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Motorcycle Officers Are Not The Best Example
The have different realities

By: James R. Davis

I have read that mounting a motorcycle from the right side is 'OK' and for proof the poster pointed out that the motorcycle police in California are required to do so.

While I believe it is true that at least the California Highway Patrol requires their motorcycle officers to use the right side to both mount and dismount their machines, that is hardly an example one should draw heavy conclusions from. It may suggest that if you pull to the side of a freeway and want to dismount you might be safer getting on and off on the right side based on traffic risk, but that does not infer that it is generally safer to do so.

Your side stand provides a WIDE tripod footprint (unlike your center stand) that virtually guarantees your bike will not fall over if you lean against it. (This, by the way, is why it is far safer to leave your bike on its side stand than it is to put it on its center stand in a storm.) You would court dumping the bike if it was not LEANING heavily on its side stand when you mounted it (as when the bike is parked on a slope to the right.) Similarly, mounting from the right tends to relieve pressure from the side stand unless you 'hop' onto your left foot before your fanny hits the seat. Worse, your right foot is planted firmly on the ground when you do that and if the bike were to fall over you could not get away from it.

This is not a challenge of the motorcycle police. But they are hardly the best role models for most of us. Consider that despite the fact that full-face helmets are demonstrably safer than 3/4 or smaller shells, until recently not a single motorcycle policeman in the entire country wore one. (Many now do.) Also please observe that keeping two hands on the grips is obviously safer than riding with only one in control. This is why those of us with CB's have a PTT button within reach of a finger on the left hand without removing that hand from the grip. Yet some of our motorcycle police still use a hand microphone. (I'm told that in California - and probably most everywhere else - most motorcycle police officers now use helmet mounted microphones and conventional left-thumb activated PTT switches - their helmet cords disconnect easily as they leave their bikes.)

The answer to these apparently less safe practices of our motorcycle officers is that they have different risks to manage than we street riders do. They do not want to lose visual contact with a suspect for the brief time it takes to remove a full-face helmet (nor do they want to occupy both hands taking a helmet off.) They must often leave their bikes FAST and a microphone/speaker cord going to their helmets could cost them their lives if they had to deal with them at a vulnerable time. They tend to work busy freeways and mount/dismount their bikes frequently at the side of the road. (And, of course, they mount and dismount on the right to put their bikes between themselves and a possible bullet from the driver of the car in front of them as well as to keep themselves away from traffic.)

All I'm saying is that suggesting that a motorcycle officer be used as a role model for how to behave on your street machine is a bad choice. It is clearly safer (except, perhaps, on the side of a freeway) to mount and dismount your bike from the left. It is safer to ride with a full-face helmet than a smaller shell. It is safer to use a built-in microphone than a hand-held.

But then again, it is safer not being a motorcycle officer in any event.

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(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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