What To Do If Your Motorcycle Breaks Down On The Highway

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield

How to avoid making a bad situation worse

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.

Evans Brasfield
Evans Brasfield

Like most of the best happenings in his life, Evans stumbled into his motojournalism career. While on his way to a planned life in academia, he applied for a job at a motorcycle magazine, thinking he’d get the opportunity to write some freelance articles. Instead, he was offered a full-time job in which he discovered he could actually get paid to ride other people’s motorcycles – and he’s never looked back. Over the 25 years he’s been in the motorcycle industry, Evans has written two books, 101 Sportbike Performance Projects and How to Modify Your Metric Cruiser, and has ridden just about every production motorcycle manufactured. Evans has a deep love of motorcycles and believes they are a force for good in the world.

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2 of 19 comments
  • Jaime Cruz Jaime Cruz on Dec 05, 2017

    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 Tony Schummel on Dec 10, 2017

    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.