off the front tire when going downhill and gives you forward momentum when going up a hill. It also maximizes ground clearance.

But, be careful. If you are abrupt with the throttle, either by accelerating too hard or by chopping off the throttle, you risk running wide, overtaxing the tires and upsetting the chassis and balance

Downhill turns are challenging enough to put a sign up.
Downhill turns are challenging enough to put a sign up.

When approaching a downhill hairpin curve you need to slow down more to manage gravity, but also to allow you to crack the throttle slightly for maximum stability. From a slow entry speed, give the bike enough throttle (as soon as you begin to lean) to maintain steady drive through the whole curve. Try not to decelerate. Be sure to look well into the turn, at the corner exit.

Uphill Hairpins

When going uphill, you can approach with a bit higher speed. But, slow down enough to allow steady throttle throughout the whole turn. Be sure not to use too much throttle that you cause the front tire to lose traction and “skate”, which can push your bike too far to the outside of the turn. You also don’t want to overload the rear tire with too much acceleration force. Steady, gradual throttle at the beginning of the turn is the key. Again, keep your eyes pointed all the way to the turn’s exit.

Look through the turn and accelerate slightly.
Look through the turn and accelerate slightly.

Enough Speed

Whether going up or down hill, you need to keep your speed above about 10 mph to maintain balance and stability. Sometimes, people simply fall over because they are going too slow. At very low speeds, slight deceleration or shift in body weight (tell passengers to remain relaxed, but still) is enough to upset balance and cause a tip over. Aim for smooth, steady drive.

Look Toward the Exit

Your eyes help direct your bike to where you are looking so look where you WANT to go. Turn your head to ratchet your eyes through to corner, always looking to the next visual target…entry, apex, exit. Read more about visual skills here.

What’s My Line?

It's important to get this right.
It’s important to get this right.

Try to select a cornering line that allows you to get your steering inputs done early and so the throttle finishes the turn. This usually means an outside-inside-outside path of travel. There are many advantages to this line, including a wide view through the turn and the ability to perform a quick turn-in that gets the bike turned early. It’s common for riders to fall in slow, tight corners because they introduce mid-corner steering inputs at the time when the front tire is already working hard.

Obligatory Crash Video

Here’s a video of my friend Matt who found out how a slight miscue in a slow, tight turn can put you on the ground. He was a rather new rider at the time and was spooked by the traffic. The bike was borrowed, so it was not familiar to him, either. He was unhurt. Erik from Twisted Throttle evaluates the crash protection from SW-MOTECH.

Why do you think Matt crashed? I’ll give my opinion in the comments below after some of you respond.

What tips do you find useful when dealing with hairpin turns?


 

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How to Save a Front Tire Slide

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Sometimes it's not possible to save it.
Sometimes it’s not possible to save it. www.motorcyclistonline.com

Is it possible to not crash when you experience a front tire slide? Maybe.

Both of my recent track crashes were the result of a sliding front tire (both were caused by me asking too much of a cold front tire). Sometimes it happens too quickly for you to respond. But, sometimes there is enough time to perform a maneuver that just may save you from a fall.

Survival Instincts Are a Bitch

Let’s say you are rounding a curve and the handlebar starts to feel vague in your hands. At the same time, your proprioceptors (aka kinesthetic sense) tell your brain that balance is being compromised.

Your brain is alerted to the threat and triggers your muscles to tense. The rush of panic and muscle tension happens in an instant. Many riders end up on the ground because their survival instincts cause them to overreact and make matters worse.

Saving the Front in a Corner

I’ve got bad news for you, that vagueness you feel at the handlebars is your front tire losing traction. This is bad, because a front tire slide is one of the most difficult situations to recover from. When cornering, the front tire is responsible for both lateral grip and direction control (steering). More times than not, front tire traction loss is the result of asking too much of the tire. Side forces from cornering, in combination with cold rubber and perhaps contaminated pavement is an easy recipe for tire slip.

