|I can remember way back to the day when I got my motorcycle learner's permit. As I handed my application form to the testing officer, he said "so you want to become a temporary Australian?", then he gave me the test sheet without so much as looking at me. I totally did not get what he meant ... then.
A reality check. If it's enjoyable it's probably unhealthy. If it's fun or exciting, it's most likely dangerous ... with the level of danger being roughly proportional to the amount of fun and/or excitement one can derive from the activity.
So, let's skip the hype, the bullshit and lay it on the line. All forms of motorcycling are dangerous. How dangerous, will have a lot to do with Your Attitude to riding. Riding a dirt or trail bike really just adds another layer of potential hazards, to what is a hazardous pursuit to begin with.
The purpose of this page is not to discourage any one from taking up any form of motorcycling, but rather to help them survive to a ripe old age, and be able to tell some ripper yarns about their biking days.
Whenever I see a motorcyclist without protective clothing, or worse still, without a helmet ... I get an uncomfortable feeling in my gut. I've seen what happens to riders (even with a helmet and protective clothing) when they come unstuck or have a losing argument with a larger vehicle ... and it is NOT pretty ... nor is it in any way "cool".
Even though I've managed to come off a few times and not break anything (at least not that I was aware of), there are parts of my body where no hair will grow thanks to some very nasty friction burns. Bitumen is very ... well ... unforgiving.
Those riders whom I know who that have faired worse are missing the odd finger or toe. Some have had chunks of their arms, legs or face removed. One guy lost some of his liver after pinning himself on the handle bars (almost fatal). And of course ... there are several guys and gals that I've ridden with, who are no more than fading memories from over thirty years ago. They didn't make it.
In the end, it doesn't actually matter whether a road or trail riding accident is your fault or some else's. Either way, it will either hurt like hell or kill you (possibly both). If you live long enough, you will eventually discover that scars are really not all that cool.
So that was a peek at the non-glamorous side of being a biker ... Here are a few tips to help you avoid it.
• Wear a Helmet and protect yourself against head injuries [TOP]
Even if you're just riding in a paddock on the farm, wear a helmet !!
If you're not fond of the idea of being a drooling vegetable, unable to go to the bathroom without assistance ... then you should definitely be wearing a helmet whenever you ride.
If facial scaring, losing teeth (or maybe even your entire lower jaw) sounds unattractive to you ... then you should always wear a Full-Face helmet.
A bike helmet won't necessarily prevent head injury, but in most circumstances it can reduce or limit the severity of head injuries. A good bike helmet can save your life!
A damaged bike helmet is a liability that won't protect you properly when it counts ... always replace a damaged bike helmet! Even dropping a bike helmet may reduce the helmet's ability to protect you ... so look after your head gear!
• Don't Drink And Ride [TOP]
You might think that injuring yourself is not a very welcome idea. But be assured, if your actions result in the injury or death of some one else ... it will be far worse! Don't ruin your own life or some one else's. You might think that it will never happen to you, but are you prepared to take the risk to find out? There is no back button or undo on this one. The result of your actions may have severely unpleasant and life-long consequences.
Controlling any motor vehicle requires alert attention and no small amount of skill. Taking anything that distorts your perception, or compromises your attention (and/or your reaction time), is just a straight-out bad idea.
• Tailgating is Strictly for Fools [TOP]
It takes three tenths of a second for what your eyes see, to register in your consciousness ... and that's on a good day. At just 60Km per hour (16.7 m/sec), you will cover 5 metres in that three tenths of a second. Let's put that into perspective. When the guy in front of you stomps on the brakes, you will have traveled five metres before you even register that his brake lights are on (and that of course assumes those brake lights are working). I can remember some bumper stickers that said: "If you can read this, you're too close!" Well guess what ... they were right!
• Defensive Riding [TOP]
When you are riding your dirt bike (or any other motorcycle) on a public road, you need to employ a defensive riding attitude. In any collision with another vehicle, the bike rider WILL come off second best. So, every other vehicle on the road is essentially your enemy.
Most motorists will never have ridden a bike and as a result, motorists are generally "bike unaware". As a rider you need to always remember this.
The golden rule here is:
Never, ever, assume that another motorist has seen you, knows where you are, or knows what you intend to do. Forgetting this rule can prove fatal!
• Avoid Dangerous Overtaking [TOP]
The extremely good power to weight ratio of motorcycles results in truly wicked acceleration and a perhaps unfortunate tendency to try risky overtaking manoeuvres.
Sometimes bike riders tend to forget that those ("thou shalt not cross") double white lines on the road apply to ALL vehicles. Aside from possibly earning a rider a very nasty fine (or even license cancellation), the head-on collisions that may result from crossing those double white lines will often prove terminal.
Never overtake on the inside. The temptation to use the emergency lane or road shoulder for overtaking should be avoided. This may be a tempting section of road to make use of, but it's also likely to be full of nasty little pieces of debris, just waiting to give some one a flat tyre or worse. Don't go there, and particularly not at high speed.
