At lunch with some friends the other day, one of the fellows was telling me about his son, who according to him has had to "lay her down" several times in his riding career because of drivers who have pulled out in front of him. Now....I have no idea how old this son is (I'm guessing maybe in his 40's or 50's) nor do I have any idea how long he's been riding or if he's had professional motorcycle training or if he's taken regular skills courses or advanced rider courses. I'm guessing the answer is "NO" to these questions. Who would ever think that "laying her down" is a viable solution to a difficult situation? The obvious solution is to not find ourselves in a situation where we have to panic brake in the first place.
So how does an experienced and skilled motorcycle rider handle a tight spot? Here are the tools that the well-trained rider uses:
- Head on a swivel! When I ride, my eyes are never locked on the pavement in front of me. They're continuously making the circuit through my front, my side mirrors, my left and right flanks, my rear. I'm continuously scanning, assessing, trying to second-guess what the drivers around me are doing.
- SIPDE Remember this from our training? Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide, Execute. We were taught this in our riding classes. I am never "asleep at the switch" whether I'm in my car or on my motorcycle. I am continuously scanning the cars, their drivers, the intersections, the driveways, the lanes, the front wheels of vehicles that are poised at an intersection or driveway, trying to identify and predict potential hazards and take evasive action accordingly.
- Ride defensively! It is a mistake to assume that everyone else knows the rules of the road. It is also a mistake to assert our rights in regard to these road rules if we are at physical risk. That is why I will often yield at a four-way stop if there's a shadow of doubt as to who has the right of way. Even if I know I was there first, it's not worth the risk of collision to assert my position. I'll do the same on interstates, for example when moving over a lane. If another car looks like it might take that spot, especially if they're being reckless about it, I'll yield. I'll yield to a driver who is merging on to a freeway and who obviously has not even checked his side mirror for traffic in that lane. It's as simple as that.
- Look for an escape route! No skilled rider would ever consider "laying her down" as an option. Rather than concentrating on an impending collision, those split seconds are better spent looking for a better alternative or escape route. If we've been doing our job as proficient motorcyclists, we will have high situational awareness. Is the left lane clear of vehicles? Is someone following too close behind us? If I had to, could I move to the right or left lane? Those of us who have kept our skills sharp by regularly signing up to take an advanced rider course have practiced the "brake and swerve" technique numerous times and at different speeds, until we can do it without even thinking. Viable options?? Swerve around the back side of the offending vehicle; or do a quick shoulder-check and swerve into the next lane; or brake hard to scrub off significant speed and the collision might even be averted by giving the vehicle time to get out of the way; or scrub off speed and head for the shoulder. And, course, the choice of last resort is to go ahead and collide with the vehicle after scrubbing off as much speed as possible. A collision at 5 or 10 mph is far preferable to sliding along the roadway, possibly sliding into the path of an oncoming car. A bike will slow much more quickly sliding on rubber than sliding on metal and plastic.
- A good essay on this topic: http://bettermotorcycling.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/laying-it-down-fact-or-fiction/
- A discussion board making fun of the "laying it down" myth: http://www.msgroup.org/forums/mtt/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=6694
- The guru of motorcycle street smarts and very-respected motor officer, Jerry "Motorman" Palladino and his "take" on this: http://www.ridemyown.com/articles/safety/BTB-tipstricks3.shtml
- A great post, "Motorcycle myths" http://motorcycleviews.com/general/motomyths.htm
- Minnesota Public Safety webpage post: http://www.ci.new-hope.mn.us/departments/police/community/motorcycle_safety.shtml
230,000 miles with only the very rare close call and no accidents.