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50 Ways to Save Your Life
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. —Aristotle
By The Motorcyclist Staff
Motorcyclist Magazine, August 2006

The best bike in the world is scrap—or soon will be—unless you learn how to use it. The most powerful piece of high-performance hardware is between your ears. To help you program it with the right information, we’ve assembled 50 potentially lifesaving bits of street savvy. Some you’ll know, some you won’t. All are worth remembering, because when it comes to riding motorcycles on the street, the people over at the Motorcycle Safety Foundation ( have the right idea with their tagline: The more you know, the better it gets.

1. Assume you’re invisible
Because to a lot of drivers, you are. Never make a move based on the assumption that another driver sees you, even if you’ve just made eye contact. Bikes don’t always register in the four-wheel mind.

2. Be considerate
The consequences of strafing the jerk du jour or cutting him off start out bad and get worse. Pretend it was your grandma and think again.

3. Dress for the crash, not the pool or the prom
Sure, Joaquin’s Fish Tacos is a 5-minute trip, but nobody plans to eat pavement. Modern mesh gear means 100-degree heat is no excuse for a T-shirt and board shorts.

4. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
Assume that car across the intersection will turn across your bow when the light goes green, with or without a turn signal.

5. Leave your ego at home
The only people who really care if you were faster on the freeway will be the officer and the judge.

6. Pay attention
Yes, there is a half-naked girl on the billboard. That shock does feels squishy. Meanwhile, you could be drifting toward Big Trouble. Focus.

7. Mirrors only show you part of the picture
Never change direction without turning your head to make sure the coast really is clear.

8. Be patient
Always take another second or three before you pull out to pass, ride away from a curb or into freeway traffic from an on-ramp. It's what you don't see that gets you. That extra look could save your butt.

9. Watch your closing speed
Passing cars at twice their speed or changing lanes to shoot past a row of stopped cars is just asking for trouble.

10. Beware the verge and the merge
A lot of nasty surprises end up on the sides of the road: empty McDonald’s bags, nails, TV antennas, ladders, you name it. Watch for potentially troublesome debris on both sides of the road.

11. Left-turning cars remain a leading killer of motorcyclists
Don’t assume someone will wait for you to dart through the intersection. They’re trying to beat the light, too.

12. Beware of cars running traffic lights
The first few seconds after a signal light changes are the most perilous. Look both ways before barging into an intersection.

13. Check your mirrors
Do it every time you change lanes, slow down or stop. Be ready to move if another vehicle is about to occupy the space you’d planned to use.

14. Mind the gap
Remember Driver’s Ed? One second’s worth of distance per 10 mph is the old rule of thumb. Better still, scan the next 12 seconds ahead for potential trouble.

15. Beware of tuner cars
They’re quick and their drivers tend to be aggressive. Don’t assume you’ve beaten one away from a light or outpaced it in traffic and change lanes without looking. You could end up as a Nissan hood ornament.

16. Excessive entrance speed hurts
It’s the leading cause of single-bike accidents on twisty roads and racetracks. In Slow, Out Fast is the old adage, and it still works. Dialing up corner speed is safer than scrubbing it off.

17. Don’t trust that deer whistle
Ungulates and other feral beasts prowl at dawn and dusk, so heed those big yellow signs. If you’re riding in a target-rich environment, slow down and watch the shoulders.

18. Learn to use both brakes
The front does most of your stopping, but a little rear brake on corner entry can calm a nervous chassis.

19. Keep the front brake covered—always
Save a single second of reaction time at 60 mph and you can stop 88 feet shorter. Think about that.

20. Look where you want to go
Use the miracle of target fixation to your advantage. The motorcycle goes where you look, so focus on the solution instead of the problem.

21. Keep your eyes moving
Traffic is always shifting, so keep scanning for potential trouble. Don’t lock your eyes on any one thing for too long unless you’re actually dealing with trouble.

22. Think before you act
Careful whipping around that Camry going 7 mph in a 25-mph zone or you could end up with your head in the driver’s side door when he turns into the driveway right in front of you.

23. Raise your gaze
It’s too late to do anything about the 20 feet immediately in front of your fender, so scan the road far enough ahead to see trouble and change trajectory.

24. Get your mind right in the driveway
Most accidents happen during the first 15 minutes of a ride, below 40 mph, near an intersection or driveway. Yes, that could be your driveway.

25. Come to a full stop at that next stop sign
Put a foot down. Look again. Anything less forces a snap decision with no time to spot potential trouble.

26. Never dive into a gap in stalled traffic
Cars may have stopped for a reason, and you may not be able to see why until it’s too late to do anything about it.

27. Don’t saddle up more than you can handle
If you weigh 95 pounds, avoid that 795-pound cruiser. If you’re 5-foot-5, forget those towering adventure-tourers.

