Eight Tips for Defensive Riding
The best defenses when riding a motorcycle are training, caution and anticipation. Here are some general tips for everyday riding:
- Understand what constitutes a road hazard. Some bikers are unaware that certain things are hazardous for motorcycles. Don’t assume that you know all the dangers because you’ve been driving a car for years.
- Avoid heavy traffic. When possible, travel when traffic is light. That way, if you encounter a road hazard, you’ll have more room and time to maneuver. Look for less-traveled routes where vision is unobstructed.
- Don’t tail the vehicle in front. Follow vehicles at a safe distance (at least two seconds behind). Slow down if you see (or even anticipate) a hazard. Don’t ride in a car’s ‘blind spot’. It’s bad enough when a car driver doesn't turn and look when changing lanes in front of another car; worse when it’s in front of your motorcycle!
- Constantly survey the road and the surrounding area. Keep your eyes up and take note of everything: other cars, children playing, trees that might house small animals, painted surfaces. Change your speed or path accordingly.
- Plan escape routes. As you ride, think of ways you could evade a potential road hazard. For example, can you safely travel on a shoulder to avoid a large gravel patch? Be aware of what cars are around you in case you must swerve to avoid a squirrel or debris.
- Note hazards on roads you use. Make mental notes of hazards that you encounter on roads you travel. That way, you can anticipate problems or even avoid some routes at certain times or during bad weather.
- When it rains, wait. If possible, wait until the rain has stopped before you ride a motorcycle. If you must travel in the rain, try to wait until it has been raining for at least a half hour before you hit the road.
- Get skills. Motorcycle handling skills are often the key to safely navigating a road hazard (or surviving a skid, wobble, or dicey situation caused by a hazard). Get training on how to safely handle your bike, navigate gravel and ridges in the road, and what to do if your tires skid on slippery surfaces.
- Tracey Cramer
How to Keep your Hands & Fingers Warmer
They’re hangin’ out there with no protection from the windshield or fairing. Yep: your hands (and by extension, your fingers). So what’s a rider to do?
Today’s riding gloves are way better than I remember them being twenty years ago (actually I've been riding longer than that but who's counting?). Still, there are drawbacks. The biggest one (in my opinion): Gloves add bulk, which can make it more difficult to grip and definitely more difficult to shift gears.
In the past I’ve had heated grips on my motorcycle. Let me tell you, that was heavenly. But it’s not a perfect solution:
- Wiring them through the handlebar was a P-A-I-N.
- They don't protect from rain.
- I can’t prove this, but I’m convinced they drain the battery faster
Until recently, there were only a few products available that attempted to deal with wind chill on the hands, but they simply didn't work well. We know - we tried them and were disappointed.
What you need is basically a "fairing" for each hand that allows you to adjust the area of protection for each hand. The ATV and dirt bike market figured this out long ago and I can’t figure out why the cruiser market hasn’t embraced this concept!
One of the better ones we've found is the WingShields by Brukus, which are made of a tough polycarbonate that makes them extremely difficult to break, yet light (and clear, which we like). You clamp them to the handlebar or mirror stem and align the curved shield ahead of your hands.
With a few extras like these on our bikes, we've been able to extend our riding season - and start earlier in the spring!
- Tracey Cramer
Riding in the Rain: Get Visible
One key to being seen in the rain is visibility. Here are some simple steps you can take to be more visible when you ride in the rain.
#1: Bright Colors
Like many bikers, I love black and leather. But when it comes to riding in the rain, I want to be seen at all costs. After all, decreased visibility is one of the main contributors to accidents (rain or not!).
The BEST idea is to get a bright-colored motorcycle. (In fact, some police departments and emergency services are going all-out in that regard)
But the reality is, most of us are NOT like this guy; we don’t want a neon green or bumble-bee yellow bike. I’ve never once chosen my motorcycle (in over 30 years) by the color, but rather by an intuitive desire, and I’d be willing to bet you’ve done the same.
