Motorcycle Safety Footnotes

Safety  Footnotes.

References have been made lately to my book Motorcycle 201 as a safe riding book.  Curious, as that was not the intent, nor have I ever looked at it that way.

The first version of the book (201 is actually the 3rd) was a response to an e-mail question sent by my son. “What would I need to know before I purchased a motorcycle?”  What a gift that he bothered to ask!

 The response took quite some time and was 96 pages long.  I sent it to Will and also to a teaching colleague who was thinking of getting into motorcycles – I think he is on his 4th one now.  All well and good, but safety was not really the central theme, at least as intended.

 Last week I received a hostile e-mail from someone I’ve never met who derided my standing as an “expert,” and added several other derogatory statements, all by way of slagging my irresponsibility for putting on a charity ride in temperatures of about 37 degrees.  I have yet to figure out why he felt the need to be so aggressively negative, but in any case it again spurred my brain toward contemplating my role in forwarding rider safety. 

I am not a motorcycle safety expert. I chat with David Hough a couple of times a year, and he is the papa bear of safety experts. I recommend his several books to you. I have taken classes in advanced cornering, an on-road course, and a dual sport course, (all of which I also recommend) but
I have never taught a riding class, nor am I qualified to do so.

A leading safety expert has dismissed my book as “lightweight.”  I disagree as to direction, as the tonal lightness of the book is an asset to my way of thinking. Have I created a new phrase with “tonal lightness”?  I kind of like it!   Anyway…

So what do I think about safety?  The following reflects my experience and
education by others, masticated and digested for 40 years, and regurgitated here for your mental nourishment. Eeew – unfortunate phrasing!  The following represents only my own views, and any resemblance to expertise is coincidental, and probably coincides with the parts you agree with. The only parts that may be new to you are placed at the end, and are really just footnotes.

 Components of Safety: 

Attitude:       Attitude is rarely mentioned in safety courses, or perhaps I was not paying attention.  In motorcycle riding, as in your personal life and your employment, stating that attitude is 97% of success is probably undercutting reality a bit. Decades ago I experienced an outdoor survival course. Positive Mental Attitude was most of the curriculum.  With a PMA you can do amazing things, and without it you can snatch defeat, or death, from almost any apparently blissful situation.

 Applying this to motorcycles, I like the simple wisdom of Chuck Knox.  He was a coach of the Seattle Seahawks for a time, and he broke down the complexities of the NFL to a series of disarmingly simple adages. These were very popular when his teams were winning, but alas, he soon fell prey to the enforced equality of NFL teams and the fickleness of fans who want to win, all the time.  In any case, his phrase that pays for me is “You have to play the hand you’re dealt.”  Apply this to your ride each time.

Let’s see. Why am I riding today?  What is my mental outlook on life? What are the road and weather conditions? What am I riding and who am I riding with? The answers to these questions will determine how I ride, and even whether or not I should ride.

 Motorcycling should be fun, and it should be exciting. If your attitude is one of anticipating fun and excitement, you are on the right track, and enjoying that fun and excitement will encourage you to do so safely, so you can do it more often.  If your focus is solely on safety, that might not be perceived as fun, and if you are having a bad day and hate the world, getting on a motorcycle might not be the best plan for your day,

Attitude anecdote: In college I had a beautiful girlfriend who was also a lovely person, but neither of us had that much experience with long term relationships. We tended to break up from time to time, always over a
long and strained phone conversation. One of those breakups occurred on a gorgeous spring afternoon, and I tore out of my rental house in a rage, fired up my first motorcycle, and proceeded to ride like a total knob for 15 minutes. I should have died.  Eventually, my brain began to function, and I recalled that I’d wanted to own a motorcycle for five long years. I had known the girl for one. I could, eventually, get a new girlfriend, but I could not afford another motorcycle after I destroyed this one in the next few minutes.  I rode home a chastened little boy, and apologized to the motorcycle. Ever since, I’ve tried to leave anger, hurt feelings, and overall angst behind when riding. They will still be there when I return.

 Wikipedia credits me for inventing the phrase “When the helmet drops the bullshit stops,” a mantra I use to help to focus on the task at hand.  I am not sure I actually invented it, but it works nevertheless.  It may need to be said aloud at times as the helmet is donned to sink in.

Attitude is all – in either direction.  However, attitude cannot function alone. It must be linked to other factors in synergy.

Mnemonics:          A mnemonic device helps you remember something, such as “Many Very Early Men Ate Juicy Steaks Using No Plates.”  The first letters of the words are the first letters of the planets, in order, of our solar system (“Ate” is for the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter).

Mnemonics are so powerful that I still use the first one I learned for motorcycle riding, which is SIPDE. I believe MSF and other rider courses have moved on to a shorter and simpler version, but imprinting is so strong I can only remember the first one. SIPDE stands for “See, Identify, Predict, Decide, Execute.”   It’s a handy device, and I often practice it out loud inside my helmet and run through it again and again.  A competent motorcyclist will perform these 5 operations several times a minute while riding, and practicing out loud and performing each step helps cement the synapse firing as natural.

