I am a late bloomer. I start slow and introspective then Wile E. coyote the rest of it. With no glorious stories of motorcycling or passionate riders in my family, no iconic builds or makers of moto-history, I have become the starting point. Riding in today’s times is tougher than it was back then. We have ‘riding in India’ versus ‘riding elsewhere’ which speaks volumes about navigating unscathed.
A lot of my initial learning had a foundation of fear. No stranger to hospital stays, the inescapable boredom of staying still versus the injury/ailment itself have scarred me. Hence, subconsciously I learned in a way that would prevent injury or situations that could take me ‘out’. And that is how my mostly ‘defensive riding’ style took shape. In no particular order are tips I’ve used/developed to stay alive and astride:
Motorcyclists are notoriously missed in every large vehicle’s blind spots. I usually maintain a significant gap between them and myself and only overtake or change lanes when uncertainties are near to nil. Prior to that I make myself conspicuous to the driver or spotter. Most times, they signal and give way and I signal a thumbs-up as I get past safely. Overtaking at the right time and the right way involves good visibility and calculations to match.
High visibility gear in all conditions and reflectors on self and vehicle as well as appropriate use of the hazard indicators are good tips but nothing beats safe riding habits. If I can’t spot their mirror, ~99.99% they can’t spot me.
Having a decent sounding horn goes a long way. With ambient sounds like that of our Indian roads (loud and disruptive), it helps to have a distinct or at least an audible horn that alerts someone of your presence. One time my device malfunctioned, making it a not-so-secure situation to be in. Quick checks before every ride is recommended. Swap them with a decent sounding device if the stock setup isn’t doing the job. In some situations, I have had to use it more often than I’d like to when I find someone traveling like the whole space belongs to them and no one else.
USE THE DAMN MIRROR
Use your mirrors people. Moving to Pune taught me that commuters here treat it as an unnecessary appendage and get rid of it like we do our saree guards. This proves to be extremely dangerous for the rider and folks in the rider’s lane and subsequent lanes. The mirrors should be clear, large enough for the rider’s comfort and should relay messages without having to really take your eyes off the road. Again, swap the stock setup if it doesn’t do the above seamlessly. Taking your eyes off the road for a fraction of a second can cost someone dearly. I’ve had some hair-raising moments in my early riding stints.
USE THE DAMN INDICATORS
Those ‘blinky lights’ are not Diwali lights or accessories. I have gotten accustomed to that ridiculous hand signal that starts 5 miles before the ACTUAL turn and before I can make head or tail of what’s unfolding, said errant driver Tokyo drifts their way to their desired turn. As a responsible rider, I use my indicators ALL THE TIME. Many are surprised when told that you need to indicate when you change lanes or cut in front of someone or change direction. Duhhh! Please use them, please FIX them if they crack or break, please check for visibility when swapping for aesthetic looking ones (very important) and that they are visible in broad daylight as well.
SPEED SUCH THAT YOU DON’T BRAKE MUCH
When I started, I usually lagged a good 5-10 kms behind my co-riders. I did not pressurize myself into matching their riding style or speed. Over the years I learned what speeds work best for me. The key element always being control and braking abilities. Knowing what my motorcycle and my skills together can do to safely get me anywhere. This was especially pertinent in wet conditions, oil spills, or bad stretches; not to mention the mammoth hazard our Indian highways pose on daily. What made me nervous earlier feels second nature today. I now hit the 3 digits with ease but with a heightened sense of alert.
UNDERSTAND YOUR TYRES
I am not well-versed in the encyclopedia of tires but I know my basic elements: type, tire life, grip , and overtime which ones have served me well in which conditions. This point also applies a lot to the previous one – braking. Conditioning and knowing how well they respond when I brake early or late on short rides so that I can make informed choices for long tours. I’ve spent more years on machines without electronics (Triumph Bonneville A3/T100). My KTM 390 adventure is the 1st I’ve ridden with ABS, MTC, etc. Assuming they’d do the job is a huge misconception. If anything, I had a bit of learning to do when riding with electronics. They reduce the deviation of your errors; not eliminate them entirely.
Incredibly important yet undermined by many. I ride anticipating the absolute worst behavior/outcome from my surroundings. The worst offenders are overconfident brash pricks or the classic nervous wrecks. Collectively dealing with all of them during short rides or long commutes has been an ongoing lesson.
Watching out for that guy meandering at a junction ready to make an ill-time move any second, a car trying to change lanes since yonders, vehicles getting into our personal space and aggressively nudging 2-wheelers out of our space (very common) has become all too customary. Evasive and quick actions to dodge all these whilst owning your space is a trick that comes with time and will never be 100% foolproof. I try to look 2 vehicles down to see who will speed up and who will brake in a few seconds. Staying away from rash drivers and those riding uncomfortably close. CSS helped me with my vision, no target fixation and travel lines. All of these have worked for me during some hairy moments.
SADDLE TIME – NOTHING MAKES UP FOR IT
Nothing and I mean absolutely nothing makes up for saddle time and practice. Everyone advised me on this and continues to do so. It’s the most fundamental rule that works 100% of the time. I moved to Pune. Rode every day. Set up milestones as my journey continued and got myself into uncomfortable situations to get past it and over it. Worked like a charm, bruised me some but I will continue to use this fail-safe principle.
SAFETY GEAR NUMERO UNO
Finding the right fit gear is an exhausted topic. But it is a golden rule and repeated ever so oft. Falling and getting hurt is largely avoidable but not entirely escapable. I feel much secure and stress-free having crash protection on by sheer habit. So much so that I feel incredibly uncomfortable if I am missing any gear or its ill-fitting. This rule is non-negotiable and should be mandatory. Don’t choose to have your safety gear based on short commutes or long rides. An accident doesn’t choose the venue, time, or occasion to come sauntering by. Why should we ?
About the Author:- Prianca
This late breaker into motorcycling is a medical professional by day and a greedy learner otherwise. Everything on 2 wheels not only catches her eye but invites a barage of questions and discussions. Most importantly, Prianca looks for trouble and absolutely enjoys it whilst being mudfaced.