Happy Monday, friends, patriots and my brothers and sisters who prefer to be on two wheels! While your ever whiskery Grey Beard Biker rides 50+ weeks a year, many of you are not able to do that because of where you live. But even here in Middle Tennessee, I am one of a select few bikers who will actually gear up enough to ride when it is in the upper 30s or low 40s. In fact, myself, Rob, Poj, Jay and Hank are the only people in my group that never park their machines for a little winter slumber. I ride often enough on my bikes that I do not even use a battery tender this time of year. I count myself very blessed to say the least.
Over then next couple of weeks, we will inevitably have some spring like days with temperatures in the low 70s and bright sunny skies. This will inevitably cause some stirring in the biker community and the bikes will be unplugged from their battery tenders and awakened from their winter hibernation – at least until the next time the temps drop back into the 40s for two or three days. ?
Eyes on the Road – We’re back!
I use this heading every year around this time. I almost always write this specific post – although I did not write one last year. Actually, I probably am a bit premature this year in writing this public service announcement (PSA), because even with the upcoming warm weekends – most bikers will still be inside or driving their cage to their favorite watering hole. But inevitably, a larger than normal amount of bikers will be venturing out over the coming weekends. And simply put, cagers are not used to seeing motorcycles. I see it every time I ride this time of year. People are shocked to see me geared up and riding. There just aren’t that many bikes out right now. But what I also see are the people who look right through me preparing to make a left turn across my lane. They literally seem to stare right through you and then pull right in front of you.
Tennessee passed a state law several years ago – I believe in 2017 – which made it illegal to use your phone while you are in your car unless you are hands free – even if you are at a stoplight. But it amazes me when I ride along divided four lane highways in this state. As you are approaching a car, from behind, you can always tell the person who is either reading their phone or texting. The law seemed great, and a step in the right direction, but people don’t really care and will text and drive – or, worse yet, they have a soccer mom’s van full of screaming youngsters. Talk about a damn distraction! I pity that person which is in that vehicle and might prefer to put a bullet in my cranium than trade places with them – but they are out there.
And while signs like the one shown above are all over the roads in Tennessee – and the message is great – one has to wonder if they make any difference whatsoever. Maybe. But not likely. Quite simply put, your safety when motoring around on your scoot is pretty much ?% on you. Period. I do like seeing people’s bumper stickers, or window stickers, which say “Look Twice, Save a Life – Motorcycles are Everywhere.” Every time I see one, I know that it is a biker or his/her significant other driving. And I will bet a $100 bill that more often than not – you will not see the person sporting that sticker driving around with their eyes on their smartphone.
Now, as we move more into the late spring and early summer months, drivers will see bikers better. But probably just barely.
I came along this video today on one of the YouTube channels I follow: DanDanTheFireman – a big time biker. Note, that it is very graphic – but you do need to watch it because this is literally what we deal with year round on two wheels.
After watching the video, several times, I could not tell if the young man – who died at the scene – was riding unsafely. Honestly, he appeared to be traveling at an appropriate speed for conditions. But the person driving the 18-wheeler either didn’t see him – or just believed the rider would/could slow down. As the deceased rider sees the semi commit to the turn, he starts to take evasive action. But there was literally no where for the rider to escape. Unfortunately, some accidents – including highway deaths – are unavoidable no matter how prepared you are.
Take Your Safety Into Your Own Hands
Those snazzy little PSAs and road signs are great. But at the end of the day – your safety while riding – depends on you – and how you ride. There are things you can do to help ensure you arrive safe at your destination – to ride another day.
- Know your bike: Make sure your bike is in good mechanical order – especially brakes and tires. Do your pre-ride checklist paying special attention to tire pressure and all of your safety lights: headlamps, brake lights, turn signals and side running lights.
