Top Five Things I See Riders Doing Wrong
Which Of These Are Your Peeves, Too?by TJ Hinton, on
I come into contact with lots of riders, partly because of my job, and partly because I enjoy talking to people about their bikes, riding experiences and the like. Most times, I get a pleasant conversation with “sea stories” added liberally thereunto. Sometimes, I come away genuinely concerned for the rider’s chances of surviving the trip home. Yesterday was just such a day, and it got me thinking about mistakes I see with alarming regularity. Before I get started on my little rant, I want to offer up this caveat: I’m not picking on any particular group, bike style or manufacturer. As far as I’m concerned, these mistakes are prevalent across the rider spectrum, with plenty of equal-opportunity fault to spread around. Some of the following is based on science, but for the most part, it simply reflects my own not-inconsiderable experience over the last 20-plus years of riding.
Continue reading for my list of things I see riders doing wrong.
Skid lids are NOT helmets, they are novelty items.
Let’s go ahead and start with what is arguably the most contentious item of protective gear – helmets. I know a lot of people are passionate about this subject on both sides of the fence. On one side, we have the die-hard, full-face crowd, with the ABATE types on the other side, with few (but some) in between. One can argue the merits of the various styles available all day, but the bottom line is: full-face gives the best protection overall, and with the advent of strong yet lightweight materials, the argument for helmet weight contributing to injury kinda goes out the window.
A notable exception to that rule is the modular-type helmets. They are rather weighty, and I personally have suffered minor neck injuries simply rolling over a speed bump at dead-slow speed. Granted, my rear shock preload was set to maximum stiffness, and I was sitting with my back and neck ramrod straight, but when I rolled over the bump and the suspension rebounded back up, the helmet was not done coming down yet and I heard a crunch as the fluids between my vertebrae got displaced. I was sore for a week. I have since learned to “sag into it” a bit so such stresses would be borne by musculature instead of the spinal column itself. Salient point here is: heavy helmets can contribute to injury, so find one that offers complete head and face protection but doesn’t weigh a ton. By the way, “skid lids” are NOT helmets, they are novelty items.
Protective Gear (or Lack Thereof)
The 'bare' crowd will call the 'protected' crowd sissies for being afraid of road rash, but their opposition is based on misconceptions of comfort.
Body gear is another area I love to pick on, because it seems to follow selective logic. I see guys wearing a full-face helmet atop a wife-beater t-shirt, shorts and flip flops. I also see others wearing full leathers and a skid lid – both camps are wrong, yet seem perfectly willing to ridicule each other (the irony is priceless)!
Most people seem to think “road rash” is simply that, a minor skin injury little worse than a rug burn (giggity!) or a raspberry. Nothing could be further from the truth – it is actually more like being flayed alive! Once the asphalt grinds through the epidermis, it goes to work on the underlying musculature and vascular system, and in really bad cases, starts to machine the bones themselves. It is not at all unheard of for motorcycle wreck victims to sand their fingers down to nubs, and the other “hot spots” include major joints such as elbows, knees and feet. Even if the injuries are not that severe, the victim gets to learn a new word: debridement. Basically, imagine someone throwing a strong astringent on the wound, then removing the dead and contaminated flesh with a steel brush, and you will be in the ballpark. This procedure is on my personal top-ten list of “things to avoid.”
Full-gear opponents will usually whine at this point about how hot and uncomfortable full gear can be, but that is simply not true as long as you are moving. The air blows up your sleeves and back. If you have vented gear, the air blows through the vents of the jacket and helmet, and the evaporative cooling actually makes you cooler than if you were riding bare, plus it keeps the sun and hot wind off your skin. Honestly, any discomfort from wearing full gear in the summer is temporary, unlike a severe sunburn and windburn that will stay with you for days. Keep in mind that people living in a desert completely cover their skin to protect it from sun and scorching wind. Who would know better than them? Time for another irony: the “bare” crowd will call the “protected” crowd "sissies" for being afraid of road rash, but their opposition is based on misconceptions of comfort. Makes one wonder who the sissies really are.