So, the next best thing? Wear bright clothing. Take a tip from the construction industry: they wear yellow or orange to stay visible when working in a high traffic area. So why wouldn’t you do the same?
If you don’t want a neon-colored riding jacket, then wear a reflective vest.
I love my red/white/blue Conspicuity Reflective Vest, but a yellow or orange reflective vest is even better. They don’t have to LOOK like a construction vest, either - nowadays you can get very stylish vests (see Conspicuity).
#2: Extra lights
“Fog lights” aka auxiliary driving lights typically come in two varieties: lights that project a somewhat short but wide light pattern (a 30 to 35 degree spread is common) and lights that project a longer and narrower light pattern (20 degrees). Either type added to the front of your bike will make you more visible to traffic.
This article from Webbikeworld does a good job of breaking down which type of light is best for you.
#3: Ride Defensively
Altering your position in the lane can make you more visible by creating an abnormal driving pattern (and light pattern) that car drivers are more likely to notice. A gradual shifting to the right and left also gives you more opportunity to spot upcoming traffic situations.
Stay away from cars whenever possible, especially their blind spot. Many riders won’t turn their head before making a lane change, especially if they’re also trying to see through a rainy windshield. If you must pass, do it quickly and get into a situation where you’re better seen by all cars on the road.
Use your brake light as a blinker by tapping on the brakes several times in quick succession. This can catch the attention of a driver behind you and/or - heaven forbid - a tailgater (which this guy is apparently expecting)!
- Tracey Cramer
Riding in the Rain: Traction & Tactics
In the article It’s All About the Gear, I talked about a number of ideas for finding the right gear and clothing to keep you safer and more comfortable.
In this article I’m going to talk about skills and tactics that can help you be safer and more confident when riding in the rain.
Possibly one of the most overlooked improvements in the world of motorcycles relates to tires. Today’s touring tires are marvels at accommodating all the road conditions we’re continually up against. Even so, they can’t give you the same degree of traction and confidence on a wet road as they can on a dry one. And they certainly can’t help you if there’s no traction left on them! Be sure to change your tires out when they start to wear. Tires are like so many things in life: you get what you pay for. It’s just not worth skimping on tires when it could be life or limb on the line.
And, having said that, don’t forget the rest of the puzzle: keep your tires at the correct PSI! Even if it means an extra couple of minutes before you ride off into the proverbial sunset. Underinflated tires are more prone to hydroplaning on wet or rainy surfaces (NOT a good thing)!
Speed and Distance
This seems obvious, but let’s do some simple math to help drive home my point.
If you’re traveling at 60 mph, your motorcycle will have to start coming to a stop while moving at 88 feet per second. Under perfect conditions, a skilled rider can come to a full stop in around 5.4 seconds; that includes a one-second delay before hitting your brakes.
Tip: Try keeping two fingers on your front brake lever. If you can do that, you’ll save about a second - aka about 88 feet of stopping space!
Now, looking at the numbers, you can see why it’s also a good idea to increase your following distance when riding in the rain. This gives you more time to react to any unfortunate incidences that may unfold ahead of you.
Another advantage of a slower speed is that it reduces your angle in turns (which is where problems are often encountered). Which leads nicely to my next point…
Keep it Upright
I know sometimes we want to hunch up when we’re getting pummeled with rain. But the more upright you are on the motorcycle, the more weight is applied perpendicular to the road, which increases your traction.
Avoid last-second turns and unnecessary swerves, and when braking, never apply only the front brakes because it can cause your front wheel to slip. (If your rear wheel slips, you can control/recover, but if your front starts skidding, you’re in trouble.)
Tip: Don’t “grab” the brake lever suddenly, but instead, ease the front brakes on to set up the suspension before hard braking. And use the rear brake in combination with the front (something I’m constantly having to work on) at a 60 rear / 40 front ratio if possible. Using the rear brake helps stabilize the chassis, which is a VGT (Very Good Thing).
