There are so many details that go into being safe while riding a motorcycle. Motorcyclists need to know how to choose the right bike, gear, gadgets, and even the most important skills to practice.
While rider skills and problem areas vary widely, there are a few key exercises every motorcyclist should practice to increase their likelihood of staying safe while on the road:
Most Important Safety Drills for Motorcycle Riders
1. Emergency Motorcycle Stop
Emergency braking on a motorcycle is vastly different than emergency braking while in a car. Unlike a car, a motorcycle’s braking capacity is split between the front wheel (70% of capacity) and the rear wheel (30%) of capacity. Because of this it’s very easy to either misuse or underutilize a motorcycle’s full braking capacity. Practicing your motorcycle’s maximum braking capacity in a safe and controlled environment is essential for any rider.
Read our latest blog post on Preventing Forward Collisions and the myths of Motorcycle Braking.
How to Practice: Find a safe, controlled, and legal practice area. Make a mental note of a stopping cue area with a cone marker, or draw on the ground with chalk. Start your bike far enough back to get up to a speed of about 15-25mph (24-40 km/h) in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd gear, when your front tire passes the stopping cue begin braking as hard as you safely can. If your back tire slides maintain pressure until you come to a complete stop, use less back brake next time (some riders envision using only their big toe on the back brake). If your front tire begins to slide, let go of your brakes and smoothly re-apply pressure.
Focus on applying maximum pressure to the front brake. It is essential not to “grab” this lever, as this could destabilize the motorcycle and cause you and the bike to flip over the handlebars. Some riders think about squeezing the front brake lever like they would squeeze a lemon, other rides envision pulling the lever as smoothly and firmly as they can towards the left-hand grip. Find a system that works for you and repeat until the process is safe, automatic, and effective.
Advanced Skill Practice: Test out how much your stopping distance increases with a one-second delay in reaction time (count “one one-thousand” in your helmet before you begin stopping). This exercise demonstrates how much of an effect distracted or impaired riding can have on total stopping distance.
Test your peripheral vision skills while emergency braking. Attempt to identify items in your peripheral vision while performing your emergency stopping. This will help to train your brain not to target-fixate on an obstacle that you are trying to avoid.
- Ensure your stopping cue has plenty of space beyond it for a safe stopping area.
- Never apply your front brake with the front handlebar turned, this is an extreme crash hazard.
- Practice smooth maximum front brake application while stationary before attempting to do so at speed.
- Be sure to shift completely down to 1st gear by the time you come to a complete stop. Staying in gear while stopped can be a safety hazard while in traffic.
2. Emergency Motorcycle Swerve
Sometimes there just isn’t enough time or space to perform an emergency stop. In these situations an emergency swerve may be the best option to avoid an obstacle or collision hazard.
How to Practice: While seated or standing over your bike, practice pressing on your handlebar grips with the palm of each hand. Let the bike dip under you, and press on the opposite hand to bring it back up again. This is the basic movement you will execute while at speed for your emergency swerve.
Draw a simulated collision hazard on the ground with chalk (this could be a car, curb, or other hazardous item). Approach the collision hazard at 15-25 mph (24-40 km/h). When you have neared the collision hazard press the handlebars quickly one way to swerve around the obstacle, and then press the bars the opposite way to straighten the bike again.
If you are swerving to the right, your initial handlebar press should be on the right (letting the bike dip away under you). In this situation, a quick handlebar press on the left will bring the bike back up straight underneath you.
Note: This move should not entail you turning your handlebars to avoid the obstacle. The swerve is a pressing-initiated movement.
- Do not use your brakes while swerving. Apply brakes once your bike is completely upright.
- Remember “push right, go right” and “push left, go left” for your initial swerve movement.
- Be sure to practice your emergency swerve to the left, and to the right.
3. Emergency Motorcycle Straighten and Stop
The emergency straighten and stop is a crucial skill to learn as most hazards you encounter will be while you are out in the world, at speed, and possibly while cornering.
This maneuver differs from a standard straighten and stop, during which you would have time to gently apply back brake pressure and straighten the bike. During this maneuver, you will be practicing skills you have learned in both the swerve, and emergency brake.
How to Practice: Using your chalk, draw a single-lane curve in your designated practice area. Enter your corner at a speed of 15-25mph (24-40 km/h). When your bike is at a comfortable lean angle, quickly straighten and apply the front and back brake at maximum safe braking pressure.
Note that this quick “straighten and brake” technique differs from a standard in-traffic movement. This maneuver is meant to simulate encountering a critical hazard or collision threat while mid-corner.
Remember, it is absolutely crucial to straighten the bike before you begin the braking process. Applying the front brake with the wheel turned is an extreme crash hazard. The motorcycle must be completely upright before any emergency braking pressure is applied.
Advanced Skill Practice: If you feel comfortable deciding with your simulated hazard response, have a friend stand at a safe distance and indicate when to being your maneuver instead. This unpredictability will help you to truly test your reaction time and skill coordination.
- Riders must not apply the front brake while their bike is leaned. The emergency braking should begin only when the motorcycle’s handlebars are completely straight.
- Treat your simulated corner like you would a real one, use a sufficient lean angle and head turn like you would on the road.
4. Slow Speed Maneuvers
Not all emergency maneuvers are at high speeds. Good motorcycle control at slow speeds is essential to rider safety too. Riders need to be able to safely navigate in slow-speed areas like parking lots, gas stations, and slow traffic.
