Dealing with Emergencies
No matter how careful you are, there will be times when you find yourself in a tight spot. Your chances of getting out safely depend upon your ability to react quickly and properly. The most important emergency skills are those needed to make quick stops and quick turns. These skills should be practiced in safe areas before you need to use them on the road.
To stop quickly, apply both brakes. Don’t be shy about using the front brake, but don’t “grab” at it, either. Squeeze the brake lever steadily and firmly, applying the front brake as fully as you can without locking the front wheel. At the same time, apply the rear brake hard.
If you are on a straight-away, don’t worry about locking the rear wheel. Even with a locked rear wheel, you can still control the cycle and stop quickly as long as your motorcycle is upright and going in a straight line.
If you must stop quickly while turning, apply both brakes to straighten the motorcycle, then apply them hard without locking either wheel. Remember, if the rear wheel locks when the motorcycle is turning, it is likely that the wheel will slide sideways and you will fall.
Sometimes, you may not have enough room to stop, even if you were to use both brakes properly. For example, an object might appear suddenly in your path. Or, the car ahead might squeal to a stop. The only way to avoid a collision would be to make a quick turn.
The key to making a quick turn is to get the motorcycle to lean quickly in the direction you wish to turn. The sharper the turn, the more the bike must lean.
To get the motorcycle to lean quickly, push on the inside of the handlegrip in the same direction you want to turn. If you wish to turn to the right, push on the inside of the right handlegrip. This causes the front wheel to move slightly to the left as you and the motorcycle continue straight ahead. As a result, the motorcycle will lean to the right.
As the motorcycle begins to lean, you will maintain pressure on the inside of the handlegrip in the direction of the lean. You don’t have to think about it. Your instincts will make you press on the handlegrip to keep the motorcycle from falling over.
You can demonstrate this to yourself. While riding in a straight line, press the inside of the right handlegrip. You will notice the motorcycle turn to the right. This is how you get the motorcycle to lean in normal turns, but most people don’t notice it except on very sharp turns. Practice making quick turns so you can make them in a real emergency.
In making a quick turn, try to stay in your own lane. The moment you change lanes, you risk being hit by a car. Change lanes only if you have enough time to make sure there are no vehicles in the other lane. You should be able to squeeze by most obstacles without leaving your lane. This is one time when the size of the motorcycle is in your favor. Even if the obstacle is a car, there is generally room to pass beside it. However, the only time you should try to squeeze by a car in your lane is when you are faced with a true emergency.
You can find yourself in an emergency the moment something goes wrong with your motorcycle. Mechanical problems include tire failure, a stuck throttle, a “wobble,” chain problems, and engine seizure.
In dealing with any mechanical problem, you must take into account the road and traffic conditions you face. Here are some guidelines that can help you handle some mechanical problems safely.
If the cycle starts handling differently, pull off and check the tires. Perhaps the hardest part of dealing with tire failure is to “get on top of the situation” quickly. You will seldom hear a tire blow. You must be able to tell when a tire has lost air suddenly from the way the cycle reacts.
If the front tire goes flat, the steering will feel “heavy.” If the rear tire goes flat, the back of the motorcycle will tend to jerk from side to side. If one of your tires suddenly loses air, you must react quickly to keep your balance. A front wheel blow out is particularly dangerous. It affects your steering, and you have to steer well to keep your balance.
Here’s what to do if either tire goes flat while riding:
(1) Hold the handlegrips firmly and concentrate on steering. Try to keep a straight course.
(2) Stay off the brakes, and slow gradually.
(3) Wait until the motorcycle is going very slowly. Then, edge to the side of the road, and stop.
Sometimes when you try to close the throttle you may find that it won’t turn. If this happens when you are slowing for traffic ahead or making a turn, you must react quickly to prevent a crash.
Your first reaction will be automatic: You will twist the throttle back and forth. If
the throttle cable is stuck, this may free it. However, if the throttle stays stuck after you have rotated it several times, immediately hit the engine cutoff switch and pull in the clutch. Use the engine cut-off switch and the clutch at the same time. Hitting the
cutoff will turn off the engine, and pulling in the clutch will keep the braking power of the engine from locking up the rear wheel.