When the front tire loses grip, it “tucks” underneath the bike and throws the bike and rider violently to the ground. But, is it possible to save yourself from falling?

To help the front tire regain traction (or at least not lose any more grip) you must first not add to the problem. This means staying relaxed (Good luck with that). With light handlebar pressure, the tire and suspension can work fluidly to manage surface irregularities.

If you tense on the bars, you will put stress on the front tire and risk pushing the tire over the limit of grip. Whatever you do, avoid trying to countersteer the bike into a deeper lean.

Assuming you can remain somewhat relaxed and neutral, the next thing to do is to relieve the work the front tire is doing. To do this, get on the throttle! I know, it’s counter-intuitive, which is why it’s not easy to do. But gassing it transfers load from the overworked front tire to the rear tire.This allows the front rubber to halt its lateral slide and keep rolling.

Yes, you will probably run wide, but hopefully you have enough road/track to let this happen. You can minimize this drift by using moderate throttle application to save the front tire slide. Just don’t goose the throttle so hard that you careen off the road or track or spin the rear tire.

Uphill Unload

A fellow instructor pointed out a caveat  to the common cornering situation. Dan mentioned what can happen to traction when you are going uphill. He witnessed a fellow rider (with a passenger) lose the front and crash in front of him just as the crashing rider was getting on the gas. Why would this happen if what I say about relieving stress on the front tire is true?

The likely explanation is that the uphill slope, in combination with the weight of a passenger and the application of a bit too much throttle, unloaded the front tire too much. He probably also added a bit of steering input that tucked the front tire beneath him. The lesson is that load management and traction management go hand in hand and you need to develop a keen sense of how various factors can affect tire load and grip.

The Knee Save

For those who are accustomed to dragging knee, it is possible to relieve front tire stress by levering the bike with your knee. Anything you can do to take pressure off the front tire will help the tire regain grip.

Saving the Front While Braking

The other way to experience a front tire induced crash is to overbrake so you skid the front tire. This can happen whether you are upright or leaned. If this happens, get off the brake, NOW! This will let the front wheel roll again so you can regain control. Then get back on the brakes (you were braking for a reason, right?). But, this time squeeze the front brake progressively. You can still brake really hard (less so if you are leaned), but it must be done gradually to allow time to put load on the front tire, which increases traction.

Practice? Really?

It takes a good amount of skill and presence to control front tire skids. Like all other tricky situations, practice and experience increases the chance that you can act correctly and save a crash. Practice? How? Ride in the dirt, my friend! Pushing the front tire is a regular occurrence when riding on loose surfaces. Learning to control slides in the dirt is less risky than suddenly needing to manage a slide on your street bike. With this experience, you can train and condition your mind and muscles to react properly when a slide happens.

The other way to train yourself to react properly is to push your bike hard enough to get it to happen. I don’t recommend this, because front tire slides can easily go wrong. But, if you eventually go fast enough at track days or when racing, you will inevitably experience the vague feeling of your front tire on the edge of traction loss.

DO NOT go fast enough to slide the front on the street!! You will die. On the street, it’s not likely that you will have enough time or space to pull off this hero maneuver.

What? You don’t ride on the track or in the dirt? Well, the next best way to practice is to visualize successfully performing the maneuver. Imagine yourself cornering hard, feeling handlebar vagueness and then gradually rolling on the throttle as needed to drift the front. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best way to prepare for saving a front tire slide. Me and the ZX6R Monticello, NY.

Expect It

Another way to prepare for front tire slides (and many others) is to expect them to happen. This pertains to all times when you are in traction-reduced situations, including when cornering or braking hard.

Have you experienced a front tire skid or slide? If so, how did that work out for you?


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Is Crashing Really that Bad?

This crash could have been deadly, but thankfully not.
This crash could have been deadly, but thankfully not.

Crashing a motorcycle sucks. No doubt about that. I’ve had my share of run-ins with gravity and it’s not fun. But, does crashing a motorcycle always mean carnage and a hospital visit? It depends.

