Motorcycling Best Practices: Avoiding The Emergency Room

A six-second video about preparedness and reaction time

Mark Shaw with his bike
In Mark’s own words: “I am a semi-retired 50 year old Grandpa. I love to ride motorcycles and fly airplanes. I worked as a certified flight instructor and competed in aerobatics. Been flying since I was 16 years old, and motorcycling since I was 48.” Pilots learn best practices in every facet of aviation; our sport carries very similar risks.Shaw Collection

In June of 2017, Mark Shaw completed a new-rider’s school and attained his motorcycle endorsement at the age of 48. Three months later he attended Yamaha Champions Riding School, and we insisted that students learn to cover the brakes: to ride with their fingers outstretched and resting on the front brake lever in crowded environments, mid-corner and between corners. Last week Mark sent us this six-second video:

Mark told us: "Reading Nick's articles "Get Your Fingers Up On The Brake Lever" and "Preaching. Practicing. Missing Deer." was what first made me aware of the importance of covering the brake and the YCRS experience helped me become confident with the use of brakes. It helped me unlearn some very incorrect basic rider course teachings.

"My basic rider course—completed just three months before YCRS—essentially drilled the mantra that if you touch your brakes with any lean angle you will perish. Dangerous and incorrect teachings! Furthermore, it makes you fear the brakes even when in a straight line rather than realizing the brakes are the single most important component on a motorcycle for staying alive and healthy. Like YCRS stresses, a rider needs to be able to go to the brakes at any point in the ride: A life-saving mantra."

2019 Ducati Hypermotard 950SP
Mark came to bikes relatively late in life and jumped in with both feet. “My first bike was a Ninja 300, then a Panigale 959, DR200, DRZ400SM, and now the love of my motorcycle life, the 2019 Ducati Hypermotard 950SP.” Mark, like so many late-to-motorcycling riders, felt compelled to find best practices as soon as possible.Shaw Collection

For many of us who have been riding for years/decades, covering the brake lever and brake pedal is second-nature and habitual. We learned it from fathers, neighbors, or have simply realized the vital importance of reducing reaction time when possible. But Mark Shaw started riding in 2017, and didn’t initially hear about covering the brakes—in fact, he heard the opposite from his new rider’s school.

For all veteran riders: Please share Mark’s experience with your clubs, friends, forums, and new riders. This isn’t me preaching an idea, this is real-world experience from a new-to-the-industry rider who avoided a trip to the emergency room by adhering to best practices on a motorcycle.

Mark Shaw
Mark Shaw is still here and smiling because of covering the brakes.Shaw Collection

I’ll let Mark close this article (note that I did not ask Mark to wear this shirt, although it is quite handsome):

“Covering the brake should be viewed as similar as wearing a seatbelt in your car. It may have been a hassle before it became part of the culture but once the norm, now you feel naked and vulnerable without it. Hard to argue against the use of seatbelts in cars. The motorcycle operator does not have the benefit of a cage and restraint as in a car, only the ability to avoid a collision. The ability to slow and stop while staying on the bike will allow the rider another day.

“If you don’t cover the brake you are forfeiting life-saving time. The second it takes to uncurl from the bar, reach for the lever and initiate a controlled lever squeeze is too long. Imagine driving a car with your legs crossed on the seat rather than with feet ready to apply pressure to the brake pedal. That is what you are doing by not covering the brake on a motorcycle. One second can be the difference between a crash and a scare.

“Covering the brake gives you the mental preparedness to engage that lever in an instant. When in close combat you don’t keep your weapon in the holster. You keep your weapon raised and ready to engage. Isn’t your life worth having that edge?

“Your hands will develop the muscle and joint flexibility to cover the brake at all times. Guitar players will understand. Slowing and stopping your motorcycle as effectively as possible is the single most important part of the sport. Period.

Slowing and stopping while at lean angle and at any point in the ride is the difference between being a skilled motorcycle operator, or an accident waiting to happen.” -Mark Shaw, healthy Grandpa, enthusiastic rider.

More Next Tuesday!