How to Crash… safely

Ok, so no one really wants to crash, right, but as there’s no guarantee that we won’t… guessing the next best thing is to be aware of the main mistakes we can make as motorcyclists, that increase the chances to crash and if we’re going down, know what to do… to hopefully lessen the pain.

Let’s just go over the bit about mistakes that we’ve mostly all been guilty of making at some stage, as novices and also just through distraction. These really are the three big no-no’s:

incorrect following distance

Photo credit Driver Knowledge Tests

Following distance… do not sit up the tail-end of any vehicle, no matter how good a rider you are. If you are an experienced rider and the conditions are sweet, stay back at least three seconds from any vehicle directly in front of you. Back off further, if conditions aren’t so sweet, like rain, night, etc. and if inexperienced. That’s just your reaction time… it’ll take at least four seconds to pull up to a complete stop. You need to be able to see the road and traffic ahead, which you can only do safely and clearly from the 3-4 second buffer-zone.

By tailing some random road-user’s butt… you are in effect totally relying on that complete stranger’s driving skills… or lack of and considering 1 in 3 motorists are driving around on our roads, under the influence of some drug, alcohol or medication… that alone, is a scary thought.

  • Think: What if the vehicle in front slams the brakes on and hits a roo?
  • Proactive: I need to increase my following distance, because I’ll either be head-butting his bumper or I’ll have a dead roo spat up at me, from under their vehicle… eeeeuuuuuwwwwwww.
  • Think: What if the vehicle in front hides a massive pothole in my path?
  • Proactive: I need to increase my following distance, so I have a change to obstacle avoid, or my front wheel is going into a great big, deep hole… many probable nasty outcomes from that manoeuvre… also wishing you’d worn your full-face helmet that day.

Photo credit My News Feed

Never assume you have the right of way or that you have been seen… even if you have a green light, or there’s a stop sign for the vehicles ahead, there are red light runners as well as folk who simply don’t see you coming, so will pull out in front of you, even at a STOP signed intersection… you need to watch them and be prepared… always.

  • Think: What if a driver pulls out from an intersection, because I’ve not been seen?
  • Proactive: I need to slow, make eye contact with the driver and be prepared to use my emergency braking technique or do an obstacle avoidance manoeuvre. Think of what you’re wearing and if your headlight is bright enough. (Some of the new headlights can’t be seen in the daytime, unless on full beam.)
  • Think: What if a vehicle runs a red light?
  • Proactive: I need to cover my brakes while going through traffic lights, be prepared also to avoid.

Photo Credit MotorbikeWriter

Another biggie is, don’t go rushing your corners… most single-vehicle motorcycle accidents and fatalities happen in corners and it’s usually due to the rider coming in too fast for their skill level or something they’ve not expected, happens in the curve, causing them to go too wide. Most of us love watching the Moto GP as some of the best riders in the world ride as fast as they possibly can, often defying gravity as they go into the corners hard and fast, scraping their elbow and leg pads… like wow, how cool would it be to be able to do that! But hey, just remember when you next have the urge for a Mick Doohan or Valentino Rossi moment, their racetrack is a controlled environment… lots of nice, lush grass to slide over and haystacks or rubber walls to bounce off… ours is oncoming vehicles, those crazy cheese-grater road-side barriers, or bloody big gum trees, behind barbed-wire fences.

Photo Credit QLD Police

Proactive action is a much better option than dealing with the prospect of a crash, so be aware and ride safer and smarter, as suggested above, to lessen those crash chances tenfold!

Then there’s the yeah, ok, it’s never going to happen to me… but hey, it happens to other people every day, so why not you? We all know someone who has crashed… if you don’t, being part of the motorcycle community, sadly you will, eventually. If you’ve done all you can, to prevent yourself having a crash, we are human after-all, any micro-second distraction, mechanical failure, any unexpected scenario could occur… what could help you survive, is your choice of riding gear, reaction time, riding skill set and crash preparation techniques.