My crashes

I’ve had only one “real” street crash and one minor one. The minor one involved a car who rolled into the back of my Triumph Bonneville. I didn’t fall, so it was very minor.  I also had a minor parking lot tipover (note to self: remove the disc lock before attempting to ride away). But tipovers aren’t exactly what I call “crashes”.

The “real” crash happened in 1978 when a car driver turned left in front of me…classic.

Thankfully, most of my crashes were racing incidents. I say “thankfully” because even though racing crashes suck, they don’t suck nearly as much as street crashes where the chances of injury after sliding into a tree, guardrail or oncoming car is quite high.

I’m truly grateful that the extent of my injuries from both track and street crashes were cracked ribs and a broken foot from the tipover.  These injuries were painful, but all healed without any complications.

Unfortunately, the “real” street crash resulted in a totaled 1973 Yamaha TX650 and the rear-end incident resulted in the Triumph’s taillight being smashed, but that’s what happens when you make impact with cars.

In all of the track crashes, bike damage was limited to easily replaceable parts, allowing me to get back on the track later that day. Sure, the cosmetic damage was a bummer, but I got over it–most people do.

Too much throttle, too quickly. photo by Tim Richer
Too much throttle, too quickly. photo by Tim Richer

Safer Crashing

There was a time when crashing on the racetrack was just as likely to get you killed as crashing on the street. This was because racetrack safety was abysmal with concrete walls lining the course and pavement not any better than a potholed rural road.

Thankfully, track safety is much improved. Even though a lot of people complain about the safety issues at my local track (Loudon, NH), the current track is much better than the old Bryar track that had all sorts of safety problems. We didn’t complain much, since all of the tracks were that way.

Another reason there are fewer deaths and injuries today is because of better protective gear. Pudding bowl helmets lined in cork were the racers’ choice at one time. Now, we have helmets that are pretty darn effective at preventing the majority of head injuries. Add to that the improvements in material and armor incorporated into jackets, pants, boots and gloves and it is possible to crash without suffering too badly.

Of course, where you crash is the biggest factor in whether you will end up in a hospital or hearse. Collide with a car and even the best riding gear is not likely to save you from some kind of injury. Crash on a modern racetrack, and you’ll likely get up, brush yourself off and walk back to the pits under your own power.

Unfortunately, road safety has not improved for motorcycle riders. More tar snakes and guardrails seem to appear every year and drivers are more and more careless about paying attention. And road conditions are often allowed to get pretty bad before they are fixed.

Crashing on the street is a
Crashing on the street usually results in injury.

Perception of Risk

It’s been proven that people take greater risks when they feel protected. This is why drivers of large SUVs tend to feel less threatened than drivers of small cars. Most motorcycle riders understand that they are vulnerable to injury and ride accordingly.

This is why Risk Ignorance and complacency is so dangerous. The risks don’t change, but the inaccurate perception of the danger can make a rider think he or she can ride more aggressively or with less attentiveness.

Believe it or not, there were fewer racing crashes back in the day when races were held on road courses lined with stone walls, hedgerows, fences and houses lining the circuit. Racers knew that a fall would very likely result in death. So, most rode in a way that balanced risk and reward.

Today, there are many more crashes, but many fewer deaths and serious injuries because, with the exception of the Isle of Man and a few other “real” roadrace circuits, racing is conducted on closed courses with safety features such as runoff, gravel traps and airfence. Also, today’s protective gear is so much better. This means that racers can push harder, knowing that a crash will probably not be the end of the world.

Now, don’t get me wrong, racetrack crashes can be lethal. It’s just that the risk to reward ratio has shifted so that it’s not unreasonable to expect to get up unscathed after a racetrack crash.

The Perception of Crashing

Another advantage racers have when it comes to crashing is that racers expect to crash. After all, they are pushing the limits of grip and skill and are sharing the track with a bunch of crazies all set on going as fast as they can, determined to take your spot on the podium.

