Top Ten Things Motorcyclists Should Avoid

Sean Alexander
by Sean Alexander

“Stay-away from that front brake or you’ll go-over the bars!” There is an abundance of information available to today’s riders, but some of it is plainly false and even harmful, like that misleading front-brake chestnut above, or the old “Lay her down!”

No, short of total brake failure when approaching a cliff or wall, you should just about never deliberately crash or otherwise abandon your motorcycle. Here is a list of 10 more things to avoid as you ride through your happy lives.

10. Morning Wood

Bane of Iron Butt competitors and everyday commuters alike, morning wood, afternoon wood, evening wood, midnight wood, aluminum ladders and well, you name it. If it doesn’t belong on a highway but is in fact on-the-highway, chances are hitting it will at the very least ruin your day. Road debris holds potentially deadly consequences for anyone in a car and especially those of us on two-wheels. We’ve all been pelted with small stones kicked-up by the vehicle ahead of us… imagine if that small stone was an 18” splinter… Roughly 87% of MO’s readership doesn’t appreciate being penetrated by morning wood. Riders should look and steer in another direction.

9. Yoga Pants

You know them, they are the things that turn our heads, and they generate second-glances, occasionally inspiring long bouts of daydreaming. Yes, we’re talking about distractions in all their glorious forms. Few things on/beside the road pose as much danger to riders as a good ol’ fashioned distraction. It doesn’t matter how narrow you think your bike is, if you are too distracted to maneuver it into that gap in the first-pace … much like the contents of those pants, bumpers and armco can be surprisingly firm.

8. Shiny Stuff

Vital fluids, the lifeblood of any engine, slippery… maybe even deadly when wet and laying on the road beneath your contact patches. What to do? When you see glistening areas ahead, steer to a non-shiny portion of the lane before reaching the shiny stuff. If caught by surprise, try to coast through it in a straight line. If the road and/or traffic eliminate the coast/do-nothing option, then try to slow-down as gently as you can, avoid firm/sudden control inputs, balance front/rear brake applications and ease-into those levers instead of grabbing them in a panic. With a little luck, even surprise patches of snow and ice (don’t ask!) can be negotiated provided a rider is smooth and careful with their control inputs and has enough road to allow them to coast through in a straightish line.

7. Sloppy Seconds

One man’s crash can be another motorcyclist’s literal dead-end. Following a more experienced/faster rider can, under the right circumstances, help a rider to develop their skills. However, fighting to keep a faster rider in-sight is simply a recipe for disaster. What will frequently happen is that the following rider will end-up being led into a corner faster than they are prepared to deal with it, or into a decreasing-radius corner at a speed that doesn’t leave enough margin for their skill level to deal with. Hopefully, there won’t be an oncoming car, Armco, boulder or cliff at the outside of that corner when it happens.

Another following peril: SUVs are great for hauling kids to junior Pilates classes and of course venturing far-afield into exotic locations like the gravel parking lot behind the local Baptist church. They do however suck at letting a following rider scan the road/cars ahead. Bottom line? When a motorist’s vision is obscured, they run a high chance of plowing into stopped vehicles right after the vehicle they were following makes a last-second evasive maneuver. What to do? Maintain a safe following distance at all times, especially when following large vehicles that you can’t see over/through. Expect to be surprised.

6. Road Kill

Many professional roadrace and Supercross stars train on road bicycles. Heck, MO counts a few cyclists among its staff, so we have nothing against them. That said, even though cyclists have just as much right to use the roads as we motorcyclists do, they are still a hazard to us (and us to them). This is especially true on tight/twisty roads with blind corners and narrow-to-non-existent shoulders.

5. Stinkeye

Eff-me? EFF ME!?!? No, farewell to you. You’re a motorcyclist on an insignificant hunk of metal orbiting several larger metal objects piloted by temperamental and frequently frustrated humans. Sure, you can kick and ride, flash that bird and disappear up the road while they sit stuck in traffic. But should you? No! What you should do when confronted by another’s rage is turn the other cheek and vacate the premises. Use your machine’s inherent quickness and ability to occupy less space to get yourself the hell out of there. Yes, it is what Jesus would do, and it could save your life.

