Living and the Bike Rules

Riding a Motorbike was one of my favourite modes of travel. There’s a sense of freedom that comes from feeling the elements caress or pummel your body that an enclosed car can’t provide. To put it simply, you’re sitting on an engine supported by two wheels. It’s the adult version of your first bicycle ride. And no matter how many times or how long I’d been riding for, that childlike excitement never went away.

There are risks, however. The very things that allow you to feel free on that ride are also the very things that make you vulnerable to extreme injury or death if an accident occurs. There is no car-like outer shell protection from impact if a rider is hit or comes off the bike. Even at the regular speed limit of 60 km/h, a fragile human body can sustain serious injury or death from three main parts. The rider being hit by or hitting an object while on the bike; the rider hitting and/or sliding along the hard, rough road; and hitting another object after coming off the bike (such as a kerb, post or another vehicle).

Keeping these risks in mind and perspective means that riding a motorcycle requires a level of planning and awareness far above that of driving a car. Driving a car can lead a person to become complacent and with a false sense of security. The encapsulated, temperature controlled, noise reduced cocoon lulls us into a detached slumber from those outside. Therefore, as I taught those close to me when they got their motorcycle licenses – there are road rules, and then there are the “bike rules”.

Most accidents happen when one of these rules has been ignored: intentionally or otherwise. For me, I’ve never come off the bike. But rest assured every close call that could’ve taken my life was because I didn’t apply the bike rules. I think the only reason I’m still here after those close calls is due to some skill, mostly luck and the other driver being aware enough to have avoided me.

On contemplation of these “bike rules” that have kept me upright for all of my years of riding, I came to the conclusion that the same principles have held me in good stead throughout the rest of my life. The transition happened quite unconsciously. I think it just became a habit that I applied to driving and then everything else.

A characteristic doesn’t just disappear. If you use a personal practice in one area, it becomes a habit everywhere else too. And I think that’s handy to know. Often, we try to create a great habit in the wrong way; and therefore we fail. However, if we practice a new habit in an activity we enjoy or find easy, then that pattern becomes manifest in other areas too.

So, whether you ride a bicycle, a motorbike, drive a car or something else, see if you can keep these principles in mind and practice. At most, it may save your life; as it did me many times. At least, it may make your life a more proactive activity, and therefore, more fun.

1. Maintain your machine

It boggles my mind how many people have no idea how to perform basic maintenance of their vehicle. They’re riding or driving a motorised machine at high speed or for long distances, assuming “it” is alright. Basics like checking oil, water, the air in the tyres, transmission and brake fluid should be the absolute minimum that everyone should know before being allowed to turn the key. You should also know how to adjust the chain tension, the clutch, the brake, the idle speed, the electric bulbs and suspension.

Maintaining your machine not only keeps you on top of any problems before they arise, but it may also save you from an accident (e.g.. Brake light not working and you get rear-ended) or stranded in the middle of nowhere with a burned-out machine (e.g., overheating from no oil or water).

It also fortifies your relationship with it as a machine that you’re in control over, rather than something that someone else fixes.

Off-Road Application

Look after your body. Your body – for better or worse – is the most complex and important machine you’ll ever own. If it breaks, you break. There is no you, without it. The quality and somewhat quantity of your life are dependent on how well you maintain your body and mind.

Just remember this simple truth: as what you are today is the result of what you did or didn’t do in the past, so too, your future self will be a mirror of your current decisions. What you eat and drink becomes your flesh and blood. What you read and learn becomes your mental map. What you physically do becomes your body’s memory. With such a limited time on this Earth to fully enjoy our potential, why not choose to undertake only those activities which add benefit, knowledge or skill to your life.

The principle is a simple but powerful one: the more you know, the more you can do. The more you can do, the more you can experience. The more you can experience, the more you know. Repeat.

2. Know your skill level

The kind of person that decides to ride a bike is one that has an adventurous streak, to begin with. Otherwise, the fear of all the possible repercussions would discourage them from ever riding. This very trait may manifest in some as overconfidence to the point of idiocy; as anyone who’s seen riders on the road take unnecessary risks will recognise. The fact they haven’t come off and seriously hurt or killed themselves (or others) is sheer luck. Something a good friend of mine learned the hard way on a group ride in the Northern Territory.

My friend rode a Honda CBR600RR, quite a fast and nimble sports bike. As he joined a group of more experienced riders on the no-speed-limit roads of the NT, he came into a corner too fast for his skill level and ended up riding off-road at high speed, flipping off the bike, spinning through the air and narrowly missing two trees by inches, landing on sand. If he had hit anything at that speed, his body would have been permanently paralysed or dead. A hard lesson that he never violated again.

Your skill level on the road isn’t about your ability to operate a vehicle and following the traffic rules. Your skill level is about your ability to manoeuvre your vehicle through and out of a dangerous situation before it’s too late. This means riding at a speed that’s appropriate; cornering correctly; managing the vehicle through rough weather and road conditions; avoiding and staying ahead of other motorists pre-emptively; assuming pedestrians, animals or debris will become manifest at any time.