So, when you do crash in a race situation, it’s not unexpected. And if you do go down, it’s unlikely that you are seriously injured, so you get over it rather quickly. This makes the mishap psychologically easier to deal with.

It’s different when you don’t expect to crash. For instance, crashing during a track day will likely be more upsetting, because it is not assumed that crashes are inevitable. But, track day crashes still fall under the category of “not likely to get injured”, so most track day crashers get over the mishap fairly easily.

Crashing on the street is a whole other matter. Street crashes are often particularly traumatic, not only physically, but also mentally. Most street riders assume that they will not crash, even though the risks are actually much greater when riding on the street. It’s understandable, because most street riders go many miles and years without a crash, which makes it easy to think that it won’t happen to them. So when it does, their world is shattered, even if they don’t suffer a significant injury.

Jeannine knows the importance of practice and risk management.
Jeannine knows the importance of practice and risk management.

Thankful, But Skillful

I’m able to write about my crashes today, because most happened on the racetrack in a controlled environment. I’m thankful that I have experienced very few street crashes.

Perhaps some of the reason why I’m still in one piece is luck, but I contend that the reason I have had few street crashes is because of my commitment to riding smart and never becoming complacent about risk. This includes learning all I can about riding and implementing effective strategies when riding in traffic or in the twisties.

Risk is always there and always will be. Learn to manage risk and perhaps you can join me as one who is mostly unscathed after many decades of riding a motorcycle…if we stay sharp and are blessed with a bit of luck.

What have you learned from your crashes?


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5 Bad Habits You Must Fix, NOW!

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Crash-SignNo matter how “good” a rider you are, it’s likely that you have at least a few bad habits and attitudes. Poor habits and dangerous perceptions can develop over time without us even knowing it. That is, until we experience a close call or crash. Let’s take a look at a few bad habits that many riders possess.

1. Believing You’re a Better Rider than you Are

A lot of RITZ blog readers would be considered “experienced” riders. But, the truth is that experience alone does not make you a proficient rider. I can’t begin to count how many so-called experienced riders I’ve encountered who demonstrate a significant lack of proficiency. Unfortunately, unless the rider admits that he or she has a problem and asks for advice, their poor riding will continue indefinitely and ultimately lead to a mishap.

Unsolicited advice usually is not appreciated, so knowledgeable riders are reluctant to share their wisdom to the riders who need it most. Attempts to enlighten the problem rider often results in exclamations about how many years of riding experience they have and that they know all they need to know to get by…never really knowing the danger they are in.

The solution? First, take a good look in the mirror. What skills are you lacking? (I’m sure there are many, but let’s stick with motorcycle-related skills for now). Next, get the knowledge and training you need to bring all of your skills up to snuff. Thirdly, remind yourself that what skills you have are perishable and need to be kept fresh.

Promise yourself that you will purposefully practice braking, turning, and swerving. It doesn’t have to take a lot of effort to keep skills sharp. Learn about proper cornering technique and then practice it on your Sunday rides. And be sure to learn about all the ways to keep yourself safe in traffic and practice on your way to work every day. Over time, you just might become as good as you think you are.

Always remember that you are vulnerable...and hard to see.
Always remember that you are vulnerable…and hard to see.

2. Forgetting You Are Vulnerable

Experience can often lead to complacency. If you ride many miles without an incident, you are at risk of thinking that riding a motorcycle is not as dangerous as it’s made out to be. This perception leads to many crashes and fatalities. Complacency and overconfidence can occur when you don’t recognize subtle signals that indicate just how close you are to catastrophe.

Get into the habit of recognizing clues that should alert you to threats. Make a concerted effort to scan the landscape and roadway for anything that can turn into a hazard, such as a reflection on the windshield of a car that is rolling toward you. Ask yourself whether the driver sees you and what are the chances that he will accelerate in front of you.

Evaluate each clue to determine whether you can reliably read what is being communicated. For instance, direct eye contact with the driver may indicate that the he sees you, but don’t count on it!

What's around that corner?
What’s around that corner?

