Safety on the roads is paramount but you’ll also find that the smoother you are, the safer you are and the faster you’ll go. But what are the secrets to staying safe on the road? Here are some simple tips from the CB-NET crew who laze around all year watching racing…
If you’ve ever watched the best exponents of bike racing, you’ll see how smooth they look – almost as if they’re slow. Now, while they may not be riding on the roads, we can learn something from them – especially during the cold winter months.
Racers know that preparation helps – be it from their mechanics or their ‘seconds’ the increasing breed of ‘mates’ and ‘hangers-on’ who prep their kit for them before they ride. We don’t have that luxury, so we have to do it ourselves. So let’s try and bring some of these lessons back on to the road.
A key area this: bike, rider and the kit you wear must be right. Wear the correct kit for the conditions you’re likely to face. If it’s likely to rain have spare gloves and waterproofs with you. Carry a tinted visor if it’s sunny and carry a clear one for night use.
Your kit must fit well when you’re on the bike. If you’re uncomfortable then you’ll not be concentrating on the road ahead – why do you think racers often are wearing ‘made-to-measure?’ We don’t often have that option, so ‘try before you buy’ and get the most comfy and protective kit you can.
Check your bike before every ride: the chain, tyres and brakes must be checked before you head out. Make sure the chain is at the correct tension, ensure the tyres are at the right pressures and make sure there’s plenty of ‘meat’ left on the brake pads. Racers have mechanics to ensure that their bikes are perfect before ever ride – you need to do that job, too…
Often overlooked is preparing your body, too. Now, don’t laugh at the back, but have you seen the racers before mounting their bikes? They stretch and limber up. None of us are getting any younger and those of us that either do some running or five-a-side or the like know the benefits of the warm-up. Let’s face it, biking is up there with an extreme sport and some bikes aren’t as comfy as others. It makes sense to stretch and warm up the muscles before we mount our steeds. Ever ridden with cramp? Of course you have, it’s agony and this can come from not preparing the body before the ride.
Prepare the mind, too… racing and even riding on the road is a mind game. We use more concentration riding a bike on the road than we do driving the old tin box: so keep the mind clear… don’t take an argument with the other half out onto the road. You need to concentrate so don’t forget that is helped by staying hydrated.
Out on the road:
The key to safety on the road is your awareness of what’s going on around you. Pilots call it ‘situational awareness’ and it can and will (and probably has) saved your life. You need to be 100% focussed on what’s going on around you.
How fast is that car going up ahead? What’s behind me, have they changed lanes? Are they coming up behind me? What’s the weather look like further up the road? Are the wheels on that car at the junction moving? Is he pulling out? Has the driver seen me? These and a thousand and one other questions should be going through your mind when you’re out on the road.
To answer questions, you need information inputs: this means all your senses. You are like the six-axis Inertial Measurement Unit on a modern bike – the thing that controls what happens with all the electronics like traction control and anti-wheelie. Your senses feed info into your own ‘IMU’ so that means sight, sound, touch and even smell.
You need to use your eyes to scan way ahead and closer to you to get all the info from up to a 1000 metres ahead – and you need to keep that head on a swivel to ensure you’re seeing an almost 360 degree picture. And yes, use those mirrors! Then you need to hear what’s happening – but do use earplugs. Wind noise will damage your hearing… We wouldn’t suggest you use MP3 players while riding. That’s plain daft. Feeling is all about the cold. If it’s cold and getting colder – is there ice around? Or rain? Then there’s smell… many is the time a CB-NET staffer has ‘smelt’ a diesel slick before seeing it…
What to look out for:
Obviously you’re ready for the ride, the bike is perfect and you’re prepared for any weather conditions. The first thing you need to be aware of is what’s called ‘The Vanishing Point.’ This is the furthest point at which you can see the road in the distance.
As you ride, if the vanishing point is coming towards you, you need to slow down. When it moves further away from you, you can accelerate towards it. This is the most basic form of reading the road ahead.
When you’ve tried this, begin to gradually add more information. Check the tree-line ahead or where the street-lights (if any) go and see which way it’s moving. This gives you more clues as to which direction the road ahead is going in. Then use the information given by road signs – which are often ignored. These tell you of surface conditions ahead, up-coming junctions and even which way the next bend is going. Then start to piece all this information together by looking towards the vanishing point and back towards the road just ahead of your bike. What is the road surface like? Do you need to alter your position in your lane for an up-coming bend?
In time you’ll learn to scan the road ahead and move your vision to just ahead of your bike. By doing this, you’ll begin to build up a picture of where the road ahead is going, whether there are junctions ahead and what the road conditions just ahead are like. Practice this technique and soon it will become second nature.
Remember we said ‘smooth’ early on? It’s true… modern bikes may have traction control and ABS brakes, but many classics do not… that means we have to do all of that ourselves and that means we need to be SMOOTH AS BUTTER… No fierce throttle or braking inputs when conditions are bad, practice with smooth throttle openings and a first, gentle squeeze of the brakes before you add more pressure. All this comes from know what’s going on around you… if you know what’s ahead, you can both accelerate and brake much earlier – which means ‘smoother’…
In general, always:
- ANTICIPATE the actions of motorists. Expect the unexpected.
- Be ALERT and OBSERVANT at all times.
- Ride at a speed that will allow you to SLOW DOWN and stop in time
- Cornering is one of the arts of riding a motorcycle but the key to it is POSITION. On a left-hander, stick to the right-hand side of your lane and vice-versa for a right-hander – but be prepared to change this depending on road conditions.
- Overtake SAFELY. Make every overtake smooth and unhurried. Keep an eye out for junctions ahead.
- Take a LIFESAVER glance over your shoulder before making any maneuvers. This gives you information of what’s happening behind and alerts road-users behind you that you’re going to do something.
- ALWAYS have your headlights ON as pre 2002 bikes (classics) will not have them on all the time! Be seen to be safe.