A while back I was listening to a gentleman explain the frustrations he has with automobile drivers as he told his story about how he was cut off while having his signal lights on. He said he caught up to that particular driver and gave him a piece of his mind. He told the driver to look and see the signal lights since they apparently were still flashing.
After he vented his frustrations about that driver I asked him one simple question. If the driver did not see the complete bike and rider, how would he possibly see the signal lights?
Hence the invisible rider.
I believe that a smart rider embraces the fact that they are often invisible and the smartest riders (in my opinion) consider themselves to be invisible ALL the time while they are riding. Think about this concept for a second.
If one was truly invisible then there are many things we just would not do such as stand in front of a Mac Truck with our hands up to stop it while it is speeding down a highway. But if we take this concept even further it would definitely change our riding habits for the better.
Being invisible means that nobody on the road can see us. If we assume that this is the case then we would think twice about driving in front of a car signaling to enter onto the road in front of us since they could in fact take off at any given moment and most likely right in front of us. We would not change lanes without being one hundred percent certain that no one could hit us.
By assuming that we are invisible will dramatically revise our risk calculations and therefore reduce the chances of a collision. Yes we have signal lights, driving lights, enhanced LED braking modulation lights, high beams, air horns and more. All of these devices are great and help enhance the visibility of the rider but none of them guarantee the visibility of a rider.
A recent article pointed out the dramatic reduction in fatalities and accidents among car drivers in the last 20 years but that the fatalities among motorcycle riders remained high. Just yesterday there was an article pointing out that there were eight motorcycle fatalities in sixteen days just around Ottawa Ontario. The most alarming data coming out is that most of these accidents are with experienced riders over the age of forty who were not road racers.
Riders today always seem to blame the automobiles. They pay extra money for farkles and add-ons to help make them more visible. But in the end it is only the rider who determines their fate. In 100 percent of all accidents the following statement is true:
If the rider was not there at that moment, there would be no accident.
It could be that they are sandwiched between two cars on a highway and have nowhere to go or that they were minding their own business riding down a road when a car suddenly pulled out in front of them. If they were not riding down that particular road then no collision would occur.
If I were to pass on some wisdom to my son Kyle about staying safe on the road, I would insist that he ride as an invisible rider and to always assume that other vehicles on the road cannot see him.
Below are the tips I would pass on to him.
I Spy with My Little Eye
Travelling with my family in the old Pontiac Stato Chief would most always lead into a game of I spy with my little Eye something that is…
Since I started riding a motorcycle I have turned that game into I Spy with my little eye a safe place for me to go!
I constantly play this game in my head while I ride. Here is how it goes. When riding down a highway I imagine what would I do if the car to the left were to suddenly change lanes and determine that I spy a large right shoulder with sufficient room for me to go to safely. Also when I am stopping quickly and see someone behind me I may spy a clear lane on the left for me to go to if I had to accelerate to avoid the vehicle behind who may not be stopping quickly enough.
In every case and in all situations I want to spy with my little eye a Safe Zone to go to. When the situation arises that I cannot spy with my little eye a safe zone then that is when the alarm in my head goes off, my riding senses are heightened and I make every immediate effort to remove myself as quickly and safely from that particular riding zone.
An example would be if I were riding behind a tractor trailer who decides to pass a trailer in front of him and therefore the two trailers are taking up both lanes of an interstate. My eye would spy nowhere to go if those two trailers collided sideways and started to crash. In this instance I would immediately begin a deceleration to put as much distance in front of me and those tractor trailers so that I have an ample safety zone.
Another would be when I begin to get boxed in in traffic. This is a situation that may require the torque and speed of your motorcycle to immediately remove yourself from that danger zone and place your motorcycle far ahead and away from danger.
Being invisible means that we always assume that no one can see us and therefore we always have to plan where we would go in the case of…
Riding down the road in a La De Da manner is not an option for an invisible rider.
The bottom line here is to always and at all times have a planned safety zone in your head while riding. Consider it a warm and cozy “go-to-place” whenever needed and be prepared to go to it!
So you’re riding down Main Street and see a stopped at an entrance parking lot waiting for traffic to clear so they can cross the road to the ongoing traffic and suddenly they are in your face two feet in front of you. Why you ask? How could they possible not see you with all the lights and loud pipes and such on your bike?
