10 Tips for Returning Riders

“Returning riders” are usually middle-aged men who decide to get back into motorcycling after a long hiatus. That’s cool. But, a lot of these “Baby-Boomerang” riders end up getting into accidents. Here are some tips to help make re-entry a bit easier.

1. Recognize False Confidence. Many returning riders assume they can pick up where they left off decades ago only to discover that they aren’t quite up to the challenge. Even though the basics of riding hasn’t changed much, smart returning riders decide to get re-trained because they understand that moto-skills are perishable. They do this before they commit to a bike purchase.

2. Buy a Smaller Bike. Older riders usually have enough in their bank account to buy the biggest, baddest machine on the showroom floor. But, a too big, too tall, or too powerful a bike can be the ruiner of fun. Smart RRs put their ego aside and opt for a small or middleweight bike that is less likely to intimidate and erode confidence. A smaller bike will invite fun and provide the opportunity to learn without the stress of having to harness a beast. And instead of slapping down big bucks on a brand new bike, consider a clean late model used bike. It’s even better if it has a scratch or two so you don’t get too upset if you drop it while you get your legs back underneath you.

Advanced training pays big dividends.

3. Take a Course. The easiest and best way to get retrained is to take a course. I suggest that returning riders take a new rider course to ensure they have the basic skills so they can start with a strong foundation. But, don’t stop there. Too many riders think that receiving their course completion card means that they are done learning. That dangerous belief often leads to complacency and inaccurate risk perception. Fatality statistics would improve if more riders saw motorcycling as a lifelong endeavor of learning, practicing and growing. Please plan on signing up for an intermediate or advanced course at some point.

4. Read Skills Articles and Books. There are several great books and tons and tons of articles available that describe techniques and strategies for becoming a highly proficient rider. Google “riding a motorcycle at slow speeds”, “stopping a motorcycle in a corner”, or any other technique that has you stumped and you’ll likely get the information you need to become a better rider. Several articles can be found at RidingInTheZone.com.

5. Gear Up. Returning riders often experience a tipover or two as they regain their composure. With this in mind, it’s foolish not to wear protection. Not only will good riding gear reduce the chances of injury, it also protects you from the elements and makes riding more comfortable and enjoyable. Reasonably priced gear offers decent protection and matches any style. Some people may choose not to wear full gear because of image or peer pressure. Thankfully, returning riders are usually mature adults who can resist having fashion or the opinions of others influence life decisions.

6. Reject the Old Myths. Back in the day you may have heard that you should learn to “lay the bike down” and always “avoid the front brake”. These are two examples of techniques that survive from the bad-old-days. Today, only riders who are uneducated in the ways of proper braking consider using these techniques. In almost every case, it’s better to attempt a quick stop or swerve rather than tossing your motorcycle to the ground. The old saw about avoiding the front brake comes from the idea that you will flip over the handlebars like when you were a kid on a bicycle. It also comes from riders who grabbed the front brake lever too hard, locked the front tire and crashed. Today’s grippy tires and controllable brakes are capable of safely stopping a motorcycle in a very short distance, but only if the operator knows how to use the brakes effectively. Another controversial dictum is that loud pipes save lives. While loud pipes get attention, you are much better off using strategies to be seen like selecting lane positions that put the bike in plain sight and wearing bright gear.

7. Accurately Perceive Risk. Everyone knows that the risks of riding a two-wheeler are greater than when driving in a car. However, a lot of people don’t realize just how risky riding is until they experience a close call or crash. Those who ride with readiness in mind have a greater chance of responding quickly and appropriately than someone who assumes the best and is not prepared for the worst.

8. Check Your Attitude. Returning riders may be more mature, but that doesn’t mean over exuberance and bad judgment won’t creep in from time to time. Risk is reduced significantly when the limits of rider ability and the environment is closely scrutinized and respected.

9. You’re Not as Young as You Were. Motorcycling isn’t tolerant of people who are weak of mind or muscle. If you aren’t able to maintain a certain level of sensory sharpness, coordination, strength and mental competence you are putting yourself at greater risk of a crash. And if you do crash you are more likely to get hurt; a 20-something will bounce while a 50 year old will break.

