Ride Alertly

Ride AlertlyRiding can be great fun on one end of an emotional spectrum and perhaps too relaxing on the other end of the same spectrum. And in between, a whole lot of different emotions can be experienced, as well. Regardless of whether we are riding in the city, or on a deserted country road, constant alertness should be our ongoing riding partner.

The concept of “Riding Alertly” seems too obvious to bear mentioning. And yet, I find myself occasionally getting lulled into a sense of such contentment on some rides, whereby I recognize that I’m not as vigilant as I could be.  At the same time I recognize that it’s not an optimum motorcycle-safety state of mind.

Interestingly enough, I sometimes wonder if that’s a negative factor gained through experience. Whether my recollection is correct or not, I like to think of my early years of riding as filled with such excitement and enthusiasm that I’m not sure I could have been eased into a state of such complacency that it would be a safety concern.

That’s not to say that, a few decades later, I never get excited or enthusiastic about riding. But nevertheless, I have caught myself in a routine of riding that sometimes seems a bit too relaxed to such a degree that my reflexes would seem less responsive.

And yet it is best to ride in a relaxed frame of mind. We’re talking about some relative level of confident alertness balanced with a generally relaxed yet heightened sense of present-time awareness. Such that one can be relaxed and still mindful of approaching traffic, and ready to instantly respond if such traffic strays out of its lane.

Such relaxed-alertness includes being keenly sensitive to animals off to the side of the road, since at any instant one or more might dart across right in front of us, at the last possible instant.

Such relaxed-but-confident alertness also includes being able to continuously survey the approaching roadway for any challenges or obstructions, such as potholes, road debris, oil slicks, sandy spots, gravel in the road, etc.

Of course the biggest threat to motorcycle safety is other vehicles. Over the years I’ve seen furniture fall off the back of pickup trucks; food fly out of open car windows; lots of fruit bounce off the back of large, over-filled trucks; and I’ve encountered a stray car tire in the middle of a highway that wasn’t visible until the vehicle in front of me swerved out of the way at the last second, which gave me an instant to swerve around it as well.

Much more commonly is the routine traffic challenges of vehicles turning in front of us in a way that seems calculated to ensure the most direct collision possible, unless we ultimately save the day by engaging in an immediate, impact-avoidance maneuver that even Superman would find daunting.

Fortunately, the vast majority of the time such roadway drama is absent. But on the few days such does demand instantaneous response, personally, I want to be riding at optimum alertness.

What words would you use to describe that riding balance of environmental and survival awareness vs. simply experiencing and enjoying time on a bike?

Enjoy safe riding.

75 thoughts on “Ride Alertly

  • If the video does not play, it’s might be because you have a 64 bit computer and Internet Explorer as browser – and there still is no flash player for that combo. Use Firefox instead, – works fine.

  • I can’t watch the video. It tells me to download a plugin but then says no suitable one is avaiable. Might as well unsubscribe.

  • ride alert I agree even during a great ride in the sun, try and make eye contact with that harrased driver in the kid carrier / delivery van at junction etc

  • I just wanted to say that the Motorcycle Safety Training courses are great and well worth your time.
    I started riding motorcycles back in 1965 (If you can call a Yamaha 80 cc a motorcycle) and quit when I did a crash and burn on a Kawasaki 750. During the next few months I lost a few friends to bad accidents before I got my bike repaired. I didn’t ride for about 20 years and then when I decided to start riding again I had to take the training course which taught counter-steering. I always thought counter steering was a quick way to wreck a bike and always avoided it. Needless to say I learned a lot more than I had expected in the training course. Now, I have a Yamaha Vmax 1200cc and a Victory 1600cc, and plan to go back and take the next level course. I can’t praise the Motorcycle Rider Safety Courses enough. If you think you know it all, take the advanced course. If you fly though that without learning anything then you should teach others.

  • I used to ride years ago but never got my license. When I think now about how, 20 years ago, I just went out, got my learner’s permit, bought a bike, taught myself to ride, NEVER wore a helmet or any protective riding gear, I can’t believe it. What a difference 20 years makes!

    Consequently, this time around I’m doing it the right way by taking the MSF class in July and, in the meantime, reading and learning as much as I can about motorcycle safety. I gotta tell ya though, I’m starting to freak out! Reading about what can happen is making me rethink whether or not I want to actually start riding after I get my license. I hope I don’t chicken out.

  • every time i ride i think all of the time— of all my bones broken at one time, getting mangled under a mini van loaded with soccer kids, or draged down the road with my skin comeing off . that keeps me alert all the time. knowing i might be in the right but i still loose and all they get is a fine. and i am screwed for ever… so i think every one on the road is trying to kill me. and that keeps me looking out ,around,behind.next to,– all the time i do not feel safe till i stop….. do not get me wrong i love rideing but i know i will loose the contest, so its up to me to avoid them. even if they are wrong. let them go/pass/turn..

