The road can be an unforgiving place to those not paying attention to the hazards. There are many, but given some consideration and attention, they can be dealt with. Here is a list of just a few places out on the road that you, as a motorcyclist, should do your best to avoid.
1. Blind Spots
Visibility is an ever-present issue for motorcyclists. Many motorists find motorcyclists difficult to spot by default, so don’t make it easy for them to miss your presence. Blind spots vary between vehicles, however, so you have to constantly be super-aware of where you are and what another motorist may or may not be seeing. If you can’t see the driver of another vehicle in their mirror, then it’s likely they can’t see you in the mirror. If you can’t see their heads through the windows, then they can’t see you no matter how they turn their heads. If you are confronted with either situation, find a way in which to enter the motorist’s line of sight, or hang back entirely.
2. Areas With Stray Dirt
As vehicles with a total contact patch smaller than the size of a postcard, motorcycles are extremely sensitive to traction. The likelihood of regaining lost traction is much greater in a car than it is on a motorcycle, so you really have to constantly scan the road ahead of you. Dirt can be found on the edge of roads in rural areas, but areas where there is construction can also cause problems, so be on the lookout in suburban and urban areas as well. However, if dirt can find its way into any part of a roadway, it will, so you take your awareness to the next level. In short, don’t take road conditions for granted and be on the lookout for the next possible traction robber.
3. Areas Likely to Have Oil Deposits
Speaking of traction robbers, consider oil. Oil is a lubricant, so if it ends up on the road, it will (you guessed it) lubricate the road. Not ideal. Rain may help wash away oil (and dirt) over time, but it will do so by moving it, so be especially mindful of possible deposits in the rain. Look out for faint rainbow colours or unusually reflective areas in the wet and avoid them. In dry conditions, be wary of the center of each lane around intersections. If a car is suffering from a leak, then the oil will most likely drip onto the center third of the lane while the car is at a standstill. Therefore, consider stopping on the left or right thirds of the lane while you wait at an intersection. As a welcome side effect, you will also have an escape route (more on that later). If, however, you prefer to “own the lane” by being in the center, then you need to be absolutely sure there is no fluid present.
4. Uneven Surfaces
Uneven surfaces are not a big deal for vehicles sporting four or more wheels, but can be hazardous to motorcycles. Trikes and motorcycles with a sidecar outfit have a stability advantage thanks to the extra foot, but take any uneven surface the wrong way on a motorcycle and you will crash. Surfaces with small differences in height may be negotiated with care if you are parallel, but those with greater differences in height may only be taken head on (or close to it), and with care. They are even more of a hazard in the rain because puddles will completely obscure any uneven surfaces. The only solution there is to be familiar with the road you are traveling. In any event, keep your speed as low as possible and cross uneven surfaces in a way that will least upset your motorcycle if and when possible.
5. The Solid Painted Line, part 1
This is more accurately an issue of observance than avoidance, but it’s worth mentioning. Solid painted lines are supposed to be treated as invisible curbs, but generally seem to be treated as a suggestion. Painted lines at the far left edge of left turn pockets seem to get the most abuse. Often times, motorists can’t/won’t wait for the last one or two vehicles before the pocket starts. Instead, they will quickly drive across the painted line to make it into the left turn pocket with an eye towards beating the light. This is often done discreetly and without consequence when there is an advanced green light, but you will also see it being done when there is no advanced green. That is absolutely unsafe, so it’s best not to cultivate the habit at all. You’ll go from trying to beat just the light to beating the light and oncoming traffic. That’s bad because a motorcycle will always lose against a larger vehicle. Always.
6. The Solid Painted Line, part 2
Solid lines on curvy, undivided roads need special attention from motorcyclists. This is especially true if the curve is blind. It is easy to fall into the trap of leaning into the curve while leaving your head sticking over the center line. If an oncoming vehicle is hugging the center line while your head is just on the side of oncoming traffic, it should be pretty obvious what will happen if you don’t pull your head back into your own lane in time. You absolutely want to avoid that. Get used to taking curves on undivided roads in the middle or even the outside third of your lane. Be mindful of whether the turn has a decreasing or increasing radius and, of course, slow down if that’s what it takes for you to negotiate the curve safely. Rather than treating them as curbs, generally treat solid yellow lines as very tall, invisible walls.
7. Bicycle Lanes
This seems like a no-brainer, but it isn’t totally outlandish to see motorcyclists take advantage of bicycle lanes in unsafe manners. Strictly speaking, the proper way to negotiate a bicycle lane if you are not using a bicycle is to actually merge into the last few feet of it only before turning right at an intersection. Take note of when the solid line (remember those?) denoting the edge of the bicycle lane changes into a dashed line. Then, and only then, is it okay for motorists to enter the bicycle lane as long as it is safe to do so. Using the bicycle lane as an extended right turn pocket is completely unsafe, inconsiderate, and just plain ignorant. Using the bicycle lane as a special motorcycle lane is even worse. It is only acceptable to be there if you are using it as an escape route (getting to that!), and even then, you need to hope that there is no cyclist there when you do so.
8. The Far Left of a Left Turn Pocket at an Intersection
People turning left at an intersection will very frequently clip the painted lines denoting the adjacent left turn pocket (what is it with solid line abuse, anyway?). If you are driving a car and are in that left turn pocket, then they will likely give themselves room to maneuver, but don’t expect every single left-turner to pay attention to the fact that there is a motorcycle there in the adjacent left turn pocket. Play it safe and stay in the center (if there are no oil deposits) or just right of center.
9. Anywhere Without an Escape Route
An escape route can lead anywhere at any given time. There are no specifics. Essentially, if you find that your position on the road may be compromised at any time, having some room to ride into and/or through allows you to move to relative safety at any time. In order to have an escape route handy, you must be aware of your surroundings and position yourself in your lane accordingly. It is better to occupy an unlikely piece of roadway or momentarily break a traffic law (in terms of your positioning) than to be on the losing end of a collision. If you don’t have an escape route, you will have nowhere to go if a bad situation arises, so make sure you have one. In some cases, there is a bit of luck involved (as discussed at the end of the bicycle lane section above), but you should also make as much of your own luck as you can.
10. The Entire Road!
Uh…somewhat extreme, yes, but if you are so inclined, then become a dedicated track day warrior and leave all the hazards associated with road riding behind you. Don’t laugh – some people actually do it.
There are, of course, many hazards out on the road and these are but a few of them. Take these into consideration, however, and go however many steps further you need to in order to ensure that you can negotiate any hazard that comes your way. Doing so means you’ll come home safely after each ride and you’ll continue to enjoy riding your motorcycle.[fbcomments]