It was about time to say a few words about safety. It is the topic that cannot be ignored by any biker, or by anyone who drives or rides any kind of vehicle.
As I’m getting older, I am getting more and more concerned about safety. This is not something I want to write about just because I am expected to do so, which is never a reason to write for me. Being safe on the road is something that bothers me every time I start the engine. Having my loved ones in the car with me, or a passenger on the bike, involve an additional stress factor, cause I feel very much responsible for anyone who’s with me. When I was very young I was much more relaxed about this, but experience taught me a lesson (or two).
Do you learn from other peoples mistakes as well as your own?
It was such fun (yeah right) being in a car crash for three times, and once on a motorcycle (counting downfalls from a tiny moped when I was a teen makes no sense). I don’t think my bad experience makes me special; most of people who spend a lot of time on the road have similar experiences, or worse.
Being watchful and experienced makes me have trust in my judgment while I ride, partly at least. What really freaks me out are the others. You know, you could never know what the other guy on the road has in mind… is he or she drunk, pissed, clumsy, half blind or deaf, or making it out with his companion while driving, does he or she sees you and has he/she noticed the sign that says you are on the higher priority road. Well, these things are scary, not stupid horror movies scary, but real life scary. Whenever you get out from a dangerous situation on the road, you should memorize it well, cause next time you could not get that 1/2 of meter (1.6 feet) or that split of a second that saved your ass.
I learned to slow down on the crossroads, especially if the sight is unclear, just enough to make emergency stopping or turning possible. Some of my buddies asked like “hey, you’re on the main road, why did you slow down ?” Well, I tried to explain, some listened and some will just have to learn. Hopefully the lesson they are going to learn, sooner or later, will not cost them anything.
Several months ago, a friend of mine had an accident while he was riding his Kawa Z750. He's got hit by a car on the side, having his leg crashed, which resulted in multiple surgeries and many weeks in bed. And he was lucky. He was also wearing almost all the protection thingies you can remember – and that was not just luck. He was also on the main road. The only explanation of the car driver was that he didn’t see the motorcycle, at least not on time. It was late evening and it was dark enough, all the street light were on, as well as the light on the car and on the bike. But again, it just happened. You've heard more stories like this, I know. Could my buddy do something more to help being noticed earlier ? Maybe he could.
Active vs. passive safety
Beginners often don’t think about it, but there are two primary ways of making you safer. First, there’s something we call passive safety, and second – there is active safety.
Passive safety include all the things that help your survive and reduce your injuries at the moment when the accident occurs. In your car, passive safety features are your seat belts, head back rests and airbags, at least these are the most obvious. Less obvious, but not less important are rigidity of the car’s construction and special reinforcements parts, seat’s anatomy and there's even more.
On a motorbike, passive safety is mostly your protective gear… helmets, boots, gloves, special jackets, various protective pads and inserts. Motorcycle also can be equipped be with different protective parts – some of them will only protect the bike (partly), but some can save your legs and arms of being trapped/pinched between the bike and the down surface if you slide.
Active safety, on both, car and motorcycle, includes all the features and equipment that helps to prevent the accident. What can help you to prevent the accident ? I will start from the most basic thing – it’s your own attention, concentration, experience and comprehension of rules. In traffic, try to watch out by yourself and don't rely too much on other people attention. Next would be – to see and to be seen. So, for safety is better to own a vehicle with noticeable, prominent colors, that stand out from the crowd… or the background. Keeping your car’s windows and your helmet’s visor clean also helps. Too old and bad quality tires are not good – renew them on time and buy the best ones you can. To see and be seen – be sure your vehicle has quality headlights, back lights and direction indicators; and keep them clean. HID/Xenon bulbs recommended.
Brakes are part of active safety that most people think of first. Good brakes are crucial. ABS (Anti Blocking System) device controlled brakes are common today, everyone should have them. I encourage everyone to have ABS on the motorcycle, it is good in all cases – except for the race track and off road riding.
Cars often have electronic stability control, while stability of the motorcycle is absolutely in hands of a rider and integrity of the bike. Traction control is very usable if you deal with a bunch of horse power or torque.
In the months to come, I will try to cover each aspect and piece of equipment in details.
As for today I just hope I enumerated most of them.
Motorcycle visibility problem
Visibility problem is the one I will try to cover this time, as much as I can. On the motorbike, probably the main safety issue is visibility; not being seen on time, others are not aware of your presence, or they just misjudge your approaching speed or path. Many motorcycles magazines and groups organized various actions about this issue and I will only remind you on two of them:
- “Being invisible” by Motorcycle Daily – click here for more info
- “Look twice save a life” – click here (facebook group)
Being hardly visible on a motorcycle may be caused by a lack of attention or lack of awareness about motorcycles by car drivers. It is partly consequence of often a bad training of new drivers, a training that never mentions presence of motorcycles on the roads. Be aware that you can run into a really bad car driver, who does not even trying to notice you. I met a guy who thought that a car regularly have the right of way in respect of a motorcycle in all situations – seriously! I’m sorry I didn’t take a photo of him, I would love to publish his ugly face on the net.
