Negotiating Obstacles in the Road

by Joshua on May 10, 2013

Motorcycle riders choose to ride for many reasons but likely at the top of the list is the freedom of the road and the thrill of riding. With that thrill, whether admitted or not, comes the notion that there’s an inherent danger and mastering control of the threats are like adrenaline to thrill seekers. It’s not uncommon for riders to think that they can influence the dangers, and with practice, skill and a little luck, they can.

Motorcycle riders, especially new riders will often encounter obstacles in the road that can pose a significant danger to their safety. These obstacles can not be ignored and they can be anticipated if the rider is vigilant. The best methods of negotiating these obstacles can be practiced and learned in a safe setting that will prepare the rider for what might mean the difference between life and death. When considered that way, it becomes clear that it is prudent to prepare for the unknown obstacles and prepare viable contingencies. The best contingency is avoidance, but there may be an instance where the rider is forced to hit the obstacle. In that case, there is a preferred method of controlling the impact and lessening the effects of what might become an all out crash. There’s a best way to brace for impact, hit the obstacle, and lessen the chance of severe injury or even death. Here I’ll discuss both avoidance and impact control. These techniques should be practiced to a high skill level and are not intended for the novice rider. Those who train and prepare, however, can successfully negotiate obstacles in the road and possibly impact the outcome.

The first reaction to an obstacle in the road should be avoidance. It will normally provide the best outcome. To avoid the obstacle one can either swerve, speed up, slow down or come to a complete stop. All of these methods have a precise skill set that can lend favor to the rider if they grasp these concepts. First, I’ll discuss the swerve, a method of avoidance that if implemented correctly and with caution can provide a smooth, safe method of avoiding an obstacle in the road. The swerve should be used when the rider has assessed the situation, can see a clear path to safety and has the time to negotiate the move. To swerve, the rider should lean their hand hard on the handlebar of the side in which they desire to travel. If they need to move left around the obstacle, they should press down on the left handlebar and look in the direction they intend to travel. A smooth process is always better than a quick jerk of the bars which could lock up the tires and cause the motorcycle to become unstable. Next, I’ll discuss the option of increasing speed. A rider should become familiar with their motorcycle and know how fast it reacts to an increase on the throttle in a given situation. Only practice and familiarity can give one this knowledge. Will the motorcycle lag or will it respond quickly to a roll of the throttle? How long will it take to increase the speed enough to avoid an obstacle? Can I see my chosen path and is it clear of other obstacles in front of me? Is the road smooth, dry and conducive to a higher speed? Is my motorcycle capable of increasing its speed fast enough to avoid the obstacle in the road? All of these are questions to consider when contemplating an increase in speed as a method of avoidance. It should be mentioned that in most cases an increase in speed does not provide the desired outcome and therefore should not be the first option chosen. Better options are to slow down or come to a quick stop. If there is enough space between the rider and the obstacle, releasing the throttle to slow down and combining a smooth swerve may be all that is needed to insure avoidance. But, in some cases the obstacle is too close and a quick stop is the best option. A quick stop can be practiced in an empty parking lot and is a highly effective method of avoidance. The quick stop will utilize all the stopping power of the motorcycle including both the front and rear brakes. To negotiate a quick stop, insure the motorcycle is in a straight position pointing straight ahead. Smoothly pull the brake on the front bar while pressing the pedal for the rear brakes. If one is started before the other, especially the front brake, the motorcycle might become unstable. Too much pressure on the front brake alone can cause the bike to lock up and go into a skid. Using both brakes simultaneously is the safest and most effective method of stopping suddenly, but it takes practice, practice that is well worth the time if the skills are ever needed in an avoidance situation.

Finally, there may be a situation where you have no chance to avoid the obstacle and must hit it head on. If the obstacle is small like a board in the road, the best way to negotiate the hit is to brace for the hit by firmly grasping the bars, stand up on the foot pegs or floor boards if possible, transfer your weight to the rear of the bike, and hit the obstacle straight on to produce the least negative effects. If the obstacle is large, the best choice is avoidance. Anticipation, scanning the road and practice are effective in ensuring your safety while you enjoy the ride.

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