A new year, a new road riding season ahead.
We’re just about to hit the start of riding season. I gauge the first shoots of spring on when I start to see more bikes commuting on my daily ride. Guys that have had their bikes tucked away all winter spot the first glimmer of sunshine and dash their travel cards into the bin. Just this week I followed a guy riding a nice looking R6 so slowly across Clapham, he was genuinely done up the inside by a man on one of them fold out pushbikes. When I sat behind him at some lights, I saw a cobweb clinging from his number plate. That tells me a number of things. He clearly hadn’t given his bike any kind of once over before he rode it. After sitting untouched for what could be months, he stuck his helmet on and hit peak traffic time in one of the busiest capital cities in the world. That’s pretty stupid if you ask me.
No preparation on the bike and zero preparation for the rider, but you can guarantee that he’d find somebody else to blame the second he falls off. Accepting responsibility for our own riding is easy when we’re nailing knee down or hooking a decent wheelie, but bikers in general seem to fall short when it comes to owning up when we get things wrong. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to try and raise some awareness of simple mistakes that we make that can, in certain cases, have a tragic outcome.
One of the bigger factors that we forget to pay attention to is riding when you’re tired. It can creep up on you, one tiny lapse in concentration can have you wondering how you managed to cover the last half a mile on the motorway, your mind wonders briefly and you stop paying attention to what’s going on around you, we’ve all done it. The problem is you can have exactly the same kind of lapse in concentration when you’re in the middle of a bend on your favourite road, one that you think you know like the back of your hand as you’ve ridden it countless times. The Kawasaki H2 launch in Qatar a few weeks ago highlighted that I clearly am not ‘track fit’ at the minute. I’m a year round biker and a track riding regular, but an eight week break in track riding was enough for me to feel absolutely knackered after a few hours in the saddle. Of course the fact that the bike I was riding weighed around 225 kilos and had a squillion horsepower, which would be hard enough to ride at the best of times, but the mistakes I made on track all started happening when I was tired, despite knowing Losail circuit fairly well. We spoke to Dave Mangan, a Police Inspector and biker for Lancashire police, the statistics he provided us with speak for themselves. “Bikers only account for 1% of the traffic on the road, but make up 20% of all killed and seriously injured road users, with sixty per cent of collisions having a contributory factor that includes rider error. During the period of 2010-2013, 32% of KSI’s in Lancashire alone on bikes over 501cc were single vehicle accidents.” What Dave is saying with these statistics is that there’s only so much you can blame on something or somebody else before you have to man up and accept that you might not be as good on a bike as you think you are. Even if you are a fantastic rider, recognizing the signs that you’re getting tired is critical.
What can you do?
Preparation is vital. If I’m doing a track day, I usually do my best to get decent nights sleep the night before. That means not drinking a mountain of beer and waking up feeling like shit. That means making sure my kit and my bike is ready to go the day before, so all I have to do is get up and enjoy the ride. If you apply this logic to your Sunday blast with your mates, that means getting an early night on Saturday with a clear head, rather than using the ride as the perfect hangover cure. When you’re working hard in the week, getting excited about going for a ride at the weekend, don’t forget to include some time to check your bike over. Tyre pressures, brake pads and discs, chain tension, lights and a general mooch over the panels for loose screws or cracks. This stuff takes minutes to do, but could make the difference between a tankful of smiles or sitting at the side of the road waiting to be recovered because you missed that two inch screw hanging out of your tyre, you know the one because it usually lives in the drawer in your garage.
If you’re miles from home and you can feel yourself getting tired, get off the bike and take a ten-minute break. Stretch your legs, get some fresh air (with your helmet off) and grab a drink if you can. A twenty-minute power nap works wonders, on the bike if it has to be (obviously with the keys in your pocket and the side stand down…), you might not think it’d help but it really does.
Inspector Mangan has more than just a professional interest. The video below tells his story and is part of the reason why over the next few weeks (before the riding season really kicks off), we’re going to do our best to help you make the most of the riding year to come, by giving you a few things to think about that you might have forgotten, especially if your bike has been under wraps in the garage over winter. This is a public service broadcast, kind of…
Words: @Johnatsuperbike Images: SB archive