Keeping out of trouble in...
Keeping out of trouble in traffic means looking all around you for errant drivers and potential hazards - including behind. Even if it seems absurdly impossible for something to occur, count on it happening and have a plan ready to make your escape.
Sportbike owners generally consider riding in city traffic a necessary evil because while it's one of the less enjoyable aspects of motorcycling it can offer a huge savings in time on the daily commute. And even though speeds are typically low, city traffic often presents the most potential for getting into trouble. Just as we discussed about highway riding (RSS, July '10), in town the issue is not getting into trouble and an accident on your own but rather you should be more concerned with staying away from other drivers and out of their mess.
Even though Harry Hurt's comprehensive motorcycle accident study is now 30 years old, it's still quite relevant and can offer some insight into what to look for. The report's summary notes that approximately 75 percent of the accidents studied involved another vehicle, usually a passenger automobile, and "the driver of the other vehicle violated the motorcycle right-of-way and caused the accident in two-thirds of those accidents." The predominating cause of a car-bike collision, the summary goes on to state, was that the motorist failed to see the motorcycle until it was too late to avoid the collision. Key, then, is that you must do all you can to make those car drivers see you. That means non-black gear with reflective strips and a brightly colored helmet. Make sure your lights and signals work properly. Those tiny non-DOT turn signals tucked under your rear fender may look great, but are they really visible enough? And while this has caused controversy in the past, we recommend using your high beam during the middle of the day. Think how you and your bike appear to other drivers and what you can do to make yourself as conspicuous as possible.
Even at a stop you should...
Even at a stop you should be looking for potential hazards and formulating plans to deal with them. Although riding in city traffic involves low speeds and not much in the way of actual riding skill, it still requires plenty of concentration and effort.
The Hurt Report also states that the majority of accident hazards were within 45 degrees of straight ahead, and the most frequent accident was an automobile making a left-hand turn directly into an oncoming motorcycle. It may seem easy to avoid such an accident, but in our experience there are additional factors that come into play - factors that you can avoid. For example, in heavy traffic the right-hand lane on a multi-lane street generally moves faster than the other lanes. Oncoming cars will often turn into gaps in stopped or slow traffic in the left lanes, and directly into the motorcyclist in the faster-moving right-hand lane. The resulting accident is definitely the automobile driver's fault, but you can do your part by watching for those telltale gaps in traffic at intersections and side streets. Likewise, look for side streets or driveways hidden in a row of parked cars, busy parking lot entrances and, of course, intersections - the common places where cars and pedestrians can make sudden appearances.
The Hurt Report summarizes that intersections were the most likely accident spots, as you'd expect. But the summary also points out that in those cases the other vehicle often violated the motorcycle's right-of-way and even the traffic controls. We're constantly amazed at some of the crazy things we see car drivers do here in Los Angeles. With more gadgets and gizmos to distract them and more safety features incorporated into cars that reduce the driver's responsibility (why should a driver stop talking on the phone to check his blind spot when the car now does that for him?), nothing should be unexpected. Even if you think a car driver sees you and won't pull out of a driveway directly into your path, expect it to happen. Think there's no way the car bearing down behind you won't stop at the intersection? It happens more often than you think. Profiling may be frowned upon in some industries, but here you can use it to your advantage: An aimless-appearing car moving slowly is often occupied by someone on the phone - note that we didn't say "driven by" as the person is not really driving at that point. Oftentimes, fast-moving drivers in big, heavy SUVs laden with safety features will have little respect for the safety of others. And sports car drivers zooming around thinking they know how to drive well often don't. With practice you'll be able to spot the vehicles and drivers to especially avoid.
Rider education plays a big...
Rider education plays a big part in reducing motorcycle accidents and injuries. Since the Hurt Report was published in 1981, there are significantly more opportunities for motorcyclists to learn riding skills, including the Motorcycle Safety Foundation courses and various riding schools. This is Honda's Rider Education Center in Colton, CA.
How you ride can further reduce the chances of finding yourself in a tight spot. Foremost is to be sure that other drivers can see you at all times by being in the correct lane or lane position as needed. Approach cars at an angle such that the driver can see you in his mirrors, move through the driver's blind spot as quickly as is safe and then actually pass the car leaving as much room as possible. We've found that being assertive rather than aggressive is the best option. What's the difference? Assertive means actions like holding your line and honking at a car trying to move into your lane, or not rushing through an intersection even though an SUV is right on your tail. Aggressive means strafing past cars, diving for an opening or riding too fast for the flow of traffic. Being assertive forces other drivers to see you and watch out for you, while being aggressive leaves you open to trouble that can often compound into something serious.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (www.msf-usa.org) uses the SEE system for riding safely in traffic: Search around you for potential hazards, Evaluate those hazards, and Execute the proper action. This means you should be constantly on the watch for errant drivers, obstacles in the road, upcoming intersections and other potentially dangerous situations. As you identify each hazard, you want to decide on a course of action and take that action as quickly as possible so that you can move on to the next potential trouble spot. Note that there are a couple of aspects to the SEE system that bear some thought: One, as your basic riding skills improve, you'll be able to devote more of your concentration to looking for and evaluating those hazards as opposed to thinking about your actual riding. And two, as you gain experience in traffic you'll be better equipped to quickly identify situations that may pose a threat and react almost without even thinking about it.
Lane selection and position...
Lane selection and position can make a huge difference in your safety. Choose your lane position to stay out of blind spots as much as possible, but if you must pass through a driver's blind spot, do so as quickly as you can.
And this brings us to yet another interesting summary from the Hurt Report: A staggering 92 percent of the riders in the accidents studied had no official training. Thirty years after the report was published, however, there are many more options available for rider training. The MSF offers courses for both new and experienced riders, and there is now a plethora of schools across the country, both on and off the racetrack. If you ever needed an excuse to get to a riding school, this is it.