3. Assuming the Coast is Clear

You know what they say about making assumptions, right? “They make an ASS out of U and ME”.

One of the most problematic situations is when a motorcycle is approaching an intersection with other drivers waiting to turn left across the rider’s lane. Part of the problem is that the approach speed of a narrow vehicle is much harder to judge compared to a wide vehicle. This is why motorcyclists experience drivers “cutting them off”.

The drivers aren’t necessarily out to get you; they more likely misjudged your approach speed and thought that they had plenty of time to make the turn. The message is to never assume that a driver who appears to see you will not cut in front of you. See “The Top 2 Survival Tips That Will Save Your Life” for more on this topic.

A lot of riders also assume the coast is clear around corners. Depending on the region you ride in, many, or even most corners you encounter do not provide a clear view of the corner exit. Hillsides, vegetation and roadside structures all conspire to block your vision.

Too many riders approach corners at a speed that does not allow the time and space to stop or maneuver if a mid-corner hazard were present. It’s a good idea to enter blind turns slow enough so you can confidently avoid a hidden hazard. If no hazard exists, then you can roll on the throttle and accelerate safely though the turn with no drama.

Caroline
Caroline wears ATGATT
No Gear=Greater Risk of injury
No Gear=Greater Risk of injury

4. Not Wearing ATGATT

ATGATT is an acronym that stands for “All The Gear, All The Time”.  MY definition of “All the gear” means helmet, appropriate eye protection, jacket and pants with protective armor, gloves, and over-the-ankle boots. The obvious reason for buying and wearing all this gear is for protection in the event of a crash. Since motorcycle riders don’t have bumpers, airbags, crumple zones and safety glass surrounding us, we must wear our protection.

Unfortunately, way too many motorcyclists choose not to wear full protective gear. In states where helmet laws are enforced, riders are compelled to wear this most important piece of protective gear, but helmet choice states leave the option of helmet use to the rider. Whether you agree with helmet laws or not, it’s hard to dispute the benefits of having a helmet strapped to your head when you and your bike separate at speed.

Currently, no states require any other protective gear to be worn, with the exception of eye protection. This means that you can ride legally in a tank top, shorts and sandals. Good luck with that.

The reasons why riders do not wear protective gear often include image, peer pressure (you gotta look cool), and cost. But, there is plenty of inexpensive protective gear that meet most rider’s fashion sensibilities while providing decent protection (at least for a single crash).

Both speed and lack of visibility caused this crash.
Both speed and lack of visibility caused this crash.

5. Being an Idiot

This topic can cover a lot of ground, but let’s focus on your attitude when you ride. This pretty much means riding with your head securely screwed onto your neck. Letting destructive influences like ego, peer pressure, intoxication, and distraction make decisions for you will eventually lead to a hospital visit. So, just say no to stupidity. ’nuff said.

What would you add to this list of bad habits?

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Ask Me How I Know- Episode 2: Exposed

In our last episode, I told the tale of a young lad who needed to show off to his friends and just about pulverized himself against a line of trees. If you recall, that lad was me when I was 16 years old.

Well, there are more examples of the trials and tribulations that I experienced as I went through the arduous task of learning how to survive at motorcycling. Today, I’ll tell you of the time I tried to be a good guy and was rewarded with a tough guy with a bad attitude.

My 1971 Bonnie. I owned it until 1989.
My 1971 Bonnie. I owned it until 1989.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

Unlike other anecdotes I will be sharing in this series, this story does not involve any failure on my part, except to assume I would not be threatened for trying to be helpful.

It was 1981 and I was riding home at night on my 1971 Triumph Bonneville on Commonwealth Ave. in front of Boston University. I was minding my own business when I noticed a car in my rear view mirror without its headlights on. At the next stoplight, I kindly signaled to the driver that his lights weren’t on.

Well, the passenger must have been looking for a reason to pick a fight, or perhaps my well-meaning comment triggered a childhood trauma. Either way, the next thing I know, the passenger door swings open and an angry guy brandishing a baseball bat comes toward me.

