Using any mode of transportation, including walking, seems like a calculated risk on the road system in Metro Atlanta. Bad drivers, potholes, unexpected construction, and inclement weather trip up commuters like banana peels in Mario Kart. Riders on two wheels assume even more risk and rely both on their own safety awareness and the conscientiousness of the drivers around them.
“Wear all your safety gear when riding - head to toe. Helmet, full-fingered glove, eye protection, riding jacket, riding pants, riding boots - always have all the gear on all the time,” Yu explained, noting the most obvious difference between cars and bikes. “Your armor, your protection is on you,” Yu emphasized. “Whereas, in a car, you’re in a cage.”
Proper riding pants, Yu said, have abrasive-resistant material that allows riders to slide longer, if needed. Lengthier slides dissipate energy and can reduce injuries. Yu also wears armor on her knees, elbows, and hips. Yu’s gear came in handy when walking her dog one winter, as she slipped on black ice and landed on her elbows. The spill didn’t hurt her, because she was wearing her motorcycle jacket - a stylish parka with faux-fur - instead of a winter coat. It had elbow pads built in.
That said, biker gear can also be quite fashionable, Yu explained. Jackets and pants and the like aren’t all black leather and studs.
Maybe klutzes should wear chic biker gear all the time.
Yu describes herself as a “moto-nerd.” She and her husband ride several different types of on-road and off-road motorcycles. She explained that pre-ride inspection is another pillar in motorcycle safety. Motorcycle wonks call this process T-CLOCS. This acronym reminds riders to check tires and wheels, controls (such as handlebars and pedals), lights and electrics, oil and other fluids (levels and leaks), chassis, and stands.
Considering that motorcycles have less protection than cars if parts fail and cause wrecks, this process is vital. Any wreck then can also involve passersby on the road. Yu said she always tells herself she never wants her time on the road to be the cause of someone else’s pain.
And inspection is practical in another, very important way. “It just kind of [stinks], if you’re riding around and you get a flat and you’re out 50 miles from home. It’s not fun,” Yu recalled, harkening to one of her earlier riding mistakes. Roadside services, such as AAA, do assist motorcycles, too.
Some motorcycle riders have given the niche a bad rep. High-speed thrill-seekers on “crotch rockets,” playing triple-digit PAC-MAN with lane-line dashes anger and endanger those nearby. Yu recommended riders and drivers alike seek that adrenaline in controlled, safer environments, such as track days at Michelin Raceway at Road Atlanta.
There is also some debate about whether loud exhaust pipes on bikes save lives. The feeling in that industry is that since the tail pipes are pointed backwards, surrounding motorists don’t hear them soon enough. And since there are numerous local ordinances on vehicle-noise, Yu said that riders should be courteous to their environments.
Driver-behavior around motorcyclists obviously has a major impact on safety and Yu said that distracted driving is one of the biggest problems bikers face. “It’s an issue for any road-user and especially motorcyclists because we also have a smaller profile on the road. So not only could distracted drivers just not see you, but we have something called inattentional blindness.”
Yu said that this type of “blindness” stems simply from those in other vehicles not actively looking out for motorcyclists. Essentially, other drivers often unintentionally look right past bikes right in front of them. “We always tell people to ride as if they’re invisible, which means being extra-careful or being extra-defensive.” Yu said she leans to the side of caution, when deciding if she can risk beating a car and making a turn. That driver is simply less likely to see her bike than another car.
The idea of being nearly unseen brings Yu to again discuss gear. Big, burly Harley riders don’t need neon-green pants, she said. But Yu suggested wearing a bright caution vest, similar to what a crossing guard would wear. She also uses a motion-activated light mounted on her helmet. The Brake Free system actually turns red when it senses the rider slowing down on the bike.
The MSF offers many classes for riders of all experience levels and even has partners that give dirt bike classes - in full gear - for beginners or non-riders. Just riding a motorcycle for a few minutes gives other drivers a greater appreciation for what bikers face, Yu said. I soon plan on taking one of these classes for that very reason.
Being visible may be the biggest hurdle in motorcycle safety and riders can manage that visibility both in their gear and in the amount of risk they take while revving the iron horse. Riders also mitigate their risk by inspecting their bikes before mounting. And surrounding drivers, encased in metal and glass, need to pay full attention to all of their surroundings, not the least of which being their open-air cohorts on two wheels.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.
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