10. Improve your Strengths. It’s possible to perform as well (or better) as when you were younger if you can remain relatively fit, learn to be physically and mentally efficient and capitalize on the wisdom that comes with age.

Be smart about your return to riding and you’ll be rewarded with many years of enjoyment. You may even get to meet Lyle Lovitt.

Whether you’re a newly-minted older rider, a returning rider or a veteran codger, you are smart to recognize that you may not know all you need to about staying safe. Get regular training and continually practice cornering, braking and evasive maneuvers. Also, minimize the negative effects of aging by exercising, eating well and visiting your eye doctor. You’ll feel better, ride better and have more fun while reducing the chance of injury

This article has been updated from the original that appeared in Motorcyclist Magazine.


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8 Ways to Avoid Deadly Blind Spots

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Lane position is one of the top strategies a motorcycle rider must utilize to avoid the most common multiple vehicle crashes. Here is a common scenario that illustrates the need to be hyper-aware of blind spots.

Scenario

You and your wife gather your things and pack your bike for a ride to visit family. As expected traffic is heavy, but people are calmly rolling along at about 25 mph. You position yourself in the left portion of your lane to see past a truck in front of you, leaving ample following distance in case the truck stopped quickly.

Suddenly, an SUV just ahead and to your left moves right, into your lane. You have little time to react, but it’s too late. Your front tire makes contact with the right rear bumper and you are both thrown to the pavement.

As innocuous as the situation seemed, you still needed to be aware of the risks around you. The driver who crossed into your lane did so because she thought the lane was clear. She claimed to have looked in her side mirror and even glanced over her shoulder before turning, but saw nothing.

Yes, the driver is responsible for making sure the lane was clear, but you were riding in her blind spot. Not smart.

Here are some ways to help drivers see you easier:

  • Avoid lingering in blind spots. Drive through blind spots when possible (and safe) by traveling a bit faster than surrounding traffic. Filter or lane-split if you can (and if legal).
  • Ride in the driver’s peripheral vision, slightly ahead of the passenger or driver side door.
  • If that’s not possible, then drop back so the driver can see you in their mirrors and to place your bike out of harm’s way if the driver changed lanes suddenly.
  • Never “hide” behind other vehicles where it is nearly impossible for drivers to see you.
  • Position yourself at least 2 seconds behind vehicles you are following. More when following large vehicles.
  • Develop a sixth sense about your environment so you can respond before things unfold. Ask “what’s wrong with this picture”?
  • Predict what actions drivers are likely to make. Look for arm and head movements that can indicate an imminent lane change or turn.
  • Pay close attention to unexplained slowing, drifting or erratic behavior. I call this “vehicle body language”.

Environmental awareness and proper lane positioning are two of the most important strategies for being seen.

Anything to add?


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Review: Helite Turtle Airbag Vest

photo: Helite

I am a believer in managing risk. And one way to do that is to protect yourself in case you go down. Modern armor does a decent job of mitigating impact injury. But, as good as modern armor is, it can only do some much to minimize injury from a big impact. That’s where air bag protection can help.

I was given a black Helite Turtle Airbag Vest to use and test. The Turtle Vest I am reviewing here is the street rider’s version with a lighter nylon construction compared with the GP Track Air Vest. Read my review of the more robust GP Track Air Vest Here. FYI, I know many riders who use the Turtle version for both street and racetrack duty, and vice-versa.

After several street rides with the Turtle, I have a good idea of the pros and cons of the Turtle air vest. Here you go.

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Helite Turtle Air Vest – Pros

  • Low Tech – Unlike high-tech, electronic GPS/IMU units, the Helite has a mechanical system with a simple elastic-nylon tether that connects the bike to a CO2 cartridge mounted in the front of the vest. When the rider falls off the bike, a steel ball is pulled away from the housing that holds the CO2 cartridge. And Bang!
  • Deflates Quickly – It takes a couple of minutes for the vest to lose its air once the vest deploys. This allows you to safely ride back home without restricted movement.
  • Easy and Cheap Recharges -Recharging the vest means simply replacing the $25.00 cartridge. Replacement takes 5 minutes. I keep a spare on hand.
  • Fits Over any Suit or Jacket -The correct size allows you to put it over a street jacket and the Velcro backed nylon straps allow a snug fit.
  • Sturdy Armor – The Turtle Air Vest has a quality, semi-rigid SAS-TEC back protector.
  • Heavy Nylon Construction – The Turtle vest is made from 600 Denier Textile with a mesh liner.
  • Free Movement – The large arm opening provide no restrictions in movement. The only restriction comes when getting off the bike.
  • Neck, Back and Chest Protection – The vest inflates to cushion your torso from impact and the inflated neck roll supports the head from hyper movement.