After you have stopped, check the throttle cable carefully to find the source of the trouble. Make certain the throttle works freely before you start to ride again.
A “wobble” is when the front wheel and handlebars suddenly start to shake from side-to-side. This can occur at low, as well as high speeds.
Do not try to “accelerate out of a wobble.” That will only make the cycle more unstable. Instead:
- Grip the handlebars firmly, but don’t try to fight the wobble.
- Close the throttle gradually, and let the motorcycle slow down. Do not apply the brakes; braking could make the wobble worse.
- Pull off the road as soon as you can. Then find out what caused the wobble—and fix it.
Most wobbles can be traced to either improper loading or the use of unsuitable accessories. If you are carrying a heavy load, lighten it. If you can’t lighten the load, shift it. Center the weight lower to the ground and further forward on the cycle. Also check your tire pressure and the settings for spring pre-load, airshocks, and dampers. Make sure they are at the levels recommended by the manufacturer for carrying that much weight. If you have a windshield or fairing, make sure it is mounted properly.
Aside from improper loads and accessories, other things that may contribute to wobble are:
- Poorly adjusted steering.
- Worn steering parts.
- A front wheel that is bent, misaligned, or out of balance.
- Loose wheel bearings.
- Loose spokes.
- Improper tire size or tread design.
If your chain slips or breaks while you’re riding, it could lock the rear wheel and cause your cycle to skid. You must react quickly.
Slippage—You may first hear or feel the chain slip when you try to speed up quickly or while riding uphill. If so, pull off the road, and check the chain and sprockets. Tightening the chain may help. But usually the problem is a worn or stretched chain or worn or bent sprockets. In these cases, replace the chain, the sprockets, or both before riding again.
Breakage—When the chain breaks, you’ll notice an instant loss of power to the rear wheel. Hit the engine cutoff switch to keep the engine from over-revving, and brake to a stop.
Chain slippage or breakage can be avoided by proper maintenance.
Engine seizure means that the engine “locks” or “freezes.” Engines seize when they are low on oil. Without oil, the engine’s moving parts can’t move smoothly against each other, and the engine overheats. The first sign that an engine needs oil may be
a loss of engine power. You may also notice a change in the engine’s sound.
If you ignore these warnings and don’t add oil, the engine may seize. When this happens, the effect is the same as a locked rear wheel.
Squeeze the clutch lever to disengage the engine from the rear wheel. Pull off the road and stop. Let the engine cool. You may be able to add oil and restart the engine. Even so, you should have the engine checked thoroughly for damage as soon as possible.
GETTING OFF THE ROAD
If you need to leave the road to check the motorcycle (or just to rest for a while), be sure you:
Check the roadside—Make sure the surface of the road side is firm enough to ride on. If it is soft grass or loose sand, or if you’re just not sure about it, slow way down before you turn onto it.
Signal others—Drivers behind might not expect you to slow down. As soon as you can, give a clear signal that you will be slowing down and changing direction. Make sure to check your mirror and make a head check before you take any action.
Pull well off the road—Get as far off the road as you can. It can be very hard to spot a motorcycle by the side of the road. You don’t want someone else pulling off at the same place you are.
There are two other emergencies that motorcycle riders should be prepared for. They happen often enough to be real problems.
From time to time you can be struck by insects, cigarettes thrown from cars, or rocks kicked up by the tires of the vehicle ahead. If you aren’t wearing face protection, you could be hit in the eye, face, or mouth. If you are wearing face protection, it might get smeared or cracked, making it difficult for you to see. Whatever happens, don’t let it affect your control of the motorcycle. Keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the handlebars. As soon as it is safe, pull off the road and repair the damage.
Naturally, you should do everything you can to avoid hitting an animal. However, if you are in traffic, don’t swerve out of your lane to avoid a small animal. Hitting something small is less dangerous to you than hitting something big—like a car. Motorcycles tend to attract dogs. If you find yourself being chased, don’t kick at the animal. It’s too easy to lose control of the motorcycle. Instead, shift down and approach the animal slowly. As you reach it, speed up quickly. You will leave the animal behind.