The best body armour is between your ears

By Ped Baker -

Riding Skills

 15 April 2011 15:29

While there are obvious benefits of the safety equipment we use to protect ourselves from injury, such as helmets, leathers, body amour, boots and gloves, they’re of little use if you’re unlucky enough to hit something bigger than you.

Crash into a car or road furniture at even relatively low speeds and you’re likely to suffer broken bones at best. Yes, even if you’re wearing a zillion dollar airbag suit and neck brace.

There is only one cast iron way of preventing injury from a motorcycle accident, and that’s not to have the accident in the first place.

There’s an argument that says the more we protect ourselves against the consequences of our actions the higher the risks we are prepared to take.

When seat belts were first made compulsory in the 70’s, ex Formula One racing driver Stirling Moss said that the best way to prevent car accidents wasn’t to install seat belts but instead place 12inch metal spikes in the centre of steering wheels.

While this may seem ludicrous, reminding yourself of your vulnerability instead of your invincibility is no bad thing.

“It’s not you I’m worried about, it’s the other people on the road” – a phrase we’ve all heard from well meaning loved ones just before we go for a ride.

This implies that you can do little to prevent other people from knocking you off your bike. The truth is, you can do a hell of a lot more than you think.

What this means in practice is a change in attitude as much as behaviour. Defensive riding is a behaviour we’ve all (at least we should have) been taught when learning to ride.

The only problem with the term ‘defensive’ is that it implies a relatively short-range strategy; as if there is some kind of perimeter around your machine that only requires action if breeched.

All too often that’s far too late to take any kind of avoidance. But by changing your attitude to other road users and situations you can increase the time available and lessen the chance of accidents.

If you could see 60 seconds into the future you would never have another bike accident. You’d see all dangerous situations happening before you came across them and adjust your riding to suit.

The good news is that we can see into the future. Not in a sci-fi sense but by predicting what could happen and acting on it.

If you’re approaching a T-junction and there’s a car waiting to pull out, is it better to just trust that the driver won’t pull out in front of you or assume he might? By assuming he might you’ll almost automatically attempt to make yourself more visible to him.

You’ll also plan your escape route if he does make an ill judged lunge.  The more time we have to predict what the driver might do, the more options we have at hand. We can even encourage other road users actions, such as reducing speed, providing the driver with more time to leave the junction before you arrive.

If you’re not used to riding in this way it sounds exhausting. It also feels like it might kill the joy of motorcycling – the whole point we ride a bike in the first place.

But the idea isn’t to believe that everyone is out to deliberately knock you off, that causes panic and panic is useless to you. It’s to assume that people make errors and when they make them, you have a plan to compensate.