Another reason for being hardly visible is just a nature of a motorcycle itself; it is small and it doesn’t have almost any big flat colored surfaces. Being small – I think it’s is obvious how this make you invisible. Pretty irregular shape of a motorbike, without large painted surfaces, makes you look camouflaged from many angles, like a commando in the jungle. It’s too easy to get merged with the background.
So, what a biker can do ?!
Now we finally come to the point we can actually talk about some real life suggestions of how to improve something.
1. Reflective wheel stripes – all the bikers seen them or at least know about them. They are affordable and easy to apply. You might not like it on certain types of the bikes. They can really help you to be seen at night from the sides – but they can get dirty very easy, so better clean them from time to time. Here are the example photos.
2. Reflective paint, stickers and badges – it is good to have some of these. Special paint can be expensive I guess and you must hire a professional if you want it to look good. Stickers and badges are more affordable... useful, but don’t expect a miracle.
3. Cat’s eye light reflector , aka retroreflector aka retroflector aka cataphote. I am sure all of you know what this is, at least under one of these names. Most of cars, motorcycles and bicycles have one, integrated within the back light. Wikipedia says it is a device or surface that reflects light back to its source with a minimum scattering of light. It shines stronger and brighter then any reflective paint or a sticker. The problem is that many people consider them ugly and the reason is insufficient sources where you can get a good cat’s eye with modern design. Another problem is that most of them are NOT self adhesive, so they are often difficult to install. Anyway, if your bike comes with one of them, I suggest you to keep them, and keep them clean and safe of scratching. It is also a good idea to attach a cat eye on your backpack or anywhere else you find suitable.
The cat's eyes were invented by Percy Shaw in 1934. (UK patent #436290 and #457536) and trademarked the name Catseye® . Percy Shaw was born in Halifax in West Yorkshire, UK in 1890. Found this information on the net. More about retroreflectors !
4. Clothes and protective gear with glowing/reflective details and surfaces. This definitely can help to become more visible. Use any chance you have to wear something that reflects light. Be imaginative. Nobody will complain about you not being so elegantly dressed while you ride.
5. It is good to have a motorcycle with an unusually shaped front light, or having more then one headlights. Here is why: motorcycle with plain single front light that approaches toward you in the dark can easily be mistaken by a car with one light broken. I don’t have to tell you how bad this can be. You want to clearly manifest that you’re coming up on a motorcycle. Having two front lights, one for each side, can also help to others to better estimate your width, and that helps too. Here are some good examples.
6. It is good to have a loud exhaust pipe; not too loud, but loud enough for others to hear you from the inside the car, so if they can’t see you, at least they will be aware you’re near. They will hopefully pay attention and look around to locate you.
7. Use the horn whenever you think they don’t see you and let them know you’re around. Be careful how you use it, though. Sometimes you could distract someone and cause the reaction you didn’t want to. For example, when overtaking, give them a discreet horn signal, and wait a second to be sure they located you - and then start overtaking. Press the horn always when someone is coming too close, and/or you suspect they’re not aware of you.
8. Quality LED turning signals are certainly good things too have. Besides the fact that they often look better than ones with ordinary bulbs, they also produce more intensive light. Another advantage is that LEDs (Light Emission Diodes) will probably last as long as your bike, except if you break them. They are very reliable, so you don’t need to worry about the bulbs anymore. Also, the back positioning and stop light should be also replaced with LED ones if possible, for the same reasons.
9. Additional neon lights for your motorbike – use these and you will increase your chances to be noticed on time, that’s for sure. Now, it can be expensive for someone, and installation takes time and skill – or hiring a pro (which makes it even more expensive). There is also a question of the look, cause not everybody likes it. Some people (as myself) think that neon lights draw too much attention and makes you look like a mobile advertising billboard, but again, many people likes it. Not my cup of tea, but if you like it and if you can afford it – go for it.
10. HID/Xenon lights are recommended for everyone and for all situations. This is the most effective, latest technology available to on the market and it is affordable for the most of people. The only problem that could occur is that your bike doesn’t have modern headlights with sockets that support these special bulbs. You can still install HID bulbs, but it will take some additional work and investment – more about this to come within a few weeks. Main advantage of HID lights is that you will have much better vision at night, but they will also help you being more visible on the road, even on the daylight.
This part of my little motorcycle safety chat stops here. Now, remember the story about my friend from the beginning of the article – could he do more and help himself to be noticed one or two seconds earlier. Perhaps he could do more, and he would eventually avoid the accident. He rides again, but now he shines at night almost like a Christmas tree. You should always take some extra steps for your safety and the safety of your passenger.
I work on collecting all the web links where you can order the products I mentioned here. It’s a work in progress and it will be ready soon.
All the pictures in this article have been found using Google Image Search, so if anybody thinks I violated something (some copyright), let me know and I’ll fix it. Thanks.
Please leave a comment. I’d like to hear other opinions, ideas and experiences about visibility on a motorcycle. If you have more ideas that make sense, I’ll be glad to present them in an additional article. Thank you.