Thursday, July 17, 2008

Stay Alert, Stay Alive

Everytime I've set in a riding class or a a riding safety presentation, the instructor/presenter at some point always stresses that it is imperative when riding a motorcycle that you have to stay alert. Communting on a motorcycle in a large city reminds one daily why that is important.

A couple of months ago, I set in a riding safety presentation presented by a deputy sheriff from Tampa, FL. He related an incident where he had been riding and turned a corner on a city street. Suddenly he was on his back sliding on the asphalt. He hadn't seen anything on the road surface. He hadn't been struck by another automobile. Once he was up on his feet trying to determine what had happened, he smelled diesel fuel. He realized that although he couldn't see it, there was spilled fuel in the interection that had caused his spill.

Last week, I turned at an intersection and Rosie flinched in the middle of the interection and a quick instinct move righted us. In my mind I was thinking "what the dump?" Before I could even look around, I could smell (you guessed it) diesel fuel.

Two weeks ago, I was in bumper to bumper traffic on a four lane highway during rush hour. Traffic picked up its pace and began moving close to the speed limit, but after a short distance, the car in front of me began to slow. The traffic to my left was still moving a began passing us. I found a hole in the traffic to my left and changed lanes. I looked ahead of the car I had been behind and could see 30 car lengths of empty asphalt in front of the car. Why had they slowed? As I passed, I looked over and the driver was starring at their cellphone and appeared to be typing a text message.

Today on my way home, I was following a car on my way to the highway and noticed the car was driving a bit erratic. At one point the driver made a turn and hit the curb with a rear wheel. "Someone is distracted", I thought. Soon we came up to the turn lane to make a left turn. The car I had been following slowed to a stop behind a line of cars in the straight through lane of traffic. I signalled and moved into the turn lane and passed the line of stopped cars to my right. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. I leaned Rosie a bit further to the left and avoided any contact. I looked in the mirror to see that the car I had been following had suddenly decided they were in the wrong lane and made a hasty move to turn into the turn lane and was now behind me. I was right, someone was distracted.

All of these illustrations make the point. Stay Alert! Despite how safe we may be when we are riding our motorcycles, others are not. There are a great deal of distracted drivers out there that we need to be on guard and looking out for to protect ourselves.

When I first started riding, I thought that if you could make eye contact with the driver of a car that was approaching an intersection, they would not pull out in front of you. They saw you so they wouldn't pull out, right? WRONG! I've since learned to assume they will pull out and be suprised when they don't. Watch the front tires of the car approaching the intersection. The front tires will communicate what the driver is about to do. Is the wheel turned? Is the wheel stopped or beginning to roll? By assuming they will pull out, you can plan you're reaction. Prepare to stop if they do. Find a clear line to manuever. Don't reach for the rear brake first, be ready to reach for some front brake.

Remember the ride I had several Sundays back when we were sitting stopped at a redlight and the car behind us got rearended? The driver behind them was distracted. What if there hadn't been a car between us and the distracted driver? I had Rosie in first gear. I was watching the mirror. When they impacted, I was creeping forward towards the motorcycles in front of me to increase my safety room. I was prepared to make a beeline for the paved shoulder and make even more room.

Stay Alert! Stay Alive!



FLHX_Dave said...

Anyone who says that riding a bike anywhere other than the wide open spaces is on crack brother. About ten years ago I was sitting behind a car at a stop light. Something told me to get into the next lane. Switching lanes didn't make sense at the moment, but I did it anyway. A few seconds later a car hard rear ends the car, that only a few moments before, I was behind. I stare into my rear views like a rat on the lookout for the hawk ever since.

Good post. Always good to be reminded...sometimes we get over confident being the expert riders we all know we are, right?

"Joker" said...

Certainly words to "live" by.

Mr. Motorcycle said...

Great post, and great examples of how inattentive cagers can be.

Aaron said...

Great post -- but screw making eye contact with folks, I gotta air horn now. :P

Conchscooter said...

One suggestion I learned recently for coping with intersections is to weave slightly. Apparently the headlight moving horizontally attracts attention. It works for me, people who start rolling into the street stop. I heard of this a couple of years ago after 38 on the road. Old dog new trick.

irondad said...

Great reminder. Thanks. It's amazing how life wraps us up and we forget the basics. So much stuff comes at us all the time that our heads get full of distracting thoughts. I like to tell riders to "ride with a purpose". Your post is an example of how we help take care of each other.

People use those headlight modulators and swear by them. I kind of feel they cause target fixation. Weaving a little kind of makes sense. Depends upon who's following you, of course!