A Motorcyclist’s Perspective On Road Safety
Road Safety Week 2018
In the first of our articles for Brake’s Road Safety Week, Adrian Baldwin, marketing manager, shares his perspective of motorcycling on the UK’s roads as both a long-time car driver and a very new motorcycle rider.
I’ll start with a confession, I am new to the world of motorcycling. I initially wondered if that really qualified me to contribute to the road safety debate, but I have reflected and decided that there is perhaps no better time to share my feedback.
My perspective is this – I have had a driving licence and a car for thirty years, have driven in a number of different countries around the world and have covered hundreds of thousands of miles …
… but in riding the motorbike, I have never felt quite so vulnerable or exposed. Everything is new and fresh, complacency has not set in and I am very aware of the limitations of my skills and indeed my motorcycle. I will share the thoughts that have occurred to me since acquiring my CBT, theory test and 125 Yamaha.
For those that are contemplating taking to two wheels, I’ll share my observations and recommendations in the hope that they might be of use. For the more experienced in the biker fraternity, there’s nothing new for you here.
For other road users, I’ll suggest how they could re-frame their thinking when coming across more vulnerable road users, especially those with “L” plates on display.
For other motorcyclists
A car gives a driver all sorts of protection that is not afforded to a motorcycle rider. Whereas a driver can just get in their car and go, a motorbike rider needs to be more contemplative.
If the weather is horrible and the roads are more dangerous as a result, then don’t ride a motorbike if you have an option to travel in a different way. Rain, snow, ice, high winds or even just riding after dark bring greater risks of not being seen, not being able to read the road surface and getting into trouble as a result.
Dress with falling off in mind. This advice is not given because coming off is a forgone conclusion, but rather in contemplating the possibility, one’s choices of attire might be better informed. If you ride in shorts, tee-shirts and trainers, you are going to end up in trouble if you have any kind of accident. The right jacket, trousers, gloves, boots and crash helmet might be the difference between bumps and bruises, a long stay in hospital or, in the worst-case scenario, a funeral.
Being seen is more important than looking mean. I’ll be the first to admit that a black bike, black leathers and a black helmet look pretty cool, menacing even. High visibility gear might be more lollypop lady than hells angel, but I believe that when other road users are more likely to see you, they are less likely to crash into you.
The phrase, “be safe, be seen” was coined a long time ago, but it’s just as relevant now as it was in the seventies and the era of public service broadcasts. My kids laugh at me in my white helmet and hi-vis vest but at least they know that I am taking my safety seriously.
One of the best pieces of advice I was given was to get something called a “Pin Lock” added to my crash helmet. The Pin Lock is like a secondary piece of glazing that is fitted inside the visor. Its purpose is to stop the visor from fogging up. They work and, in simple terms, make you safer because if you can’t see properly, you can’t anticipate properly.
When on the road, you have to be observant; frequent use of your mirrors, awareness of your blind spots and looking over your shoulder when manoeuvring, will keep you safer. The process of looking over your shoulder even has a name … a “lifesaver check”.
When riding, you have to manage yourself and try to anticipate/manage the behaviours of others. You have to give yourself the time to react to events and you are most likely to have that time if you ride within your limits, manage your speed and maintain a sensible distance between you and the vehicle in front. Slow down and stay back.
If, for example, you ride too fast into a tight left-hand bend then there’s a good chance you’ll exit it in the middle of the road … and something else might be doing the same from the other direction.
In terms of managing those behind you then position yourself in the middle of your lane to help you be seen and to discourage impatient overtaking.
I see something all of the time when driving my car that bothers me now in a way that it never used to – motorcyclists running down the side of traffic to avoid jams.
I used to think beating the traffic in this way is what makes a motorbike worth having, but now I ride one, I am not so sure. I am finding reserves of patience I never knew I had because I wear all this garish gear to be seen, so why would I put myself in a situation whereby the likelihood of a motorist not knowing I am there is greatly increased. Riding between lanes on a motorway, or a dual carriageway, means one is relying on the observation skills of others … and they might not be up to scratch.
