Bad habits are a part of being human. We know we shouldn’t do something, but gradually, over time, we might drift toward them. Or maybe we arrive at them through sheer ignorance. Whatever the reason, bad habits can lead to bad results. So, what do we do once we realize that we have some bad habits that need breaking? Before each ride, remind yourself of the proper technique you plan on practicing on the ride. Make it a positive instead of a negative. Say, “Today I will increase my following distance” instead of “Don’t tailgate.” By bringing the skills to the foreground before you ride, the bad habit you’re working on can gradually fade away and be replaced by a good habit.
Riding motorcycles is difficult to master. For many, that is part of the attraction. Still, once we become comfortable on two wheels, we sometimes forget to practice the riding skills we don’t use that often. Of the list of vital skills for keeping the shiny side up, the most important one is the skill of maximum braking. While ABS has gone a long way toward making sure we don’t lock up our brakes in a panic-stop situation, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t practice this skill frequently. If your bike doesn’t have ABS, you should work even harder on making sure your braking skills are up to par.
Hopefully, you always cover the front brake when you ride. It’s important because it helps shorten your reaction time as the situation warrants. With practice, you can even learn the advanced skill of controlling the front brake and throttle simultaneously. However, that’s not the only control you should cover. When riding in tight traffic situations, consider covering the clutch lever and the brake pedal. These will also shorten your reaction time should you need to take an evasive maneuver or perform a panic stop.
When you come to a stop behind a vehicle, do you stay in the center of the lane or off to the side so that you can jump between the lines of cars if the approaching vehicle looks like it is going rear end you? The same can be said about riding on a multi-lane highway with cars on either side of you. Do you know where you’ll go if one of the cars starts to change lanes on you? Always scan for potential dangers to have a plan for escape at every moment of your ride.
Yes, modern motorcycles require a lot less maintenance than those of previous generations. Still, they need to be maintained to stay in top working condition. Tires work better when they are properly inflated and have enough tread. Brakes are the most important system on your motorcycle, so be sure they are working their very best with fresh fluid and enough pad material. Even an excessively loose chain can affect your ability to navigate corners safely.
News flash: Motorcyclists are vulnerable on the road. Even a slight side-swipe can have disastrous effects. That’s why riders should spend as little time as possible in a car’s or truck’s blind spot. Adjust your speed or lane position to make sure that you can be seen the vehicle’s mirrors. If you can’t see the driver’s eyes reflecting in their mirrors, they’re likely unable to see you.
Yeah, we all get impatient, but following too close to the vehicle in front of us introduces all kinds of compromises. First, we have a shorter visual field to see things like potholes or road detritus as they come out from under the car, but that’s not the only way that we compromise our reaction time. Being closer to the vehicle gives us less time to respond to their braking. Finally, tailgating can annoy the driver in front of us, and motorcycles typically come out on the losing end of road rage situations.
As mentioned before, regular maintenance will keep your bike in top form. However, sometimes things change instantly and go unnoticed. A quick visual once-over as you approach your bike will tell you if any new leaks have occurred. Cycling through all your lights after you start your engine (this is easier in a garage) will tell you if a bulb is blown or a brake light switch is on the fritz. Glancing at the visible portions of your tires can even tell you when you’ve picked up a stray nail. Do these quick checks every day, and you will catch minor problems before they turn into major ones.
It’s human nature to think that we are better at doing things than we are. We become overconfident in our braking ability, which can lead to tailgating. We are certain that there is not going to be any debris in the road, and if there is, we believe we can handle it. This leads to entering blind corners too quickly. Or how about pushing personal performance limits on the street? The stakes are too high to let overconfidence suck you in over your head when riding out on public roads. (Get ye to the track, young riders!)
Don’t spend all your time looking at where you are. Instead, look at where you’re going. Yes, it’s nice to be aware of the brake lights of the car immediately in front of you, but it’s smart to look five cars ahead to get even more warning of potential dangers. When going around a corner, look as far as you can through the turn. This has the effect of visually slowing the perception of speed through the turn and gives you more time to react to debris or the car that has a couple wheels over the double-yellow line. At night, how far ahead you can look is limited by your bike’s headlight or the headlights of the vehicles in front of you. Make sure you don’t override them and slow down if necessary.
Wearing proper motorcycle gear is the best way to proactively minimize your potential for injury in a crash. We understand that gear can be expensive, but with the ever-increasing amount of reasonably priced protection on the market, there’s no excuse for riding in street shoes and a t-shirt. Remember, asphalt doesn’t care whether it’s grinding on leather or flesh. Neither do the laws of physics. If those realities don’t convince you, maybe you should appeal to your vanity and consider how much cooler you look riding a motorcycle with proper gear than with your t-shirt flapping halfway up your back.