Motorcyclist Road Woes: What to Look For and How to Handle Them

Whether you are a rider leaving the safety of your driveway for the very first time or a veteran rolling into the 100,000 mile mark, there are always road hazards to look out for. Asphalt snakes, blind spots, uneven roads, gravel, distracted drivers can all turn a good ride into a tragedy if not handled properly. When we first get our initial driver’s license, we’re taught to be aware of our surroundings at all times. This becomes even more imperative as a survival skill when we get on two wheels.

DISTRACTED DRIVERS

Eating, texting, checking the GPS, yelling at the kids, trying to pass through four lanes of traffic to get to the exit lane, falling asleep. Chances are, we’ve all been a distracted driver at some point in our lives. Since learning to ride myself, I personally have become more focused on the road while in my SUV, partly in hopes that karma will smile on me and I’ll be that much safer on my bike. It’s a fact that we are in a fast-paced, multi-tasking culture, and even driving a hunk of metal, steel and fuel at 70MPH isn’t always enough to warrant all of someone’s attention. The unfortunate reality of it is that we will always come in contact with distracted drivers. Our own awareness and loud pipes are our best defense. There is no way we can predict that a driver won’t suddenly veer off the road as they fall asleep or drift into our lane without signaling, but what we can do is get our own selves out of the way. A tailgater can be handled by letting them go by you. Seeing a driver operating their vehicle erratically is a good opportunity to pull off into a safe area and let them get ahead of you. BE AWARE of what’s going on around you, and always try to spot an exit lane or escape route.

BLIND SPOTS

Blind spots refer to the area that cannot be seen by a driver’s mirrors. Think about traveling on a busy highway and trying to switch lanes in your car. How many times have you heard that blast of a horn just in time to swerve back into your own lane, narrowly avoiding a fender-bender? Scary enough in a car, but imagine it on a motorcycle. Talk about heart-stopping! The easiest way to avoid getting caught in a driver’s blind spot is to never ride in one. There are two simple choices here: speed up just enough to safely pass the other vehicle, or slow down and remain behind them, in a spot visible in their rearview. (Remember, a semi will not be able to see you behind them as someone in a smaller vehicle will.) When you make the decision to pass or drop back, it is important to consider safety and road conditions. Additionally, as yourself if you can get safely by without surpassing the speed limit.

ROAD CONDITIONS: GRAVEL AND SAND AND OIL, OH MY!

Some roads are perfect: nice smooth asphalt, no potholes, no debris thrown from cars, no sand or gravel spread out. Asphalt snakes don’t dot the roadway, the road is level, and there are no unexpected ruts caused by trucks dragging parts or chains. Somehow, it’s never these roads we seem to end up riding on! Avoidance seems to be the best bet. You’re much better off steering around a patch of gravel churned up by the winter months than driving through it. But what if there isn’t a choice? Slow, slow, slow. Keep control of your bike and never, never, never use your front brake if you find yourself losing traction. You’ll lock up and may find yourself taking a front somersault over the handlebars. Finding yourself in a road that is uneven may cause your tire to ‘catch’ and make you lose control. Whenever possible, stop and evaluate the situation. Is the entire stretch of road like this? Is there too much traffic for me to safely maneuver in my own lane without coming too close to other bikes or cars?

SIDE ROADS AND INTERSECTIONS

Nothing will scare you like an unexpected vehicle speeding toward you. Oftentimes, cars coming out of side roads (especially some of those that connect to long country roads) don’t always make a full and complete stop. I’ve been guilty of this. There’s a road in my area that you can see about a mile up the hill, and it is a large, sweeping turn onto the main road. It’s easy to make a quick glance and go through the stop sign without ever pressing down on the brake at all. Again, awareness is your best bet. Look for those escape lanes. If you’re on a multi-lane road, can you move into the left lane to be that much further away from the side roads? Are the ends of some of those side roads providing enough visibility that you can see the front a vehicle as it peeks out? Be ready to swerve if necessary, but do so safely!

Intersections can be especially tricky. Several roads and drivers all meeting at once, the possibility of debris on the road from previous accidents, other drivers anxious to beat the lights. Stop fully at all red and yellow lights and take stock of the situation around you. Drivers making left turns may cross your path without ever taking notice that you are there at all. When the light turns green, make sure that drivers in oncoming traffic are in fact stopping for the red lights.

Riding a motorcycle requires coordination, skill, and constant cognitive awareness of what’s happening around you. Remember ladies, stay alert, stay alive, keep the shiny side up and the rubber down!

Posted by Jennifer Andersen