Why is it sometimes best to say “not today”? Impairment, weather, and road conditions are only the beginning.
The sun is shining, your bike is tuned up, and the roads are clean. Could there be anything else on your "safe to ride" checklist?
“I didn’t even see them!” are the classic words spoken following a 4-wheel on 2-wheel collision. After so many variations of the ‘unseen motorcycle’ story have been repeated by so many drivers after collisions, it’s time to ask the question – Why can’t other drivers see motorcycles in traffic?
The first and foremost reason may be a result of habit. In the spring, motorcycles are not a fixed presence on Saskatchewan roads. Many "caged" drivers have not shared the road with motorcycles for over 5-6 months. Simply put, the 4-wheeler's subconscious mind may have forgotten that the 2-wheelers even exist.
While that may explain some bad springtime habits, the mystery of the unseen motorcycle remains at large all season long. So, what else could be causing this lack of awareness? Let's look at some factors that seem to hide bikers from the eyes (and minds) of other Saskatchewan drivers.
Selective attention: Brains set to ‘driving mode’ are looking for obstacles. Many young drivers train themselves to scan for car and truck shaped objects - a habit that does not account for slender, two wheeled objects.
The solution? Be as visible as possible. Break through the visual bias that keeps you in the background. Honk, wave, and wear bright colours.
Peripheral blindness: The average peripheral vision is weak at best, and is geared towards movement. With the average driver looking for box-like vehicles, that leaves motorcycles to get lost in the blur.
The solution? Appeal to peripheral vision with movement. Hand waves, head nods, gentle speed variation. Stand out however possible.
Blind spots: Not just applicable to rear mirrors and big fluffy dice, those pillars surrounding the windshield can already obscure a full-sized vehicle… Think of how completely a motorcycle gets swallowed up in these additional blind spots.
The solution? Recognize when you are approaching a vehicle at the 10 or 2 o’clock positions, knowing that you may be obscured. Avoid lingering in rear gates that might fall into blind spots.
Headlights: A motorcycle’s single headlight is more likely to be passed over and ignored, as it does not ‘match’ the two-beam headlights a driver is expecting to see on the road. 4-wheel vehicles with burnt out headlights experience the same effect – they don’t match the ‘normal’ form of a vehicle, so other motorists mysteriously don’t register their presence.
The solution? Keep your headlights on bright in the daytime. Keep them clean and maintained at all times.
Sunlight: Both fighter pilots and birds of prey attack “out of the sun”. Why? Because contrast (shadow) stands out more than anything when registering new objects. The difference is, these attackers want to be hidden, motorcyclists should not.
The solution? Notice your shadow. If your shadow is pointing down road, those cars are having trouble seeing you! Avoid wearing black, grey or other background colours.
Familiarity: More than 50% of collisions occur within 8km of the home, and 25% occur within the first 3 minutes of driving. These familiar roads close to home get neglected by drivers feeling a false sense of security.
The solution? Don’t fall for this yourself! Those last few turns before arriving home may tempt the mind to wander. Stay vigilant from start to finish.
At the end of the day, it is up to each rider to take safety into their own hands. As we learn the psychology behind this spring 'psych-out' that plagues many drivers during the early riding season, we can help remind drivers that yes, motorcycles exist, and yes, we are back for another year of sharing the road.
Saskatchewan's great spring awakening is underway. Have you peeled off the tarp and tuned up your two-wheeler for the spring riding season? Let's take a look at what hazards might await you on that first trip out of the garage.
Does this springtime road hazard look familiar? Yes, under all that melting snow lies the classic motorcycle nemesis - sand and gravel. Especially on urban roads, these slippery hazards can wreak havoc on your traction, and are hard to spot from a distance. Let's go over some facts about these sandy patches that await Saskatchewan riders in the spring.
First off, what does a slippery surface do to our tires? In our Basic Rider Training Course, riders learn that friction is our friend, with the force of friction directly proportionate to the applied load, or weight. The lesson here is more weight = more friction, and more friction = better traction.
So, what happens to our bike when a slippery patch ruins our traction? The answer is.... Anything. If we are leaning into a corner and lose that critical friction, there is no telling what the bike will do. At that point, we are trying to avoid abrupt or sudden changes in weight distribution. The best course of action in this situation is to do more of 'nothing' than trying to do 'everything'.
Do nothing... That doesn't sound like very useful advice, does it? As per usual, prevention is the name of the game when it comes to managing dirt and sand. And it may seem obvious, but speed really is the key here. Our friends at SGI lay out this advice for motorcyclists entering corners:
1. Reduce Speed.
To make up for the possible lack of friction, reducing speed puts your bike's weight back in balance over both tires.
2. Avoid Sudden Moves.
Sudden changes in speed or direction rock that weight back and fourth over the tires, which leads to a skid.
3. Use Both Brakes.
Using both brakes in a straight line is the most effective way to stop in the shortest distance. If you are in a turn/corner be very careful when using the front brake, as the wheel could slip right out and cause you to go down.
4. Avoid the Worst Slippery Areas.
Easier said than done! Try to find the best pavement, and use it. Certain sections of the road dry out faster than others. Try to stay in the best part of the lane at all times.
Some extra facts to help your early season moto-mindset:
Got some sand and gravel tips? What other springtime hazards should motorcyclists be aware of? Help other riders by leaving a comment below!
Do you want to give back to the motorcycle community and help new riders get started? Have you ever thought of becoming a motorcycle instructor? We are looking for experienced, patient, skilled, and safe riders to join our team of motorcycle safety instructors.
Our instructors are community role models who demonstrate safe riding practices every time they are out on their own bikes. If you would like to inspire others to ride safely, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Being a female and deciding to ride a motorcycle can often entail a journey that is different than that of a man. Sometimes a woman, a girl, or a lady if you will, faces questions the guys may not. A woman's first time on a bike need not be any different, and having the right mentor or coaches makes all the difference. The female riding community is growing rapidly. If you have questions about becoming a motorcycle rider, the videos and audio files below may answer a few of them.
Looking to learn to ride? Visit https://www.sasksafety.org/basic-rider-training.html