There is no such thing as a 'minor' oil leak on a bike, as it is practically guaranteed that the fluid will wind up on the rear tire.
Most people are ill-equipped to work on their own bikes, both in tooling and in knowledge, and there are very few systems on a bike that are not safety-related areas. Honestly, the heavy wrenching should be left to the pros, and even routine maintenance has pitfalls that aren’t readily apparent to the layman.
Having said that, I would offer that even a trained monkey can recognize a bald tire when it sees one, and I regularly see tires that are as smooth as a baby’s bottom! Yeah, I know bike tires are relatively expensive, and so is bike-shop labor, but I would offer that they aren’t as expensive as a wreck.
Tires may be the most immediately obvious item, but I would add brake pads and drive belt/chain condition and adjustment to the list. Additionally, there is no such thing as a minor oil/lubricant leak on a bike, as it is practically guaranteed that the fluid will wind up on the rear tire. No matter how good the tire condition is, a little oil will make it as slick as sour owl droppings!
Things get scary and dangerous, not as you accelerate, but when you decide to try and slow down.
I recently observed an online conversation between a prospective 16-year-old first-time bike customer and the rest of the world. The kid wanted to know 0-60 times and top speed on a particular bike. Sorry, little dude, but you are asking the wrong questions unless you are asking so you can avoid buying a bike that can “get away” from you. Too many people equate speed with skill, as if it takes skill to roll on the throttle. The skills come in when you have to control the bike once you get to said top speed.
Things happen in a hurry, especially at 100-plus mph, and nobody will tell you that things get scary and dangerous, not as you accelerate, but when you decide to try and slow down. My personal speed record is 142 mph. It was easy getting up to that speed, but when I backed off and the steering geometry changed, the bike turned into a completely different animal. It’s a Hell of a situation in which to find yourself – going way too fast, but scared to slow down – so make sure that you ease into searching for the rev-limiter, and let your muscle memory grow into it. There is no time for thinking at that speed, only feeling and doing, and it’s better if your hands can handle the bike automatically.
I had the benefit of a safe-riding course as part of my curriculum at Motorcycle Mechanics Institute, and this after having ridden scooters and minibikes for a few years, so I had a pretty good idea what I was about before I started riding serious bikes. In spite of this, I had no idea how much I didn’t know until I took the course. There is science and physics involved that, frequently, by the time you realize they exist, it’s too late ’cause it has already bitten you!
I don't care if you have more balls than brains, the problems start when your clowning around wipes out your riding buddies or some other innocent party.
This final section is directed at the wheelie poppers, lane splitters and self-styled trick riders. Unless you are on a closed-circuit course and had professional training, you are literally taking your life in your own hands. It’s all fun and games ’til someone loses an eye, or some other “important” body part. I don’t know about you, but I am rather attached (if you will forgive the pun) to all my bits and parts, and would prefer to go out of the world as I came in – with all my fingers and toes, as it were.
Personally, I don’t care if you have more balls than brains, the problems start when your clowning around wipes out your riding buddies or some other innocent party. Your shenanigans, generally, do not occur in a vacuum, and it literally takes a split second to go horribly wrong. Okay, that may sound a trifle judgmental, but I have (somehow) reached an age at which my testosterone poisoning has subsided to a manageable level, and I look back and wonder how I ever made it out of my 20s other than pure, blind, dumb luck.
To be fair, I will admit that I pick up the front end on my Sporty once in a while, but never on purpose. It’s usually a by-product of dropping the hammer to make a pass in second gear. I never reach a point at which I could flip the bike, and probably couldn’t even if I tried (it is a Harley with an almost stock engine, after all). By all means, have fun with your bike, but keep in mind that fun on the bike is kind of like chicken pox: NOT something to be shared with the rest of the class.