Helite Turtle Air Vest – Cons

photo: Helite
  • Have to Remember to Connect – The vest won’t work unless you clip the tether to your bike. I’ve had to pull over a few times because I forgot to clip the tether. To remind me to buckle up I have a piece of bright colored tape on the end of the tether, near the buckle. I also drape the tether across my seat.
  • Have to Remember to Disconnect – You have to disconnect the tether before walking away from the bike. A lot of people think they will deploy the vest by forgetting to disconnect before getting off the bike. But don’t worry. It takes a lot of force to deploy the vest. You’ll realize that you’re still connected well before you walk away. Watch the video below to see how hard the person has to pull to fire the vest.
  • Back Protector Interference – The top of the back protector sometimes bumps under the back part of my helmet, even on my upright Tiger 800 riding position. I may trim the protector a bit.
  • It’s Hot – Adding a thick vest over my vented jacket defeats the benefit of a perforated suit. But, it hasn’t been as big a problem once I get up to speed.
  • Another piece of gear – This isn’t unique to the Helite vest. But, it’s a pain having to put on another piece of protection. You’ll get used to it.
  • It’s Expensive – At $659.00, the Turtle Air Vest is not cheap. But, the argument about how much is your spine, neck, ribs, and guts worth comes into play. If you ride a lot (and especially if you race), it’s a good investment in your health.

     

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Too many street riders fail to realize that even though the odds of your skin meeting pavement is not all that likely in normal situations, we can’t control everything, which is why you need to wear protection. Consider investing in an air vest…before you need it!

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Video: Cornering Seminar with Ken Condon

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At the request of the district manager for the Northeast Region, I booked several dates during mid-to-late winter of 2018. One event was held at Wilkins Harley-Davidson, located in South Barre, Vermont. As with each of the talk, around 100 people attended to learn about cornering…or learn more about cornering. Wilkins recorded the seminar in its entirety.

My aim with these talks is to spread the good word about the benefits of life-long learning…safety and MORE FUN and satisfaction. A secondary goal is to encourage participants to join me for one or more of the training opportunities I offer or am involved with.

And finally, I bring a stack of books for people to buy.

OK. On with the show. It’s over an hour long, so find a comfy chair.

 

 

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Video Lesson: Intersection Crash

Here is another video posted by the rider who was involved in a crash at an intersection. See more video Lessons here.

One thing different about this rider is that he is taking the time to self-analyze his role in the crash and explore how he could have done better. Kudos Hans Solo!

I want to stress that in the real world, under battle conditions, we humans will make flawed decisions. It’s what we do. The takeaway is to have effective strategies so we can do all we can to avoid needing to use superhero skills…assuming we have them at our disposal. Hans should be commended. He is doing the hard work of looking in the mirror to evaluate what he could have done differently.

That said, I have a different take on what could have helped, so I’ll add my .02 about how things could possibly have turned out differently.

Monday morning quarterbacking can come off as smug, but I don’t want to miss an opportunity for my readers to learn from others’ mishaps if we can.
Take a look at the vid. I’ll wait.

If you can’t see the video:
Imagine a rider approaching a cross-street intersection with a white car waiting to turn left across his lane in a dedicated left turning lane. There is a gray car located at 10:00 from the rider who is also approaching the intersection. The rider accelerates to pass the gray car on the right before the intersection when the white, waiting car cuts across both the gray Nissan and the bike. The white car zips in front of the  gray car and the bike hits the white car broadside.  Sorry the video isn’t available.

 


OK, so here are my thoughts:

Lane Position & Conspicuity

Using the Dark Blue-Gray Nissan as a “pick” or blocker is often a good plan, but it’s a mistake to do it at the expense of being seen. In this case, Hans moved into the right lane to put the Nissan between him and the left turning cars. The problem is that the white car couldn’t see him as well (not that the driver was even looking) and Hans couldn’t see the white car as well. We call the blue-gray Nissan an eclipse vehicle.

