Two Years on Two Wheels


Two years ago today I got my full motorcycle licence. And one year ago I wrote this blog post about what I love about motorcycle riding. So I thought it was only fitting, on this anniversary, to write a bit more about motorcycles. For this blog post, I thought I’d list some of the lessons learned from riding that I didn't get from my instructor.

Take Care of your Motorcycle, and She'll Take Care of You

Last week I sold my old 1989 Honda CB-1 400. I replaced her about a year ago with my new(er) 2013 Honda CB500F, after the CB-1 started playing up. 

At the time it looked like the CB-1 was going to keep costing me more and more to maintain, so I chose instead to replace her.

Now, with an increased knowledge of bikes, I know that most of those costs could have been avoided with a basic maintenance routine. A big part of the problem came from the previous owner not looking after her properly, but really it was my own naïvety and a lack of education on bike maintenance. With the new motorcycle, I’ve been much better. It’s little things like cleaning and maintaining the chain regularly (every 500 miles, more in the winter), keeping an eye on tyre pressures, and washing and cleaning it in general – especially in the winter. This is as much about attitude as it is about knowledge. Read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and you'll see what I mean.

Cyclists are Arseholes

A wild generalisation, but one I hear from other riders (and car drivers) all the time. From running red lights; riding in the middle of the road; riding on the pavement; and overtaking or cutting through traffic without looking. It amazes me how brazen cyclists are. Especially when you consider they wear no body armour, have no mirrors, don't have the immediate power if they need it, and ride on tyres barely an inch wide.

Never Ride When You’re Angry or Upset

This point is probably quite obvious, but it’s worth reinforcing. Don’t get on the bike if you’re emotionally distracted. I had a shitty day in the office a couple of months ago and rode home in a bad mood. As I came to a busy junction by Hampton Court, a car pulled out without looking, and I had to take very last-minute action to ensure we didn’t connect. It was the closest I have come to an accident on the bike so far, and a stark reminder that you have to have your wits about you at all times. Particularly on a route you know well. I’m not saying I was at fault – the driver of the car should have looked – but had I been in a calmer mood I would've almost certainly anticipated the driver not looking, and this near-miss would’ve been nothing at all. The other takeaway from this event is to make sure you have excellent training when you learn to ride. My instructor was first-rate, and the skills I learned while training with him are life-saving.

Car Drivers are Arseholes

The number of times I've had a near miss like that or had someone pull across in front of me is too many to count. I see people driving while using their phones every day. In 1981, there was a motorcycle safety study published called the Hurt Report. This report detailed the statistics of motorcycle accidents in North America. In this, the first statistic is that approximately 75% of motorcycle accidents involved another vehicle, usually a car. Of those incidents, 66% of the time it was because the car violated the motorcycle's right-of-way and caused the accident. This was 36 years ago. With the increase of smartphones in the last decade, I hate to think what those statistics are now.
On that note, this is one of the most satisfying videos I've seen on YouTube recently.

You Can’t Go Down in Power

The other thing I realised when looking to sell my old CB-1 was that she was so under powered compared to my CB500F. On the CB-1 it struggled at motorway speeds. The CB500F doesn't have that problem. It’s not the quickest bike in the world, but it's great as a commuter bike and can handle the motorway too. Riding the CB500F is that little bit easier, and that little bit - every day - quickly adds up.

Moped Riders are Arseholes

Another wild generalisation, but for the most part, it’s true. I see a moped or a scooter (usually being ridden by a teenager) in my mirrors trying to race me, maybe once a week. Most of the time this starts when I pass them, either because I see an opening in the traffic that they didn't, or because I have more power and naturally pull away faster. They then think it's a race so they try to keep up with me and pass me if they can. But often they’re riding without full awareness of what's going on around them. Or they’re immediately behind me which means if I have to brake suddenly they might not be able to stop in time. Especially when you consider I’ve got bigger tyres, better brakes and ABS.

The Importance of Good Earplugs

When I rode the CB-1, I had a set of moulded earplugs to help protect my hearing from wind noise. Anything above 40mph all you can hear is the wind, which after a while can be fatiguing, as well as slowly deafening. I purchased a kit which allows you to make moulded earplugs which fit your ears perfectly. I thought they were great and used them for about 9 months. Then I got some Moldex earplugs which block out 36 decibels. I didn’t realise how much the other ones didn’t work until I got these. If you don't ride with earplugs already, start now. Thank me later.

Heated Gloves Are a Lifesaver

If you ride year-round, as I do, you need to get a pair of heated gloves. My first year going into winter, I asked a bunch of my rider friends whether to get heated gloves or heated handlebars and the response was unanimously gloves. The main benefit of heated gloves is they warm the backs of your hands which, when riding through the cold air, are the bits that take the brunt of the chill. If you have heated handlebars, the backs of your hands will still get very cold. On my bike, I have the luxury of having factory-fitted bar heaters as well, and on the coldest days of Winter, I ride with both. If you look up wind-chill conversions, you’ll find that at 70mph, the wind temperature goes from –2ºC down to around –22ºC! If you have no heating at all, you can run the risk of losing feeling in your hands and then losing control of the bike!

Sometimes I’m an Arsehole

I realised this a couple of weeks ago when I was riding to work, and someone in a car pulled across in front of me. Completely within their right to do so, but I angrily revved my engine a bit. Partly to let them know I was there and partly to vent my frustration of them pulling in front of me. They hadn’t done anything wrong or put me in any risk, I had just felt that I deserved more space than I needed and that because I was on a bike, I should have more right of way. As a biker, I am conscious of how much more vulnerable I am than someone in a car, and you have to adopt the mentality of assuming that people haven't seen you. It's easy to let your ego take charge and take a holier-than-thou attitude to other road users. Especially when their mistakes can be fatal to you. But that doesn't mean they're always wrong, and I'm always right.

It's important to stay humble when riding. Like not riding when angry or upset, it's all about having the right attitude. Ride smart, and you'll ride safer. And you'll enjoy it more too.

Thanks for reading this weeks post. Hopefully there are some bits here that you'll find interesting or useful. To my fellow bikers, is there anything you disagree with? Or think I missed out? Let me know in the comments below.


Tom ShermanComment