Off-Road Application

Knowing what you can and can’t do; can or can’t handle, is a vital skill in character to moderate your decisions on the road and in life. Of course, you’ll need to put yourself in unfamiliar situations to learn and gain experience, but you can do this in a rational manner, rather than a gung-ho, emotionally fuelled impulse.

Keep updating and learning new skills; intellectual, physical, manual, social, verbal, business, sports, digital, etc., the list is vast and exciting enough for everyone. The more you know, the more you can engage with life and the better you’ll feel about yourself.

Conversely, the more you know, the more awareness you have of what and how much you don’t know. This has the added benefit of saving you from some misguided attempts at ventures that can be physically, emotionally or financially detrimental to you or those around you.

3. Know where you’re going

Riding a bike is an enjoyable experience. Whether you’re riding down to the local shop, riding along the coast on a warm summer sunset or a long trip to a faraway town, the joy doesn’t diminish. Mostly because riding is a sensory experience that makes every destination either an adventure or escape. To get the full experience, you must know where you’re going, how to get there and where you are along the way.

Keep your eyes on the road aheadIf there’s something that can endanger your safety, it’s taking your eyes off the road and losing your focus. Daydreaming, distractions and trying to find an address means that your eyes and mind aren’t taking in your surroundings for danger but rather, occupied with something else. Nothing in my time riding brought this principle home more than the short, introductory racing course I participated in. I learned a lot more about ride planning than I was expecting, but it was worth every minute.

Knowing the track that you’re racing on is fundamental to racing effectively. The rider must know every straight, chicane, incline and corner by heart. Why is this so important? For planning of course. The rider plans his speed, gear changes, entry and exit points, cornering and refuelling strategy. Which brings me to another technique that riders usually need improvement on: cornering.

When cornering at speed, the rider leans the bike into the corner, sometimes positioning his body off centre, to counterbalance the pull of the centrifugal force on the motorcycle. Regardless of the corner type, the rider must remember, and train himself, to look where he wants to go: that is, the road ahead. If the inexperienced rider focuses on the kerb or the wall on the outside of the corner for fear of hitting it, it’s more likely he will inadvertently head towards that instead. Look where you want to be and guide the bike towards that.

Off-Road Application

Having a goal, a plan or schedule for various aspects of your life is a significant contributor to success. Anything worth doing will require some form of planning by someone, some of the time, somewhere along the line. Nothing ever gets accomplished by sitting back and hoping that things will just magically work out on their own. Occasionally it may happen, but usually, there’s been other input from somewhere we’re not aware of.

Whether you want to achieve a financial, business, academic, project, travel or adventure goal, you are more likely to succeed if you have a well-thought-out plan with measurable steps along the way. Think of all the activities you’ve been involved in since birth. They’ve all had some structured plan guiding it with rules which told you how to be involved and what was expected. Whether it was at school and your education, or at your sports club, your driving tuition and even your career, anything of value, requiring a long time for your effort and attention to learn or accomplish, needed a plan.

I think, however, growing up in our formative years led to most experiences where the planning stages were already implemented into the activity by someone else. If this was true for you as it was for most of us, then it means we missed out on learning this vital life skill. We just turned up after all and everything was done. All we had to do was participate. We behave in the same way with most things we’d like to try and find that it’s too hard and takes too long; thereby giving up. If we spend some time in the planning stages before we invest our time, money and effort into something, we may find our journey is smoother with fewer surprises.

This principle has served me well and paid back exponentially comparatively to the energy applied. I find the best results and the probability of success increase if I spend most of my time on the set-up and planning stages of any project. In this manner, I can gauge ahead of time what’s required, what requires more effort, change or even abandonment. I’ve never regretted preplanning anything. But I have regretted going into something without previous thought and finding out later I was either in over my head or lost in the mess I had created. Disillusionment soon set in and then there was yet something else I didn’t finish.

4. Stay focused on danger

I’ve had other drivers pull into my lane and potentially knock me off while I was right next to them in their line of sight. All they had to do was glance to the side and see me there. They were probably daydreaming or distracted. I would have to brake or accelerate to avoid being driven into oncoming traffic or the kerb. This taught me to either stay ahead or far behind another vehicle.

Then, there are the people that open their doors and exit their vehicles onto oncoming traffic. This is more common than I’d like to remember. Whenever you’re riding towards parked cars, look through them for people potentially opening their car door into you.

The most likely problem that is overlooked by the rider is road debris. Because most of us usually have our first driving experience and license in a car, we become used to the relative safety that four wheels and an undercarriage can provide. Whether it’s sand, oil, trash, small animals, rocks, tyre remnants, etc., we can feel quite confident that if we happen to drive over or on one of these objects, chances are, we’ll be okay. Not on a bike, however.