I do not know the answer to that question other than they did not.
The invisible rider would see the car, recognize the accident zone and begin to slow down and attempt to make eye contact or face to face contact with that driver before proceeding in front of the car. I think of it as a form of active listening whereby I flick my high beams and then wait for approval. No response? I zig-zag slightly to possibly move in and out of a reflection zone and continue to flick my high beams. Still no response? I honk my horn and wait for a reaction. No reaction? I then slow down and assume that they will not see me until the very last second and I am then at a crawling speed ready to stop and avoid having them in my face.
This may seem extreme and the cars behind you may get frustrated if you are slowing down all the time. But I find that I generally get a facial reaction or a wave from the driver with the high beam flash or horn so it is only in the odd cases that I really slow down to an almost halt. But in either instance I do slow down ultimately assuming I may have to stop.
Engine Braking (down shifting)
I remember the first time I piloted a standard shift automobile and discovered the joys of down shifting. The sound the engine makes, the smooth transition between gears and ultimate feel of reducing your speed while maintaining full throttle control is exhilarating.
Down shifting is really a sporty term for engine braking and “braking” is the key word. The invisible rider would always consider engine braking as the same action as braking. The rider is accelerating, maintaining velocity or braking (decelerating). Therefore the following considerations should be considered and followed when braking:
- Before braking check the mirrors and determine how far any vehicle is behind you and if they have the appropriate braking distance to avoid hitting you when you begin your braking action.
- Obviously if there are no vehicles you may brake at will. But if there are vehicles then the invisible rider will try to communicate with these vehicles and let them know you are braking. An immediate tap of the brake pedal will trigger the brake lights and this is where having additional bright modulating LED lights such as Skene is effective. Immediately after the tap the invisible rider will practice the art of active listening by keeping an eye on the vehicle to see if they have reacted to the brake light and have begun their deceleration. If they have then the invisible rider will continue with a more aggressive braking while always keeping an active eye on the vehicles behind.
- It is important to note that if you are engine braking only, then the invisible rider will be slightly depressing the rear brake pedal so as to not activate the actual rear brakes but to activate the brake lights. This is something that most riders do not do.
- If the vehicles behind do not decelerate the invisible rider will then immediately react and go to the “go-to-place”.
- The invisible rider always wants to engage the surrounding traffic using their lights, horns and driving patterns. After all, these are the only methods of communication between the motorcyclist and the traffic vehicles.
I find that most riders do not take the time to tap the brake pedal when “down shifting” and especially when there are vehicles behind them. This is a dangerous practice and if you find yourself to be one of those riders then I suggest that you install a deceleration module that will activate your braking lights at the first sign of deceleration. I know of two types of deceleration modules available and they are Ohmics Intelligent MotoBrake Light and Volo Lights.
Intr.v rub-ber-necked, rub-ber-neck-ing, rub-ber-necks
To look about or survey with sophisticated wonderment or curiosity.
An invisible rider is also a rubbernecker and proud of it! Unfortunately our eye sight is not like that of a spider. Our eye sight is designed to have about 80 degrees forward vision when looking straight because we have only two eyes and they are in sockets on the front of our heads. That means that we are missing 280 degrees around us and behind us. Sure we can rotate our eyes to make up for much of the forward and side angles but we cannot see behind us and we often have blind spots.
I often see riders entering oncoming traffic or making turns without any head movement and I imagine they are relying on their mirrors only. I do not believe that mirrors alone will provide us with sufficient and accurate information to make safe and reliable decisions to accelerate, decelerate or to stop.
An invisible rider is always curious about their surroundings. They want to know who is where, when and how they are driving. Invisible riders are really a nosy group of riders. But knowing all the details is yet another tool we have in our arsenal to keep us safe.
Mirrors alone can be misleading because of their angles and reflections. Therefore the invisible rider will:
- Turn his head both ways and look up and down an intersection before proceeding to ensure that there are no oncoming vehicles or dangers.
- Turn his head towards the back when merging into oncoming traffic to properly gage the speed, density and type of vehicles that are flowing so to determine a safe merging speed and a safe zone.
- Turn his head before passing or changing lanes to properly gage the speed, density and type of vehicles that are flowing.