- Gear up. While I am guilty of riding in jeans and a tank top during the summer months – I do accept the risks of road rash which comes with the decision. But you will always find me wearing riding boots, riding gloves and a quality DOT certified helmet. When it’s cold – like now – I usually wear much heavier gear which includes body armor. Don’t be that guy or gal – and I am personal friends with many of you – who go out in their shorts and flip-flops for their afternoon ride. You look really damn silly – and even a minor accident is going to hurt significantly! Remember – Dress for the Slide – Not the Ride!
- Be seen! Wear clothing that stands out. If it is dark – make sure your riding gear is reflective. This is obvious, but make your location visible when you are riding. If you are scooting along on your scoot and tailgating a car immediate ahead of you – or worse yet a large truck – drivers on side roads cannot see you. You may well not be seen until the car drives right into you. Always look well ahead,. If you are approaching a green light plan on it being red when you get there. Slow down. Down shift. Go into “RED” mode as these type of intersections are where most bike accidents happen. As you are approaching the intersection take a second and look both ways. Idiots are out there who still run red lights.
- Ride Defensively: Look well up the road/highway. You are eating up pavement very quickly. This makes things happen quickly too. If there is any traffic around you – you need to be scanning the road for potential hazards – including road debris. And speaking of road debris, the most dangerous road debris you will ever find is common to see on the interstate – the thrown retread tires from heavy trucks. They weigh upwards of 100 pounds and riding over one is a very dangerous proposition. Even worse is having to dodge one coming off a big truck. They will bounce unpredictably and if one hits you at highway speeds, it will hurt you – and potentially kill you. For this reason, I never follow a large truck closely and when I have an opportunity to pass them – I waste absolutely no time. I will downshift and hammer it because they have very large blind spots and can make very unpredictable moves depending on what is going on ahead of them.
- Escape Paths: Always be cognizant of escape paths. When you are riding in traffic – or even out in the country with little traffic – try to always have an escape path. This includes when you are sitting at a stoplight. I have had several friends who have been rear ended by a car while sitting at a stoplight. Monitor your mirrors while you are there. If someone is barreling up to you – you having identified an escape path may well save your life.
- Speeds kills: Motorcycles are fast. Faster than most any car. It is very easy to twist the throttle hard to get that big smile on your face. If you are going much faster than the traffic around you, you are not riding defensively. You are putting yourself at serious risk. There is a time and place to go fast. It is not in traffic.
- Look through curve: Experienced riders already do this if they are like me and enjoy dragging their floorboards. If you are not looking through the curve/turn you go off the road. But by looking through curves, I am speaking of looking all the way through them. Is there a side road in the curve, is there a slow moving vehicle on the other end? Or perhaps a very large truck coming through the curve at you? These are all things which make it critical to have a proper entry speed into the curve. You can always roll the throttle once you are in the curve to drag boards.
- Lane usage: A motorcycle only takes up a portion of the lane. Do not ride in the middle. Riding in the middle of a lane in traffic can put you in a serious blind spot for cars which may pull out of side streets. Choose the side of the lane which provides you the most visibility in potential danger zones like intersections. And do not tailgate the car ahead of you.
- Ride within your limits: This seems like a real no-brainer, but I see a lot of young – or inexperienced riders – who think they were blessed with God’s gift of being the best motorcycle rider ever. Some of the most egregious examples – often ending in death – is when a biker is not riding within his/her limits often happens in group rides. This is especially true in the mountains. You will see groups of riders try to navigate a twisty mountain road and keep up with more experienced riders. This can cause them to cross the center line into oncoming traffic – or ride off the road. If you are new to riding – or if you are on road types you are not used to riding – take it easy and ride your own ride.
We all love to ride. Hell, I ride between 15-20K miles per year. We all want to live to ride again. Take your safety seriously – and if you ride with your gal – like I do my Racy – ride defensively so you do not hurt your loved one. Appreciate the cute little “Look Twice – Save a Life” signs – but realize that those PSAs are rarely seen and so many cagers still have their eyes glued to their smartphones. Until next time, keep the shiny side up – and the rubber on the road.