We are going to start highlighting interesting ADVrider forum posts here on the homepage. This post by @DMack_762 caught my eye. I highly recommend following the forum discussion itself which has many interesting replies.
For most people, motorcycles are not a part of their lives at all, much less, a daily part of their lives. For some folks though, motorcycles are more than a status symbol, or something that allows them to become part of a club. Riding on the weekends, track days, or occasional road trips are normal for most motorcycle owners. But, for people like me, commuting daily on a motorcycle is a choice. I mean, who wouldn’t want to dress in layers of protective clothing, cover yourself from head to toe in abrasion-resistant padded gear and ride to and from work every single day, rain or shine? I’m not speaking from the occasional rider’s view point, I’m someone who commutes to work 80+ miles round trip, Monday to Friday, and then trips on the weekends. My vehicle of choice is a 2019 BMW R1250GS Adventure, “Exclusive model”, to be exact. This bike is a very large, heavy, yet surprisingly athletic and nimble collection of parts that come together to make a truly beautiful riding machine.
They say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” right? Well to me, my GSA is a thing of profound beauty. I chose this bike because it fits my lifestyle, and my riding style better than anything else out there. No matter what you ride, if you commute on a regular basis in urban traffic, some of these points will stand out to you. I may bring something to your attention that you have not thought about, or may say something you don’t agree with. I just wanted to put my thoughts down, to encourage discussion and open up a venue to share techniques and experiences.
I was getting off my motorcycle the other day at work, unbuckling my helmet, when a guy walked up to me and said “Ah, another successful ride in this morning, aye?” I just sort of looked at him, not really sure how to answer him. However, his question resonated with me. “Another successful ride” meant, I kept the rubber side down and didn’t get into a crash. This caused me to reflect internally, to see if I really did everything I could do to mitigate the risks of riding a motorcycle in today’s vehicle traffic.
Every morning, after I wake, I start my routine. Almost the same as a Pilot would conduct a pre-flight checklist, I do the same thing mentally as I prepare myself for the ride to work. My ride in the morning wakes me up more than the strongest cup of coffee ever could. Having a routine, for me, is comforting and gets me mentally prepared to do battle in traffic. I say “battle” because every single ride I take, has the potential of being my last. Let’s face it, commuting on a motorcycle is not considered “safe” by anyone’s standards. However, it is a calculated risk that those of us who choose to ride daily accept with open arms. Mitigating the risks, can’t be defined in a single list. The way one can mitigate the risk of riding, is individual, but there are things that every rider can and should do to keep the risks to a minimum. I will cover these things fairly well as we move on.
Commuting daily on a motorcycle takes dedication. Space is limited and cargo must be chosen carefully, because there is no back seat or trunk to carry extra items. Fortunately, I work in an environment where I can bring gym clothes and shoes, as well as an extra change of clothes and keep them at my office. I live in Florida, so the weather changes at the drop of a hat. Our summers are hot. Not just any hot, I’m talking scorching hot. Humid air and direct sunshine makes the temperature rise. Choosing to dress in full riding gear, even on the hottest of days, is an outward expression of the inner dedication that I speak of. I for one, am that guy. I wear complete gear, every time I swing a leg over my bike. We’ve all heard that a successful motorcyclist will “dress for the slide, not for the ride”. That is very true for me. I always say, when it comes to wearing full riding gear, “I’d rather sweat a lot, than bleed a little.”
Riding a motorcycle on a daily basis, can lend itself to a mindset of “us vs them”. We have all used the term “Cagers” referring to people who drive cars (cars, trucks, vans, any vehicle besides a motorcycle). Well, very few motorcyclists only have a motorcycle. Most of us have cars that we drive as well. Driving is a divided attention task, as we all know. When we first start driving a car, we all got overwhelmed in the beginning. Once you have driven for a while, it’s nothing to be listening to the radio, drinking a cup of coffee, and some drivers feel the need to send and receive text messages on their phones, or read email, or even put on make-up as they drive. This takes that “divided attention” activity and turns it quickly into a “task-saturated” activity. Since I began commuting on a motorcycle, the term “Distracted driving” has become glaringly obvious to me.
I will discuss a few points now.