Read the Road
The worst rains of the season are the first ones. Oily scum has yet to wash off (and, here in Minnesota, the road salt), making the surface particularly treacherous. Rain also has the bad habit of spreading gravel and dirt around; so be on the lookout for this, particularly in rural areas (a BIG issue where we live!).
I think it’s safe to say that most of us would rather NOT hydroplane on a motorcycle (which occurs when a layer of water gets sandwiched between your tire and the road, resulting in zero traction) so avoid standing water or puddles whenever possible.
Slippery surfaces that you might not even notice in a car can be problematic for a motorcyclist. The unstable nature of a two-wheeled bike and the smaller, lighter size mean that sliding on the road can easily result in a crash. Slick surfaces are even more dangerous when the biker is turning. The list of potentially slippery objects/surfaces is long but includes:
- Crosswalk Lines
- Any painted surfaces
- Anti-freeze or oil
And, last but not least: reduce your speed. (Are we noticing a theme here? Slower is better in the rain!)
- Tracey Cramer
Navigation: Three Reasons a GPS May be Better than Your Phone
Should you use the navigation app on your phone while riding, or get a GPS unit?
That's up to you, of course. But I still use a GPS when I ride, and here's why:
- A decent GPS can be purchased for under $100 these days, while a phone can cost upward of $600. If I'm going to lose a device, have it stolen, rained on or otherwise broken, I'd rather it be the $100 GPS than my $600+ phone (not to mention I've also then lost access to all the personal information I store in my phone).
- I like to ride in mountainous areas and out-of-the-way places. Even though cell coverage is getting better all the time, there's no guarantee I'll always have coverage via my phone.
- My phone sucks power way faster than a GPS does. I don't really want to have to wire for power (I like the clean, simple look, no wires). With my luck, I'd run out of power in a very inconvenient place
Having GPS easily accessible on your motorcycle can make you a safer, more relaxed driver. Just be sure to have a high-quality GPS Mount so you'll never lose your phone (My favorite? The SLIDE Mount.)
To see all our GPS mounts, click here.
- Tracey Cramer
How to Know if the Swivel-CAM will work for YOU
Will the Swivel-CAM work with YOUR Camera?
All our Swivel-CAMs are made to accommodate the industry-standard ¼-20 tripod stud, which means it will work with the majority of cameras on the market. Note that some of today’s “sport action cameras” require a “tripod adaptor” or “tripod mount adaptor” (see photos for examples of different ones) in order to accomplish this. Often this adaptor is included in the box when you purchase a camera; if not you can find them online.
Will the Swivel-CAM work on YOUR Motorcycle?
The Swivel-CAM can be mounted on a handlebar, engine guard bar, brake/clutch, mirror, and more, so it will work on a very wide variety of types of motorcycles. They don’t require much space; the URBAN Swivel-CAM, in particular, features slim brackets that fit in tight spaces.
Can You Get the Angle You Want/Need?
The multiple pivot points on the Swivel-CAM (which we call Ultra-Swivels) as well as 360-degree rotational ability at the tip and middle (other than the "shortie") means that there are very few angles you can’t get with the Swivel-CAM.
Second, the Swivel-CAM is available in three different heights, so no matter what you’re riding or where you mount the camera, you can shoot over or around windshields or other parts of the motorcycle.
Note: We generally advise customers to choose the absolute minimum height camera mount that will work for their application. Why? Because, while our mounts incorporate anti-vibration features, there’s a law of physics (“the longer the rod, the more vibration at the tip”) that we simply can’t change.
What Does Video Shot with the Swivel-CAM look like?
We’ve done everything we can to minimize vibration, such as the anti-vibration ‘cushion’ found on each and every Swivel-CAM. Stainless steel and aluminum components also help minimize vibration and won’t rust or wear out (rubber or plastic is much more susceptible to vibration and wear).
But a video is worth 10,000 words, so here’s one we shot with the Swivel-CAM:
- Tracey Cramer