Photo Credit Gold Coast Bulletin

We’re not invincible no matter how confident or cocky we feel on any given day… guessing you’ve all heard of the saying …dress for the slide, not the ride… well in Aussie or Kiwi lingo, that means if it’s stinking blimmin’ hot and you think it’s too hot to gear up, just think of those 3rd degree burns, on top of the gravel rash, when you hit the road.

If you think a sweet, tight pair of lycra jeans and a cute little top to accentuate your assets is a great idea at the time… please rethink how those assets will look and feel without nipples, with that cute little toosh ripped to shreds after being flung down the bitumen 50 odd metres at 110 kmph. No one is worth getting dressed, or undressed for that, just to look hot on your bike, or on the back of someone else’s. There’s some great women’s protective riding gear that’s available in Australasia now. Protective safety gear that’s all feminine, sassy and does the job in style, available for us, so we no longer have to look like fellas.

These guys, at MOTOCAP will help you decide the best gear for you, pending on the safety ratings.

Basically, if it’s too hot to gear up… walk, push-bike, take the car… or change your plans!

Photo Credit QLD Police

So yeah, riding a motorcycle can be kinda dangerous, but hey the fun over-rides all that; it’s still a good idea to be aware of what could happen… and what to do when it does.

Suggestions to prepare yourself, to prevent a crash:

  • Riding schools are worth attending if you are a learner and there are advanced riding techniques available for experienced riders. Track days are also good for learning some crash and how not to crash, techniques.
  • When you choose a bike to buy, make sure it fits. It needs to fit you, your body height and strength, comfortable to sit on and it needs to be fit for purpose… no good getting an off-road bike if you’re continually riding highway speeds and checking out the Coromandel Loop with your Ducati mates. Riding a bike you’re not comfortable on, or can’t reach important areas easily, like clutch, brake… both feet on the ground… can be added dangers in an emergency. Even when riding someone else’s bike… before you go out for the day, check how it handles when you emergency brake and obstacle avoid, as each bike is different. Aim for smiles for miles and get the right bike, for YOU.
  • Get into the habit of doing a pre-ride inspection, familiarise yourself with this T-CLOCS. It’s in American speak, I couldn’t find an Australasian version, but hey, it is a universal check list we should all be familiar with. Think tyres, tyres, tyres… always make sure your tyres are ok… they are the lifeline between you and the road…
  • Maintenance! Super important to have that bike well cared for. You need to be able to trust that steel steed is going to perform reliably. There’re some great classes now, organised by some women groups, where you can learn to be confident with your own services, so this will bring your costs down considerably. It truly isn’t hard to do a service, but recommend you always check your manual for major checks and what you can’t do, get it done by a professional.
  • Never ride under the influence of drugs or alcohol as both can compromise your reaction time. On a motorcycle, there is no time to lose with reaction time, every reaction needs to be instant and done without thinking about it.
  • Be prepared… just be prepared for any possible scenario… be in tune with your bike, know how it handles under stress of emergency braking and obstacle avoidance, watch out for distracted drivers, have gear to handle the changes of weather… don’t become distracted yourself, the most important thing is to watch where you’re going and concentrate on your surrounds and what you are doing.

Okey doke… down to the nitty-gritty… how to crash… safely. Doesn’t really sound right does it, crash… safely… but there are some suggested techniques[1] that can assist with that to try avoid critical injuries:

  • Faaaarrrrrrkkkkk… it’s all happening… but remain calm, focused and your practice sessions and training should take over… apply the brakes; react immediately, apply front brake progressively, for powerful stopping. Apply rear brake which evens out the change in weight distribution, applying progressively also. If you get into a slide, release back brake immediately and reapply progressively, without slamming it on.
  • This is the importance of having practiced your emergency breaking over and over, so it becomes second nature… not something learnt at the Learner Rider School, then promptly forgotten. I’ve been riding over 40 years and I still practice that and obstacle avoidance regularly.
  • If you can choose a crash point, that’s the best option, so try to avoid hitting anything head-on, e.g. traffic, trees but if that’s the only option, at least try and steer to collide side-on. Try looking, quickly, for the softest place to fall.