  • Being alert is key especially late at night, work on the asumption that anything can happen. Enjoy your motorcycling

  • Nice piece of advice, MCG.
    Here in India, safety precautions we take while cross-country motorcycle trips make up only 30% of the safe atmosphere. The remaining lot is your Good Luck or Bad Luck, what sometimes we call pure intuition, alertness, concentration.

    There are a lot of things to contend with on roads (and even on expressways). Starting from inter-state buses that simply refuse to remain on their lanes & will come into your path sooner than later, rough drivers driving point a to point b in shortest possible time & who don’t care for a fellow driver, least alone a man on two wheels; cattle suddenly crossing the road (in India, this is very evident), sudden speed-humps at sharp turns with no road-signs whatever, fallen trees on highways through jungles (particularly if you are crossing in early dawn), bandits/highwaymen very evident in certain pockets of the country & the list goes-on.

    A a general thumb-rule, regular motorcyclists like us prefer to stick to one common basic; RIDE DEFENSIVELY, as if an accident is just around the corner. And other than the horn (which seems to have least effect on regular highway truck-bus drivers), the beat/thump of my old enfield seems to keep me a little visible on broad roads, in only a little.

  • Good video tips on being alert. Out here in the far Southeast corner of Arizona there are a lot of “highways” that are really only two-lane roads with no shoulders to speak of, so stopping on the side is a real bad idea unless it’s absolutely necessary.

    And all of the safety gear in the world won’t help you when far too many drivers still don’t recognize a bike when they see one, so it’s up to those of us who ride to be more alert than the person behind that wheel of a 2000 pound vehicle.

  • One thing while riding keeps me alert more than any other thing. Most motorcycle accidents are caused by someone turning LEFT. Think about that. It’s true. Even riding down a 2 lane road…..if someone veers into your lane they are turning left. Keep your eyes ahead of the road, but also keep your eyes wide open behind and beside you.

  • I use a yellow coloured vest that I put over my motorbike jacket and I am very visible and I found that drivers actually see me now most of the time. Otherwise I just assume that they don’t see me and it has worked well for me for many years.

  • This is all sound advice. It’s good to see people thinking and acting safe on motorcycles.
    It seems that as the population grows and more people get drivers licenses, motorcyclists everywhere are having to contend with even more dangerous situations.
    I try to be as proactive as possible and of course within reasonable limitations. I tend to alter my ride times to try to limit my exposure to traffic. I am very fortunate that my employer allows me to be flexible with my work schedule so I usually leave before or after rush hour times. Also, I typically won’t ride on highways if there is a secondary road that goes the same direction. However, when I’m touring from state to state highways are sometimes the only option as well as the most sensible and convenient roads for making time.
    There are times when the motorcyclists are the problem. Such was the case with a fellow motorcyclist in my state of NC. March 7, 2011 a young man of 22 years decided to out run the police on his CBR1000. After 23 miles he hit a car, lost control, and then hit a guardrail that killed him instantly. State police clocked him at 133MPH. He only lived about 8 miles from my house. Although I do ride “spirited” from time to time, there is a time and place. At 133MPH that place would be the track with full leathers and an emergency medical team on standby.
    Basically, let’s all be safe out on the road and hope that all the cars (and bikes) driving next to you are being equally as safe.


  • I liked the tip, and have to say, in order to Ride Alertly, you have to be fully rested. Sleep is extremely important on my roadtrips. If you don’t get enough downtime, your riding, alertness, safety and enjoyment can suffer.

    I always keep saying these to myself when I embark on a multi-state ride or daily commute;

    1) Bring the bike in one piece
    2) Bring myself in one piece
    3) No tickets

    So far, I broke rule 1 just once. Plastic replaced, and I am good to go.

  • Your riding tips are appreciated. I don’t do much open road riding but here in Gauteng, South Africa, if you aren’t alert chances are you’ll be down before the days out.
    Ride safe

  • If you ride like with the alertness simular to match point in tennis it will keep you on top of your game. Often after we have a nice lunch with friends we can sometimes get a little a little sleepy on the way home and not pay the proper amount of attention needed to ride safe. Some say to drink coffee at lunch to get the caffine however when you age this can cause you to have to make frequent pee stops. I perfer to carry caffine pill and take two at lunch. This I believe as help me maintain my alertness after lunch and avoid the pee stops.

