April 03, 2014
5 driving skills I've improved since getting a motorcycle
It's probably a cliché, but it's still true: riding a motorcycle regularly has made me into a better (car) driver. Here's a list of the skills that I've been honing on the motorcycle that I think have translated back into car skills.
Watching other driversThe most obvious skill is that when you're on a motorcycle, you become hyperconscious of what other drivers are doing or might do. You might think of this as defensive driving, except on steroids. Another term is situational awareness. Anticipating what others might do becomes essential on a motorcycle; bikers are usually familiar with the phenomenon of SMIDSY ("Sorry, mate, I didn't see you"). You just learn to assume that people don't see you, even if they seem to be looking right at you (inattention blindess). And since they might not see you, you better watch out for them. This proves to be a useful skill when driving a car, too.
Using mirrorsI think that most car drivers don't know how to use their mirrors effectively. First, mirrors have to be adjusted correctly. On a bike, it's not as easy to do headchecks, since it's often an odd angle (for me, anyway). So I've learned to arrange my mirrors so that I have a complete view of what's behind me, including my blind spots, and now I feel comfortable changing lanes and turning without a headcheck.
Second, you have to actually use your mirrors. Again, I think a lot of car drivers don't scan their mirrors regularly (like, every 5 to 10 seconds just for toodling along, and constantly when changing lanes or stopping or turning), and some seem to change lanes or make turns without looking in the mirror. Do that on a motorcycle and soon enough you'll be dead.
In a kind of related point, I also try to stay out of car drivers' blind spots. If I notice that I'm in the blind spot of a car in the lane next to me, I'll either try to hang further back or get ahead where there's a somewhat better chance they'll see me if they decide to lunge into my lane.
BrakingBraking on a motorcycle is a bit of a fraught exercise. Do it wrong—too hard, while turning, or with a mismatch between rear and front brakes—and you can earn yourself a case of road rash. A simple way to reduce the chance of bad braking is simply to slow down earlier, such as when you see a red light or stop sign ahead. (Some drivers seem to race up to stop like that and then hit the brakes.) I've become quite conscious of when I'm braking while I ride, and this has inevitably translated to thinking about it in the car.
And my other solution to better braking is …
Following appropriatelyWhat is it with people who tailgate? On the bike I've learned the discipline of the two-second rule: when the car ahead of you passes a specific point, you should be able to count "one-mississippi-two-mississippi" before you pass the same point. I do not want to have to hit the brakes hard (see previous point). I'm still better about this on the bike than I am in the car, but I'm getting better.
Watching for motorcyclesFinally, being a motorcycle rider makes you see other motorcycles. Many bikers wave at one another as they pass, which is a nice protocol. I've become so used to this that when I drive the car I now sort of reflexively want to wave at an oncoming bike. That would be silly, but it does mean that I'm much more conscious of bikes now, even in a car.
If you ride a motorcycle, do you also have a list of skills that you feel have made you a better driver?