On Balance  

Ready, set, check your head

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness month. A day late and a dollar short, as they say.

Around here, that should be March, because our two-wheeling community is already out and about in serious numbers. Why wait for (late) spring?

It’s not just us, though. According to the Motorcycle Moped Industry Council of Canada, sales of new bikes are booming across the land.

February sales this year are way up over previous years, with street rides finally showing some strength. Last year it was all about the dirt, and boy, were those numbers amazing.

Obvious, when you think about it, what with COVID driving a huge rediscovery of the outdoor life.

We’re definitely on a roll, which means now’s the time to think about how to keep the shiny side up, instead of waiting for May. Let’s start with the problem of rust.

Yeah, no, I know you looked after the bike, it isn’t all rusty and crusty from leaning on the back of the shed all winter. It’s been hiding somewhere cozy out of the weather, while the old pickup was bearing the brunt of wintry road conditions.

That’s where the type of rust I’m talking about was creeping in; it was sneakily coating and corroding our riding tools while we were using others: our driving tools. OK, skills.

Actually, this goes a bit beyond just the spring transition to riding, it applies for lots or riders throughout the year. If the vehicle you’ve been using most of the time isn’t a motorcycle of some sort, then you need to take a moment every time you do get around to rolling Rooster out of the shed.

But especially now.

The point about rusty skills is, behind the wheel we get used to having some extra crunch space around us, and we get into some habits that can really put us in harm’s way on the bike if we don’t choose to lose ‘em.

Michel Mersereau, of the Rider Training Institute, writing for Inside Motorcycles mag, raises the issue that there’s been a major increase in aggressive driving in recent years.

He points out that this is also showing up in rider collision types and numbers, with particular emphasis on the high rates of rear end crashes.

This has come up in other research I’ve seen, but he’s looking at Toronto Police records, from a couple of the country’s busiest roadways. There, of a group of 206 motorcycle-involved, multiple vehicle crashes, 58% of them were riders whacking into the back of whatever was ahead of them.

Motorcycles, ridden aggressively, rear end other vehicles more often than the other way around.

That’s a wildly different picture than you get from all the stuff you usually hear and read in the motorcycle world. Which is all about protecting yourself from the menace of the following driver.

Good plan, but maybe better to sharpen your own following skills, keep your distance, and anticipate “unexpected slowing” ahead. The front bumper on your bike has your teeth inside it.

Mersereau’s stats, by the way, were from expressways. No intersections. Which is another place where life needs to be more, considered, shall we say, on a bike. Aggressively accelerating late toward an intersection, like many of the drivers I see, is Plan A for some serious injuries on a bike.

Stuff changes really quickly at intersections, so our habits have to change ahead of time to manage that fact.

Instead of just whacking on the throttle to beat the light, park that pickup habit and slow down, touch the brakes, double check what’s up with everyone, and ease through the trouble zone ready to stop instead of go. Helps keep you out of ambulances.

Touching the brakes, though, is where rust is a serious problem. Rust, and lack of operator familiarity with the controls. I’m not just talking inexperience, here. I’m talking habit.

Rider instructors spend a lot of their working lives attending to the several issues involved in stopping motorcycles. Of these, one of the most prominent is that the controls are very different than in other vehicles, and they have to be used very differently.

When drivers (which most riders actually are most of the time, especially winter) transition onto a bike, they have to overcome deeply ingrained habits and familiarity with the brake pedal.

Especially when we’re panicked, we mash down hard with the right foot on a bike’s rear brake lever, using those driving habits. This tends to create a mahoosive rear tire skid that ends with a smack. Or, for the fortunate with ABS, just not stopping in time.

Either way, what’s needed instead is some practice time to scrape off some rust, and re-familiarize ourselves with our control systems, instead of ignoring the problems of transitioning from the cab to the saddle.

This is where parking lot sessions and skill refreshers, maybe with an instructor, come in. At the beginning of the season. Like now.

Happy polishing!

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


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About the Author

Bill Downey is a retired professional social worker in support programs for people with congenital or acquired physical and cognitive challenges, who was also a volunteer firefighter and a BCGEU health and safety advocate.

For many years, he has been a motorcycle riding coach/instructor with Kelowna Safety Council who spends too much time studying international traffic safety research and not enough time doing all the outdoor things a boy from the Okanagan should be doing.

He has lived a very large portion of his life on two wheels as a commuting and travelling cyclist, but, for the extra challenge, he is also as a motorcycle commuter.

By nature, he has a balanced approach to all things.

[email protected]https://kdsc.bc.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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