Let’s not sugar-coat it: there are safer ways to get around than by doing it on a motorcycle, but few, if any, are as fun or as exciting. If you’re got this far we’ll assume that you’ve weighed up the risks and haven’t let the scaremongers put you off – good for you – but it’s fair to say that there’s a lot you can do yourself to mitigate the danger and minimise those risks.
First, make sure you’re properly kitted out with protective riding kit. We’ve gone into that in much more detail elsewhere, so suffice to say for now that you’ll need a decent helmet, gloves, boots and riding jacket, and ideally protective trousers.
Make sure your bike is safe to ride, too. It might sound nannying and fun-sappingly tedious to say it, but you should regularly check that your tyres are in good condition and at the correct pressures, and ensure your brakes are in proper order.
Broadly speaking, we can divide the risks you face into two: mistakes you make and mistakes other people make. A minor lapse in judgement or act of stupidity – either yours or someone else’s – is punished much more severely if you’re riding a bike than it is when driving a car.
Once out on the road, be alert and stay alert. It sounds obvious, and actually it tends to happen largely by default. There are far fewer distractions when riding a bike compared to those present in increasingly tech-laden cars, and this, coupled with a biker’s heightened sense of risk, tends to focus the mind. It’s this awareness of your vulnerability as a rider that, once ingrained – and it doesn’t take long – makes most motorcyclists more alert and more attentive than your average car driver.
Don’t run before you can walk. Two of motorcycling’s biggest draws – the freedom and exhilaration of the open road and the ability to scythe through congested traffic – also present some of the biggest dangers. Much of the open-road risk is down to you, so don’t get carried away on country roads. Take it steady, build up your pace slowly and learn to read the road ahead of you.
Practice adjusting your line into corners for the best view through and out the other side, both to see what’s coming and to be seen by other road users. Be aware of hidden dangers lurking behind hedgerows and round blind bends, particularly on country roads in the summer months when farm vehicles could be exiting fields – and spreading mud on the road.
Overtaking is a common cause of accidents, so take a measured approach and don’t take risks. Never overtake near junctions – you might be so focussed on passing the car in front that you miss the fact they’re about to turn right into a side road just as you go to overtake. Or a car might turn left out of that side road, putting you on a head-on collision course.
Plan your overtakes and don’t be afraid to back off if you change your mind. And don’t follow the car in front too closely – it’s annoying and possibly intimidating, and could result in them doing something stupid as you pass. Also be aware of other bikes or cars coming past you as you’re about to overtake – especially if you’ve been hesitant about getting past yourself.
In town, safe riding requires a different kind of focus. New riders tend to fall into one of two camps when it comes to riding in traffic: over-cautious or over-confident. You should aim for a happy medium between the two.
You need to be hyper-alert in order to filter safely. You might be travelling more slowly than on the open road but there’s much more going on and more potential for things to go wrong. Technically, filtering is overtaking, so be aware of the cars you’re filtering past turning right as you pass them, and look out for cars, cyclists or pedestrians appearing from the gaps between the vehicles you’re passing.
Confidence will come with practice, especially if you commute the same busy route each day. You’ll soon learn how the traffic flows and spot the best ways to take advantage it, then you can apply those lessons learned elsewhere.
Finally, never underestimate the benefits of further training. Of course you’ll have been through – or are about to go through – the mill of CBT and on-road training to get your licence, and hopefully you’ll have absorbed the fundamentals of safe riding by doing so. But don’t let that be the end of your structured learning. Advanced riding, refresher courses, post-test training, call it what you will, but we can’t recommend it highly enough.
There are a wide range of organisations and companies offering further training, some independent and some affiliated to manufacturers, but they all have the same goal: to make you a better, more confident rider and safer rider.
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