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Old 07-07-2015, 04:00 PM   #1
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Riding Skills Series | Riding on the Street: What to Look For

A friend of Sport Rider recently bought his first motorcycle. He is one part excited, two parts frightened. We can’t blame him either; riding a motorcycle on heavily trafficked roads (be it near our home base in Los Angeles or any other city) can be daunting, and you don’t fully understand the perils until you’re out on the highway, sharing 48 feet of tarmac with 5,500-pound SUVs “driven” by distracted drivers or motorists who simply do not see you.

While our friend had several questions following his inaugural soirée on public roads, his best was, simply, “What should I be looking for?” This seems, outwardly, like a simple question yet sparked an in-depth answer we’re not entirely sure he was ready for. The truth is that there are countless things you should be scanning the road for on a second-by-second basis. Turning your brain off and cruising is simply not an option.

Below is a combination of situations or driver actions that are worth keeping in mind and worth knowing how to react to. Motorcycles are dangerous, but if you know what to look for and how to react, you can significantly increase your chances of continuing on in two-wheel bliss.

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Scan opposing turn lanes for a car waiting to cross the intersection, and have a plan for how you’ll react if that car does turn in front of you.
The leading cause of motorcycle accidents is a car turning left in front of a motorcyclist, either because the driver did not see the rider or because they misjudged the closing speed. In a related scenario, the driver turns left through the stopped, leftmost lanes of traffic on your side of the road, while you motor along in the often-unclogged rightmost lane. In either case, the motorcyclist has done nothing wrong. The driver simply screwed up.

Outside of wearing high-vis everything and flashing your high beam to increase visibility (an option worth considering, depending on the situation), there is little you can do to ensure someone in the opposing turn lane sees you. The key is to expect and prepare for the worst: for the driver to not see you, for them to then turn in front of you, and for you to have no choice but to make an evasive maneuver. Are you ready and able to react?

Upon approaching intersections with opposing traffic, the safest practice is to roll off the throttle and slow to a speed that enables you to make controlled reactions, cover the brakes so that reaction time is reduced to a minimum, and quickly reacquaint yourself with your surroundings so that if you do have to react, you know which lane(s) you can find refuge in. Seven times out of 10 the car will see you and wait to make their turn, but in those other three instances, your attentiveness and foresight will be the difference between riding home safely or not.

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On a multi-lane highway, watch for an adjacent lane backing up and for cars to make impulsive lane changes.
Everyone on the road is in a hurry and far too busy to be burdened by slow-moving traffic. Thus, if there’s an opening in the adjacent lane, trust that they’ll want a little piece of that paradise and make quick, impromptu lane changes, without noticing you were there all along or coming up at a higher rate of speed.

If and when you see traffic slowing in the lane next to you, expect at least one car to dart toward your lane. Adjust your speed so that you are able to react in a timely and effective manner, while simultaneously scanning the line of cars for blinkers or cranked wheels. In these situations, moving over to the far side of your lane will help as well, as it builds a cushion between you and the errant driver who’s almost guaranteed to dis*regard his mirrors. If there are more lanes available to move farther away, even better.

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Watch for wandering vehicles.
In a perfect world, everyone would use their turn signals to indicate all lane changes. We do not live in a perfect world, but fortunately there are other ways to predict a driver’s intentions.

Drivers looking in their mirrors (right or left) usually tend to pull the wheel in the same direction, and the car gradually moves within in its lane. Continually scan the road for cars moving about their lane, while simultaneously making note of your surroundings. Is there an opening in the lane ahead of you where that car may be heading? If they do make that lane change, will you need to adjust your speed or position in the lane?

The other possibility, of course, is that the driver is simply distracted, in which case you should avoid them as best as possible.

Another trick to understanding people’s intentions is to look at their head movement. Where are they looking? Generally speaking, you go where you look.

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Scan driveways or intersections for cars looking to pull out onto the road.
It’s not uncommon for cars to pull out of a driveway or away from an intersection, completely unaware of your presence. It is your job to anticipate these instances and be prepared to react quickly so that you can avoid an incident.

Is the driver going to pull all the way out? Do they see you? Keep an eye on the nose of the car to see if it’s creeping out of the driveway; the top of the car’s tire moving against the fender is usually the quickest and easiest way to detect that motion. At the same time, look for an opening to change lanes and avoid the situation altogether. If that’s not an option, try to make eye contact with the driver, ensuring they know you’re there, all the while covering your brake and maintaining a speed that will enable you to react suddenly. Again, watch for cars pulling through stopped lanes of traffic as well.

Most importantly, never assume they see you.

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Watch the closing speed of cars behind you while parked at a stoplight, and move to one side of the lane when coming to a stop.
While a stoplight seems like a great place to shut down for a second, both physically and mentally, it’s not. One of the more surprising causes for an accident is a car running into the back of a motorcyclist parked at a stoplight. Once again, the motorcyclist did nothing wrong. The driver simply screwed up.

You can limit the chances of this happening by continually checking your mirrors to gauge a car’s closing speed. Are they slowing? Do they see you? Try tapping your brake to increase visibility, and be prepared to pull forward if they do not appear as though they’ll stop in time.

Another good idea is to stop at the far side of the lane, rather than in the middle. Even if the car does not see you and can’t stop in time, you will ideally be far enough over that they won’t run straight into the back of you.

More motorcycle riding tips.

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