Lane position: This is a very important topic. As a motorcyclist, we can move freely within our lane of traffic because we are narrower than a car. We can position to either side of the lane, or take position in the center of the lane. Taking a strategic position allows us to see better, to accurately predict what a car driver will do in a given situation. In traffic, it is always too easy to follow too closely to a vehicle in front of you. A motorcycle can out-accelerate most cars and trucks, it can easily out brake them as well. But, think of road debris. A vehicle has four wheels, can straddle most road debris without issue, but a motorcycle can’t do that. So, we must leave some reactionary gap between the car in front of us and our front tire. That way, if the car ahead of us straddles a blown tire, or a large piece of wood, we have time to react to it. Riding in the center of the lane is also not a very good idea. The road grime, oil, contaminates, etc. all collect in the center of the lane, because of the vehicle traffic. By riding to the left or right of the lane this puts our tires in the same area that the car’s tires are traveling. Also, always try to avoid riding directly beside a vehicle, and stay out of their blind spot. I make it a habit to keep my head on a swivel, like a radar dish. I’m constantly scanning mirrors, doing head checks, watching vehicle’s front tires, heads of the driver, where they look, anything to help me read what the cars around me are doing.
Danger Zones: Two areas where most crashes occur are intersections and merging traffic. If you are at an intersection, keep your bike in gear, covering your brakes with your hand and foot, and watch your rear view mirror until the car that is behind you comes to a complete stop. I always angle my bars out to the side of the lane, in case I have to squirt away as an escape. Never assume that a vehicle approaching a stoplight at an intersection sees you, most times they are distracted and stop at the last minute. Merging traffic is also very dangerous. Anytime there is an on / off ramp, be ultra-conscious. I have witnessed countless times, where a vehicle driver decides at the last minute to leave a freeway, cross over three lanes of traffic and barely make the off ramp. I always choose to ride in the inside lane, unless circumstances dictate otherwise. Merging traffic is also dangerous as they will enter the flow and cross over lanes of traffic without regards for anything around them. Remember, as a motorcyclist, we have a much smaller footprint and leave a smaller visual reference. Also, the way most motorcycles are lit, it makes it hard for a vehicle driver to accurately depict our speed and distance.
We’ve all heard the saying “Ride like you are invisible”. That is true, to an extent. Motorcycles are harder to see than cars, trucks, vans. So, we have to make ourselves seen. I won’t get into the Black / White / Hi Viz debate, because there are countless threads on this. But, I will say that it is always a good idea to make yourself more visible to the other drivers out there.
I’m interested in the input from other commuters out there. What do you do to make your ride safer? Thanks for reading, I look forward to everyone’s input.
@FlyingLo replied and said …
I agree with your approach to risk mitigation and thank you for posting. I am relatively new to road riding but come to it from a lifetime of enjoying without major incident general aviation and sports such as skydiving and hang gliding. I am puzzled by how few riders take advantage of simple proven safety enhancements like modulated headlights, etc.
Here is my safety credo (so far after one season):
Risk can not be eliminated, only mitigated. I have tried to learn to understand and objectively assess what I can do to control factors which impact my safety. In this category I agree with thinking of yourself as “invisible” and try to improve my odds of being seen with hi-vis riding gear and investing in readily available lighting technology (headlight modulator, taillight flasher, and turn signals configured as daytime running lights).
Establish and practice personal minimums. This is a set of “go no-go” standards covering everything from riding gear, personal fitness including being under the influence of any substances, weather, traffic congestion, time of day (rush hour, night), riding fatigue, road conditions, speeds, traffic separation, etc. ATGATT falls into this category as does “bottle to throttle” for which I adhere to 12 hours.
Develop and maintain situational awareness at all times while riding. This comes down to anticipating the unexpected and knowing your escape route. In flying it combines systematic scanning of your flight gauges and all quadrants of the sky. On motorcycle it is almost the same minus the flight gauges for the most part. Also the key to scanning is to avoid target fixation and to calmly take in everything within your field of vision. Greater the lead time you have in any adverse situation the greater are your options to avoid problems. This translates directly to lane positioning, approaching blind corners, changing road surfaces, obstacles, etc.
Read the full thread discussion here.
Featured Image: @X-wing fighter’s daily commuter in Alaska.