Not wanting to see how well my full-faced Shoei helmet would withstand the impact of a Louisville slugger, I promptly got myself outta there. This meant running through the red light and accelerating as fast as the 650 twin would go. I figured that getting out of there was all I needed to do to shake my would-be assailant, until I looked in my mirror to see that he too had run through the red light and was in hot pursuit.

As it turned out, I was able to shuck and jive through enough side streets to encourage the angry young men to give up the chase.

I made it home in one piece. Although my perception of the kindness of man was left tattered on Comm Ave. that night. Wow, there really are people among us who would choose violence over reason.  Alcohol likely fueled their hair trigger response to my attempt at being helpful. Which just goes to show the kind of people we share the roads with…drunk and angry.

Here is a photo of a bagpiper. It has nothing to do with this article, but it does show the weird things you come across when on a motorcycle. Jeannine and Caroline look on.
Here is a photo of a bagpiper. It has nothing to do with this article, but it does show the weird things you come across when on a motorcycle. Jeannine and Caroline look on.

I Feel So Vulnerable

The bat-wielding jerk made my life flash in front of my eyes because I was vulnerable. Sitting exposed on a motorcycle in the middle of Boston at night made me vulnerable to whatever these crazies had to deliver.

The good news is that a motorcycle is pretty quick and maneuverable (even a 1971 Triumph), so I was able to  evade my pursuers.

What would I do now? I would not risk the consequences of engagement and instead distance myself from anyone driving without their headlights on at night. This indicates a possible drunk driver who has the potential to hurt me. Syonara, sucker.

Have any of you had a similar situation happen to you?


Stay Tuned for Epoisode 3 when I learn that a too-fast entry speed can be very dangerous.

Learn from my experiences by ordering the book.


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Ask Me How I Know- Epoisode 1: Tire Terror

I can imagine that a lot of fellow riders who know me may have a hard time imagining me screwing up. This is because unless you’ve actually seen me screw up, you’re left with a somewhat unreal impression of me as a competent, knowledgeable motorcycle rider who does no wrong. After all, I can talk about advanced riding concepts with a tone of confidence and I ride well enough to back up the impression that I know what I’m talking about.

Well, at the risk of sounding arrogant (am I too late?), I do think I have earned a place at the table with some accomplished motorcycle riding pros. I’m not the fastest guy or the most eloquent, but I have a knack for communicating practical knowledge, both in print and in person.

But, the fact is that a lot of my knowledge has come from some epic screw ups. Let’s step into the way-back machine and re-experience a near-death experience when I was 16 years old.

Don't let this happen to you.
Don’t let this happen to you.

Tire Terror

It was 1976 and I was riding my 1973 Yamaha TX650 behind some friends in their car. Being a teen whose awesomeness was never fully recognized, I took the opportunity to show my four-wheeled friends what coolness looks like, so I accelerated past them to an indicated 100mph. Just before I reached the end of the straight, the Yamaha started wobbling and weaving so violently that I couldn’t make the right-hand turn that was inconveniently placed at the end the straightaway.

What happened next is a bit of a blur, but I somehow stayed upright in a drainage ditch, threaded between a row of telephone poles and trees, and landing upright on someone’s driveway with my heart pounding out from under my Sears windbreaker. My friends drove up and stopped with mouths wide open. With a “I meant to do that” swagger, I rode home at under the speed limit. Later, I asked my brother what could have caused the problem. After a little investigation we determined that  my bald no-name rear tire was likely to blame.

The Lesson: When you ride on a bald rear tire, keep it under 100 mph. Naw, just kidding. How about, always have new tires so you can go 100 mph anytime you want. Wait, that’s not quite right either. I know! Replace your tires before they reach the tread wear indicators so they don’t cause you to have a near death experience. We’ll go with that.


Stay Tuned for Part 2 for more fun when I reveal how being a good Samaritan exposed me to another near death experience.

Learn from my experiences by ordering the book.


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