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We all know that we have to follow traffic laws. But when you start riding motorcycles there are unwritten laws of common sense and etiquette that all riders need to know. Today we’ll cover some motorcycle unwritten rules will help you stay safe and keep your karma intact.
Remember your skill level
It’s important to remember what your skill level is out on the road. Don’t over extend your ability when your riding with other motorcyclists beyond what your comfort level is.
If you not comfortable doing such things as taking a turn at a high speed or you’re unsure of how your motorcycle will handle in a certain situation, best to back off.
The best thing that you can do to help make up for any lack of skill is to keep your head on a swivel and be ready to take the appropriate defensive action before you need to take it.
Pay attention that the traffic in front of you is stopping and come to a nice controlled stop versus panicking at the last second.
Insects become projectiles
When it comes to insects (and even rain drops for that matter), even the smallest bugs become projectiles at highway speed.
Here’s what I mean:
The average bee (bees suck, don’t get one in the helmet!) flies at about 15 mph. You are traveling at a highway speed of 65mph. Now, it’s bad enough to get hit by anything at 65mph, but keep this in mind;
When the bee hits you, it will have a closing speed of 80mph – a projectile.
Insects, rocks and small debris will hit you at projectile speeds depending on how fast you (or it) is traveling at.
This is one of many reasons motorcyclists wear gloves; Bugs, rocks and rain hurt when they hit your knuckles!
Don’t touch another riders bike
A motorcycle is very personal to the person who rides it and a prized possession. Motorcycles are not cheap to buy and not cheap to maintain. This means that it’s owner has a very real sweat equity in their motorcycle and that makes it personal, like a family member.
It’s always best to ask the owner/rider if it is ok to touch their bike.
I personally make it a habit if I’m looking at or admiring someone’s motorcycle to stand back a bit and make a conscious effort to keep my hands away from the bike.
Besides being very rude, the rider will probably assume that you may be trying to steal it.
By the way… NEVER sit on another rider’s motorcycle unless you’ve made a decision to be involved in a confrontation or fistfight.
Ride like nobody can see you
You have to ride your motorcycle like nobody can see you – because they can’t and won’t. The best defensive action that you can take as soon as you get on your bike to make the assumption other vehicles on the road flat out don’t see you and they want to hurt you.
Even when a motorist sees you in their rearview or side mirrors they don’t really see you. They see through you.
They will proceed to engage their turn signals (if your lucky) and proceed to make whatever turn they planned on in the first place. People are too caught up in their lives and cell phones in this day and age to pay close attention.
From big trucks down to small vehicles, people are driving distracted more than ever.
I always make an effort to never travel in a vehicles blind spot if I can avoid it and I ride with my bright lights on during the day. I don’t care it’s ‘rude’ at least they see me (most of the time).
Never make the assumption that a motorist sees you. Plan accordingly.
Wave to other riders
One of the things I love about riding motorcycles is understood ‘brotherhood’ and community we all share when we ride.
Waving at a fellow motorcyclist is a way of showing that and giving each other a bit of support.
This community is filled with other like-minded people who brave the elements and stupid motorists to hit the highway and get some wind in their face and have fun.
You’ll learn after a while that there is a bit of a hierarchy of who waves at who. Being a Goldwing rider, I don’t get many Harley riders waving at me. That’s ok, I still want them to be safe.
No worries – Give’em a wave even if they don’t wave back.
Don’t make assumptions
When you’re out on the open road you will inevitably come across other groups of riders. Newbies will make the assumption that if we’re all traveling in the same direction, I’ll just join those guys!
Think of it a bit link standing in a bar talking with a group of friends, and some random person just shows up and buts into the conversation.
Aside from being a rude (and a stupid) thing to do, keep in mind that you also don’t know who you’ve just started riding with. Is it a group of friends or a motorcycle club?
It’s best to stay behind the group and not worry about passing them.
Leave room for other riders when parked
Don’t be ‘that guy’.
If your parking your motorcycle in a public place along with other motorcycles next to you, leave some space.
In addition to just being the right thing to do, it will save you from being upset by having dirt kicked onto your bike, shoeprints and your seat getting all scuffed up.
You also run the risk of getting your bike knocked over accidentally.
If you’re unsure of exactly how much space to leave, just keep in mind how much space you need when you or your passenger swing your legs over to mount your motorcycle.
Let’s face it; If you don’t leave room for other riders when you park, you’re a douche.
