General Question

futurelaker88's avatar

Is pulling over on a motorcycle as dangerous as it looks?

Asked by futurelaker88 (1595 points ) August 27th, 2010

A couple times I’ve had to imagine worse case scenarios while riding, which included pulling over (in case of tire problems, chain, no power, running out of gas, etc) and EVERY time I’m on the highway, the side of the road is COVERED in gravel and those lumps keep you awake if you fall asleep. One time I actually had to pull over because i ran out of gas going down hill on the highway (terrifying) and had NO power. I coasted to the side of the road with the clutch and brakes and as soon as i got the side my back tire started sliding and fish tailing like crazy and through some MIRACLE i managed to keep it up. Is this the normal procedure when pulling over? A couple times more recently I looked over to the shoulder lane to imagine having to pull over and I can see that it looks the same (gravel, bumps etc.) What’s the safest way to get from smooth road over to that in an emergency situation. I can’t imagine not sliding while braking in gravel. This is a scary situation for new riders!

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16 Answers

LuckyGuy's avatar

Hey don’t be braking on gravel! That will kill you! Remember, braking energy is a function of the velocity squared. If you can halve the velocity, you cut down the kinetic energy to ¼. So, slow down as much as possible on the road. Then pull off at a shallow angle to the soft shoulder. Gently use your rear brake to slow down and stop. Even if you are going 1 mph do not put your feet down. Wait until you stop.

robmandu's avatar

First rule if you lock up the rear wheel: do not let go of the brake! Ride the skid all the way to a full stop.

In a rear-wheel lock skid, the rear end of the bike will often veer to one side off the centerline. That’s fine, but can be scary the first time. However if, in the middle of a skid, you release the brake while the rear tire is out to the side, you immediately re-engage static friction on the rear tire… meaning it will instantly – violently even – attempt to come back to centerline and if so, you could be thrown off the bike altogether.

My advice: practice locking the rear wheel and skidding to a stop a slow speeds so that you be comfortable with the sensation and your ability to control it.

This video demonstrates what I mean.

futurelaker88's avatar

@worriedguy but how can i slow down that slow IN the lane? there was (and will be) cars behind my doing 60mph! and if i coast over and start going down to 20, than 15, people will slam me, especially if its an emergence and i have to get over quick! It’s pretty scary stuff, in a car u just coast over, on a bike, being safe and trying to get off the road can kill you!

robmandu's avatar

@futurelaker88, first of all, in most cases you should be able to coast, not engage in full-on emergency braking. Use your signals.

It’s smart to be aware of your surroundings and other traffic, but don’t let panic set in.

futurelaker88's avatar

@robmandu you mean coast with the clutch in and no braking?

LuckyGuy's avatar

Don’t slow down to 15 in the lane. Slow down to 40 if you can, then get to the gravel. Don’t try to slow down quickly in the gravel You just ease is down slowly. Very slowly. Coasting is best. Gravel is very slippery. Yes it is dangerous if you panic.

Have you driven over a steel deck bridge yet? That scared the cr*p out of me.

futurelaker88's avatar

@worriedguy so you’re saying also when i get into the gravel make it a very gradual turn the right, correct? dont get right over, slowly drift to the right using barely any rear brake and no front is what i would do at this point. Good or no?

robmandu's avatar

Yes, coasting would be with the drivetrain disengaged. Clutch in and/or in neutral.

Unless you’re an experienced off-road biker, I’d be cautious trying anything in unfamiliar loose gravel, shoulder of the road. As much as is safely possible, avoid aggressive braking, steering, or acceleration when you’ve got an unstable surface.

Just play it smart. If you run out of gas, maximize your use of clear, dry pavement before stopping along the roadside. If you have a flat tire or must leave the road surface, try to coast as long as possible. Play to the strengths of your vehicle in the given situation.

And as I mentioned earlier, it wouldn’t hurt to practice some maneuvers in a slow, controlled environment so you know what to expect.

Lightlyseared's avatar

That’s why you wear the leathers.

futurelaker88's avatar

thanks a lot guys! helped me out a good deal!

futurelaker88's avatar

one more quick question; a little off-topic. is a wider rear tire usually a better thing or no? i have a skinny rear tire on and one of my buddys told me to get the widest that will fit because it will rider MUCH better. Is that necessarily true?

ipso's avatar

The idea of categorically keeping the rear tire locked to a full-stop (once started) is overstatement. If you’ve not gotten sideways, immediately let off the rear brake. If somehow you’ve gotten sideways, then keep the rear brake on (to avoid a high-side) until you’ve steer-corrected and are tracking straight, then let off the rear brake immediately – looking where you want to go, not down.

