Motorcycle riders, what’s stopping you?

By on September 12, 2013 at 3:00 PM

Posted in: Safety and Insurance Issues

Tony&cousinBy guest blogger Tony Blue, public relations

Motorcycle enthusiasts know there’s nothing like being out on the open road with the throttle in your hand and the wind at your back. Riding a motorcycle brings on an overwhelming sense of freedom, exhilaration and excitement. But riding a motorcycle also comes with an abundance of safety concerns. The first and foremost safety concern starts with having a great understanding of your bike and its parts, which will ultimately keep you and your bike upright and safe.

The most important motorcycle parts are the brakes – a rider’s best friend. Experienced riders know never to apply the back brakes exclusively when riding a bike. As kids, we were taught to use the back brake on bicycles, because the front brake was usually a little bit tighter and caused the bike to stop too abruptly. Motorcycles are much different. The front brake on a cycle reduces speeds with greater efficiency and smoother stopping power.

The back brake on a motorcycle has less stopping power, and can also cause the bike to go into a skid, which can be very dangerous. This happened to me late one night on a dark stretch of highway. A bike that was sharing a lane with me in staggered file formation (two bike lengths ahead and to the far left of the lane) veered out of control and slid partially into the Jersey barrier, causing the rider to go down and parts of his bike to obstruct my portion of the lane.

At the speed I was traveling, I only had a split-second to get out of the way, so I panicked and immediately applied the back brake, which caused my rear wheel to lock up. I skidded 25 feet. Skidding on a motorcycle is almost the same feeling as hydroplaning in a car. For a few short seconds, the rider has no control. When a biker’s rear wheel locks up, it causes the rear of the bike to go into an uncontrolled wiggle, often meaning a loss of balance if the rider is unable to regain control.

Fortunately for me, I was able to release the back brake and regain control as the bike slowed down. The skid mark I left on the highway that night illustrates why experienced riders use the back brake sparingly.

That happened almost 10 years ago, but the experience has stayed with me ever since. I was very lucky that night. Since then, the Antilock Brake System (ABS) has trickled over from cars into the cycle world. ABS prevents the wheel from locking up by automatically reducing brake pressure if it detects that a wheel is about to stop rotating, then increasing it again after traction is restored so that the rider can brake fully without the fear of sliding.

An Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) Status Report confirms that motorcycles with ABS are 31 percent less likely to be involved in a fatal accident than those motorcycles without ABS. The IIHS is urging the government to make ABS mandatory on all motorcycles.  In Europe, motorcycles with an engine displacement larger than 125 cc will be required to have ABS by 2016.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is closely watching how this will play out in Europe. However, cycle manufacturers have been listening. The ABS feature is now a standard option on 22 percent of the 2013 models compared to less than one percent in 2007. The stats suggest that ABS is a lifesaving technology but most riders already know that any technology that helps prevents riders from going down will be embraced by the masses.