Riding Tips: Why We Crash

Street Savvy: Identifying the cause of crashes can help reduce the risk of crashing in the future.

The best riders avoid desperate situations by being mentally prepared.©Motorcyclist

Play with fire and you just might get burned. This truism about doing risky things applies to motorcycling as much as it does to open flame. Fortunately, you can reduce the risks by knowing the most common crash scenarios and then utilizing strategies to keep from getting burned.

There are two basic types of crashes: multiple-vehicle or single-vehicle. Multi-vehicle crashes account for more than half of all motorcyclist fatalities and usually occur when a driver fails to see a rider coming and invades the rider’s right-of-way. Distraction and carelessness are often to blame, but even alert drivers are known to commit this egregious error.

People aren’t really out to get us, so why do they think it’s okay to pull out in front of us even when we’re in plain view? One reason is that your relatively small size registers as a tiny blip on most drivers’ survival radar, causing them to unconsciously ignore you in search of something more threatening, like a Peterbilt. Another reason is that your motorcycle’s small size and narrow frontal area make it difficult for drivers to accurately judge how far away you are and how quickly you are approaching. Cars don’t have this problem because their wide frontal area makes it easier to triangulate distance and closing speed.


You can’t make yourself physically larger, but you can help drivers see you better. One trick is to move diagonally across your lane (and across the driver’s field of view) as you near. This visually separates you from the background and helps drivers judge your approach speed. This is a great tactic, but drivers will still pull out in front of you if you ride at faster-than-expected speeds, so keep cool when approaching waiting cars at intersections.

Moto-blind drivers are responsible for a lot of crashes, but nearly half of all fatalities involve only a single rider who couldn’t stay in their lane because of an unexpected hazard or a too-fast corner entry. A tightening turn radius requires more extreme lean angles that average riders without training and practice rarely manage to attain. Instead, these riders often panic, stand the bike up, and careen into oblivion or frantically grab the brakes and fall.

Developing your cornering and braking skills at a trackday or track school can dramatically improve your chances of survival. But even having Rossi-like prowess does not make you immune to crashes. Unlike the racetrack, the street includes oncoming traffic, unpredictable curves, and hidden mid-corner hazards. Your odds of extinction shoot sky high if you mistake the street for a racetrack. You can almost eliminate this scenario if you enter curves slower than necessary—you can always get on the gas if it’s a false alarm.

Besides tricky corners, the street is also riddled with debris, cracked pavement, railroad tracks, metal grates, and a myriad of other booby traps that can trip up any rider. Thankfully, surface hazards don’t jump in front of you like brain-dead drivers do, meaning that surface problems can be avoided if you see them coming and give yourself enough time and space to respond. Look well ahead for subtle changes in surface color and texture that can indicate reduced traction.

Identifying surface hazards is much more challenging when they are hidden around a corner. As soon as you see a traction problem, aim for the clearest part of your lane. If you can’t avoid the problem, reduce lean angle and then do nothing abrupt as you roll over the debris.

The best riders can avoid desperate situations by being mentally prepared. If you frequently experience close calls or find yourself using heroic measures to avoid crashing, you’re doing it wrong. Develop your control skills, but place more importance on your street smarts. Be aware of your surroundings, anticipate problems, and strive to have more talent, traction, and time than is needed.