I know if doesn't feel like it right now here in the Midwest, spring is almost here (Thursday, March 20, 2014), and you'll soon be ready to hit the streets again. But are you truly ready? I mean, just because your battery tender has kept your bike charged up all winter and the fuel stabilizer you poured in your tank after that last ride has kept your gas and carburetor in good shape, it doesn't mean you're mentally prepared to ride.
Not only has it been a while since many of us have ridden, but it's also been a while since all the cagers have had to keep their eyes open for motorcyclists on the road. Plus, if you live where it snows, like I do, you also have plenty of fresh new potholes to dodge, thanks to the salt and sand trucks that were kind enough to dig them up with their blades during the last ice storm.
If you're still fairly new to riding, there's no better time to check into a MSF refresher course or sign up for an advanced class. If you've jacked around and waited too long to get into a spring class, the least you should do is take your bike to a large empty parking lot and practice your shifting, hard braking, emergency swerving and low-speed figure-eights.
Here are a few more tips to help get you back in the swing of things this spring and help keep you safe on the streets.
1) Oh say can you SEE. No, I don't mean just keeping your eyes open, I'm talking about Scan-Evaluate-Execute. Rather than making our way down the street on autopilot like we did in our SUVs all winter, we need to engage our brain before engaging our transmission.
Scan - your surroundings, constantly searching for potential dangers.
Evaluate - what's happening around you.
Execute - measures to keep yourself out of trouble.
2) Assume the position. Of course I'm talking about traffic positioning. You were probably taught to stay in the center of your lane or in the far left or right portion of your lane when a car is next to you. You should always make it a point to maintain as much of a cushion as possible between you and other cars, trucks, walls, or anything else that could cause you trouble. For example, the car that is merging onto the highway on your right may notice that you are riding in the center lane, but why chance it. Rather than simply moving into the left part of the center lane, move on over to the far left lane to create an additional buffer in case they don't see you or are in a hurry to get to their AA meeting.
3) Let's play a game. The 'What if...' game, that is. If you don't know what I mean by this, you'd better stick to the parking lot for a while longer and wait for the next MSF class to open up. The 'What if...' game is where you identify potential hazards in advance and ask yourself 'what' you should I do 'if' this or that happens. For example, what if the car sitting at the stop sign decided to pull out in front of me, or what if the car in the lane next to me decides to swerve into my lane? Do I brake hard, swerve, or both? That's only a couple examples from the 'What if ...' game, so if you're not playing this game every time you ride, you may not be a winner when it's your turn to play for real.
4) Look Where You're Going! Yes, it's the simplest lesson taught in even the most basic riding class, but do you practice it? The idea is that your bike will go where you are looking, so if that approaching car crosses the center line, are you looking at the car or where you need to go to avoid being flattened like a pancake? If you're looking at the car, you might very well ride straight into the car because of what is call 'target fixation.' I've had people tell me they were looking straight into the driver's eyes when all of a sudden; they turned left right in front of them and I smacked 'em. I usually answer with, 'Really?' rather than what I'm really thinking, which is 'Why were you looking them in the eye rather than looking where you needed to go to avoid the accident?'
5) Practice makes perfect. Do you know how hard you can brake at different speeds without locking up your wheels? If not, find an empty parking lot, and brake several times—gradually building up to an emergency stop, which will test the limits of your traction. You may be surprised at the actual distance it takes you to stop at different speeds. I just love it when someone says, 'I had to lay my bike down to keep from hitting the car.' I call BS! Unless you're a professional stuntman working on a sequel to Biker Boyz III, you're about to hit a semi-trailer from the side, which could decapitate you, or some other strange reason, if it's too late for you to swerve and avoid the object, or completely stop before hitting it, you're far better off braking hard and hitting the object at a reduced speed rather than laying your bike down and sliding into the object at full speed—possibly with the bike on top of you. I mean, which has more stopping power—your brakes and the rubber on your tires or chrome, steel and skin? I'll leave that one up to you, but to me, it's a no brainer!
Well, I guess it's time to get down off my safety soapbox and go practice what I preach. Ride safe, and I really mean it when I say, 'Keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down!'
By Mike Schweder