4. Pissing Contest

So Larry Littledick is revving the nuts off his Harley at the light … Sammy Smacktalk is calling you out … and Sally Sassypants just might let you take her for a ride but only if you can impress her with your moto prowess. What to do? Hell, it’s a free country. Do what you want. But if what you want is a little friendly advice, we will say this: Don’t listen to us, we have zero self-control. No, seriously, we’d race you in a heartbeat. We’re no saints, and we’re only mildly ashamed of that fact.

3. Doing Lines

Photo by yalcineren

Remember that Shiny Stuff from earlier? Yeah, well it goes double for painted lines and tar snakes (black asphalt used to fill cracks in the road). Life as a motorcyclist would be grand if we only rode on FIM-approved race tracks and FIA paint lines. Those substances are super-grippy, even when wet. However, we ride in the real world and chances are that any line you encounter on your ride will offer significantly less grip that the pavement next to it. If that painted line or tar snake happens to be wet (or very hot in the case of a tar snake) then it is guaranteed to offer almost zero traction. This means about the same as antifreeze or motor oil … DON’T TRUST IT! Try to cross the lines at an angle, as close to straight-up as you can, and by all means, relax those brakes right before you cross.

2. Don’t Be a Drag!

This one starts out as a little fun, and frequently ends-up as a little time spent in-traction. Scraping the peg feelers can be rewarding for novice to intermediate riders that are beginning to explore the finer points of cornering. But don’t get too cocky! There is a fine line between a few sparks and a whole lot of sparks, and the latter is very bad. While stock pegs and floorboards fold, eventually something hard is going to touch down, and if you don’t or can’t immediately lessen your lean angle, that hard part is going to start levering your rear and/or front contact patches away from the pavement. How do you know when you’ve reached that point? Most of the time you don’t … not until you low- or worse high-side. Pay attention kids, this one catches all sorts of riders out, myself included.

1. Designated Crasher

This one should be well and truly beaten into all of our heads by now. Drinking and riding, or otherwise riding under the influence, is just about the dumbest thing you can do on a bike. Some of you may say: “Yeah but I’ll only be hurting myself” Wrong. At moderate speeds, a narrow motorcycle can simply devastate the interior of a car if it hits at the right (wrong) angle. You might even be thrown over the car entirely and assuming you are wearing gear (doubtful if you’re stupid enough to drink and ride in the first place) you could even escape unscathed. Meanwhile your 4+ gallons of tank/gasoline has just detonated inside the right-rear window, turning the incident into a horrific scene for a former family of four. Sorry to play nanny on this one, but it has to be said. A drunk motorcyclist is as much danger to the rest of society as any other drunk driver.

Sean Alexander
Sean Alexander

I Exist.

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3 of 19 comments
  • David David on Jan 28, 2014

    I am guilty of #7. Sloppy Seconds, On a group ride through the canyons,
    pushing my skill set on unfamiliar roads and corners, trying to keep up,
    blind corner, late on the brakes, hair pin turn, not enough road...
    BAM! I crossed the double yellow, low sided into a chain link fence on the
    opposite side of the road. Luckily, there wasn't oncoming traffic or a
    cliff. Unfortunately, a rider behind me me had laid down his bike too,
    trying to avoid me. My bike was relatively undamaged, mostly cosmetic with exception of the rear brake that was bent backwards but who uses that anyways. I continued riding.and only got a half mile down the road before coming across one of the 5 lead riders that high sided on a 90 degree turn. I fared much better than he did. His bike was totaled, he appeared to be unharmed but definitely dazed. Lesson learned that day, ride within your skill set and don't push them on roads you don't know.

    • George Erhard George Erhard on Jan 30, 2014

      Been there as well. Was running with a group of riders over a couple of the Sierra passes one weekend afternoon. We got caught in a rainstorm outside of Walker CA, so the trip back was considerably more sedate (me especially, I'd pulled the FZ-700 off the road into some DEEP pebble gravel and laid it down trying to get it back on the pavement). The lead rider was going like a bat out of hell until he found a spot where the recent rain had washed sand across the road... in a turn. His TL1000 didn't get too banged up, fairing and lever damage, but he got his bell rung when he slid headfirst into a power pole.

      He got to ride pillion the rest of the way, while our sole pillion rider got her own saddle time... shepherding a big sport-tour bike she'd never ridden before, with half a clutch lever. Not fun.

  • Madasl Madasl on Jan 31, 2014

    Transission lenses especially the ones that turn blue. I found this out one bright sunny morning when I came into a shaded corner a little heavy on the go juice very good exercise for the pucker muscle.