Motorcycle Operator Manual – Part VI

Motorcycle along Ayers Road - Brooksville, Florida

Image by LoneGunMan via Flickr

Motorcycle Operator Manual – Part VI

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.

Beware Flying Objects

No, not you on your motorcycle, I mean other things which fly through the air straight at you – insects, cigarette butts, small stones and pebbles kicked up behind other vehicles. This is why you should always wear a full faced helmet or goggles, but if you are hit in the face with some low flying object you need to deal with the situation quickly and safely. It might even be that your visor becomes smeared or damaged, seriously impairing your vision. No matter what your instincts tell you, keep both hands on the handlebars and your eyes on the road ahead, with the intention of pulling off the road as soon as possible. Don’t forget the usual stuff:

  • make sure that the surface at the roadside is firm enough for you to ride on
  • signal clearly to the drivers behind you where you are going
  • check your mirrors before changing direction
  • pull as far off the road as you safely can

Can I Give You A Lift?

You should not carry passengers or a large load until you’re entirely capable of controlling the motorcycle alone, as it really does change the way that the motorcycle handles, balances, accelerates and slows down. It really does make a big difference. You’re advised to practice away from traffic the first time that you give a lift to anyone. In order for two people to travel safely on your motorcycle you need:

  • A seat which is large enough for two – comfortably – it might be cosy to snuggle up together, but not while you’re driving
  • Footrests for use by the passenger – this will prevent your passenger from falling off, and taking you with them
  • Your passenger will need the same safety gear that you wear – helmet, jacket, boots etc
  • You might need to pump a few more pounds into the tires if your motorcycle is going to be carrying much more weight around (have a look in your owner’s manual)

You also have to lay down a few rules before you start, be firm with them, even if they’ve done it before, they might not realise that you haven’t!

  • Your passenger should not get onto the motorcycle until after the engine is started
  • Your passenger should sit as close to you as possible, without crowding
  • Hold on tightly to your waist, belt or hips, or to the handholds on the bike if it has them
  • Keep their feet on the footrests at all times, even when the bike has stopped
  • Keep their legs clear of moving parts
  • Sit directly behind you, and only lean when you lean
  • Try not to talk to you and shuffle about and cause motion

That’s the passenger sorted out, but how can you expect your motorcycle to behave? Well, your motorcycle will be slower to respond when accelerating and braking. How much slower depends on the weight of your passenger, heavier passengers cause more time delays.  You should try to:

  • Slow down, especially when approaching corners, curves or bumps
  • Starting slowing down sooner when you are going to need to stop
  • Wait for larger gaps than usual if you are crossing a road or entering traffic

What about if your “passenger” isn’t a person at all, but you’ve promised to move a small load for your Mom? If you don’t have saddle bags, there are a few things to remember:

  • Try to keep the load low and securely fastened – a raised load will alter the center of gravity for your motorcycle and make it more difficult to handle. Fasten it with bungees or elastic cords, they’re great
  • Place the load as far forward as possible, tank bags are great just as long as nothing interferes with the controls or the handlebars
  • If you do have saddlebags, distribute the weight evenly, you don’t want all of the extra weight to one side of the motorcycle

Riding in a Group

It’s great to see a whole group of motorcycles riding along together, but being part of a “pack” does bring it’s own rules and regulations to make it safe for all road users. For one thing, a smaller group is much safer for car drivers to get around if necessary, and you’re also less likely to get separated at traffic lights or intersections. It stops the problem of having drivers left behind and then driving out of their comfort zones to try to catch up. If there are more than 4 or 5 people who want to ride together, divide into two groups before you set off.

  • Plan – the “Leader of the Pack” needs to be extremely vigilant and make clear signals to the rest of the group of any lane changes etc. Start lane changes as early as possible so that every member of the group has time to complete the change.
  • Beginners should be placed near to the front of the group, just behind the leader, then the more experienced riders at the back of the group can keep an eye on them.
  • Follow the ones at the back – what? How can you do that? Well, it’s easy if you use your mirrors, you simply need to let the tail ender set the pace. If they are becoming left behind, then the whole group needs to slow from the front.
  • Know where you’re going – if the whole group knows the destination, it doesn’t matter so much if someone gets lost along the way, they’ll get there eventually without a lot of panic.
  • Keep a safe distance between you.  Staggering the formation is the best idea, don’t ride side by side with another rider, but if the front motorcycle is towards the right side of the lane, the second rider should be one second behind and towards the left, and then the next one should be one second behind him on the right etc etc.  That way, if something happens you’ve all got the chance to stop without crashing into each other, as everyone has their minimum 2 seconds stopping distance.
  • Pass other vehicles one at a time. Wait until the first rider is past before the second rider takes their turn, it’s never a good idea to pass any vehicles as a group.
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