Motorcycling is amazing. It’s my favorite pursuit. It’s not a hobby. For me, it’s a lifestyle and a value system.
You know what’s not fun? The constant battle to stay safe on the road. In a sea of drivers who don’t prioritize the driving task or lack proper risk assessment, we have to make up that gap as much as we can. It’s an undue burden and the stakes are exponentially higher for vulnerable road users like us motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
That’s why I write from time to time about the things we need drivers to know. Some folks would say I’m tilting at windmills but I’m not going to succumb to resignation that my message won’t reach at least one person who finds some enlightenment as a result.
I sort of embrace a role as a motorcycling ambassador. It’s an unplanned journey I started when I talked about some basic things we riders need you to know in part 1 of this series. That was followed by an attempt to upend outdated, unfair perceptions in Part Two.
But it’s time to add a bit more to the list. To that end, here’s another installment of some things you need to know when we’re sharing the road together.
Stick the stop
Embrace the gymnast’s mentality of “sticking the landing” when you’re coming to a stop. Stick that sucker! That means come to a complete stop. And stay stopped. Then don’t just look or glance at oncoming traffic—SEE the traffic.
If a rider is approaching, don’t move until the bike has passed you. If you never stop rolling—or start rolling again before we’re past you—we must guess your intentions. You may see the motorcycle and are planning on pulling out behind it. Or you may be about to pull out into us because you didn’t see the bike. There’s absolutely no way for us to know which.
I know having some momentum helps you get into the flow of traffic but if you are moving, that requires me to be prepared to take evasive action. At a minimum I’m going to honk and flash lights at you to make sure I have your attention. Or I may have to slow down, which slows you down too. Or I may make a sudden lane change if possible, putting myself at risk because I’m banking on the others drivers around me being aware. Let’s face it, that’s not a good bet, really.
If you are accelerating from a complete stop, I have more time to react and anticipate. The microseconds longer it takes you to complete the stop and begin moving again are exactly what we need. And that is the difference between life and death for riders.
Cool your jets
Related to sticking the stop, is to not come into it burning hot. If you’re racing up, others around you don’t know if you’re planning to stop or slow at all. Hell, we don’t know if you even notice the stop ahead of you. We’re preparing for you to blow through. We may end up taking unnecessary evasive action which puts us at risk for no reason.
So consider how your movement looks to others on the road who have little means to communicate with you. You know your intentions but no one else does. We don’t know if you’ve seen us! We can’t read your mind—only your actions as we see them from afar.
That’s why we have the saying “Ride like you’re invisible.” I absolutely must assume that you don’t see me. That’s the default. So you have to show me that you do see me.
Give us some room
Leave some space! You’re the key to mitigating the far-too-common chain reaction pile-ups that are the result of the rear-end domino situation. If you leave proper space from the vehicle in front of you, that ends. It’s one of the simplest habits we can employ that would eliminate a huge amount of crashes for every type of vehicle every year.
That proper stopping distance certainly helps everyone on the road, but imagine being a rider in the middle of that pile-up. Obviously that goes way worse for us than someone in a car. The motorcycle sandwich scenario is why you’ll always see me checking my mirrors, even if you are completely stopped behind me.
I’m positioned to watch the vehicle behind you to make sure they’re stopping as well. I’m ready to (hopefully) slide out into a turn lane, shoulder, or in between lanes if it looks like they won’t stop in time and ram you into me. If you leave proper distance, I don’t have to be on high alert every moment of the stop.
As you can tell, I give traffic situations a lot of attention and thought. My life depends on it. The most important considerations I hope you take away from this are:
- Just drive. Stop the distractions and we’ll have won most of the battle. Driving is a complicated task. Give it the attention it deserves so everyone makes it home safely. Don’t just take my word for it, read this white paper from The National Safety Council and rethink your behavior.
- Be aware of how your actions look to other road-users and how they impact them. Mentally step out of your car-bubble and consider what you’re communicating (or not) to those around you.
- Remember that when you mess up, we have to react. Quickly. And the likelihood that will not work out well for us is very high. You can cause someone else to crash even if you didn’t hit them, car or motorcycle alike.
Adventure on, friends. Keep your eyes open for us out there!