As we settle into winter, and most of us have stored our motorcycles under their blankets in the garage, it’s a great time to academically reflect about riding fundamentals.
Anyone who rides a motorcycle appreciates that riding a motorcycle is a completely different experience than driving a car. You’re more engaged in the process, you’re more likely to be in it for the duration instead of the destination, and you’re a whole lot more vulnerable.
When I taught motorcycle safety, one of the primary functions of the free introduction evening was to give a group of licensed car drivers the inklings of the consciousness required to be a biker. We would present them with accident statistics, barrage them with the importance of proper gear, and stand as living testimonials that — if you were an educated and defensive rider — the rewards out-weighed the risks. But, we would remind the class, the inherent risks should never leave your consciousness.
Their assignments upon leaving the course were two-fold: first, to determine if this was truly something they wanted to do; second, to begin thinking like a biker even when they were driving in their car.
Most of them came back, ready to learn the fundamental mechanics of riding, and the philosophical practice of defensive riding.
So the question arises, what is defensive riding?
First, it means to be educated. A good rule of thumb is to learn from someone who is experienced. Another good rule of thumb is to learn from someone who, when you drop their bike, will not get mad at, hit, or disown you. Which automatically eliminates friends and family.
Second, it means being gracious. Just because you are educated does not mean everyone else is. Half our teaching time was in the classroom, where we would review traffic basics. Even though most students had a car license, many would not know the difference between white and yellow road lines, nor would they know what a white road sign means. Technically, everyone should have known these things. Practically, we internalize these details so deeply that we no longer (need to consciously) know what they mean. But each of us (even yours truly) needed to be reminded of these details. The only reason most of us know them is because we’ve been reminded. We are all someone’s student, and we are all someone’s teacher. Live to learn, and lead by example (not entitlement).
Third, lose the superiority complex. If you find yourself being annoyed at slow drivers while simultaneously judging anyone who zips past you a dangerous fool, you have put yourself in the centre of the universe. And you will probably alone in this assessment. So skip on passing judgement. You too are someone’s slow driver and another person’s dangerous fool.
Fourth, ride with confidence and clarity. In class, we would spend a significant amount of time teaching students how to ride in the dominant lane position. While it exceeds the confines of this column right now (it needs a dedicated column), rest assured that if you think you can sum up the dominant lane position in one sentence, you need to take a course. And riding with clarity means riding in such a manner that your intentions are projected as far back and as far forward as is required to stay safe. A signal light is not a personal reminder; it’s a projection of your intention to everyone around you. Again, this consumes a chunk of time in the course.
And lastly, give more than you expect to receive. When simultaneously arriving at a four-way stop, give the right-of-way. Take it only if it is passed back to you. Give pedestrians the right-of-way, always. If a dangerous fool is wanting to ride up your back tire so that they can be behind the car ahead of you, pull over where it is safe and legal to do so, and let them do just that. It’ll cost you nothing, and it will get that annoying little monkey off your back.
As you drive in your car in the wet and dark months that lie before us, practice these philosophies. You may find that your road anxieties diminish just a little bit, and that traveling becomes more enjoyable. You will also find that they will make you a better — and safer — motorcycle rider in the nicer months yet to come.