ATGATT:               ATGATT is also a mnemonic, but it gets its own paragraph. It stands for “All The Gear, All The Time.”  Riders will differ on their definition of “all,” and I do not have a problem with that. I don’t have to, as I am not an expert!  For me it means a helmet, gloves, and jacket as a minimum, with boots and riding pants for any ride longer than 2 blocks.  Most people do not include the motorcycle as part of the gear, but they should.  Do the tires have the basics, such as tread and sufficient air pressure? Is the motorcycle in fine mechanical fettle? Is it clean? Many would argue that clean is not required, but a clean bike creates for me a better mental attitude, and since attitude is the first item on the list, it works.

Education:             Motorcycle education has expanded exponentially in the past ten years. You can now take classes in everything from trials to off-road to road racing to maintenance to drag racing to touring to etc. – pretty much any area of your interest has books, videos, and instruction available. Attitude comes in again, as the safe motorcyclist is always eager to be learning in some fashion, whether by reading, taking a class, or riding with experts.

Footnotes:             The above covers at least most of the basics, Here are some footnotes that may or may not be covered by others.

Insurance:             You need it, and a lot of it.  Your motorcycle, with you on it, weighs 500 to over 1000 pounds. The odds that you will hit a parent and child in a pedestrian crosswalk at speed are slim, but chaos theory abounds. How much kinetic energy will you expend in a collision with a human and a stroller?  What will it cost to pay the damages?

Where Am I?:           Should an accident occur, who would know?    Do you have a cell phone?  Will it have coverage? There are various ways to help gird you for a reality that may never arrive. I wear have on my wrist a “Road ID” which is a bracelet with a tag giving my name and city, the name and phone #s of my wife and son, and a statement that I have no known allergies. If I am unconscious, I do not want EMTs to wonder if they can inject me with some life-saving elixir. There are other devices including GPS-driven items such as SPOT that can help locate you.

Attorney:     In an injury accident, should you have one, you are at a severe disadvantage from one second before impact to final resolution. If a car hits you, you’re battling 6,000 pounds behind a steel fender with – your leg. You will lose. Assuming it is the other person’s fault, and it usually is, things get worse with rapidity. IF the person who attacked you is insured, their insurance company will be eager for a quick low ball settlement or will unleash a battery of stalling tactics that can drag on for years.  If the other person is NOT insured, the same thing will happen, but you will be battling your own insurance company. You need the business care with phone # of a good injury-accident attorney upon your person, before the accident. I carry one. 

Balance:      I noticed some months ago that I had difficulty standing on one foot for more than a few seconds. You probably do too. Go ahead – stop reading and try it. Turns out that as we age we stop putting our bodies into unusual positions. We do not roll around on the floor, dance as much, do gymnastics, or bounce on atrampoline.  These sorts of activities kept us busy as children, but as we become serious adults we spend most of our time either sitting, or standing.  I was appalled by my inability to balance, but good news – practice will bring this ability back.

A friend who is a medical doctor, psychologist, and motorcyclist recommends going much further. His goal is to be riding when he is 80, and to that end he keeps in shape, but he also spends time practicing falling, and works at getting his body used to unusual positions.

His best tip – go out and purchase a used bicycle at a garage sale.  Use it to practice balance.  Come to a stop and see how long before you have to put a foot down.  Try riding along and then balancing with all of your weight on the left pedal with your right leg behind it. You did this a lot as a child – why not now?  Got that down? OK, now ride the bicycle and put all of your weight and both legs on the right side- that is tougher. Want an easy warm-up that will show you where you are right now?  Try getting on your motorcycle from the right side. Awkward isn’t it?  Repeat until it isn’t.

I’m now shopping for a bicycle…

Blink!:          An ophthalmologist mentioned the other day that wearing sunglasses or a having a tinted visor on my helmet was a very good idea. For years I have worn one or the other whenever I could, but not because I was all that concerned with eye safety.   It was sheer vanity. I thought I looked cooler, and when it comes to looking cool I need all the help I can get. A few years ago I was assisting a friend who was having his heads up helmet visor display product filmed for an Australian TV show. In a pause in the filming (if you ever get to do any filming there are a LOT of pauses) I confided my little ego-secret to him. He admitted that for his entire career, which included racing in the Indy 500 ten times and racing a factory Porsche at LeMans, as well as winning national road racing championships, he had done the same thing for the same reason. Well!  What is sauce for the championship gander tastes just fine to me, or something like that.

I continued the conversation by asking about what I had seen on TV the day before.  A camera had been trained on current F1 champion Sebastian Vettel while he was qualifying for a night race, and the clear visor allowed you to see his eyes. He did not blink for what seemed to be an eternity, astounding the commentators. I asked if the ability to do that was not an impediment to eye health, and the ophthalmologist agreed. Blinking serves to cleanse the eye surface and keep it moist, and he felt that Vettel was actually harming his long term eye health by his practice.

So blink!  Blink often.

Put it all together, ride with a positive attitude, and let safety
flow through you.

Copyright  2011                                                                        David Preston

About david

I am a 73 year old motorsports nut who lives in Snohomish, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Rocket 3 (2020) and a 2016 Ford Focus ST. What else would you like to know?
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