Rural Bike Wrecks

Most riders know that it is car drivers who are at fault in most collisions with motorcyclists. This is a reason why ABATE, AMA, and other bikers' rights organizations are fighting for increased penalties for motorists who violate our right-of-way. But here's something you may not be aware of: more than half of bike wrecks in rural areas are single-vehicle accidents. There were no cars involved in these wrecks, which is why they are called single-vehicle.

How can this be? What is going on here? Well, we better recognize that this is a serious problem, and try to figure out how to minimize the risks.

Most of these wrecks involve riders losing control, leaving the roadway, and crashing. What possible explanations are there for these wrecks? For one thing, half of these wrecks involve alcohol. Cut your risk in half by riding straight. Respect yourself.

But alcohol was not involved in the other half of these run-off-the-road wrecks, so there are still some other things going on. Most of these wrecks happen on curves.

What's really strange is that often a rider will leave the road and hit a pole, when that is the only object he could possibly have hit. What seems to happen is that a rider focuses his attention on the object that scares him, and he winds up running straight into it. One suggestion is that the rider went where he looked. Panic probably played a role in this. There is a tendency to go where you look, so look out ahead, around the curve. Look where you want to go.

I know from experience, and talks with some of my riding friends, that some motorcyclists are unaware of counter-steering, what it is and what it can do for them. You absolutely must know, understand, and accept counter-steering as a vital bike handling skill. It is taught in the beginning rider course. I was telling a buddy of mine that if you want to go left, you push forward on the left handgrip. Push left - go left, push right - go right. I talked to him again the other day, and he is still skeptical. I told him, do like they do in the rider course, at 15 mph in an empty parking lot, push forward on the left grip, hold it, and you will turn left. I recommended very strongly that he take the rider course.

The explanation for counter-steering is reasonably simple. When you counter-steer left, for example, you push the left handgrip forward, which pushes the front tire contact patch off to the right, which causes the bike to begin to fall to the left, which makes it lean left. This is what you want, since the only way to turn left is to lean the bike left. Counter-steering is the quickest, surest way to do this. Try it.

I took the rider course in 1993. They taught me the importance of counter-steering. One day, on SR 17 west of Corning, I looked over my left shoulder to check traffic, and when I looked back, I was headed for the guide rail. My training kicked in: push left, go left. I recovered quickly, without incident. I avoided a very nasty wreck. Counter-steering saved me.

When people run off the road and hit a pole, I believe it is their lack of knowledge of counter-steering that is the real culprit. If you aren't fully aware of counter-steering, please, take a rider course, or at the very least do counter-steering in an empty lot, to learn it, and become fully aware of it. This is a required bike handling skill.

Another common error in curves is out-running your sight distance. You can only go as fast as your ability to see what is ahead. Don't roll the dice. If you can't see around a blind curve, you must slow down, so that you are able to stop in the distance you can see to be clear. This is cited in "Motorcycle ROADCRAFT, the police rider's handbook to better motorcycling" as the most important principle of safe riding.

Some riders don't understand the demands they place on their tires. There is limited traction. Either turn, or stop. Don't try to do both at the same time, because you will overwhelm the available traction, and slide out. It is easy to imagine a rider getting into a curve too fast, leaning it over, and then jamming on the brakes when he thinks he is going too fast. Mostly it is panic that causes this. Stay sharp, size up the road ahead, don't enter a curve too fast, and never panic. If you are in a curve too hot, trust your bike, counter-steer harder and ride it out. Hard on the brakes in a curve is the wrong choice.

Some riders don't realize what the proper line is through curves. Outside, inside to the apex, then outside again is the way racers do it. Watch some road races on TV to see examples of this. What the racing line does is use a longer-radius curve, longer than the actual radius of the road. Wrecks can happen when a rider enters a curve on the inside instead of the outside. The longer radius line is safer and less demanding.

Some single-vehicle, loss-of-control wrecks become multiple-vehicle wrecks if the riders lose control and wind up in the wrong lane. On a group ride, I witnessed a biker ahead of me go wide in a curve into the opposing lane. Lucky for him there was no car in that lane. He could have been killed. There was no excuse for him going wide in the curve. He wasn't going that fast. Counter-steering allows you to precisely go exactly where you want to with just a subtle nudge of a handgrip, left or right.

Some run-off-the-road wrecks may be related to hitting deer, or attempts to avoid hitting deer. Consider minimizing bike travel in the dark in deer country.

It is a bad situation when more than half of our wrecks in rural areas are caused by our own errors. These wrecks are preventable with just a little common sense and some motorcycle-specific knowledge and skills.

Take a rider course if you haven't been to one. If you already know about counter-steering then practice it the next time you have the bike out.

This is nice website, with multiple articles on various motorcycle safety topics. I read through the various articles, and used some of what I found for this report.

Ride safe. ~ Harry Clark, ABATE of New York Safety Officer