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WILL save your life

By: James R. Davis

Many studies have shown that an expected threat to a motorcyclist is recognized and responded to (begin braking, for example) all within about one second. You will remember an earlier discussion where I have strongly advocated covering your front brake in order to shave 1/10th of a second off your reaction time (about 9 feet of stopping distance if traveling at 60 MPH). Some other studies have shown that the time it takes to recognize and react to an unexpected threat is closer to 1.6 seconds than 1. Yet others, the ones that are particularly disturbing to me, show that as many as 1/3 of motorcycle accidents show NO EVIDENCE OF ANY ATTEMPT TO USE THE BRAKES WHATEVER. That is, they suggest that the rider freezes and simply rides into the disaster awaiting him.

I have tried to put my mind into one of those rider's heads just before the accident. I wonder if that rider is wondering if he is about to die, has his mind simply blanked out, is he wondering why that SOB turned in front of him, is his whole life flashing in front of his eyes?

I cannot do it. For each of those scenarios is wrong - dead wrong.

Let me go back to one of the most fundamental lessons you should have learned when you first started riding - you put the bike in neutral, turned on the ignition, squeezed both levers, and hit the starter button. The engine started and after a moment or two to let it 'warm up' (think about how unrealistic that is) and then you kicked the bike into gear.

SOMETHING HAPPENED just then - not exactly a surprise as you wanted it to happen, but due to a lack of familiarity it was nonetheless a bit of a surprise - there was a 'clunk' sound and you felt it in every part of your body - especially your hands. The bike went into gear just as you had wanted it to AND IT DID NOT RUN AWAY FROM YOU. You 'knew' it couldn't do that, of course, not with both levers being held firmly, but you were new and that 'clunk' gave you pause.

And now I want you to remember that moment as clearly as you possibly can because it is PROOF that you, a mere mortal, can ABSOLUTELY CONTROL something like 100 horsepower with just your fingers. And you have all the time in the world to decide what to do next because you have ALREADY done what has to be done - you got CONTROL.

But there will be a time, I assure you, some day in the future when a car will pull a left turn in front of you, or will back out of a driveway while you are on a surface street, or will simply jam on its brakes while you are following and you are too close to avoid what looks like an inevitable crash! If not a car, then it will be a deer or a dog or a child chasing a ball.

So at that moment it is absolutely wrong for you to think about whether or not you are about to die, or who that SOB is, or whether or not you have been a good enough father. It is time to REACT!

But what to do? Should you brake or try to swerve? Front brake only or both? Down shift? NUTS!!! You are to squeeze both levers (fast and HARD) and lean forward - period - end of story. You MUST try to slow down (hopefully to a stop) and retain control of your motorcycle in the process, and you MUST NOT delay that effort even for an instant.

By squeezing both levers you have disconnected the engine from the rear wheel and begun a significant weight transfer to the front which increases your traction and allows a greater and greater rate of deceleration. By leaning forward you have lowered the CG of the bike to increase its stability and to FURTHER increase the weight on the front tire. YOU CANNOT, then, TRY TO SWERVE as the 'righting effect' of trail will FORCE the front wheel to point straight ahead and make 'steering' virtually impossible. GOOD! You may hit something - but it will be at the slowest possible speed when you do. AND, it took you LESS THAN 1 SECOND to begin your deceleration. You have done the absolute best you can do - BY NOT THINKING!!! REACTING!!! You did not freeze! You did not delay with thoughts that get in the way. You may have saved your life.

No, I'm not advocating blanking your mind. I'm advocating putting a survival instinct in there - if you have no idea what to do next it is too late to figure out a better solution - SQUEEZE BOTH LEVERS AND LEAN FORWARD. THEN think about what you need to do next - like your rear brake.

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

A plea for your help