Despite all the stories in the news about horror crashes, motorcycle popularity is on this rise as more and more people recognise their cost-effectiveness and convenience. The truth is, motorcycle riders face great risks when riding. Here are some helpful tips for motorcyclists to commute safely.

Common causes of motorcycle crashes

According to the Motorcycle safety Institute of South Africa, there have already been 282 motorcycle accidents – 65 of them fatal – in South Africa in 2018. With these alarming statistics in mind, how can motorcyclists stay safe on the road? Let’s look at some of the most common causes of crashes.

The four most common causes of crashes are:

Inappropriate speed for the circumstances: Monitor the traffic flow around you – driving at 120km/h in dense traffic is more likely to cause an accident than keeping to the speed limit. Cars may also behave unpredictably in traffic, causing swift reactions to take place, such as a taxi stopping to load passengers.
Right of way violations: Motorists often fail to see motorcycles approaching intersections or junctions and pull into their path.
Loss of control in bends, corners and curves: While often involving only the motorcyclist, these situations can be avoided by being mindful of your speed.
Errors in judgement: Poor riding skills or even a lapse in concentration could lead to accidents.

Bad habits

Many motorists have bad driving habits such as riding the clutch or using the gears to slow down. These are bad for the car but not necessarily life-threatening. It’s a different story when you’re riding a motorcycle, where your bad habits can have fatal consequences.

Attitude: Your mindset is all-important and determines whether you are a responsible road user or not. Make smart choices and don’t act carelessly. This includes not speeding or riding while intoxicated, and being tolerant of other road users.
Overconfidence: Even experienced riders make silly mistakes sometimes. Be aware of your own capabilities and limitations and ride within those boundaries. There is no such thing as a natural born rider. It takes proper training and a lot of practice to become good at it.
Ignorance: You can never get too much training. No matter how much experience you have, there is always room for improvement and always something new to learn that will make you a better rider. The same goes for knowing your motorcycle and what it is capable of.

Learning to ride

Once you have obtained your learner’s license, it is advisable that you go for riding lessons at a reputable training academy. There are many riding schools out there but make sure you pick one with good references.

Even if you aren’t a novice rider and have some experience with motorcycles, getting professional instruction will ensure you learn the correct techniques associated with pulling away, changing gears, braking and cornering. You will also be given an overview of motorcycle controls, safety and riding gear.

There are courses for intermediate and expert riders, and attending one or more of these will improve your skills and keep them honed, ultimately making you a more competent and safe rider.

The correct gear

In motorcycling circles, ATGATT is a well-used acronym. It stands for all the gear, all the time. Sure, motorcycle gear is hot but ask yourself this: do you want to sweat or bleed? In short, you need to dress for the slide, not for the ride.

The rule is that all exposed skin should be covered. Your riding gear should consist of the following:

Ankle-high boots with reinforcement in the toe, heel and ankle areas.
Riding pants or jeans with knee and hip padding.
A fabric or leather jacket with armouring on the elbows, shoulder and back.
A tube scarf to protect your neck against the elements.
Full finger gloves that fit over your wrist and offer reinforcement over the knuckles and in the palm area.
A full-face polycarbonate helmet with a DOT, ECE, SNELL or SHARP safety rating.

Out on the road: tips for safer driving

Once you’ve got the correct gear and undergone the appropriate training, your safety on the road becomes your responsibility alone. Be aware, be vigilant, be prepared, be responsible, and take heed of these points:

Timing is everything, so identify what action needs to be taken and do so swiftly and safely, whether it be overtaking, changing lanes or turning.
Maintain a safe following distance to give yourself enough space and time to react.
Identify potential hazards and be prepared to take timeous evasive action.
Learn to gauge the speed of other vehicles on the road to determine how far away they are from you.
When cornering, start on the outside of the curve and delay your turn-in to see further ahead and give yourself more room to manoeuvre.
Constantly be on the lookout for vehicles that are about to change lanes and don’t assume they see you. Move out of the way if necessary and stay out of the blind spots of other road users.
Don’t fall in directly behind trucks or large vehicles that obstruct your view of the road ahead – and hide you from view of other motorists.
Don’t rely solely on your mirrors. Check to your sides and over your shoulders before changing lanes, overtaking or turning. Be aware of the vehicles around you at all times.
Signal your intentions clearly and timeously before you execute any lane changes, overtaking manoeuvres or changes in direction. Remember, using an indicator is a sign of intent, not action.
Unless you are passing slower traffic, keep left and give way to faster traffic.
Check your mirrors when you slow down and make sure you have an escape route if the vehicle behind you fails to stop in time.

Sources: Motorcycle Safety Institute of South Africa, Arrive Alive, Bike Talk