Laying down your bike is the worst think you can do 99.99% of the time – it only works in the movies. (And you don’t really think it worked there too, do you?) The rider who says “I knew I was going to crash, so I had to lay it down,” is just too embarrassed to admit that he or she lost control of the bike and/or is an uneducated rider.
So when you’re faced with a potentially dangerous situation, what should you do? Easy. Stay upright and let your brakes, tires, and riding practice do what they are designed to do – keep you safe. Remember, tire rubber has an immense amount of traction. However plastic, steel, and chrome (the materials found on the side of the bike) offer almost no traction. When you lay down your bike, you’ve turned it into a giant missile and you can’t control where it goes. When you stay on your motorcycle instead of letting it slide, you’ll be better able to stop or swerve out of the way. The only time where it might be a better idea to purposely end up on the ground is when it’s better than the alternative, like going over a guardrail down a cliff or into the middle of a ten-car pile-up. Once you lay down a bike, you have absolutely no control over where you’ll end up.
Knowing when and how to stop or swerve instead of laying it down is the best way to keep yourself safe while riding a motorcycle, other than not getting into a collision in the first place. In fact, recent studies show that most accidents can be attributed to two factors:
- The rider over-braked the rear tire and under-braked the front tire.
- The rider did not separate braking from swerving, or failed to swerve when appropriate. (See below for an understanding of proper Braking and proper Swerving.)
To stop your bike quickly, apply both brakes at the same time. If your front wheel locks while braking, release the front brake quickly before firmly reapplying and pressing on the brake. If you accidentally lock the rear brake, it’s best to keep it locked until you have completely stopped.
If you’re turning or riding on a curve, attempt to straighten the bike before braking. Generally, you have less traction while leaning into a turn. However if you simply must stop while leaning, it’s best to apply the brakes lightly while reducing the throttle.
Sometimes, swerving to avoid an accident may be a better choice. To swerve, pull the outside hand-grip as you push the inside hand-grip to cause an abrupt change in your lean angle. When the bike is at the correct lean angle, return the grips to a neutral steering position (see Counter-Steering for more info).
Braking vs. Swerving
If you’re in a situation that calls for both braking and swerving, apply your brakes before or after you attempt to swerve. Never try to swerve while braking simultaneously.
When a fall is imminent, jumping off the motorcycle is better than being pinned by it. The problem is, you can’t practice jumping off of your bike (unless you’re billionaire Bruce Wayne). If the bike is going down, it’s a good idea that you don’t go down with it.
Many motorcycle instructors consider counter-steering as the most important riding skill to learn and the most important part of a riding course. Many avoidable obstacles turn into unavoidable accidents when a rider has never carefully practiced this skill.
Counter-steering is when a rider deliberately steers a bike by forcefully trying to turn the handlebars the opposite way. In other words, you push the right hand-grip to steer right, or you push the left hand-grip to steer left. It’s how you turn the motorcycle.
Most riders know how to counter-steer to turn the motorcycle, if only instinctively. But many riders don’t practice counter-steering to avoid a problem like collisions, potholes, or road debris. This is called “swerving.” Swerving is when you counter-steer the motorcycle in a direction away from a sudden problem, then counter-steer again to straighten up once you’re out of harm’s way.
The more you practice counter-steering and swerving, the more prepared you’ll be when you face a sudden obstacle (like the inattentive driver who cut you off) and have no time to think. You may be surprised to know that many riders, even experienced ones, don’t practice these skills enough and, when faced with a problem, panic and execute the maneuver incorrectly. With so many cars drivers who don’t take the time to look for riders like you, be sure that you’re prepared by making yourself a counter-steering and swerving expert.