  • I can sympathize with the St. Louis riders….I live in Phoenix and they are just as bad. Since we ride here year ’round ( and yes it does get cold in the winter months) just not as cold as St. Louis. You’d think with the number of bikes around here people would take more notice but they don’t (well some of them do) but the majority don’t. Cell phone texting is a BIG problem. I always watch people’s heads and hands in their cars. That will tell you a lot about what they intend to do. Thanks for the tips MCG and keep ’em comin’. I have had numerous close calls because of the dumb f—s in the 4 wheelers. I ride EVERY day to work (70 miles round trip) so I see a lot of stupid stuff. I carry ball bearings in my coat pocket for the occasional dumb ass that won’t get off mine. They back up real quick when they hear a bunch of clinking sounds that they don’t know where they came from…

  • Regarding Bill Atkinson’s post and St. Louis.

    Believe me, St. Louis drivers SUCK!!!

    I’ve had 4 REALLY close calls thanks to those idiots.

    You can’t be too careful around them, and, I’m from St. Louis.

    It’s a miracle I’m not on Valium. I simply carry my .40 caliber with me instead.

    All the best,


  • Being alert saved my life traveling thru St. Louis this past summer. A guy driving a SUV pulling a trailer came into my lane, by watching my surroundings I was aware that the lane to my left was open and took action to avoid a crsh.

  • Thanks MCG, GREAT TIPS, paying attention is # 1. Have a 2000 Harley Road King Classic with 246,000 miles plus on it. Wife is a constant partner when she’s not teaching 4th grade. She is also a VERY VALUABLE second pair of EYES (& NOT a bit shy about calling something to my attention.) While we have run across all types of animals on or beside the road we always watch them carefully and are always ready to avoid em, Seen or not, just in case. I tend to hug the stripe in the middle rather than the shoulder. In traffic we are always on our toes and have had several closer calls in traffic rather than on the open road.

    Just yesterday we were returning from the Galveston, TX, Lone Star Rally on I-45, to Houston, in heavy traffic. We watch the traffic very closely, especially in close quarters. Not just the tail lights but the drivers and their driving habits around us. Gotta watch those cell phones. Yesterday I had been watching a driver behind us frequently in the mirror who was close and far due to not paying attention. Suddenly the traffic came to a dead stop and as usually my habit I always leave an escape path if at all possible. Sure enough I could tell the guy behind us was having too much fun and didn’t see us stop. Took the escape path to the inside shoulder and he hit the pick up truck that was in front of us causing him to hit the car in front of him. Had I not spotted him we could have been killed with the impact. His vehicle was not drivable. I Pulled to a stop as did those involved that could. We checked the other drivers and called the Police who were already on the way. I was pleased to give the Sheriff who arrived first the situation as I saw it. In listening to the driver that hit the others I would bet he was intoxicated. Sheriff was giving him a test for alcohol and he was complaining about all the D___ bikers he was tired of dodging all day. We were very grateful to get away with our lives and not having had our first accident on the old Boom-Dawg Harley.

    Keep the tips coming they are greatly appreciated. We’ve read some great tips in the comments by many other riders as well. Wish we had received these earlier.

    Sorry for being long winded. (Spanky says it’s not unheard of…!) Grrrrrr ;-(

  • Good info. I consider motorcyle riding the ultimate video game. Problem is you only have one guy. Every car driver hates you as they remember being cut of by reckless sport biker. Best to look at every driver as your enemy (they have metal around them ) and your job is to keep them away from you at all times. I check my rear view mirror often. Quite often , you can pace a driver to show them that you have no interest in tailgaiting the guy in front of you. Also, it does keep one in check if you visualize your self down on the pavement. Crashing is not an option when you have kids to go home to. Happy trails all.

  • Simple but true! I watch the front tires of cars at intersections, mirrors, keep the eyes moving! Anticipate the worst. Safe Riding to all!

  • I live, and ride, in northern New Jersey. Ride into western NJ, PA, and lower NY State. Some beautiful twisties and countryside to be had but my biggest fear is roadside deer! Watch out for them, especially at Dusk — they can be everywhere, camoflouged, and completely unpredictable. #1, avoid riding at dusk if you’re in Deer Country, and #2, if you feel like you must ride, BE ALERT. SCAN BOTH(!!!) SIDES OF THE ROAD AND SLOW IT DOWN… Good, Safe riding, everyone!

  • I picked up some good advise here, thanks to all that contributed. My joy of riding my Suzuki GSX650F is in the foot hills, and thru the National Parks. They are about 40 miles away so most of my riding is not on free ways. I also do lots of photography so stop often at turn outs along the way. It seems that car drivers like to ride on my tail in the curves just to show me what great drivers they are and this has taught me to constantly check my rear view mirrors. If I had to stop quickly I’m sure the car would win so I give them plenty of room to pass by pulling off the road at the first turn out.

