Safe Riding

When Riding, Watch Your Step

Written by  October 31, 2008

Following open-heart surgery to replace my defective aortic valve, I was advised that I should put motorcycle riding on hold for a period of at least three months. The concern was that if my bike started to fall while stopped, I would instinctively try to hold it up and could re-split my breastbone that was being held together by wires during the healing process. When I resumed riding, I became ultra-aware of any circumstances that might result in the bike falling.

It occurred to me that such situations are common and present a risk to any rider, not just one with medical concerns. I am willing to bet that more than a few of our readers have experienced a tip-over with a bike. At best, costly damage can occur, and, even worse, a rider can be injured trying to save the bike. I decided to use this column to share a few tips to avoid the embarrassment, pain, and expense associated with a fallen motorcycle.

1. Whenever you bring your motorcycle to a stop, be aware of where you will put your feet. Sand, gravel, water, and oil are some of the many substances that can cause a foot to lose traction Be extra cautious at stoplights and stop signs where oil from leaky vehicles tends to accumulate near the center of the lane. A hole or uneven surface can also create a risky situation. Planning ahead may provide the opportunity to change course enough to avoid the hazard.

2. Beware of gusty crosswinds when stopped. Place your feet so that you have the widest possible base to hold up your motorcycle.

3. Establish good communication between rider and passenger. Even a lightweight passenger can throw the rider off balance with an unexpected mount or dismount or even a sudden shift of weight to one side or the other.

4. When you deploy the kickstand, make sure it is properly set before you trust it with the motorcycle’s weight. The kickstand spring can pull it back up if it is kicked down carelessly. A friend of mine recently dropped his bike due to a broken kickstand spring. If your motorcycle has a retaining notch, make sure your kickstand is in the notch before you lean the bike over.

5. If possible, avoid parking on a slope or uneven surface. Try to pick a parking spot where you can ride out rather than having to back out. Backing a bike uphill can be particularly difficult.

6. When preparing to ride, make sure you remove the locks from the front fork and/or brake disc. If you’re turning left out of a parking spot, it is easy to start off without removing the fork lock. However, it will be a very short ride. It’s not a bad habit to wiggle the handlebars a bit just to make sure the front end is moving freely. One of those bright “REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT’ ribbons attached to your lock provides a good reminder.

7. I’ve seen many people riding motorcycles that appear to be too tall for them. If holding up your ride is a stretch, consider having it lowered or trade for a bike that fits you better.

8. Choose riding footwear with soles designed for maximum traction. Good tread on the tires is important for riding safety, but so is good boot tread.

9. If your bike does fall, try to get some help to pick it up unless it’s lightweight. Some motorcycle safety courses have demonstrations of the proper way to pick up a fallen bike. Unless you know what you’re doing, you can injure yourself trying to lift a fallen motorcycle.

10. Never drink and ride. An impaired rider is unsafe at any speed.

These are just a few things to think about to stay out of trouble. Remember that if you do drop your bike, there is almost invariably an audience, and the size of the audience is directly proportional to the stupidity of the behavior that caused the fall. Be careful and maintain your safety awareness even when your bike is moving slowly or not at all.

Article and photos by Stripe