About riding

Tips for handling hazards and emergencies

Sometimes, no matter how carefully you ride, you may find yourself in an emergency situation. This section describes how to handle emergencies if they develop.

Emergency braking

The quickest stops can be made with progressive braking, and with your motorcycle upright and travelling in a straight line.

If you need to make a quick stop, you should:

  • close the throttle
  • apply both brakes firmly but apply the front brake slightly before the back
  • squeeze the clutch lever just before you stop.

These things need to happen almost at the same time, but without locking the brakes. Never lock the front wheel, as it will almost certainly result in a fall.

Concentrate your attention on applying the brakes. Change gears only when the emergency is under control.

Remember, braking on a curve requires extra care, because the greater the lean on your motorcycle, the greater the chance your wheels will lose traction when the brakes are applied. This is one of the reasons why you should reduce speed before entering a curve.

If you must brake in a curve for emergency reasons:

  • apply both brakes at the same time, but only gradually at first
  • as you slow down, you can straighten up and increase the braking force.

When braking downhill, don't forget you need to brake harder.

Skids

Skids don't happen without reason. They are usually caused by:

  • overbraking on one or both wheels (this is the major cause of skids)
  • heavy acceleration
  • changing direction suddenly
  • riding too fast on wet or unsealed roads.

Different kinds of skids require you to take different corrective action. You should know what to do if your motorcycle goes into a skid.

Front-wheel skid

This is caused by the front wheel locking up. Immediately fully release the pressure on the brake lever and let the wheel rotate again. Then re-apply the brake gently and smoothly.

Avoid front-wheel skids by looking well ahead and braking progressively in plenty of time. Apply the front brake first. Be aware that as the weight transfers to the front, the rear wheel becomes lighter and may lock up and skid. If it does, look where you want to go and the motorcycle will go there.

Rear-wheel skid

In a rear-wheel skid, the rear of the vehicle swings out.

In this kind of skid, you should:

  • relax and look where you want to go
  • ease off the brakes gradually to allow the wheel to gain traction.
Rear-wheel skid

Rear-wheel skid


Important

In any kind of skid, keep both feet up on the footrests. This will give you the greatest control to maintain balance.

If the skid is caused by over-acceleration, ease off the throttle.

Tyre blowouts

If you have a blowout, you will need to react quickly to keep your balance.

A front-wheel blowout is particularly dangerous, as it affects your steering. You need to be able to steer well to keep your balance.

You can't always hear a tyre blow, but you should be able to detect a flat tyre from the way the motorcycle reacts. If the front tyre goes flat, the steering will feel heavy. If the rear tyre goes flat, the back of the motorcycle will tend to weave from side to side.

If you do have a blowout while riding, you should:

  • hold the handgrips firmly and concentrate on steering - try to keep a straight course and keep looking where you are going
  • avoid braking
  • gradually close the throttle and let the motorcycle slow down
  • shift your weight as far back as you can, if it's the front tyre, or sit normally, if it's the rear tyre
  • signal and steer to the side of the road once you've reduced speed.

Engine seizure

Engine seizure means that the engine locks or freezes, and it produces the same result as a locked wheel.

Engine seizure is caused by a lack of lubrication. Without oil, the engine's moving parts can't move smoothly against each other and the engine will overheat.

However, there is usually some advance warning, giving you time to respond. The first symptom may be a loss of engine power. You may also notice a change in the engine's sound.

If your engine starts to seize:

  • squeeze the clutch lever, disengaging the engine power from the rear wheel
  • signal, steer to the side of the road and stop
  • let the engine cool.

While you may be able to add oil and restart the engine, it should be checked for damage, and repaired if necessary.

Stuck throttle

If you suddenly find that your throttle is stuck, you will need to react quickly.

  • If you can't close the throttle, use the engine cut-off switch or the key to turn off the engine.
  • If your motorcycle doesn't have a cut-off switch, or the key is on the side of the cycle, wait until you have stopped, then turn off the engine.
  • After you have stopped, check the throttle carefully to find the source of the trouble. Rotate the throttle back and forth several times. If the throttle cable is stuck, this may free it.
  • Make certain the throttle is working freely before you continue.

Swerving

Sometimes, to avoid a hazard on the road, you may have to swerve. For example, you may suddenly come across a pothole or a piece of rubbish, or the vehicle in front may stop unexpectedly and the only way to avoid a collision will be to quickly swerve.

Countersteering is the best way to swerve quickly around an object. Learn and practise countersteering so you can use it when you need it.

To make a quick turn to the right:

  • Push forward lightly on the right handgrip with the heel of your hand. The front wheel will turn slightly to the left, and the motorcycle will lean to the right.
  • As the motorcycle leans, stop pushing and straighten up.

This process is reversed for a quick turn to the left.

If you have to brake and turn at the same time:

  • slow down as you turn to give you a little more time to complete the turn
  • use very little of your rear brake - the rear wheel tends to skid in a sharp turn.

Note: even when swerving, stay in your own lane. The moment you change lanes, you risk being hit by another vehicle. Because of the small size of a motorcycle, you should be able to squeeze past most obstacles without leaving your lane.

Change lanes only if you have enough time to make sure there are no vehicles in the lane that you want to enter.