- To periodically turn his head and just see what is about (curiosity).
Some people may laugh and see this as over the edge or owl like. But consider this, Skully Helmets and Intelligent Cranium’s iC-R are spending a small fortune developing the latest helmet technology with cameras built into the helmet and small heads-up screens on the visor to fill in the missing 280 degrees field of vision. If it was not important, there would be no market for these types of technologies. Of course these helmets may sell for well over $ 2,000.00 Canadian Dollars so until you have the money to spend on these, rubbernecking is a far more affordable and safe solution.
The “Not So Invisible” Motorcycle and Equipment
The final part of being an invisible rider is to make certain that your motorcycle and your clothing is as visible as possible in all riding conditions (sun and night). Even though you would never rely on these items they are necessary to enhance the communications between the invisible rider and other vehicles on the road.
Here are some suggestions that I have placed on my BMW F700GS.
The Back Side Real-estate:
1. Additional high intensity modulated brake lights. I purchased Skene P3 Brake lights from Motorcycle Innovations. These will blink four times fast then four times a bit slower then stay on in high intensity during the braking process. They also stay on and can be set to flicker during normal riding to enhance the visibility of back side of the motorcycle.
2. Add some reflective stickers. Yes I know you may have the most sexy and beautiful bike but at night the only thing that a car behind you will see is your running lights and any reflective sticker or reflectors.
3. Ensure that you have high reflective material on the back side of your riding jacket no matter what color it is.
The Front Side Real-estate
1. Add additional riding lights that make you seen from a distance. Personally I would avoid any types of front modulation or flickering because they are illegal in many states and provinces.
2. Add reflective stickers to the front side of panniers or fenders.
3. Add a louder horn such as a Stebel Air Horn to make you heard when you need to be heard.
The Invisible Rider’s Work Out
No one achieves perfection without working for it. So I admit, I do not have a six pack. I could if I worked out enough but I am just not there yet. But having a six pack (as much as I would love to have one) requires constant training and work outs which I do not do. But not having a six pack does not endanger my life since I eat healthy, am relatively active and I am in the middle of my suggested weight zone.
However, not having the necessary skills to get in and out of emergency situations on a motorcycle can one day endanger your life and lives of others. Yes, not only your life.
So part of the invisible rider’s work outs is to practice handling the motorcycle periodically and intensely at the beginning of every riding season (up here in the north).
It is one thing to determine your safe zones but yet another to get there safely in a moment’s notice. The invisible rider will practice:
- Handling the motorcycle at lower speeds weaving in and out of cones;
- Sudden accelerations and sharp turns at various speeds such as to avoid and go around a group of cones;
- A sudden change of lane and an immediate stop;
- A sudden change of lanes and simultaneous acceleration;
- A sudden acceleration and change of lanes;
- Riding in gravel, sand and rocks to emulate a soft shoulder;
- High and low speed stops;
The invisible rider takes the time out of their schedules to practice the above routines at least once a month.
Why? Because we often think that we are seasoned and experienced riders because we have being on the road for many years. But cruising safely down the highway or intercity riding without incident does not give us the skills that we may need to use only once in our lives and hopefully never to avoid a collision. The invisible rider knows this and will be in the “ready Position” when the situation arises.
In addition to work outs, I believe it is equally important to continue taking skill enhancement courses or seminars whenever possible. There are many such courses and seminars available throughout the summer. One of the main advantages of taking these courses regularly is to catch and stop bad habits before they get out of control. It is always surprising to me when I take these courses that the instructors will always critic some newly developed bad habit. It encourages self-examination and correction.
Stretching the limits
I think by now I would have lost the attention of my son Kyle and he would be screaming to just get on the motorcycle and ride. After all, it is about the enjoyment and pleasure of riding. At this point I would tell him “Yes”! Go riding. Ride Safe. Ride Smart and tell him I love him. But I would also remind him to practice his skills and remain invisible at all times. With respect to his motorcycle, I would personally outfit the necessary stickers and lights to ensure maximum on-road visibility.
If you want to become an invisible rider, take the time to practice and read this article once a month to remind you not to become visible again and assume too much.
Agreed, I ride like I’m invisible and use the horn liberally.