How to Practice: Using your chalk or small cone markers, create a box that is roughly 24 feet wide and 60 feet long (7 meters by 18 meters). This box will act as your U-turn and perimeter turn area.
Begin by riding down the long side of the U-Turn box. Before you get to the chalk/line boundary, complete a U-turn to the left, and then to the right. Do not cross any of your boundary lines, and try not to put a foot down to stabilize the bike. Focus on shifting your weight to the opposite direction that you are turning to help stabilize the bike (counterbalancing).
Once you’re satisfied with your U-turns, practice slow speed right turns along the corners of your U-turn area. In this exercise, riders should focus on the smooth and controlled coordination of their clutch, throttle, and handlebar turn.
Advanced Skill Practice: Riders looking to challenge themselves can shorten their U-turn width by 3-4 feet (1 meter).
- Focus on looking where you want to go (the golden rule of motorcycle riding).
- Some riders find that light back brake application helps to stabilize the bike.
- Increased, controlled speed can help stabilize the motorcycle.
5. Motorcycle Cornering
Sadly, corner speed mismanagement is a major cause of crashes for two-wheeled vehicles. Learning and practicing how to corner correctly and safely is essential to staying safe while on the road. Stable, smooth, and controlled riding form should be ingrained and automatic, no matter what is going on around you.
How to practice: Identify a safe area to practice riding in a circle of at least 60 feet (20 meters) in diameter. Bring your bike’s speed up to 15-25+ mph (24-40 km/h). While circling, focus on maintaining a smooth controlled throttle speed while countersteering. Body positioning should be leaning slightly inwards, with your head and eyes up and looking through to your future path of travel.
- Roadway corner types will differ greatly from practice conditions, always maintain a safe corner entry speed.
- Become familiar with corner navigation techniques: middle-path, apexes, and late apexes.
- Roadway conditions will greatly impact your ability to maintain traction in a corner, adjust your riding technique accordingly
6. Crossing an obstacle with your motorcycle
While most road bikes can’t perform the impressive jumps and acrobatics that dirtbikes can, almost all can cross over common roadway obstacles safely. Crossing an obstacle is a crucial skill to practice, and one you should be able to execute with ease while on the road.
How to Practice: If possible, bring a 2-in x 4in x 10ft (28-mm x 140mm x 3m) wooden board to your practice area. Approach the obstacle with your motorcycle at a 90° angle in 2nd or 3rd gear. As you approach the obstacle, smoothly rise off the seat by standing on the motorcycle’s footpegs, this helps you to absorb the impact of crossing the obstacle, and also helps to stabilize the bike. Sit back down on the motorcycle seat after you have crossed the obstacle and the bike has stabilized.
Roadway obstacles can be anything from railroad crossings to small curbs or cracks. An attentive rider will identify a roadway obstacle as early as possible.
Advanced Skill Practice: Practice a “throttle blip” (rolling on the throttle slightly and quickly) just before your motorcycle’s front tire reaches the obstacle. This slight acceleration shifts weight from the front of the motorcycle to the rear, which allows the front wheel to cross the obstacle with greater ease. Be sure to finish your throttle blip before crossing your obstacle, as accelerating while on the obstacle can cause the rear wheel to slip, or your obstacle to get thrown behind you.
- Before crossing the obstacle, slow as much as traffic safely and riding stability allows.
- Approaching at a 90° angle helps to decrease the likelihood that the obstacle will turn your front wheel.
- Do NOT cover the brake or clutch while crossing the obstacle.
- Do not “target fixate” on the obstacle, continue to scan the road ahead for additional hazards or changes in traffic patterns.
- If at all possible avoid obstacles when on the road.
7. Brain Training
One of the most important things any rider can do is ensure that they’re prepared mentally. Every time you ride you should be assessing potential collision threats while on the road — these could be roadway features (potholes, gravel), roadways signs (merging traffic), or even roadway users (cars, buses). If and when a possible collision scenario happens, your response to it should be automatic.
How to Practice: Whenever riding, work on identifying possible “collision traps” around you. Collision traps are any roadway feature, personal actions, or roadways users that could cause a crash (ex: gravel on the road, or a car merging into you). Next, identify possible “escape paths” that you could safely navigate through to get away from the threat.
If you find yourself in a position with a high number of collision traps and a low number of escape paths, it’s very likely that you’re in danger (for example, in multiple car’s blind spots while in fast traffic).
At any given time riders should choose a lane position and path of travel that decreases the number of collision paths they’re exposed to, and increases the number of escape paths they have access to. At the same time, riders should always be training their mind to identify escape paths, no matter where they are. This due to the golden rule of riding — you will go where you look. If you train your brain to look for escape paths, then it is more likely that you will automatically find them when you need them most.
Over time and as you practice and refine the above emergency maneuvers, you may discover that more escape paths are available to you due to your increased skill level.
The Big Picture (Summary)
Motorcycle emergency skills, whether mental or physical, must be practiced regularly to be effective. In an emergency situation, muscle memory and mental habits will take over — which is why it is crucial to practice safe riding drills like the ones above frequently.
And while the continuous growth of skills is essential while riding, it is only half of the equation. High-quality and correctly fitting motorcycle gear, and collision avoidance systems like Ride Vision, are crucial in protecting against and preventing collisions.
Every rider on the road wants to have fun while staying safe. Commit to being a safer rider by creating time to practice your skills, using quality gear, and investing in a collision avoidance system.