Monday, December 18

Loud Pipes Not Necessary For Safe Motorcycling

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For an awful lot of bikes on the road, however, it’s a moot point. If you’re riding something like a Suzuki GSX-R600 or a Kawasaki Ninja 650R, or perhaps doing some long-distance cruising on a Yamaha FJR1300, you’re not going to be rattling windows or announcing to everyone within a three-block radius that “I’m out here and you’d better watch out for me.”

Nope. Those three bikes, as well as all their siblings, are a bit more quiet. (For which your neighbors thank you profusely.) And yet, every day millions of motorcyclists ply the streets and highways on these quiet bikes and return safely to their families in the evening. Which is to say, despite what the hog crowd will tell you about noise, it isn’t mandatory for a safe ride.

What is mandatory is rider awareness. You’ve got to be a defensive driver to the max. What’s that car in the next lane going to do? Is that oncoming car possibly going to turn left right in my path? Is that soccer mom in the van behind me going to see my brake light while she’s busy yelling at the kids in the back seat?

While you have no control over their behavior, you do have absolute control over what you do. And what you’ve got to do is compensate for other people’s inattention. The easiest way to approach it is simply to tell yourself that you’re invisible. Think about it. How would you ride differently if you actually were invisible? You’d be constantly on the alert for everything going on around you. You’d choose the lane position that gave you the most room to get out of the way if someone started encroaching on your space. You wouldn’t count on that driver noticing you; you’d put yourself in a position where he can’t do you any harm, whether that means speeding up, slowing down, or whatever.

Here’s an example, a true story.

I was on the interstate one morning going through an interchange. There was a steady stream of cars coming on in the merge lane so I moved to the left. With all those cars bunched up in the right-hand lane I knew at least a few of them were going to want to move to the left lane where they could pick up some speed. And I had no trust whatsoever that they were going to do so in a safe manner.

I was already at highway speed so I was going faster than they were, which means I was going to be passing them. As I came up on each one I blipped the throttle just as I came into their blind spot in order to get through it as quickly as possible, and kept my eyes on the driver. After safely passing a couple I had my eyes on the next guy and I saw him check his mirror just as I knew I was in his blind spot. He did not do a head check, that is, turn his head to see what might be back there.

“OK,” I thought, “here he comes.” I cranked the throttle hard and rocketed forward. He began to move into the left lane but just as he did he saw me blasting past him and he swerved sharply back into his own lane. I was never in any danger because I knew exactly what was going on at all times. Hopefully he told himself he’d better do head checks in the future and not just trust a glance in the mirror.

I’ll be honest. This is one time when I thought that if I was on a loud motorcycle he might have heard me and this encounter would not have occurred. But my Kawasaki Concours is not a loud bike and it never will be. So I stay alert. And somehow I stay alive every day I ride this bike, even without loud pipes.

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