    This is a great service you are doing, thank you very much!
    Kind Regards,

  • That’s right. You have to keep these basic points in. Just the other day I was riding home tired with no traffic around and caught myself not really even paying attention to what was going on. Also I think I was looking maybe 25 feet down the road! I briefly and gently admonished myself and immediately woke myself fully up. When you’re riding a bike at 100 feet per second it’s no time to be daydreaming!

    This is true at slow speeds too. I was turning right out of my driveway the other morning not 100% alert and there was a truck coming from my right, partially over the center of the road. There is almost never traffic on my street. I saw him but I reacted a little later than I should have. To keep a comfortable distance from him I had to brake hard at about 5 mph with the bars already turned far to the right. This upset my balance after I stopped and I then had to push on the ground quite hard with my right leg, to keep the bike from tipping over.

    So thanks for the reminder to stay alert!

  • Thanks for the tips just wondering could you have some tips about riding with partner?


  • Ride like your invisable, i.e. don’t depend on other drivers actions/reactions to fall within the parameters of good driving practices or common sense. The life you save might be your own!

  • Perhaps that sounded brief to some but, its a simple phrase that says it all! One instructor from our “Team Oregon” safe riding instructional group couldnt impress enough to the class that your best defense is to look and anticipate. Watch the way a driver turns his head, the bushes move, the pavement looks. It all matters and thats what being alert is all about. Good, simple, sound advice to all! Safe riding to everyone.

  • Great advice, if everyone uses common sense, and protects their bike investment, and their health, and exhibits courtesy to others, motorcycling, can be a great experience. would like to get a yard safety motorcycling sign in my yard just for public awareness. keep them tips coming,,,respectfully,Dennis l Kranes

  • Great pre-season tips to get the mind set for the 2010 season…..love my Shovelhead……..o~`o

  • I love it when people look out for others. But if your riding alone its all up to you and God. I love my V-Star Classic!!

  • Part of staying alert is always having an out! Pay attention and look for space to escape any problem encounters with traffic. If the roadside drops off or is lined with trees be sure to slow down so you can react as you won’t have a ready out. Maintain a reasonable following distance to the vehicle in front of you, mostly so he can see you in his mirrors.
    Mostly just use good common sense!
    See you down the road!

  • The first thing I noticed was your bike was parked in a trap between the guardrail and they pavement with only 2-3 feet of pavement. Even though the emergency lights were flashing, an oncoming car may be forced into you by opposing traffic. I see this as a very bad place to stop even in an emergency. I would avoid stopping here at all cost, even if I had to push my bike across the road.

  • A big pile of leaves like the one the bike is sitting in can be very dangerous as well as wet leaves in the road way. They can really move the bike over when you least expect it, be very careful on the twisties.

  • Ride alert. I love it! What might be coming out from the side? Just keep your mind going.

  • Good tip, riding bikes we need to be alert at all times. We all have different skills, some we need to readdress from time to time.

  • thanks for the great tips ; we all need this from time to time as learning doesn`t really stop once you get your license and certificate, hoooah

  • Tip was a little light on detail. I ride mostly on rural 2 lanes, here are my tips:
    In deer country, don’t ride at night. By the time you see the deer it can be too late. When you avoid one deer be alert for more, it is usually the 2nd or 3rd one that gets you. Be extremely careful passing a tractor. They are unpredictable and frequently don’t look before turning into a field, which puts your chest into their unyeilding engine. I slow down to about 15 mph then floor it past them. Stay up!

  • Thanks MCG, I am a returning big bike rider after 25 years with no bike (3 different Honda’s) now riding a 2003 Harley Ultra Glide, a “bucket list” item.

    Keep the tips coming. It is a great service to all of us that want to ride safely and therefore longer and more enjoyably.

    I recently bought a Kevlar mesh jacket with a removable liner made by JOE ROCKET to be able to have a cool ride in hot Yuma AZ, warm at night, but with slide protection after reading how polyester melts into the skin when under asphalt high friction. I am glad to say I haven’t had to test it but it was your advice that prompted me to add that safety item. Of course, I had to add a Harley patch to the jacket.

    Thanks, keep up the good work… bert

  • We have a limited ability to handle information about the environment. We give more attention to some parts of the environment than others. This is important in riding because we react most quickly to things happening in the part on which we are concentrating.

    If you concentrate your vision on a small area you are less aware of the whole picture. If you concentrate on different areas, you become more aware of the picture as a whole.

    If you can rapidly scan the whole environment, looking for different kinds of hazards, you lower the risk of collision. Riders that concentrate on one area only, increase risk.

  • Many thanks to MCG and his tips. I find that his tips are very useful and true even though we may be riding under different traffic conditions, weather, etc.
    Being a city nation, we hardly have country roads left. So that’s why we ride up to our neighbour Malaysia, where there’s plenty of long, country roads.

    Do keep them tips coming. Really appreciate them.

    Many thanks again.


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