The probable conclusion of hitting or riding on or over one of these objects – either straight or while cornering – is you’re going to end up on the pavement. I’ve lost count of how many times I could’ve come off badly if I hadn’t been paying attention to the road ahead. Often, riders make this mistake by not expanding their field of vision forward and by following too close to another vehicle. I remember losing my temper at my cousin who was doing this very thing.

I was driving in the left lane, and he was riding his bike in the lane next to me. He was behind a small delivery truck – around 5 metres behind a delivery truck – with no absolute possibility of avoiding an object in time that would pass unscathed under the truck and into his front wheel.

After I had signalled him to pull over, I was livid. I asked him how the hell could he know what was on the road ahead of the truck. Furthermore, with me next to him, he was boxed-in. Not only would he not be able to avoid a piece of trash but in the process, he’d probably be run over by me or someone behind him after he came off. I reminded him angrily that he must ALWAYS be able to see past the vehicle in front of him. Either by looking past the side of the vehicle or through their windscreen from behind them.

He never did that again.

Off-Road Application

Life is going to happen to you. That means the great, the boring and the worst. It’s the worst you need to be aware of becoming possible at any time, usually when you least expect it. Preparation and expectation are good habits to cultivate. We stop taking things for granted: the job; the partner; the money; your health; your plans and dreams. If one is paying attention, you’ll be able to see small clues that are pointing to something that needs preparation or salvation. Whether that means learning new skills, taking out insurance or saving for a rainy day, be prepared and look ahead for things that may knock you off your feet.

5. Assume no one can see you

You’ve probably experienced that phenomenon of seeing something everywhere, once you’ve bought or acquired that same thing yourself. For example, you purchase a motorbike, and now you notice other motorcycles everywhere. It’s this principle that also stops other drivers from seeing you. Since they drive cars, they’re looking out for cars; not bikes. Therefore, the chances that someone may pull out in front of you and cut you off is quite high.

You can prepare for this and ride with the mindset that no one can see you. In this mindset, you’ll pre-empt everything on the road and won’t be caught by surprise. This mindset requires that you leave your ego at home. Meaning, you’re not special, and you have no rights to anything. Let me explain.

Many people have a mindset of entitlement. They feel entitled to certain things because that’s the “rules”. This is a serious mistake. You have to keep in mind that you’re not riding with “road rules”, you’re riding with an ever-changing matrix of psychological entities. The brains and nervous systems you’re sharing the road with may be in quite a different state than you’d expect. The nightly news’ reports of drunk drivers, drugged truckers, road-rage violence and avoidable accidents paint a small picture of a wider problem.

Intersections are a great reminder of human’s sense of entitlement. After being narrowly missed by a driver going through a red light, I learned my lesson early. After that, irrespective of whether the light was green, I would always slow down before the intersection and check that oncoming or side traffic wasn’t crossing my path. I can’t emphasise enough how often this practice saved me from injury or death. Another friend learned the hard way about the dangers of rushing through intersections.

Approaching an amber light without checking for potential threats, my friend sped through the intersection not seeing the oncoming car turning into her lane with the same intent of beating the light. His car’s front bumper just clipped her leg, but it was enough to send her flying hard onto the bitumen, sliding along and slamming her onto the kerb, fracturing her pelvis in two places. Narrowly missing a street sign and possible paralysis, she also never did that again.

Your fellow motorists may be drunk, drugged, distracted, distraught, dysfunctional, suicidal, homicidal, indifferent, apathetic, emotionally volatile, daydreaming, hurried, etc. Realising that you’re riding on a thin strip of road with thousands of different strangers whom you don’t know personally, you’ll fare better, in the odds that someone is on the road when they shouldn’t be.

Off-Road Application

Most of the issues I hear beneath the constant complaining in conversation comes from people’s expectations that everyone else should be doing, saying and living in the same “rules and paradigms” as theirs. Somehow it escapes their awareness that their sense of entitlement to what’s right is often misguided; just like everybody else. Simply put, most of what you think, know and do, is done so through unconscious habit. And like everybody else, we wrongly assume that what we believe must be what everyone else thinks too; or should think. Because we “think” something, we naturally assume it must be the right thing; otherwise, why would we think and do those things?

Keep in mind that this is standard cognitive behaviour.

However, always remember that the same neurological habit binds everyone else. That is, they think they’re right, entitled and good. Whether they are or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that you do what you do, without an expectation that everyone else is playing by the same rules.

Riding a motorcycle is a wonderful experience enjoyed by millions worldwide. It is nevertheless, fraught with a degree of danger due to the exposed nature of the activity. Couple that with speed and other external threats, and you have a recipe for serious physical harm. Nevertheless, if the rider keeps five simple “bike rules” in mind, his chances of escaping injury are substantially increased. On the road, as in life, the motorist’s skill and awareness are constantly put to the test against challenges that can make or break him. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to increase your level of participation intellectually and physically. By doing so, your experience on and off the road increase, thereby also affecting the variety of enjoyment and success for the better in your life. Stay upright 🙂

Country Road

Taking my beloved Yamaha YZF1000 through the beautiful Karri forests of WA (2002).

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