It’s time for that annual ritual that most of us don’t take too seriously - New Year’s resolutions. Can you remember yours from last year? Here’s a resolution idea for 2017, and this one is deadly serious: Resolve to stay alive on your motorcycle by following the following Ten Pretty Good Rules to Ride By in 2017.
You probably already know most of these rules, so this is a refresher for most of us. For newcomers, burn these rules into your memory. I reached out and borrowed some of these ideas from Scott Wilkinson, who admits to being an outdoor fanatic, which includes riding motorcycles. Most are simple and make sense. While none of these rules are original, having been written about in many ways over the years, they are worth reviewing.
Rule #1: Consider this line from Joseph Heller's satirical novel, Catch 22: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” Being paranoid on a bike just might save your life. Riding with the assumption that everyone driving a car near you is out to get you is a healthy attitude. You can include animals too. Don’t assume the car stopped at the cross street to your right really sees you. At dawn and dusk, assume there is a deer ready to cross in front of you. If you’re passing a car using the inside lane, don’t assume the driver knows you are there. Being a little paranoid on a motorcycle is a good thing.
Rule #2: Pay attention to what you are doing. Samuel Johnson once said that the prospect of being hanged in the morning focuses the mind wonderfully. Well put. That is the kind of concentration is needed when driving your motorcycle - being hanged is only one way to meet your maker. When riding, stay focused. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ride. Just be alert for the unexpected. You can’t do that if you are daydreaming about work or about tonight's activities.
Rule #3: Avoid heavy traffic. It stands to reason that if cars are out to get you, the more there are the more the risk. This is really a very simple rule that will increase your chances of surviving in 2017. Stay away from heavy traffic areas. Take a longer route, if necessary, to reduce the car encounters. An out of the way 2-lane road is much safer than a more direct four lane road chocked with cars.
Rule #4: Avoid riding at night. There are two parts about seeing: Seeing and Being Seen. Both are more difficult after dark. If you must ride at night, don’t overdrive your headlight, and wear reflective clothing. And by all means, slowdown. Your reaction time to any hazard at night is the same as it is during daylight. However, the hazard you can see at a half-mile during the day, you will only detect at 300-350 feet at night. That's a huge difference. Go slow.
Rule #5: Don’t drink and ride. Period. Just don’t do it. Never, ever.
Rule #6: Stay off gravel wherever you encounter it. The best road is dry pavement. Rolling over gravel is like riding on marbles. Once you "spit" your front wheel, you're going down. Stay away from road shoulders, where gravel and debris tends to accumulate. If you must ride on a gravel road, keep the speed down, stay off the front brake, and go extra slow around sharp curves. Remember, stay off the front brake when riding on gravel.
Rule #7: Always dress for an accident. If you think a helmet isn’t necessary for a quick trip to the market, you’re wrong. Always assume you’ll being laying your bike down and sliding on pavement. Dress for an accident before it happens. Wear a helmet, gloves, a proper jacket, and boots. Don't ride in shorts. Assume an accident is out there waiting for you, around the first corner, at the 3 mile mark, or at the 115 mile marker. It’s waiting and you have got to be prepared for it. Dress for the part.
Rule #8: Unless you know your fellow riding buddies well, avoid riding in packs. Large groups can be dangerous, especially if a mistake takes place near the front. And remember, other riders may not be as disciplined about their riding habits as you. My method for group riding is to hang back…way back. This gives you time to react and since you are relatively alone, staying back also gives you more maneuvering room.
Rule #9: Speed kills. Why exceed the limit? What's the hurry? "Slowdown" is a great one word motto for everything in life, including motorcycling. Don't always push the limit. The trite phrase, "better late than never," applies. Think of it this way: a 100 mile trip at 70 mph will take about 1 hour and 25 minutes. That same trip at 55 mph will take about 1 hour and 50 minutes. That means you get to ride your bike 25 more minutes at the slower speed. That’s a good way to think of it. And for shorter outings, the extra time is minimal. A 15 mile outing at 45 mph takes about 20 minutes. At 35 mph it takes about 25 minutes. Five minutes is not much. You get the idea. The consequence of going slower means you might live longer. Plan ahead and allow sufficient time to reach your destination without being in a hurry.
Rule #10: Know how to ride, well. Looking the part doesn’t translate to knowing the part. Know your bike and know how to ride it. Take an advanced motorcycle safety riding class. Spend some time practicing your riding skills. You can probably find a large, empty parking lot early early on a Sunday morning. Weave between the parking lines. Mentally set up a course and try to improve your driving accuracy (avoid the lines). Learn how to ride a low speeds too, which can be difficult. You can break an ankle tipping over at 2 mph.
In summary, the list isn't that long so it should be easy to remember. If you use the common sense already have, you know this stuff. Once you start observing and practicing these rules, they'll be second nature. Remember, being paranoid on your bike can be a good thing.
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