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Riding Too Safe can be Dangerous!

We have all been behind the proverbial “little old lady” doing 45 mph in the freeway fast lane. She is like a rock, hanging in there, while the 80-mph stream of cars passes her on the right. Or how about the motor scooter rider who is driving on the shoulder of the road in the bike lane? I cringe whenever I see that, and I see it increasing every day.
I am a conservative rider but a different kind of conservative drive than these two examples. I absolutely believe in defensive driving (riding), always keeping a buffer zone around my motorcycle, using turn signals for every lane change, and so on. But I do pay attention to the world around me. Sometimes, you just cannot keep a buffer zone without riding stupid. trying too hard to stay out of harm’s way can put you right in the middle of trouble.

If the traffic is running ten miles per hour over the posted speed limit, then you better speed up and get with it, or get out of it and take another route. When someone is tailgating you hard, move on up and out of the way. Being in the right doesn’t count when you are laid up in a hospital bed.

When that inevitable ‘near death’ crisis pops up, the initial reaction is to brake, slow down, avoid whatever it is that is trying to get you. While braking is the initial reaction, don’t forget about power and speed as a solution to a close call. Your motorcycle can really haul ass when you want it to so take advantage of it when it is appropriate.

When is it appropriate? What do you want, a list of specific instances when speed is better than brakes? No can do, but here are some real-world examples where speed is your friend. Use whatever evasive opportunity that is available, including speed.

EXAMPLE: You are in the #3 lane, 60 mph, light traffic, just riding along loving it. In your peripheral vision, you see that SUV in the #1 (or fast) lane, behind you to your left, is suddenly moving across all four lanes in an attempt to make the next exit which is coming up fast. You, of course, are directly in between the SUV and the exit. If you suddenly brake to let the SUV pass in front of you, you may end up on the hood of the car behind you. But if you goose it, and speed up, you can get in front of the SUV’s trajectory and let those behind you worry about this jerk. Unexpected lane changes heading your way are good examples of speed getting you out of harm’s way.

EXAMPLE: Maintaining the buffer zone around you always seems to put you in the lane next to and behind an erratic driver. You know it’s an erratic driver because you have been paying attention. Your choice is to either remain behind and wait for the inevitable or to pick your opportunity to speed up and get in front, reclaiming your buffer zone.

EXAMPLE: You are approaching a red traffic light and there are already two or three cars stopped at the light. As you brake and slow down to stop, you check your rearview mirror (as you always do, right) and see that the pickup behind you is not even slowing. As always, you have choices.

1) You can stop, turn in your seat and wave your arms hoping that the pickup’s driver will see you and stop in time.

2) You can split lanes and ride up to the front of the stopped traffic and let the last car worry about the pending collision.

3) You can make a hard right turn, speeding up and over the curb, between the two palm trees, into the McDonalds parking lot and come to a stop enjoying the safety of a Big Mac (with large fry’s).

OK, that’s getting a little ridiculous, but I am sure you get the idea. Use whatever evasive opportunity that is available, including speed.

One last thought is about using speed when you are not skilled enough to do so. I am sure you have heard, “Never outride your skills” and this is a good place to bring that up. When you choose to speed, you better be able to handle it. During a crisis is not the time to test out your skills.

I commute to work every day (no rain, thank you) and the last mile or so is through an industrial section with almost no traffic during my 7:00 AM ride. Every day I am testing my skills in this stretch by practicing 45 mpg “push and pull” maneuvers avoiding the imaginary road obstacle (2×4 board, roofing ladder, trailer hitch ball, you name it), avoiding the imaginary stalled car in the middle of the road and so on.

I have been known to ride through the mall parking lot early Sunday morning when there is not a car in sight and practice figure 8’s and tight U-turns. Lock up the brakes at 50 mph and then go back and pace off the skid marks. Imagine what the same maneuvers would be like in the real world.