Don’t ride upset or emotional
Riding a motorcycle requires that you think clearly and be aware of your surroundings.
If you don’t have your head in the game, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll miss traffic warning signs that’ll help you avoid a collision or other mishap.
If you’re having emotional issues before you start your ride, it’s best to put your motorcycle ride to a more appropriate time until you’re in the right frame of mind.
Somebody severely piss you off while your out on the road? You’d be wise to find a place to stop and grab something to drink and calm down.
Making rash decisions when your angry or upset (specially when you’re riding) usually leads to making life altering decisions that you may regret later.
Ride in formation
Have you been invited to ride with a group?
Every group or club has its own temperaments, but there are a few things that you need to know when you decide to participate in group motorcycle riding.
You need to maintain your position that you’ve been placed in the group and if your struggling to keep up, it’s best to wave the faster riders in front of you.
When I’ve gone on group rides with a new group, I always opt to bring up the rear. This way I can see the entire group and get a feel for how they ride. Ultimately I can ride at my own pace and if I fall behind I can always catch up later.
Make sure while riding in your group that you maintain your position in your lane and ride in a staggered formation. Riding staggered gives everyone room to react if there’s a problem.
Your bike probably can’t trigger lights
Traffic lights usually work either one of two ways.
The lights are either timed or triggered by the approach of a vehicle. Traffic lights that use triggers work off of the metal attached to vehicles.
That being the case, your motorcycle has a lot of plastic attached to it, and very little metal exposed to its front facing portion that would trigger a light.
This can put you in a position where you’ll be stuck waiting at a traffic light forever and wanting to just run the red light.
Most states have passed laws pertaining to motorcycles that require that you wait at least one complete light cycle before proceeding through the light. Check with your state and make sure your traffic laws will allow motorcycles to run red lights under certain circumstances.
Give assistance to other riders
As your mom probably told you “Do unto others as you’d have done unto you”.
If your out on the road enjoying your day and you come upon a stranded fellow motorcyclist, stop and give’em a hand.
Not a mechanic you say? Me neither.
What you lack in mechanical knowledge you can make up for in either a fully charged cell phone or the willingness to ride to the nearest town and get help. If anything, you may be able to supply them with some water and company if they’re waiting for a tow truck.
Always remember that could be you stranded beside the road in the middle of nowhere with no help.
There but for the grace of God go I.
Brand new rider? Don’t buy your ‘dream bike’ right away
If you’re completely new to riding, I wouldn’t recommend spending your hard-earned cash on that Harley Davidson Ultra Glide you’ve dreamt of forever. You may want to start a bit smaller (and cheaper) and work your way up.
When your new to motorcycle riding chances are you’re going to make mistakes and those mistakes are going to involve dumping your motorcycle and damaging it. Better to damage a $2000 Honda Rebel than $30,000 Harley Davidson.
When I started riding again several years ago, I bough a Kawasaki Vulcan rode for while (thankfully without crashing!) sold it, then bought a Honda VTX. Rode that bike for another year or so then stepped up to the Goldwing.
Get your basic skills down learn to ride in traffic before dropping big money on a motorcycle.
Point out/watch for road debris and obstacles
As your riding down the highway you’re going to come across all manner of road debris, pot holes and the infamous ‘road gators’.
Road gators are large heavy pieces of tire tread that have detached from commercial vehicles tires. They’re heavy and dangerous to motorcyclists.
Point out road debris and hazards to fellow riders who are traveling in the same direction as you.
Failure to spot and avoid road debris can not only cause damage to your motorcycle but can also cause you to crash.
Do fellow motorcyclists a favor and point out these hazards out when you see them. Specially if you’re group riding.
If you’re dead it doesn’t matter if you had the right of way
When you’re riding in traffic (specially heavy urban traffic) you’re going to run into people have decided where they are going is more important than anyone else on the planet. They will cut off you or any other vehicle that gets in their way.
Remember this: You’re on a motorcycle – the ‘force’ is not with you. You may very well have the right of way, but it doesn’t matter if your body has to be peeled out of someone’s grill just because you tried to prove a point.
You’re better off making a mental note of the vehicle make model and license plate in case there is an accident so that you can provide a witness statement later should it be necessary.
Warn a brother
Is there a cop ahead? Know your basic hand signals so that you can warn fellow riders.
Everyone knows that that the slower you go the harder it is to maintain the speed limit (at least is for me!)