28. Watch for car doors opening in traffic
And smacking a car that’s swerving around some goofball’s open door is just as painful.

29. Don’t get in an intersection rut
Watch for a two-way stop after a string of four-way intersections. If you expect cross-traffic to stop, there could be a painful surprise when it doesn’t.

30. Stay in your comfort zone when you’re with a group
Riding over your head is a good way to end up in the ditch. Any bunch worth riding with will have a rendezvous point where you’ll be able to link up again.

31. Give your eyes some time to adjust
A minute or two of low light heading from a well-lighted garage onto dark streets is a good thing. Otherwise, you’re essentially flying blind for the first mile or so.

32. Master the slow U-turn
Practice. Park your butt on the outside edge of the seat and lean the bike into the turn, using your body as a counterweight as you pivot around the rear wheel.

33. Who put a stop sign at the top of this hill?
Don’t panic. Use the rear brake to keep from rolling back down. Use Mr. Throttle and Mr. Clutch normally—and smoothly—to pull away.

34. If it looks slippery, assume it is
A patch of suspicious pavement could be just about anything. Butter Flavor Crisco? Gravel? Mobil 1? Or maybe it’s nothing. Better to slow down for nothing than go on your head.

35. Bang! A blowout! Now what?
No sudden moves. The motorcycle isn’t happy, so be prepared to apply a little calming muscle to maintain course. Ease back the throttle, brake gingerly with the good wheel and pull over very smoothly to the shoulder. Big sigh.

36. Drops on the faceshield?
It’s raining. Lightly misted pavement can be slipperier than when it’s been rinsed by a downpour, and you never know how much grip there is. Apply maximum-level concentration, caution and smoothness.

37. Emotions in check?
To paraphrase Mr. Ice Cube, chickity-check yoself before you wreck yoself. Emotions are as powerful as any drug, so take inventory every time you saddle up. If you’re mad, sad, exhausted or anxious, stay put.

38. Wear good gear
Wear stuff that fits you and the weather. If you’re too hot or too cold or fighting with a jacket that binds across the shoulders, you’re dangerous. It’s that simple.

39. Leave the iPod at home
You won’t hear that cement truck in time with Spinal Tap cranked to 11, but they might like your headphones in intensive care.

40. Learn to swerve
Be able to do two tight turns in quick succession. Flick left around the bag of briquettes, then right back to your original trajectory. The bike will follow your eyes, so look at the way around, not the briquettes. Now practice till it’s a reflex.

41. Be smooth at low speeds
Take some angst out, especially of slow-speed maneuvers, with a bit of rear brake. It adds a welcome bit of stability by minimizing unwelcome weight transfer and potentially bothersome driveline lash.

42. Flashing is good for you
Turn signals get your attention by flashing, right? So a few easy taps on the pedal or lever before stopping makes your brake light more eye-catching to trailing traffic.

43. Intersections are scary, so hedge your bets
Put another vehicle between your bike and the possibility of someone running the stop sign/red light on your right and you cut your chances of getting nailed in half.

44. Tune your peripheral vision
Pick a point near the center of that wall over there. Now scan as far as you can by moving your attention, not your gaze. The more you can see without turning your head, the sooner you can react to trouble.

45. All alone at a light that won’t turn green?
Put as much motorcycle as possible directly above the sensor wire—usually buried in the pavement beneath you and located by a round or square pattern behind the limit line. If the light still won’t change, try putting your kickstand down, right on the wire. You should be on your way in seconds.

46. Every-thing is harder to see after dark
Adjust your headlights, Carry a clear faceshield and have your game all the way on after dark, especially during commuter hours.

47. Don’t troll next to—or right behind—Mr. Peterbilt
If one of those 18 retreads blows up—which they do with some regularity—it de-treads, and that can be ugly. Unless you like dodging huge chunks of flying rubber, keep your distance.

48. Take the panic out of panic stops
Develop an intimate relationship with your front brake. Seek out some safe, open pavement. Starting slowly, find that fine line between maximum braking and a locked wheel, and then do it again, and again.

49. Make your tires right
None of this stuff matters unless your skins are right. Don’t take ’em for granted. Make sure pressure is spot-on every time you ride. Check for cuts, nails and other junk they might have picked up, as well as general wear.

50. Take a deep breath
Count to 10. Visualize whirled peas. Forgetting some clown’s 80-mph indiscretion beats running the risk of ruining your life, or ending it. -MC

1,502 Posts
Good post, my friend! I hope it gets read by everyone here!

Thanks, Nadam!


Premium Member
523 Posts
+1 :thumbleft:

Excellent well thought out list. Well worth sending to anyone you know that rides.

874 Posts
What a wonderful post! I utilize many of the items mentioned but I see I could implement many more. Thanks Nadam for your effort and thoughtfullness. :salute:

259 Posts
This list has such good advice, that perhaps the administrators will consider making this a sticky at the top of the Safety Tips and Ideas section.

