We live in India where a majority of us use our motorcycles and scooters to commute, transport and pretty much do everything in the middle. It is unfortunate however that our country is not a safe country to be on a motorcycle or a scooter or anything else with an engine and 2 wheels. Ask anyone who uses their motorcycle to commute on a daily basis and they will tell you horror stories of not just rude and oblivious car drivers but of bus and truck drivers that want to run you over, pedestrians who think the entire road is a sidewalk, random cyclists who believe traffic rules are a figment of your imagination and moronic riders who seem to have a death wish.
I was just rear-ended last Sunday and it made me wonder where I went wrong and I made up 100 different scenarios where I could have avoided being dragged by an SUV for 10 feet. Riding in the city takes commitment and awareness which are on par what you would expect on a track and then dial the situational awareness to a 11 just to make things more challenging. Even with good riding skills and a great eye for spotting potential hazards you will eventually end up in an accident or a minor spill if not a major one.
ATGATT (All The Gear All the Time)
I know I sound like a broken record player when I keep saying ATGATT but accidents don’t come knocking on your door, accidents barge through your front door, kick you in the nuts and then raid your pantry. Do yourself a favour and wear that gear. Yes, you will get sweaty and yes, people will give you weird looks but it is worth it. I used to carry an extra shirt in my backpack to change into once I reached work, a very small price to pay for being safe.
I love my black leathers and my black helmet, that go awesome with my black boots but that isn’t going to help me one bit when it comes to getting other people to notice me. The first option is to invest in high visibility safety gear, if you insist on still wearing that all black ensemble of yours, buy a cheap reflective vest, you will end up looking like a traffic warden/construction worker but it will go a long way in keeping you visible anytime you are on the motorcycle. Getting reflective stickers on your bike and helmet, aides in helping others spot you in the night.
Stay Out of Blind Spots
On a modern motorcycle, you can most probably out accelerate and out brake most modern cars and you need to use that to your advantage. While it is fun to be a hooligan on the streets, it is better if you put that advantage to better use. Learn to filter through traffic to stay away from blind spots of cars, buses and trucks. Work your way through the gaps where you are more visible instead of staying stuck in the flow of traffic where most car drivers will not notice you.
Scan… Scan… Scan
While riding in the city it is pretty easy to end up with tunnel vision and end up completely missing potential hazards. Don’t get stuck looking only straight ahead, keep a look out for everything that surrounds you. Try and get habituated to doing a 3 point swivel while occasionally checking behind you to check your blind spot. It is all about heightening your situational awareness. Constant vigilance increases your awareness and keeps you safer.
The Great Escape
This is an extension to scanning your environment and taking it a step further. Every time I decide to overtake someone or turn at an intersection or switch lanes. I already have a plan to make necessary corrections in case on the other drivers decides to make a sudden move. This is again where you need to take advantage of your bikes nimbleness and make a quick swerve to get out of the situation. Braking isn’t always the solutions, sometimes wringing the throttle wide open to get out of harm’s way if equally effective. Keep an eye for run off area for situations where staying on the road is not an option.
Let’s face it, most people in India should not even be allowed to drive or ride, let alone own a vehicle. From what I have noticed, most drivers fail to notice hulking masses of much larger vehicles when they decide to turn, so your slim profile on that motorcycle of yours does not exist in their world. It doesn’t matter if they have their indicator switched on, which is if they even bother with the indicator, look for head and arm movements in the car in front of you and the cars beside you to gauge whether you need to brake, swerve or accelerate out of harm’s way. Keeping your levers covered at all times, helps in such situations.
If you are on a motorcycle, you most probably will be the first one off the line but being first off the line also put you at most risk in case someone decides to break a signal. If you are at a stop light try and filter through the front of a car so that in case someone fails to stop, they will rear-end the car instead of you. The same goes when you get off the line at a signal, use a larger vehicle as a buffer till you get across the intersection so that if anyone does decide to blow the red light, they will have a face full of car instead of your motorcycle.
Watch Road Conditions
In India road surface conditions change quicker than most Dakar stages and you need to keep a constant eye out for them. Gravel, potholes, mud, loose tar, puddles of water etc. are all potential hazards and should be approached with caution or you could be off your bike and on the tarmac before you could say chocolate frappe. Give yourself space to slow down and navigate carefully, maintain a safe distance from cars and other vehicles in case they decide to jam on their brakes. If possible find an alternate route even if it makes your commute a little longer.
Maintain Signal and Lane Discipline
Remember when we were talking about how a motorcycles greatest gift is that it lets you weave in and out of traffic at a drop of a hat. Well that does not mean that you forget about lane discipline, choose your lane carefully and show the necessary signals before switching lanes. We sometimes even use hand signals if we feel that the other road users are unable to see our turn signals. Most motorcycles do not have automatic cancelling turn signals and this can be an issue for other road users, make it a habit to periodically check if your turn signals are disengaged.
Be Assertive, Not Aggressive.
A lot of riders pride themselves in being aggressive, we like to call them stupid. You need to get it into your head that being the fastest in the unpredictable city environment also means that you are giving yourself the least protection buffer possible. I am not asking you to back down every time some crazy driver blows his dual tone horn. Pick your place in the lane you have chosen and own it. Accelerate when you need to and slow down whenever the purpose serves that of your safely. There is a very big difference between trying to be that idiot who cuts everyone off and being that guy who knows how to manage his surroundings.