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.
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.