From the Blog

Crashing The Hows and Whys

If you have been riding a motorcycle for any length of time at all, then you have had a crash. For the purposes of this article I am going to restrict my remarks to comments about road riding because, as a wise old rider said to me many years ago, “Crashes in the dirt don’t count.” Yes, they may hurt, sometimes nearly as much, but they don’t count.

So, crashing on the road. As noted above, everybody does it or has done it; what are the lessons we can learn?

In 40 odd years of riding I think I have crashed about 10 times on the road. These crashes range from simple front end loses in a patch of gravel to major, injury-causing accidents. I made it a point right from the beginning to look dispassionately at my horizontal episodes and see if I could determine cause and attempt to avoid similar experiences. I might also add that only one of those crashes prevented me from bringing the bike home safely.

To begin with, crashes are nerve-wracking things. Suddenly realising that things have gone pear-shaped and then seeing it all happen in slow motion is not an experience that anyone enjoys. Lying on the road wondering what happened while you take a quick inventory of body parts to make sure they all still work is a depressing exercise. Picking yourself up and trying to make sense of the world while it is still spinning around you is terribly disorientating and telling your body to do something (like get up) when it plainly doesn’t want to is not something that I would recommend.

Nevertheless, it happens.

Now the statistics (which are, in spite of the passage of time, still patchy at best) tell us that the majority of motorcyclists crash most in the early stages of their riding and the reasons for this are too obvious to repeat here. Indeed, it is these early stage crashes that cause a proportion of riders to give up on the exercise and seek out some other leisure activity that doesn’t hurt as much.

On the subject of crash statistics and studies, the landmark Hurt Report, despite its age, is probably still the most authoritative and thorough of any that has been done.

So, everyone crashes, but why? Well, in the case of learners and “P” plate riders, the transition from a relatively stable vehicle like a car to a relatively UNSTABLE vehicle is something that most find difficult. Throw in the fact that, for some, the motorcycle comes FIRST, it is easy to see how you can sometimes end up being horizontal rather than vertical.

Now it must be said that, while pre-licence training has improved immeasurably since the day I waltzed into the RTA in Wollongong, answered 10 questions and waltzed out with an “L” plate, it is still primarily directed towards helping the candidate to get a licence so the skills taught are mostly passing the test related. However, observing rider training being done at my local RTA and feedback from my son-in-law who trained there indicates that there is a deal more to it than that and I am very grateful for that.

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the various authorities doing rider training are doing a pretty good job. I see many “L plate and “P” plate riders in my area and I have to say that the impression of their fitness to ride is pretty good. I despair of how we are going to get the All The Gear – All The Time message through because that part of the training does not appear to be working at all, but, apart from that, I see pretty responsible riding.

So, why the crashing, then, because it is happening? I believe that it is a case of riders failing to get their heads around the dynamics of a motorcycle quickly enough. Even a LAMS category bike has more than enough power to win the majority of traffic light drag races. Unless you happen to pick on a Porsche Carrera or the like, you’re likely to win. And that is a heady prospect for a young person whose most powerful vehicle before the bike was a pushie. All that power at your disposal and no effort at all required to use it. Win-win.

And, no, I am NOT suggesting that LAMS bikes are too powerful and should be further restricted. A concomitant amount of power is necessary in order to keep up with the flow of traffic and to have some in reserve to use if avoiding a dangerous situation is required. It is educating our riders, new and old, on how to USE and control that power that is the issue.

However, I am straying a little so let me get back on track. Crashing; everybody does it, less experienced riders do it more. So, how do we avoid it and, in the event that we DO crash, what can we learn from it?

This series of suggestions is not intended to be exhaustive but does, I think, cover most eventualities. I’m going to approach it by looking at the typical types of crashes and analysing each of them. You will have noted that I am refraining from using the term “accident” since most motorcycle crashes are not accidental and could have been avoided with some pre-planning.

The first crash is when the riders crashes into a vehicle in front in traffic. Avoiding this crash is as simple as keeping a better distance between yourself and the cars around you. The advent of filtering laws in some states is going to also help to reduce the incidence of this type of accident. My driving instructor taught me to watch for the stop lights of a car six to eight cars in front of the one I was immediately behind. I usually find that I am on the brakes well before most of the vehicles in front of me by using this trick.

The next type is where the rider is rear-ended by a vehicle whose operator has failed to observe the cautions just listed above. In traffic, watch the mirrors as much as you watch what is happening in front. Position the bike towards the gap between the cars if you can’t filter and be ready to dive for the gap if you see someone coming from behind who is obviously going to have trouble stopping in time. That few metres that you add to the distance between the oncoming vehicle and you might just be enough.

Now I am going to pause here for a moment for a comment that is relevant to the discussion but slightly away from the list. If you inhabit the internet, you cannot avoid seeing the increasing number of GoPro videos that are posted there. A disturbing number of them are of people doing stupid things on motorcycles and of them often crashing as a consequence. Most of them serve as a primer on all the things that you SHOULDN’T do if you want to stay safe on your motorcycle. And the fact that these dills often get straight up and appear to be uninjured increases my concern that other, less skilled riders, will try the same thing with disastrous result. Stunting on the road in shorts and a “T” shirt is dumb no matter how good a rider you are. Lane splitting at 200km/h is beyond stupid.

But there are also videos of genuine road crashes and the overwhelming number of them show crashes that could have been avoided. Hence the purpose of my article today.  As my list is starting to show, most crashes ARE avoidable.

Crashes involving vehicle pulling into the rider’s path. We’ve heard is so many times, haven’t we? “I was just riding along and this car did a “U” turn in front of me and I couldn’t miss him.” That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Well, it does, except for the fact that the rider was doing 100 in a 60 zone and wasn’t looking out for what the traffic was doing. A thoroughly avoidable crash. It’s not rocket science. Moderate the speed to suit the conditions. LOOK AHEAD and be aware of the clues that tip you off to potential hazards. A puff of dust further up the road, a brake light going on, a car suddenly slowing in front of you for no apparent reason; these and countless other cues should be high on the list whenever we ride.

It’s not uncommon for crashes to occur at traffic lights. When the light goes green, don’t use your extraordinary power-to-weight ratio and gun it immediately. Especially if you’re riding in our cities you will always find two or three vehicles that will ignore the red light and drive on through. You don’t want to win the drag race and end up under a truck. Hesitate for a second or two and be sure that the crazies have gone before you venture out into the intersection.

Then there is the “running wide on the corner” crash. This more often occurs outside the city limits but is just as avoidable. Be in the right gear for the corner and position yourself so that you don’t run out of the road on the exit to the corner. “Slow in – fast out” is the name of the game. Who cares if someone goes around the corner as fast as you do, anyway? Once the bike is pointing straight, your superior acceleration is always going to put you in front. It is a constant disappointment to me to see that most riders have no idea at all about the proper line for a corner. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of them who start out wide, clip the apex in the middle of the corner and end up out wide again on the exit. Running wide can be fatal. It either puts you into the gutter or the wall or into the path of the oncoming traffic and there is no excuse for either scenario.

Oh, and in the event that you DO find yourself caught in the wrong gear in the middle of a corner whose radius is suddenly closing, I have two words to say. Counter steer!

I’ll leave it at that this week and pick up the other different types of crashes in the next article.

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