Motorcycle Tips & Techniques

Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics

Skip Repetitive Navigational Links
Safety TipsTips:217-252   Tip246   Print article Print

You should *NOT* ride at your skill level
(Always have an 'escape path')

By: James R. Davis


A fundamental concept for newbies as well as experienced riders is that you should ALWAYS have an escape path while riding a motorcycle. I can think of nobody who would argue with that bit of wisdom. Yet there are far too many injuries and deaths that result from failing to understand that very concept.

It is a little bit like being advice that is too obvious to be taken seriously. Advice like "Look where you want to go" or "If you look at that pothole you are approaching, you will hit it" involves UNDERSTANDING the essence of target fixation before they have attention getting meaning to the listener.

Similarly, advice like "Ride your own ride" requires that you UNDERSTAND that some riders have better skills than you do at a particular task so that if you follow the herd there WILL be times (tasks) that you will confront that are beyond your abilities. Unless you have a background, and temperament, that allows you to see a 'bigger picture', the advice is trivial and easily ignored - meaning that it has no value for you.

So let's get back to the theme of this message.

You have practiced and developed a certain skill level at all the common tasks required of you while riding. You can, for example, confidently and smoothly handle a given curve in the road at, say, 55 MPH without dragging a peg or losing traction. My advice to you is that you should *NOT* ride that curve at 55 MPH. Simple advice but you seem unwilling to accept it, yet.

You need that experience (background) and temperament going for you before you can UNDERSTAND it and allow yourself to be persuaded to accept the advice as meaningful.

When you ride your motorcycle you are OFTEN confronted with the unexpected. Riding would be boring if it were not for those moments. You have come to believe that you can handle virtually anything in the way of 'unexpected' because you have, so far, successfully managed to do so. Your reflexes are quick, your judgement is sound, you tend not to panic, and both you and your motorcycle are 'healthy'. But sooner or later an 'unexpected' will occur that is slightly (or grossly) beyond your abilities to deal with. Then what?

We will go back to that skill you demonstrably have: the ability to handle a particular curve at 55 MPH. At 60 MPH you will have dragged a peg or lost traction. *YOUR* skill level at that particular task is 55 MPH. So what do you do if it turns out that for one reason or another you find yourself moving at 60 MPH in that curve, or that what looked like a 55 MPH curve to you turns out to be ever so slightly tighter than you thought? What happens, of course, is that you find yourself forced outside of your skill range.

And now you find yourself dragging a peg. Catastrophe? Not at all, so long as you can change the lean angle of your BIKE. You could, for example, simply lean your body (not the bike) deeper into that curve and the result of that behavior is that your bike's lean angle will diminish and your peg will no longer be dragging. A pucker moment that safely passes because you HAD SOMETHING IN RESERVE - an ESCAPE PATH (or RECOVERY TECHNIQUE).

We are almost there, dear reader.

So far we have discussed skill levels as if they were limits - beyond which you CANNOT safely continue. And I want you now to consider that if you ride *AT* your skill levels you are always at a threshold of loss of control. Such behavior is simply not the way to maximize your odds of escaping your experience without injury or death - because there WILL BE an 'unexpected' event in your future that pushes you beyond your limits.

Again, let's go back to that curve. We know that if we drag a peg we can almost always recover by simply leaning our bodies into the turn. So, from a skill level point of view, why not make it a practice of ALWAYS leaning our bodies into our turns? In that way we have increased our skill level (say, for example, to 60 MPH on that particular curve). But what we have simultaneously done is removed the escape path - the recovery technique - from our tool bag. And now when that 'unexpected' occurs, we have nowhere to go but DOWN!

It makes far more sense to NOT ride *AT* your skill level and to always keep a little bit of reserve. Call that 'defensive riding', 'having an escape path', 'having a recovery technique in your tool bag', or 'maintaining a reserve' - I don't care at all, but if you ride *AT* your limits you can call it 'eating the pavement'.

[It should be clear that stunters and racers often ride at their skill limits. I do not write safety articles for them. Instead, I write these articles for people who do not want to EVER experience an injury or death because of riding their motorcycles.]

Copyright 1992 - 2024 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

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

A plea for your help