Baseball great Satchel Paige once said, "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you." Good advice, maybe, for a seemingly ageless pitcher, but not so good for motorcyclists, especially when they're stopped at an intersection and don't see the distracted driver bearing down on them from behind. It takes more than a working brake light to prevent being bunted into a busy intersection or squashed like a bug between two bumpers. Here are some tips to help you avoid getting caught in a squeeze play.
As you decelerate for a stoplight, check your mirrors to see if the traffic behind you is slowing down, too. Touch the brakes several times to flash your brake lights. Be extra vigilant if you decide to stop for a fresh yellow light in case the guy behind you decides to run it. And while we don't generally advocate running a yellow, that's your best course of action if it's clear that the car behind you is planning to.
Now that you've stopped, be ready to go again in a heartbeat in case the space you're in seems in imminent danger of being occupied by a speeding car. Position your bike on either side of the greasy center of the lane. Leave the transmission in gear and hold the clutch in. If that's not practical, put your right foot down, leave your left foot on the peg ready to engage first gear, and cover the clutch lever.
Always have an out in case the car in your mirror is becoming alarmingly large, alarmingly quick. If you're turning left and there's a curb or a median to your left and a car in front of you, position your bike on the right side of the lane so you can slip around the car if necessary. But be aware of through traffic coming up behind you that's not slowing down to turn. Stop far enough back from the car ahead to give yourself room to maneuver. If your front tire is inches from a bumper, you won't be able to turn without backing up first. That's a bad place to be.
In addition to bike placement, bike equipment can help tip the odds in your favor. Keep your mirrors clean and adjusted properly, and if all you can see in them is your elbows, swap them out for ones that do what mirrors are supposed to do. Check your brake light and taillights often, invest in some auxiliary brake lights, and add some reflective tape to the back of your bike for night riding. Every little bit helps.
WORDS: Jerry Smith
PHOTO: Marc Cook
Q: I have Bridgestone BT023 tires on my bike. Recently, I discovered something that worries me. I was adjusting the chain when I noticed a thin line around the circumference of the rear tire, right in the middle of the tread. The line was a little bit darker than the rubber on either side of it. I felt it with my thumb, but it didn't feel like a groove. I checked the front of the swingarm and under the fender in case something was rubbing the tire, but I couldn't find anything. Then I checked the front tire and found another line just like the one on the rear tire. Both tires appear to be working fine. They hold pressure, and the handling of my bike is the same as it was on the last set of tires. But I can't stop wondering about that dark line. Do you have any idea what might have caused it?
Mike O'Kelly, Berkeley, CA
A: We have a bike in our road-test fleet with the same line around the rear tire. It's nothing to worry about. In fact, you should be glad it's there unless you enjoy electrical shocks. Motorcycle tires have a lot of different materials in the compound. One in particular, silica, helps the rubber heat up quickly and improves grip in cold and wet conditions. One drawback of silica is that it's a good electrical isolator. Tires with rubber compounds that use a lot of silica build up a static-electricity charge as you ride, sometimes enough to give you a light shock when you put your foot on the pavement, becoming the ground in the circuit.
The line around your tires is called antenna tread. Unlike the rest of the compound that makes up the tire, this line doesn't have any silica in it, so it dissipates the static electricity as you ride rather than letting it accumulate. Antenna tread isn't new or peculiar to any one brand. All motorcycle tire manufacturers build it into their tires—even car and truck tires have it—though it's much harder to see there because of the dense tread pattern. The visible line of antenna tread might fade or disappear over time, but meanwhile it's nothing to worry about.
A 2007 study distributed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that in 2005, in 29 percent of rear-end collisions involving a motorcycle and a car, the car hit the motorcycle. But the same study also showed the bike hit the car in 68 percent of rear-enders. So keep your eyes on your mirrors at stoplights, but don't forget to look where you're going between intersections.