Add to that the fact that the road was curving (see :45) in a way that makes Hans even less visible to the oncoming white car and you can see the problems with this particular lane position.

One possibility is if he had stayed in the left lane behind the Nissan, he could have seen the white car move earlier. But then if the Nissan hit the white car (they missed by inches), Hans would have needed to be far enough back to be able to brake in time to not rear end the Nissan. In the end, he made a fine decision, but the driver of the white car did something so unexpected that it’s tough to blame Hans for this decision.

Vision

Lane position plays a huge role in terms of being seen and being able to see ahead. Greater following distance would have allowed Hans to see the movement of the white car earlier. And remaining in the left lane (with lots of following distance) would have allowed him to see past the Nissan.

Because intersections are so dangerous, my eyes would be flicking around while my wide vision would be looking for any peripheral movement. You can see the white car move at 1:58. Impact comes at 1:59, so because of his speed he had almost zero time to react.

Speed & Stopping Distance

Hans wasn’t riding particularly fast, but his speed could have been better for the situation. Hans says he slowed (and downshifted) before impact, but I don’t hear any significant change in RPM…although he clearly brakes just before the crosswalk. What I saw was a seriously dangerous situation ahead that would have had me rolling off the throttle earlier and covering my brakes.

For reference, trimming just 5 mph off of 40-mph travel speed requires about 20 fewer feet to stop. Add to that the reality of perception time and reaction time that further increases actual stopping distances and you can see how much speed affects safety. Read my article in Motorcyclist about reaction time and speed.

So, how much time did Hans have to stop? A Nissan Altima is about 16 feet long, so at the time of initial brake application (seen by the front end dive) I estimate the distance between the rider and the white car to be about 40 feet. The speed he would need to be at to get the bike stopped in time is about 25 mph! See this chart from the MSF that documents that a VFR800 needs about 36 feet to stop at 29mph. This is with a trained rider in a controlled environment.

Keep in mind that Hans is likely to be an average rider who rarely (if ever) practices emergency braking skills. This means he, like most average riders, can only achieve a deceleration rate of 0.6 g’s even though most bikes are capable of 1.0 g. Add to that the reaction time of the average human is 1.3 seconds and you can see the problem.

Expect the Unexpected

The point of this article is for us to consider possible solutions that would have prevented or at least minimized the effect of the driver of the white car’s screw up. In this particular case, the white car cut off a large four-wheeled vehicle, so he would have surely cut in front of a motorcycle. This is an extreme case of a driver totally screwing up and is hard to believe. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t still do all we can to prepare for the unexpected. Do what you can to not let it happen to you!

That’s about all I got. I hope you heal fast, Hans.

Share you thoughts and comments below.


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Tailgaters Suck

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Photo: Julia LaPalme
Photo: Julia LaPalme

Motorcyclist Online recently posted my article “6 Riding Tips for Dealing with Tailgaters“. This particular piece garnered a ton of comments from readers and Facebook followers of several riding groups. While most people agreed that it’s best to pull over if possible, an alarming number of people suggested flipping the bird or tossing pebbles, nuts, or ball bearings to get the driver to back off.

I know some people were trying to be funny, but I am afraid a lot of commenters were serious. That kind or reaction is what leads to deadly road rage.

Yes, some drivers are habitual tailgaters and total inconsiderate asses. But just as many offenders aren’t even aware they are driving dangerously. Hard to believe, I know.

I once was in the car of a good friend who was tailgating each and every car we followed, no matter the speed. When I asked him about it, he truly didn’t think what he was doing was bad…not because is is stupid or inconsiderate, he simply had a different perception of what was okay.

Listen, I get that tailgaters are infuriating and can rank near the top of most despised people. And it can seem as if their transgression is a personal affront, but trying to teach tailgaters a lesson is a bad idea. Tailgaters, be tailgatin’. They won’t change.

You may be able to wake up a driver by tapping your brake light, but be careful gesturing, even if it is a “friendly” one.

One thing is for sure; addressing aggression with aggression escalates the situation and is very risky. A flip of the bird only adds fuel to the fire. And if you get caught tossing hard objects at a tailgater, you will get into a heap of trouble.

