Tips to stay alive and even enjoy riding in traffic
A few weeks ago, I rode through Melbourne’s peak hour traffic. Coming from the Adelaide Hills the increased amount of traffic was VERY noticeable! I’m the first to admit I’m out of practice riding in heavy traffic and I’m thankful I run my business from home so my commute is a walk down the driveway to my office.
My recent ride (both in afternoon peak and then the next morning) through Melbourne reminded me of how many things you must look out for to survive the ride! Fast moving traffic in congested conditions. People changing lanes at the last minute without indicating. Guessing what pedestrians are going to do. And let’s not forget the distracted driver on the phone, putting their make up on while eating their bowl of cereal and dealing with screaming kids in the back seat!
Sometimes it feels like they’re out to kill you!
It’s true – riding in traffic can be a nightmare, even more so for street-riding newcomers. Is it any wonder so many motorcyclists crash and burn while riding on congested streets? It's amazing how many different tasks motorcyclists deal with on a normal traffic-choked commute. Doing it successfully means processing a multitude of items at once and reacting correctly to each. Doing it wrong can mean roadkill - the human kind.
Here are 10 smart strategies for dealing with traffic-choked streets. Some may seem simple if you’ve been riding for years but we can all do with a reminder now and then!
1 Trust your mirrors – but use your head as well.
Regular checks of well-adjusted mirrors can be lifesaving but it doesn’t give you the whole picture of what is behind. A quick glance over the shoulder to check blind spots is crucial for safe riding.
2 Never get between a vehicle and an off ramp
Plenty of drivers decide to exit at the last minute so its best never to never position yourself between a car and an off ramp.
3 Don’t ride in a blind spot
Most car drivers rely totally on their mirrors and seldom (if ever) turn their head to check for blind spots. As motorcyclists, we are vulnerable – it’s up to us to make sure the car or truck driver can see us. Place yourself in a position they can see you.
4 Treat all intersections as potential trouble spots
From what I’ve read, more accidents happen at intersections than any other spot in city/suburban riding. There’s a three-street intersection at the end of my street and at least once a week someone comes straight through the stop sign! They treat it like a give way sign and don’t bother to look down our street for oncoming traffic. I’ve lost count of the number of accidents and near misses I’ve seen over the years. I’ve learnt to cover my brakes and be ready to blast my air horns!
5 Stand out – be noticeable
The best-selling Helite airbag product we have is the high viz Airvest (check out https://motosmart.com.au/collections/all-products-1/products/high-viz-airbag-vest
). Ten years ago, I would never have worn high viz – these days with the number of distracted drivers on the road, I’ll do whatever it takes to get noticed. Where you position yourself in the lane is also crucial – as mentioned it’s up to you to get out of their blind spots.
6 Be constantly scanning
Experienced motorcyclists are always scanning their entire environment - from instruments to mirrors to the road ahead to blind spots to your left and right rear. Constant scanning keeps you aware and in touch with your situation, and therefore better able to react. Dwelling on one area too long - watching only behind or in front of you, for instance - is just begging for trouble.
7 Be ready with power
In traffic, it’s a good idea to ride in a lower gear than you might normally. This way, you can twist the throttle and use sharper acceleration to get out of trouble. The power and manoeuvrability a motorcycle has can be a life saver.
8 Read the road surface
Add scanning the road surface to the above list of what you scan. A car might just ride over a pot hole or oil on the road that can send you (on your bike) totally off course or even make you come off. Check the road for fuel or oil spills, gravel, sand, manhole covers, and of course incredibly rough surface often due to a lack of maintenance.
9 Constantly scan for an exit
As mentioned motorcycles are often faster and more manoeuvrable than a car so use that to your advantage. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to brake hard, look for escape routes (practice this before you need it!). It’s better to end up in someone’s front yard than ramming into the back of a Parejo!
10 Wear the right gear and make sure your bike is up to it
It’s not much fun braking down in congested traffic – in fact it’s dangerous. Regular maintenance keeps your bike ready for the hard work of riding in traffic. And always remember your tyres – lots of tread and the right psi.
Re your gear – as the saying goes, if you’ve got a $50 head, buy a $50 helmet! I know good gear costs but hospital stays, gravel rash and broken bones hurt and end up costing more. Wearing an Airbag vest or jacket is the leading edge of safety gear for bikers – check out https://motosmart.com.au
Enjoy the ride.
Ride safe – ride smart.