Freeway mirror slapping is another item on the "to be avoided" list. Miscalculations can be painful on the knuckles and make for expensive repairs for both cars and bikes. And wouldn't you know, not all of those car mirrors fold back.
Before attempting ANY overtaking manoeuvre, just ask yourself, are you really in that much of a hurry? If you chill-out a little, you'll probably live longer.
• Cornering - Brake, Turn, Accelerate [TOP]
If you watch any motor sports, you will quickly notice that most of the stacks happen in corners. Its all about physics and a thing called inertia. Put simply, a moving mass resists changing direction. At any time while you are going around a corner, your bike just wants to go straight ahead (which is generally off the road).
The only thing that keeps you going around the corner is the friction between your tyres and the road. That friction is created by just a few square centimetres of rubber. Anything that breaks that adhesion (water, dirt, road grime, too much braking, too much speed), may cause you to crash.
In a best case scenario, you would approach a corner at a speed that would allow you to traverse the corner without needing to brake. Both braking (particularly hard braking) and acceleration in a corner, create a possibility to break the friction between your tyres and the road ... and, you're off.
Brake before the corner. Turn using minimal braking or acceleration. Accelerate out of the corner. Where necessary or appropriate, apply both braking and throttle smoothly. A fist full of throttle can be as lethal as stomping on the brakes.
In fairness, this is about "safe" road riding. On the race track, or in the muck'n'mud it's a whole different game. But a shared public road isn't a race track, and that's a distinction worth keeping in mind.
• Road Conditions - That Pothole Wasn't There Yesterday! [TOP]
Riding to the road, trail or track conditions can help to save you from some serious injuries. One of the most dangerous things you can do, is to assume that the road, trail or track conditions are the same as they were the last time you traveled that way. Weather has a nasty tendency of making such assumptions potentially lethal.
- Riding A Dirt Bike On Bitumen (a.k.a. a made, sealed or surfaced road)
It is a simple fundamental fact that Dirt Bikes are not optimally engineered for Road Riding. Dirt Bikes are perfectly safe to ride on a made road, as long as you remember some simple facts. To begin with the overall geometry of a dirt bike tends to make for a higher centre of gravity and provides greater road (and obstacle) clearance.
This is great for swinging the back wheel out in the dust and mud, but when you let slip on bitumen it all gets ugly rather fast.
Riding a Dirt Bike on bitumen tends to be most hazardous just after some rain, particularly if conditions have been hot/dry prior to this. The water just sits on top of the rubber accumulated on the road and you may feel like you are riding on ice. If you happen to be leaning into a corner ... whoops! ... or something more colourful.
- Riding A Dirt Bike On A The Bush Track or Trail
This is what Dirt Bikes are designed for right? So why not just give it some stick and enjoy the thrills?
It's a nice theory, but in practice, there are some limitations. These start and end with YOUR riding skill and reflexes. In between are all the things that you can't predict ... like the fresh ruts and potholes just around the corner that you intend to take going flat wick ... or the tree and/or branch that has inconveniently let go and is now lying squarely across the trail.
One good storm or downpour of rain can radically alter the terrain you're riding, even from how it was yesterday or just a few hours ago. Then there are also man-made obstacles where the local council has decided to grade that section of road or add some fresh road gravel. These things can cause embarrassing moments and worse.
So the message is a simple one. If you are prepared to ride harder than your experience level and conditions allow ... get some really good insurance for your bike and your body first!
• Dirt Bike Maintenance and Safety [TOP] [BACK]
If you run out of brakes, ride on dodgy tyres or just generally have a bike that needs serious work ... who are you kidding? Your life depends on the roadworthiness of that thing that's rattling away between your legs.
Inspect Your Dirt Bike Regularly after a good hose down:
- Hydraulics: Check ALL fluid levels regularly. If you need to top up hydraulic or other fluids more than once a week, you have a problem that needs attention. Look for leaking seals.
- Cables: Check all cables and make sure they are moving freely, are properly lubricated and not frayed.
Small things like a stuck throttle cable can see you parked in the trees or somewhere down a ravine.
- Drive Chain: Make sure your dirt bike's drive chain is Lubricated and Properly Tensioned. Slack and dry chains are noisy and will wear the teeth on your sprockets with frightening speed. It is way easier and cheaper to replace a worn out chain than a set of sprockets. But if you do have to replace sprockets, get a new chain to go with them for maximum life.
- Keep It Tight : Tighten up anything that should not be loose. If you lose nuts, screws or other bits while you're on the road or on a bush track, you will probably never see them again ... unless you come off at the same place.
Please ... Look after your dirt bike, so that it can look after you. Don't put it off - Fix It !!
Riding a motorcycle doesn't kill people ... stupidity does!
I hope this page may save you some grief and lead to a longer lasting enjoyment of your motorcycling experience.