Every 3.5 years (we are a little late), we re-publish the “Being Invisible” article first published by MD on Janaury 28, 2007. Feel free to comment if you have other suggestions, or simply disagree with our thoughts on how to stay safe. Note that the article was not meant to address gear (helmet, jacket, boots, etc.)
I went street bike riding with my youngest son (at the time this was written, 17 years old) the other day. Although he has been riding dirt bikes since he was 4, this was his first time on a street bike. Before we took off, I had to give him my little speech about how to stay safe.
My speech is probably not too unique. Nevertheless, I thought someone out there might benefit from hearing my “cardinal rule”. On the street, you are invisible. You must always be aware that you are invisible.
Never assume that automobile drivers see you. If an automobile is in a position to hit you, plan an escape path in advance. Try to make eye contact with the driver, if possible.
In the day time, ride with your high beam on. Scan ahead, and take in as much relevant information as you can. Be aware of every car that might turn into your path, and particularly aware of a few common, dangerous situations.
If you are traveling down the road and there is an automobile in the left turn lane facing you, slow down a bit, cover your brake and plan an escape route. It isn’t uncommon for an automobile to turn left in front of a motorcyclist, and the results can be fatal. Once again, try to make eye contact with the driver, and even move to the right of a single-lane road or the right lane of a multi-lane road — giving you a bit more time to react.
Do not rocket away from a stop light when it turns green. Make sure you look for cars that might be traveling through the intersection trying to make that fading yellow light.
Don’t ride in the blind spot of an automobile in an adjacent lane, unless you are moving through that blind spot. You may be “invisible”, but give yourself a chance to be seen.
Dogs and other animals (even small cats) can make an automobile driver sad in a collision. These animals can cause a motorcyclist to crash. Be alert for dogs and other small animals when you see them in a position to cross your path.
Motorcycles are very fast. They accelerate much quicker than most automobiles. New riders have frequent trouble entering corners too quickly. Their entry speed surprises them, and they are not comfortable leaning the motorcycle enough to complete the corner. Instead, they stand the motorcycle up and go straight off the road (or into oncoming traffic). New riders should be conservative about their corner entry speed and get all of their braking done before leaning the bike into the corner.
Pay close attention to road surface conditions. New riders may assume they will always have traction (automobiles do most of the time). Gravel, dampness, and even leaves have been known to cause motorcyclists to lose traction mid-corner, or while accelerating too hard or getting on the brakes too hard. Particularly when entering blind corners, you should be scanning ahead for road surface conditions and traction issues.
Whenever possible, learn how to ride a motorcycle in the dirt (everyone in my family did). You should be intimately familiar with the basic motorcycle controls before riding on the street. Use of the clutch, the gear shift lever and the brakes should be intuitive. You will have more than enough to think about without learning how to use these controls on a busy highway.
These are just some of my thoughts on street safety. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of things new riders should be concerned with, and it was not my intent to even discuss safety gear (helmet, gloves, boots, etc.). I have to recommend here that new riders consider taking a formal course on safety, such as one given by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Some states require these courses for new riders, particularly young ones.
Finally, don’t forget . . . you are invisible.