Premium Member
1,898 Posts
Excellent post, thank for the reminders. I've found a couple where I'm lacking so come spring, it'll be time to take that "advanced" motorcycle course and get some proper riding gear.

This is a case of: "Read and Heed" if you value your life.

1,602 Posts
Excellent Stuff.



Premium Member
1,128 Posts
What a great post!!! This post should be read by everyone that uses the road. I can't say Thankyou enough. :D :D :D

5 Posts
You must develop a "sixth" sense that will warn you of dangerous drivers around you... It will come from experience.

Watch how the car tracks the road. Is it too fast or too slow. Is the driver "twitchy". Do they ride the breaks, speed up and slow down. Do they act nervous? Are they talking on cell or blasting a boom box?

Beware of
Washington state, Minnesota, and Wisconsin plates. Most are snow birds and well over 60 years of age and very poor drivers and assume half blind. Beware of Mexican plates, they probably don't have a license and are very dangerous...

Do not travel in a pack of cars. Blast around them or slow down. If someone rides your bumper and you can't get away from them, pull over to next gas station and take a break...

Pass well clear of stopped cars. A door in your face is not good... Never stop to aid anyone on the road,, very dangerous..

Stay away from large commercial vehicles. Stay aware of all around you and watch your mirrors. A car approaching at high speed is dangerous.. Watch out for cars with no plates, God knows what they are up too.

Always assume a blind curve is dangerous. Watch for leaves, ice, sand, objects, and road kill... Two lane country roads are dangerous, farmer Jones will pull out in front of you with his hay wagon without looking. After all it is his road.
If a car around you makes you nervous, get away from it..

NEVER NEVER, confront a nasty driver. In Arizona you can be shot for giving the finger... Happens all the time around Phoenix..

If you see two cars racing or fighting, pull off asap. Never try to pass them. They could be having a gun battle and you might catch a stray bullet..

A few tips I learned from years of driving 18 wheelers and Trailways busses plus many bike miles...


6 Posts
Thank you for taking the time to create this post. It is always good to remind ourselves how to ride safely and it made me think of things I need to do better.

22 Posts
I like to read this every once in while to see if I have strayed. Proficient Motorcycling has all this stuff and then some. We are always leaning.

Heads up and have fun!

9 Posts
A Very insightful and helpful article. I'm a brand new rider, just took delivery of my 400 last Friday and the did Motorcycle Safety Foundation class last weekend.

I took yesterday off and decided it was time to take my bike out for a 'fun ride' - I had only driven it to the MSF class and to my friend's house during the week for our car pool. I figured going on mid-morning on a weekday would provide for calmer riding (I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, on the peninsula just south of the city along the ocean). Sure enough, less than a minute from my house as I was heading out, an elderly lady came blowing out from the shopping center without stopping at the stop sign when I was right in front of her - she pushed me all the way over to the curb without even seeing me, and I was right along side. I didn't have time to think, just react. I was far enough forward that I felt it was safer to accelerate to get clear versus trying to brake and maybe get pinched off the street completely. I evidently was finally seen by her as she panicked stopped (glad I was forward of her by that point). Based on the way she then crawled through the next stop sign/intersection and up the street I caused her quite a scare. She obviously wasn't trying to harm me - she just never saw me. I figured at some point in my riding I'd experience what everyone talks about, but not so soon!

I have to credit the MSF program, first for reinforcing that this is a real risk and you need to be conscious of it occurring, and secondly giving me the foundation of bike handling skills to be able to react. Anyway, I had a very enjoyable ride down the coast and the rest of my ride was uneventful, although it will be a while before I get comfortable at highway (65mph) speeds. It was pretty windy and I think I'll need a lot more experience before I'll be comfortable with the gusts blowing the bike around (although I continue to be impressed with the handling of the Burgman!) I discovered on the ride that the posted speed limits really are correct (even if the cars behind me didn't appreciate it!) Anyone have any general wind gust riding tips for me?


Premium Member
1,898 Posts
dwjohn asks:
Anyone have any general wind gust riding tips for me?
Stay loose. Don't keep a "death grip" on the handlebars, you'll just tire quicker and and be uncomfortable.

59 Posts
One thing that I've been made aware from riding with others behind me is to be sure to apply the brakes even when engine braking is sufficient to make sure the brake lights come on to notify the traffic behind you that you are slowing down.

You may want to change

18. Learn to use both brakes
The front does most of your stopping, but a little rear brake on corner entry can calm a nervous chassis.
to something liked this (changed text bolded and itialicized)

18. Learn to use both brakes (Remember that this causes you brake lights to come, informing traffic that you are slowing)
The front does most of your stopping, but a little rear brake on corner entry can calm a nervous chassis.
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