There are several types of hazards to be found on the roadway that can interfere with the operation of a motorcycle. The hazards can be classified as the road itself, other road users, pedestrians, and animals. Awareness of the specific hazards that are in the environment is the only way we can avoid them. To raise our awareness of the hazards to be found we get to play the what if game. Riders who have taken the MSF course the ERC or MRC have seen some of the films and slides detailing hazards. The purpose of this article is to raise your awareness of what constitutes a hazard and what to look for.
A hazard is going to take the form of something that is an impediment to your travel, or increases the risk of operating a motorcycle. Webster tells us that a hazard is a chance event, or an obstacle or danger. Obviously as riders we want to steer clear of the things that will endanger us. We delve into our environment and seek out the subjects that are of risk to us using either a formalized observation skill such as SIPDE as taught by the MSF, or any other method of categorizing hazards. The idea is to be aware of our environment, and catalog the contents so that we can make tactical decisions on how to handle traffic problems. We catalog our environment by knowing what some of the hazards are, and being diligent towards discovering and avoiding others.
The roadway itself is a hazard to our travel. Some riders will look at an expanse of hard-packed gravel with the trepidation of the unjustly wronged. The same riders think nothing of riding on the center of the lane and stopping in the oil slick at intersections. I’ll take the gravel any time thank you. Lane markings, sewer lids, storm drains, and broken asphalt all deny the needed traction for tires. In some states the lane marking such as turn arrows are raised some-what so that a bike will have to absorb a sudden shock. The problem is that the Gold Wing has anti-dive forks that stiffen during braking and can cause that sudden shock to be turned into linear motion unsettling the suspension, and creating unexpected steering forces. The same lane-markings become the slickest substance known to man when wet. The gyrations a motorcycle is capable of while passing over cross-walk lines in the rain would be funny if they were not the cause of so many horizontal parking maneuvers (crashes). The cure is to be observant for anything that remotely looks shiny (slick) or has an unknown quality. In some southern states they Department of Transportation oils the roadways to seal them making an extremely slick surface in the rain.
Use caution when passing over any surface that has not been proven “safe” and then still don’t trust it. Sand, debris, tire carcasses, road-kill, and ladders are examples of how the road can be contaminated. A Wing rider in the Pacific North West was riding home from work on his daily commute one evening in heavy traffic when from under the car in front of him appeared a ladder laying in the roadway length wise. The traffic snarl was moving fast enough that he had limited his options, there was in that instant of time no path to the left or right that was immediately apparent to him, and the traffic was following extremely close. The rider reached into his bag of tricks and quite unceremoniously rode straight up the ladder from beginning to end by lifting himself up off the seat slightly, and pulling back on the handle-bars. The look on the car drivers face behind him must have been a Kodak moment. The rider made several mental decisions and then acted on them, and for this particular case they worked flawlessly leaving him with an excellent war story of Wing excellence.
Pedestrians along side the road, and in the road have to be the least predictable form of hazard there is to find. Sand may be difficult to perceive in the roadway, but it will not get up and move into your path seemingly on purpose. When dealing with your fellow human being and the mix of traffic understand you can have no preconceived notions of how they will react. Pedestrians are hit constantly by cars because the pedestrian does not perceive the car as a potential hazard. A motorcycle that is smaller, and quieter is going to make even less impression. Pedestrians cross roads between parked cars, and cross major highways leaping from barrier to road suddenly in front of you. Miniature pedestrians (children) are even less likely to give warning of their intentions, and are often accompanied by the other hazard and nemesis to motorcycling; animals.
The ever dreaded (by motorcyclists) dog is the scourge of rural neighborhoods every where. MSF graduates should have been exposed to the film showing the rider slowing and then suddenly speeding off leaving the dog wondering what happened. Dogs, according to people who supposedly know how dogs think, say most think linearly and can’t judge speed changes well. As far as I know the technique does work fairly well having tested it on the local Rotwieler where failure could be costly. Other animals that are unpredictable (all of them) are deer. I have heard many a theory on how deer react to motorcycles and other vehicles, but the main problem is perceiving them in the first place. Good indications of deer being present are if you see one; there are many. One of the first responses of a rider should be to slow down and appraise the situation. Deer often leap extremely long distances crossing the entire road in one single leap, and deer are herd animals lending to the easy conclusion there may be others around.
A very special rider (my current wife) was returning home one night from work. In the dark, on a humid Florida evening, on a road she rides at least twice a day. Slowing for the entry way to our development she was suddenly struck from the side by a large raccoon. The raccoon had T-boned her bike while she was slowing striking the area directly in front of her right foot, shattering several plastic panels, and bending back the rear brake lever. Her response was to pay attention to her riding removing the slight angle of deflection caused by the side force of having the rear wheel suddenly displaced and then start her braking. Good responses and a refusal to panic kept her from creating a worse situation by hard braking, or trying to swerve when it was already to late. The primary idea of course is to attempt an identification of hazards before they interact with the rider and bike.
Hazards can take on many forms and can not in any way all be listed here. Riders need to play the what-if game. Play out scenarios in your mind as you ride attempting to second guess what hazard lies ahead. For those riders who are MSF graduates this is the predict phase of your scan. Identify and catalog the new and numerous hazards that you encounter. If you see an interesting piece of debris laying in the road make a note of it, and you will have a story for tire-kicking. Some of the more interesting things I have heard of were a full sheet of plate glass, and thousands of glass marbles laying in the road. If you are aware of hazards, and vigilant for new ones you will reduce your risk and increase your fun factor. If you want to learn more about how to ride safer you can contact your chapter educator, or call the Motorcycle Safety Foundation at (800)447-4700.