Countersteering to avoid an obstacle

Countersteering to avoid an obstacle

Riding over objects on the road

Sometimes, you may have to ride over an object in your path, if you don't have time to swerve or steer around it.

If you have to ride over an object:

  • hold onto the handgrips firmly, so you don't lose your grip when the front wheel hits the object
  • keep a straight course - this keeps the motorcycle upright and reduces your chance of falling on impact
  • rise slightly on the footrests to lower your centre of gravity, allow your legs and arms to absorb the shock, and help keep you from being bounced off as the rear wheel hits.

It's a good idea to check your tyres and wheels for damage afterwards.

Flying objects

Sometimes when riding, you may be struck by insects, cigarette butts thrown from windows, or stones kicked up by vehicles ahead.

If you are wearing face protection, it may become smeared or cracked, making it difficult to see. If you aren't wearing face protection, you could be struck in the eye, the face or the mouth.

Whatever happens, don't let it affect your control of the motorcycle. Keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the handlebars.

If you need to repair any damage, pull off the road when it is safe.

Wind blasts

A heavy vehicle coming towards you creates a wave of air. This can affect your stability, so move to the left of the lane where you will be least affected.

Also be prepared for cross winds when emerging from the protection of buildings, trees or banks. Cross winds can affect your balance, especially if your motorcycle is heavily loaded or fitted with a large fairing.

Animals

While you should always try to avoid hitting an animal, you shouldn't do anything dangerous, such as swerving into oncoming traffic. You have a better chance of surviving the impact from a small animal than you do a collision with another vehicle.

Motorcycles tend to attract dogs. If a dog rushes at you from the side, don't kick at it - it could cause you to lose control of the motorcycle.

Instead, change down gears and approach the animal slowly. As you reach it, speed up. You will leave the animal behind so quickly that it will generally lose interest.

Brake failure

If your vehicle's brakes fail, it will be an alarming experience.

You can try to avoid this happening by checking your brakes regularly. Always replace worn brake pads immediately and top up the brake fluid levels whenever necessary.

If your brakes do fail while you're riding:

  • change to a lower gear to help slow the vehicle down
  • pump the brakes hard and quickly to make use of any capacity still left in the hydraulic brake system
  • warn other road users by switching on your headlight and hazard lights and sounding your horn
  • look for an 'escape route', such as a wide shoulder of the road, a flat field or an uphill road.

Headlight failure

If your headlight fails while you're riding, you should:

  • slow down
  • move off the road gradually and stop somewhere safe
  • turn your hazard lights on if you have them.

Loss of vision

On rare occasions, motorcyclists can suddenly lose all vision when on the road, for example, if your visor becomes completely obscured.

If this happens, you should:

  • flick your visor up
  • brake smoothly
  • indicate and move over to the left side of the road and clean the visor.

Wobble/weave

Sometimes, when you are riding at a fairly high speed, the front wheel can suddenly begin to wobble or weave from side to side.

If this happens, don't apply the brakes, as this could make the wobble worse. Instead you should:

  • grip the handgrips firmly, but don't try to fight the wobble
  • gradually close the throttle and let the motorcycle slow down (you may also find that lowering your body onto the tank may help reduce the wobble effect)
  • pull off the road as soon as you can, check for anything that may have caused you to wobble and fix it if you can.

Things that can cause a wobble or weave are:

  • a load that isn't distributed evenly
  • incorrect tyre pressure
  • a wheel that is bent or out of alignment
  • incorrectly adjusted steering
  • a windshield or fairing that is improperly mounted or not designed for the motorcycle
  • loose wheel bearings
  • loose spokes
  • improper tread design
  • worn steering parts.

Chain breakage

If your chain breaks, you'll notice it because you'll instantly lose power to the rear wheel and the engine will speed up. The chain could lock your rear wheel and cause your machine to skid.

If a chain breaks, it's important to respond quickly. You should:

  • keep looking ahead to where you want to go
  • close the throttle
  • squeeze the clutch lever
  • signal, steer to the side of the road and brake to a stop.

Chain failure is usually caused by a worn chain, a stretched chain (which doesn't fit the sprockets properly) or worn sprockets.

Pulling off the road

If you have to leave the road to check the motorcycle (or just to rest for a while), follow the tips below.

  • Check that the surface of the roadside is firm enough to ride on. If it is soft grass, loose sand, or if you are just not sure about it, slow right down before you ease onto it.
  • Check your mirrors and give a clear signal - drivers behind might not expect you to slow down.
  • Pull as far off the road as you can. A motorcycle by the side of the road can be very hard to spot and you need to keep out of the way of other vehicles.

Avoiding a head-on crash

A head-on crash is probably the most dangerous type of crash you can be involved in. This is because when two vehicles collide head-on the force of the impact is usually twice as much as it is when a vehicle hits a non-moving object.

If you find yourself heading towards a head-on crash, there are some things you can do to try to avoid the crash or limit its damage:

  • Brake hard. Every kilometre of speed that you slow down by will lessen the impact of a crash if it happens.
  • Flash your headlight and blow your horn to attract the attention of the other driver.
  • Look for an escape route to your left, even if it means riding off the road.
  • Don't swerve to your right. The other driver is most likely to respond by swerving to their left and you would be likely to crash into each other.

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Last updated: 8 November 2012