Photo Credit Morning Bulletin

  • This is a tricky bit to explain as there is opposing advice, but basically it is suggested to try and stay on the bike and let the bike take the impact, rather than you… but only where possible. We need to remember this is all split-second stuff happening and no doubt your life is also flashing before your eyes, so a tricky thing to consider… if the bike goes down though, then generally it is advised to let it go… if it’s still up, stay on it as long as you can.
  • If you know you’re heading for a body collision, try to tuck and roll. Tuck your body by curving your head toward your chest, pulling your knees in and crossing your arms. Try to relax while you crash, yeah right… that sounds like the go, if you’re like me I’d be freaking out pretty intensely about now… but relaxed bodies help prevent injuries to tendons and ligaments.

Photo Credit MotorbikeWriter

If you’ve come off your motorcycle nearer the ground, get into a controlled roll with your arms overhead keeping your legs straight as you roll to a stop.

  • If you’re able to slide, do so like a softballer stealing home-base. If you reach out with your arms and legs spreading yourself wide, this will add to the drag and assist to slow you down quicker.
  • Wow… now you’ve stopped and you realise you’re still alive, don’t be in any rush to get up, unless of course there’s a logging truck heading your way. Stay and settle yourself for a few seconds… longer even. Adrenaline will be rife and often masks some serious injuries, including back and neck. If you can stay where you are, do so, until help arrives, if not, crawl or roll away to safety.

Photo Credit The Chronicle

  • Once you’ve calmed a tad, if you’re by yourself, you’ll need to try and check yourself over. You’ve already established you’re breathing, but…
    1. Are you struggling to breathe?
    2. Are you bleeding?
    3. Is anything really sore?
    4. Do you think there’s broken bits of you?
    5. If professional help as arrived, chill and let them take over.
    6. If you’re feeling in a pretty bad way, it’s a good idea not to allow just anyone, to pull your full-face helmet off, unless of course you’re not breathing. Keep it on until the emergency services arrive… could be the difference of aggravating a spinal injury.

Photo Credit QLD Police

  • If you’re ok to move, check over the scene. Were you the only person involved? Is there any other impending danger? Can you call emergency services, if not already done?
  • Gather any evidence, pictures if you can of everything, including you, details of any others involved; never admit guilt. If there are any witnesses, ask them for their contact details too. Even if you feel no pain there and then, you may do the next day, so may need to have evidence for insurance.
  • Something that is not thought of at the time, but can happen later, is mental trauma… while not pleasant, as it can include reliving the incident, nightmares and fear of riding again… it is normal, so possibly get some professional therapy to work through that crash scenario.

In 2019, there was a global survey with a response of nearly 1,600 motorcyclists, including from Australasia, with a variety of demographics, who had been involved in crashes.

The full report and an interesting look at different types of crashes

There is much pride in knowing how to skilfully handle your motorcycle, with the wind in your face and the enjoyment of negotiating the world on two wheels and while these techniques in no way encompass everything to manage a potential crash, being aware and knowing there are skill sets to learn, may be enough to save you being critically injured and get you home to your loved ones, to ride another day.

Strategy, safety, competency, are life-long learning experiences… there is always something new to learn, so keep your knowledge fresh, practise your emergency skills and keep those knees in the breeze and that motorsickle, rubber-side down.


[1] Please note, these crash preparation techniques are suggestions, not instructions, meant only as a guide and for an awareness to encourage you to think and prepare yourself for any unexpected incident. The techniques have been researched through rider training, government and legal resources and statistics from within Australia and overseas; they are not proposing you will survive a crash. They do not replace professional training. The best way to learn anything is to actually do… so if there’s an opportunity to get some practical advanced rider training, with crash skills, do it!


Jay D

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