Motorcycle Operator Manual – Part II

Disc brake on a motorcycle.

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Motorcycle Operator Manual – Part II

In order to safely operate a motorcycle in traffic, the rider must gain certain knowledge and skills. The information on these pages will, hopefully, help to keep novice motorcycle riders safe and reduce the risk of them being involved in accidents.

Ride Within Your Comfort Zone

Although reading alone can’t teach you the basics of riding your motorcycle (only practise can do that), there is one very important thing which you must keep at the forefront of your mind – ride within your comfort zone. Many motorcycle crashes occur because the rider is not riding within their own abilities. Know your limits and stick to them, that’s the big tip for this section. In order for you to have full control of your motorcycle you need to think about:

  • Posture – you need to sit in a position which enables you to use your arms for steering, not for holding yourself up.
  • Seat – make sure that you are sitting sufficiently forward so that your elbows are a little bit bent when you hold on to the hand grips – make sure that you don’t have to stretch and therefore lose control.
  • Hands – keep a firm hold of the hand grips, and start with your right (throttle) hand flat so that you don’t accidentally give it a little too much juice.
  • Knees – should be tight against the gas tank, helping you to keep balance through the turns.
  • Feet – need to be on the footrests at all times, close to the controls! Don’t be tempted to put your leg out going around turns, you could catch it onto something and it could all turn very nasty.

That’s sorted out your riding position I think, but as I’ve just said, practise really does make perfect. Now then, onto the actual motion:

  • Gear Shifting – needs practise. It’s not something which only needs to be done in a straight line, make sure that you can shift gears smoothly while going around corners, up or down hills (whilst also using the brakes maybe), without lurching or losing control, even for a second. Always stay in first gear while you are stationery, it makes for a quick, smooth, clean getaway. Although it’s always safest and best to shift gears before you make a turn, you never know when you might to shift gears through a turn and if you don’t do it smoothly it can cause you to skid.
  • Brakes – are on both wheels of your motorcycle but should be used at the same time. The most powerful brake is on the front (about 75% of your stopping power), so don’t use it on it’s own or you’ll go flying over the front wheel – squeeze the front brake whilst pushing down on the rear simultaneously – gently to avoid skidding. Just as with gear shifting, you should apply the brakes and slow down to a safe speed before negotiating a turn, but practise on gentle turns in case of emergency.
  • Turns – lots of accidents happen because motorcyclists try to take turns too darn fast! If they can’t make the turn the motorcycle may end up going off the road completely or on the wrong side of the road, not a good place to be with oncoming traffic. Follow these four steps: 1. SLOW – reduce your speed on the approach to the turn – close the throttle and use the brakes if necessary; 2. LOOK – at where you’re going, only turn your head mind, not your shoulders; 3. PRESS – on your hand grip in the direction of the turn and lean the motorcycle gently in the right direction (the faster you are going, the more you need to lean); 4. ROLL – onto the throttle to gently increase the speed out of the turn, this helps to keep the motorcycle stable.

Keep a Safe Distance

The safest place to be is with a “cushion of space” around you, that way if something happens unexpectedly, or if someone else does make a mistake you’ve got plenty of time to react and either brake safely or maneuver to avoid the situation. Although the size of a motorcycle can be a disadvantage in terms of being seen, being narrower does also have its advantages in terms of paths of travel available in each lane. You should always aim to:

  • be in the best “see and be seen” position
  • avoid blind spots of other road users
  • avoid surface hazards (one slip and you can be down!)
  • let other drivers know of a change of direction clearly and in plenty of time
  • keep plenty of stopping distance between yourself and the vehicle in front

Crashing into the vehicle in front of you is a very common factor in many crashes involving motorcycles. After all, motorcycles need just as much distance to stop as cars do – remember that.  You should aim for at least 2 seconds worth of distance between yourself and the vehicle in front, which in terms of yards depends entirely on the speed you are traveling. Do you know your stopping distances? Remember that it takes even longer to stop in wet or slippery conditions. Try this for a rough guide:

  • pick out a focal point on the road ahead, a lamp-post, tree or similar
  • start counting when the rear bumper of the vehicle in front of you passes the marker (in seconds or as closely as possible)
  • if you get to the marker before you’ve counted to two, you’re too close
  • leaving a good gap also gives you plenty of time to spot potential hazards on the road in front of you – potholes and other similar hazards.
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