Advice to other motorists
Let’s be frank, knocking off a cyclist (motor or otherwise) is the kind of horror scenario that will leave a driver with recurring nightmares and/or the need for counselling. No motorist will ever mean, or want, to hit a rider but unfortunately it does happen.
As a motorcyclist, you realise quite quickly how few of you there are compared to other road users. On any given journey, you’ll see hundreds of cars and just a handful of bikes. The rarity breeds a road-based camaraderie amongst riders, you’ll see them nodding to each other when they pass, almost in acknowledgment of the risks they take.
The reason for making the point above is that it is likely that most motorists a rider comes across will never have ridden a motorbike, or have any real appreciation of the challenges riders face. This means that other drivers might not make the allowances they need to for these more vulnerable road users.
From my experiences so far, here’s the insight, presented in the form of a top ten, I’d like to share that might help car/van/truck drivers/other drivers.
- Don’t assume that a motorbike is faster than your car. You may think that all bikes go fast and get to speed rapidly too. That’s not the case for any bike you see that has an “L” plate. Be patient, allow the rider in front of you some time and space to get up to speed.
- Related to one, be aware that a low powered bike (50-125cc) will lose a lot of speed on a hill. In my case, my Yamaha will drop from 60 to 40 miles per hour on a steep incline. If you are driving a car and don’t anticipate that speed loss, you could drive into the back of a rider.
- A bike has blind spots too. A crash helmet restricts peripheral vision, so a rider, who hasn’t been so observant, may not always see you if you execute an overtaking manoeuvre at speed.
- Other types of motorist don’t have to pay much attention to the road surface in normal weather conditions. For a motorcyclist, reading the road surface ahead is a key skill. Avoiding potholes, loose gravel or surfaces that will throw the bike off course is important. If you see a motorcyclist weaving around a little, that is probably why – give them space.
- If a bike is displaying L plates, just stay back, expect erratic behaviour. Beware of potential stalls off junctions, or missed gear changes – just hold back a little, the bike might not race away.
- A motorbike’s indicators typically don’t self-cancel and, because of the fiddly switchgear, sometimes a rider will think they have cancelled them when they haven’t (in bright daylight a rider might not even appreciate his/her indicators are still on). So, if you see an indicator flashing but no brake light showing and/or the rider not following his/her signal, just hang back and give them space. They will be embarrassed when they realise their error.
- When a motorcyclist is learning to ride, they are instructed to ride in the middle of the lane, this is to help them to be seen. They are not riding in the middle of the lane because they want to impede your progress. They pay their road tax and are entitled to use the road just like a car driver. Don’t bully a motorcycle rider to try to get them out of your way.
- If you are driving a car, you will be aware of high winds and buffeting but you won’t have to make much in the way of allowances. For a motorcyclist, particularly one on a lighter weight/training bike, the wind is a proper adversary. If you are following a bike and the wind is gusting, you need to understand that the rider can get blown off course – again give the rider space, especially if you are planning on overtaking.
- If you are sat in stationery traffic, keep an eye in your mirrors for motorcyclists coming up behind you. Before you do any lane switching, just be sure that nothing is coming. If you are parked up, just before you throw open the driver’s door, look for a biker.
- Finally, if you spit, throw your cigarette, or any other rubbish for that matter, out of the window when you have a motorcyclist behind you, this is rude and unpleasant, and potentially dangerous!
Most of us pass our driving test and never have any more driver training (unless our employers pay for it, or we get caught speeding and are forced to attend a course). Road safety however is improved through collective awareness, collective thinking and training, so that’s a bit of a concern.
Riders with years of experience have said to me that, “I am not the danger; the danger comes from those around you”. And that’s fascinating because for the last three decades, I was one of those “around” folk. It made me think and from a personal perspective, since I started riding a motorbike, I have found that I actually drive my car a lot more carefully/considerately than I did before.
Coming tomorrow: Horses and bikes on the road