“My motorcycle is yellow, my helmet matches (of course!) and I have visible gear,” says Caroline ‘Zippy’, a rider with five years of road experience and decades of off-road riding. “But I’m always watching for cars about to make a move as if they haven’t seen me – because they haven’t.” Caroline’s defensive response is to adjust her speed or position her motorcycle so she’s more visible to the driver.
Wolfgang Kirchner, a government employee, motorcycle instructor and rider with 46 years of motorcycle experience, does the same. “I ride to be as visible as possible. I ensure I’m within the view of the car’s mirrors and use my lights and horn early if I suspect an unsafe move coming up by the car driver.”
Drivers, how to share the road with motorcycles
Wolfgang’s number one tip to vehicle drivers is, “Give motorcycles the same space as a car.” Motorcyclists don’t have a protective metal shell around them, not to mention air bags and other safety features. A ‘fender bender’ for two cars becomes a ‘body bender’ for a motorcyclist.
Greg Driscoll, who’s been riding for more than 50 years, has seen a lot of cars turning left at intersections where motorcycles are proceeding straight through. The data backs up Greg’s point – from 2016-2020, 55 per cent of motorcycle collisions resulting in fatal or major injuries happened in or near intersections.
Here are driving tips that will protect motorcyclists and drivers alike:
- Check your blind spot before changing lanes or merging; due to the small size of motorcycles they are even more hidden in blind spots than cars
- Never tailgate a motorcycle – not only does this risk hitting the motorcycle if it slows down but it also hides the motorcycle from the view of other vehicles; give yourself sufficient stopping distance according to your speed
- When making a left turn, give extra space for approaching motorcycles, as they may be closer than you think
- If pulling out to pass a motorcycle, be aware that the gust of wind from your acceleration could cause the motorcycle to become unstable; make sure you are several car lengths ahead of the motorcycle before returning to the same lane
Adwin ‘OJ’ Gallant reinforces the need for safe distancing, “Drivers need to understand that motorcycle riders are much more vulnerable to serious injury and death from even a simple fall or crash.” An aircraft engineering officer at the Department of National Defence with 16 years of riding experience, Adwin says, “Motorcycles follow the same rules of the road as cars, so treat them as equals on the road.”
Ride like you’re invisible
If you assume you can’t be seen while out riding, defensive driving behaviours become standard:
- Move out of a driver’s blind spot
- Be on the lookout for vehicles turning left when you are proceeding straight through an intersection
- Use your horn to alert other road users who might not see you or if you suspect a driver hasn’t seen you; try to make eye contact
- Ride within the speed limit
- Be predictable to other road users
- Treat other road users – cars, bikes, pedestrians, etc. – with the caution and respect you expect from them
- Don’t ride if you’re fatigued as it impairs your concentration – take a break, drink some water, have a light snack
- Stay a safe stopping-distance back from the vehicle ahead
- Ride to the road conditions, for example, on wet pavement be more cautious with speed, braking, lane changes and turning
Raynald Marchant, now retired, started riding in 1974. His cautionary tale – watch for drivers changing lanes in front of you. “A driver traveling on a busy Ottawa street was chatting with her passenger and drinking a coffee. She not only didn’t check her blind spot but also didn’t signal her lane change. I only avoided hitting her when she cut me off because I was paying attention.”
What all the best riders are wearing
Besides a helmet, which is mandatory by law, protective gear for the rest of your body can literally save your skin.
- Wear all the gear all the time, even if you’re just hopping on the bike for a quick errand
- Your street clothing will disintegrate on impact with asphalt, exposing your skin to cuts, gravel rash and friction burns which are not only painful and slow to heal but can lead to infection
- Riders wearing protective clothing are less likely to be admitted to hospital after a crash
- Buy the safest protective gear you can afford
- Consider adding extra lights to the front and rear of the bike, and adding a brake light to your helmet
The joy – and a couple hazards – of the open road
Raynald enjoys riding to small towns along the Rideau River. Adwin is keen on countryside rides. For Caroline, it’s exploring new destinations with fellow female riders, especially when there’s ice cream involved.
On the open road, with no other vehicles in sight, here are some other safety tips:
- Be cautious riding around curves since losing control on a curve is a major cause of motorcycle-only crashes; from 2016-2020, this type of incident accounted for 43 per cent of all motorcycle-only collisions resulting in fatal or major injuries
- Be alert for larger wildlife like deer that may dart out onto the road
City road safety engineering continues
The City continues to make improvements to the safety of our roads and pathways with an emphasis on protecting vulnerable users – pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. These engineering measures help eliminate preventable accidents. But even the safest transportation network requires that everyone follows the rules of the road for their mode of transportation.