There are a lot of signals, but knowing the signal for ‘cops ahead’ is the most important!
Remember, you were able to avoid a possible speeding ticket because other riders were observant enough to warn you. It’s all about the community!
Avoid riding on metal
When your riding in town or an urban area, try to avoid riding over manhole covers and metal construction plates.
Manhole covers can be almost as bad as hitting some pot holes and will be jarring to both you and your passenger. Do what you can to steer around them, but be careful that steering around them doesn’t lead you into a curb or the lane next to you.
Does your town or city have a utility project that requires them to dig trenches across the roadway?
Just as bad (worse if it’s raining) are the large metal plates that are used in construction. These plates are used to allow traffic to continue to use the roadway when there is no construction taking place.
The edges of these metal plates provide an uneven surface between the plate and the roadway and can be a little hard on your motorcycle when you ride over them.
Even worse, is if they are wet they can be very slick and unsafe. If you have these types of construction projects in your area on routes you like to ride, it’s best to avoid that route until the project is completed.
Avoid dirt and gravel on roadway
Every seasoned motorcyclist knows that loose dirt and gravel are the devil.
Getting ready to head into that next turn? Keep your eyes peeled for dirt and gravel on the road that can cause your motorcycle to slide out from under you.
You can’t always avoid dirt and gravel in the turns, but you can prepare by slowing down picking a patch through the area. Make sure that patch doesn’t lead into the oncoming lane!
You’ll also want to be careful at traffic lights (your feet can go out from under you) and dirt parking areas are to be avoided like the plague if you can help it.
Avoid tar snakes and cracks
What is a tar snake?
Tar snakes are cracks in the asphalt that have been repaired by the local department of transportation by filling them in with road tar.
Tar snakes and cracks in the roadway can cause your motorcycle to behave erratically by ‘grabbing’ the front wheel of the motorcycle and making steering difficult.
Do what you can to not follow them directly or you’ll be in for a wild ride and not in a fun way.
My experience has been that the narrower in width your front tire is, the more susceptible your motorcycle will be to getting tossed around.
Don’t pull up next to another rider
Interested in feeling weird and feeling confused?
When you pull right up next to someone at a stop light you’ll have that weird feeling that your being stared at and judged. No one wants that.
In additions to just being kind of weird, pulling up next to another rider at a stop light can create some confusion as to who should go first.
If your pulling up to a light where there is already another motorcycle the first option is to just pull up behind it. The other option is to stagger to one side or the other and keep your front wheel parallel to their front wheel.
When the light turns green, nobody will drive off feeling weird or confused.
Don’t ask to ride someone’s bike
If you don’t know the owner/rider of the motorcycle (you better be a close friend!) and you haven’t been invited to ride their bike – Don’t ask.
If you ask to ride somebody else’s motorcycle the odds are that your going to be told no, and then your going to probably feel awkward. And you should.
I’ve had friends of mine offer to let me take their motorcycle for a ride and I’ve turned down every offer (even when they insisted).
I have a simple rule: If I can’t afford to fix it, don’t ride it.
You never know what could happen on your ‘test ride’ but you’d better be in a position with your money to fix the problem. In other words, you break it, you buy it.
Never Pass a rider in the same lane
This is just another obvious douche move.
I’d venture to say that if you pull this stunt, you may very well be having words with the rider you passed at the next rest stop.
Passing someone in the same lane at highway speed is not only extremely unsafe but you don’t know the skill level of the person your passing.
You could startle the person into making mistake that could injure you and them. Not to mention that your just not leaving either one you any room for error should something happen.
People will come up and talk to you
This can sometimes be fun or it can be weird.
When you own and ride a motorcycle, a lot people (mostly middle-aged guys) want to stop and talk to you about your motorcycle.
And why not? You just washed and waxed your bike and it looks awesome!
As long they aren’t weird and creepy I don’t mind talking to people about my motorcycle. Most of the time you get people who ‘used to have a bike like that’ who want to tell you stories of how they used to ride.
I figure I’ll probably be that guy one day when I can’t ride anymore, so I give’em a listen!
Some of the rules I’ve outline here will come to you pretty naturally when you first get out and start riding. Others you’ll learn over time the more experience you get and the more have an occasional beer with a fellow rider.
By following these rules, you stay a little safer and be able to meet and interact with other riders without feeling like a total noob.
Stay safe out there.