Instead, take the high road. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Easier said than done, I know.

It’s better to disengage and separate yourself from the tailgater. If you can’t do that, then follow the other tips in the article so that you’re less likely to get creamed by a clueless tailgater.

Read the full article HERE.

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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Sad, But True

tommy-Aquino-3I know not every reader of the Zone Blog follows motorcycle roadracing, so you may not have heard about the recent death of 21 year old young gun Tommy Aquino who was involved in a collision with a fellow rider while training at a motocross track in California. Even though Tommy’s death occurred on a motocross track, it is one more example of the sad realities of riding a motorcycle, whether on the dirt or the street.

It Happens

I don’t know the details of Tommy’s crash, but knowing that he was a very skilled rider begs the question, “If it can happen to him, what chance do I have?” Of course, most of you aren’t training to become a future world champion, but that doesn’t mean that you are immune to a similar fate.

The fact is that the public roads present as many or more dangers as a motocross track. Safety guru Larry Grodsky died while riding home from a safety conference. My friend and coworker, Chappy lost his life commuting home after work. My wife’s cousin died on a Sunday ride with a friend. The list of street riders who have died goes on and on.

I often say that most crashes are avoidable, and I stand by that statement, but the reality is that even the best riders can find themselves at the pointy end of a bad crash. Larry Grodsky is an excellent example, but there are many others.

Fred Rau, a colleague at Motorcycle Consumer News wrote a poignant column in the latest issue about a fellow rider who met his end on a group ride. The article illustrates the cold truth that sometimes shit happens even to the best riders. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is the only reason his friend is dead now.

Hopefully, you all understand the realities of motorcycle safety and act accordingly. Not that you should ride scared or never push the envelope from time to time, but one key to survival is to know the real risks of riding and how to manage those risks. Unfortunately, many riders don’t take risk management seriously enough.

Don’t Give Up, Get Smart

I’ve been riding motorcycles for almost 40 years and have survived this long partly because of luck, but mostly because I am very conscientious of where and how I ride. I don’t take my safety for granted.

I’m not saying that those who have met their demise were not conscientious. What I am saying is that life is unpredictable. But, we can minimize the risks.

Read this post to learn how.
And this one.

Risk versus Reward

I often tell people who are on the fence about whether they should ride a motorcycle to carefully measure the risk versus reward ratio. If there is not a big payback in terms of enjoyment, then I suggest they find something else to do. The reward must match or exceed the risk.

This is what I told my daughter Jeannine when she first started riding on the street back in 2006. I wanted her to know that the decision she was making to become a street rider had serious consequences. Of course, intellectually, she knew this, but it is important that we remind ourselves frequently about the risks of straddling a two-wheeled machine and then riding it at speed.

Is your risk to reward ratio acceptable to you?

Fight Complacency

If you haven’t evaluated your mental and physical skill sets lately, I suggest you do so. Why? Because it’s too easy to become complacent about the importance of excellent survival strategies and riding skills. As we ride more and more miles without incident, we gradually assume that we have this riding thing figured out and that the bad things won’t happen to us. Wrong!

We can’t control everything, but we can hedge our bets by increasing our knowledge and skill and making sure our behavior is in line with minimizing the risks of riding a motorcycle. Take this post as a reminder to do all you can to be the best rider you can be.

Proficiency-PledgeProficiency Pledge

Earlier this past year, I included a pledge in one of my MCN columns to encourage readers to think about their responsibility to be the best they can be. Take this pledge for yourself AND for the ones who love you. Feel free to add your own points.

Pledge:
  1. I will expand my knowledge of motorcycling safety and control through continual reading, and by taking one formal safety/skills course per season.
  2. I will practice my physical skills on my own to keep them sharp.
  3. I will wear protective gear on every ride.
  4. I will develop mental strategies for managing traffic and other hazardous situations.
  5. I will never ride while intoxicated or impaired in any way.
  6. I will choose not to ride if my ability to manage hazards is compromised.
  7. I will choose not to ride with others who do not share my commitment to safety.

Signed:___________________________

Feel free to copy this pledge and print it out.*
Then hang it on your garage wall and give a copy to each of the people who care about you.

*Anyone wanting to distribute this pledge to more than their immediate friends and family should contact me for permission.

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