Hopefully, you’ll never experience the sinking feeling of having your motorcycle suddenly sputter and die while you’re in the left hand lane of a crowded highway traveling at 70 mph. Or maybe it’s that mushy wobble of a rear tire that is quickly going flat. Mechanical problems are never fun, but on the interstate, they can be dangerous if you don’t take the proper steps. So, what’s a rider to do?

If you’re traveling in traffic when your bike dies, you’ll want to get to the side of the road as quickly as possible. Immediately turn on your bike’s flashers (if it has them). Next, you’ll need to decide which side of the highway you’ll be able to reach. The right side, with its emergency lane, is ideal, but it isn’t always possible. With your flashers or turn signal on, wave your left hand to attract attention of the drivers around you as you begin to slow and change lanes. You want to make yourself as visible as possible. If you’re lucky, some driver will help to escort you across the lanes by driving behind you with their flashers on. (I’ve had this happen on the mean streets of Los Angeles, of all places.)

Once on the side of the road, you should move your bike as far away from traffic as possible. If you’re on the left side of the road with only a retaining wall between the two directions of traffic, you’re quite literally in a tight spot. Lean your bike against the wall to make it take up the least room as possible. Keep the flashers on if you can.

Getting a flat tire can mess up your day, but not being careful on the side of a busy interstate can make the situation much worse.

With the bike parked, you want to get yourself even further away from traffic if possible. Target fixation is a thing that can get you killed. So, don’t feel foolish for climbing up the embankment a bit. For riders trapped in the center divider, don’t attempt to cross the busy highway – which could be many lanes wide. If you do, things could get ugly in the blink of an eye. Instead, walk with the traffic away from your bike so that you put it between you and the oncoming traffic. Face the traffic at all times. Hope for speedy assistance.

Now, you can safely call for help. If you’re away from home and can’t call a friend, your best bet will be the Highway Patrol or AAA. The Highway Patrol can help put you in contact with a towing service. If you’re an AAA member, be aware that motorcycle towing is an additional service that you have to pay for annually. You can’t call AAA up, add it to your membership, and use it immediately. (Don’t ask me how I know.) If you do decide to work on your bike on the side of the road, try to do it on the side of the bike that is furthest away from traffic.

The key to staying safe during an on-highway mechanical breakdown is to stay cool and pay attention to the other road users. The rest is usually just waiting.

  • TC

    The best way to deal with a breakdown is to avoid one. Do your preventive maintenance, attend to minor problems before they become major problems, refuel before 1/4 tank, and keep good tires on your bike. Don’t keep riding as your bike starts running worse and worse, get off the freeway while it’s still running and resolve the problem. I was riding my bike on Hwy 247 in Landers Valley, and saw a pickup ahead of me with smoke streaming from the front end. Pulled cautiously alongside to pass, and noticed the left front wheel was cocked at a 45 degree angle and the tire was dragging along the road. The driver seemed to be determined to get the last possible inch of forward progress out of his vehicle before it stopped completely. Don’t be a Landerite.

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    • therr850

      Nice tips, for what they are worth. I’ve had a brand new front tire go flat, at 70mph, and a brand new rear tire go flat, at 50mph. Maintain your bike yes but, stuff happens. Be prepared to evade the boxed herd.

  • be proactive and chances are, it will never brake down

    • Rocky Stonepebble

      Especially if one checks one’s breaks!

      • Mister X

        I see what you did there… 😉

    • therr850

      Nails in tires don’t care about no sinking proactive.

  • Max Wellian

    Good info. Something I never bother to learn is where the hazard button is. I’ll be practicing finding it without sight now.
    If drivers are apt to target fixate on the bike, I’m not sure I want it between me and them though 😉

  • Rocky Stonepebble

    Carefully pull over to the shoulder. Preferably the right-side shoulder. Shut down bike. Place machine on centre-stand (or, failing that, side-stand), making certain that stands are on firm and stable ground (a flattened tin-can may help here).

    Inspect bike immediately for fire, chemical, or electrical hazards to oneself, or others. Or, for any hazard to the environment.

    Remove helmet. Light a smoke. Swear profusely, but in a low-voiced almost calm manner. Begin slowly removing one’s clothes. When fully naked, light the bike on fire whilst singing “Not To Touch The Earth”, by The Doors. Stand naked, basking in the blazing glory of liberty! Then, reach into the duffle bag for that satchel of meth. Ingest it all. Now. All of it. I know it’s a week’s worth, but GD, we need it all.

    As emergency response vehicles, curious by-standers and good samaritans pull over to help, remove the MAC-10 from one’s backpack and take careful aim at any one indiscriminate target. After dispatching Johnny Goodneighbour to his endless paradise, begin spraying the others and passing motorists in a hail of .45 ACP terror. Reload as needed. Hilarity ensues.

    (Or, call CAA)

    • TC

      You must be that dude from Landers.

  • Buzz

    Put a FREE sign on it and Uber to the nearest dealer and buy a new one!

  • Brad

    Doesn’t AMA membership come with free roadside assistance?

    • Evans Brasfield

      Motorcycle towing is an extra-cost option that must be bought ahead of time.

      • therr850

        Not with my AMA membership. Part of the kit.

    • DL Nielsen

      Yes, but there are a couple of caveats: “Full AMA members who sign up for membership autorenew or purchase a three-year membership receive standard AMA Roadside Assistance coverage for no additional cost above their standard membership dues.”

    • scott.

      I would also recommend adding roadside assistance as part of your motorcycle insurance policy. I pay an extra $10/year on my Progressive policy and have used it twice in 10 years or so. Totally worth the money.

  • John B.

    Last night, at a wedding I sat next to an ER physician who works at an urban Dallas hospital, and one of things he said was NEVER to stop on a highway to render aid. Instead, he recommends calling 911 and letting the authorities (who have the ability to control traffic) handle it. The doctor said he has seen many instances where people (especially nurses) stop to render aid, and get run over and killed.

    • TC

      As a retired Fireman, I can say that stopping to render aid can be safe, if you pull your car onto the shoulder, and work only on the passenger side of the vehicle. If there are already several people stopped, or emergency vehicles are on scene, you will only add to the confusion, so keep on driving.

  • Jaime Cruz

    Shouldn’t a motorcycle site like Motorcycle.com mention that free roadside assistance is included with AMA membership? Why mention AAA at all (especially if you have to pay extra for motorcycle coverage). And for what it’s worth, the AMA does NOT charge you extra if you need your CAR towed (DAMHIK).

  • Tony Schummel

    Do not ever jump over a concrete divider without first knowing what is on the other side. If you are in unfamiliar territory, and its nighttime, you might be on an overpass.