Recognize Pre-crash Warning Signs When Riding Your Motorcycle | Cycle World

Pre-crash Warning Signs to Look For When Riding Your Motorcycle

Crashing and learning can be mutually exclusive

crash and learn motorcycle illustration

Crash and learn

Illustration by Ryan Inzana

“Just go faster and lean over farther until you crash.” Acceptable advice for waterskiing but not so good for motorcycle riding! Yes, you can learn lessons from crashes, but you have to survive them first and have enough money and health to return with your newfound knowledge.

What if you had a list of “impending drama” issues you could recognize and repair on the upright side of our sport?


Pain is on the way if:

1) You continue to shock the suspension and tires with aggressive brake, throttle, and steering applications. Traction is finite and changes with temperature, surface, and tire compounds. Aggressive control inputs don’t give the tires a chance to load, or spread out on the asphalt, to provide feel and increased grip. Think of traction as a thin membrane; you can push against it gently and it will stretch, but you can’t punch it. The fastest riders have the slowest hands.

2) Your corner entry speed is too fast for the corner’s radius. Most riders don’t crash the first time they rush a corner entry; they just run a little wide. No big deal, until they carry more speed or the next corner is tighter. Try this approach: Use the corner entry to get the bike ready for the exit, to get it into the corner and pointed down the next straight. Study how speed affects cornering radius, and learn about trail braking or Brake Assisted Steering (BAS), as we refer to it at YCRS. I wrote about this in The Brake Light Initiative.

3) You ride above the speed limits in town. Problems are many: Other drivers don’t expect your speed and pull out in front of you. City streets are notoriously slippery, and your terrific braking techniques don’t matter because you have no grip. A healthy rhyme to remember: Slow down in town.

4) You don’t cover the brake lever in crowded environments. Learn to ride with your fingers up and resting on the brake lever (get your foot ready too) in crowded environments. If that move takes a half a second, that’s 44 feet at 60 mph before your brake pads touch your rotors.

5) Your bike twitches and wallows. Twitching and wallowing are signs that loads are getting near the critical point of breaking traction. I’m referring to modern-ish machines that twitch and wallow because the on-board engineer’s inputs are too aggressive, usually at the handlebar. Smooth out countersteering inputs. Make them like gently rowing a boat, not punching a bag.

6) You don’t consistently practice emergency braking on each bike you own. It’s shocking how much riders improve their braking distances in just 15 minutes of practice. Practice now, practice often. See A Practice Guide for Braking on my Ienatsch Tuesday weekly column.

I’m a big fan of recognizing signs of impending problems and fixing them immediately. Learn little lessons to avoid big, painful, and expensive lessons.

How about another Ride Craft tip to sharpen your skills?


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