That video is misleading. What the officer is doing in the video is a common balance exercise (in this case utilized to compare stopping distance – not instructing you to keep locked up brakes on to a full-stop). You can do a similar exercise by locking the front brake on a motocross bike (or a mountain bike) on a hard dirt road. Tricky stuff that!

It is best to instruct beginners to not use their rear brake at all, until you’ve learned to use it sparingly, and properly, for balance – and only then for things like trail braking into a corner.

I race on the track and ride my moto pretty much daily and very rarely even use the rear brake, except specifically to balance the bike – not to stop. I literally consider the rear as zero stopping power. My front brake is for stopping. The rear is for balance. The point – teach yourself to never jam on your rear brake – especially in an emergency situation where it’s been “proven” you can only focus on one brake at a time (and you don’t want it to be the rear – as the video shows.)

Practice emergency stops via this method. Learn what you can do. Become confident in what you can do.

Gravel is an art. MotoGP guys can hit a very soft, foot deep, gravel trap at 120mph+ and – by not using their brakes – wade through it upright and recover. Basically you do exactly as @worriedguy says, which is aggressively jam on the (front) brake as long and hard as possible on the tarmac (subject to lean angle), and then coast through the soft stuff.
[If you’re good enough, you slightly use your rear brake to keep weight off the front fork.]

If you’re going to hit something very hard and unmovable, it can be better to lay the bike down (to try and scrub as much speed as possible) if you’re already skidding through gravel. Again, as @worriedguy points out – it’s all about scrubbing speed before hitting anything or getting out into the weeds.

Now – if you’ve just had a tire blowout – you’re in a world of shit – because you’re already on “loose stuff” – and thus should not use your brakes at all until you can gain some semblance of control of the bike, then slowly brake, if you can.

A blowout on the freeway is one of the scariest butt-puckering things you will ever face. This is the primary reason to keep the proper and full air pressure in your tires, and to check them regularly. It is extremely dangerous to not run the proper psi on the road because of potholes.

Sure, get off the road if you can, but do not endanger yourself doing so. With a blowout, you’re better slowing down significantly going in a straight line and trying to control the bike vs. turning at all or purposefully veering off the road into soft stuff. The cars behind you are scared of motorcycles anyway. They will have distance and be watching you. Do not worry about them. First worry about getting the bike under control. Second, brake slightly, if you can, while maintaining control in a straight line. Lastly, get off the road safely.

The good news is that most flats are relatively slow. If something feels loose, check it. It might be a tire getting low from a slow leak from a nail.

Bikes are designed to handle with OEM sized tires. Do not change that unless you want to change the handling/turning characteristics of the bike. See this.

Have fun!

LuckyGuy's avatar

Listen to @ipso . He knows a facto when he sees it.

I would not change the rear tire to anything wider than the one it came with. Wide tires may look cool but they hydroplane on wet slippery pavement. That is ok on 4 wheels but disaster on 2. See rules above.

robmandu's avatar

I agree 100% with @ipso, except to note that his advice is based on the rider having a modicum of experience.

@futurelaker88 and other self-professed “new riders” should take @ipso‘s advice to heart and practice accordingly… improving their own safety and that of the motorists around them. However, for the novice rider, I still think my advice stands.

Now where can we all meet to hoist a brew or three together?

futurelaker88's avatar

im assuming you guys all ride, but I’m also assuming your on the other side of the country. I’m in jersey.

ipso's avatar

My advise is based on a 0–2 year rider. That includes very first time beginners. They should use only their front brake to slow the motorcycle as a matter of form.

They should regularly cruise down a clean, clear, wide open street and violently jack the front brake hard, and then harder, and then even harder – over and over – to practice emergency stops. I believe that is the single best thing you can do to achieve better bike control and confidence.

Start slow and work your speed all the way up to the fastest you will be riding. With clean blacktop, and hot tires on a modern bike, it is all but impossible to skid the front tire, because all the weight is shifted to the front re-doubling grip.

The point is to make it second nature that that is how you stop quickest – in a straight line – with a perfectly clean road – having the bike perfectly vertical – using only the front brake. You also learn to instinctively shift your body weight down and back; and what that feels like in extreme conditions.

Having done this exercise just once you will see rather dramatically the stopping power – and the fact that you do not need a rear brake to achieve it. Even if the rear brake is applied optimally by a world champion racer, it is only fractionally better.

What this also does is promote immediate decision making. This is critical toward the prime directive which is to reduce forward energy. Get on the brakes early, get on the brakes hard.

It demotes braking hard under any other circumstance, and thus makes you weary of going faster under those circumstances in which you do not know for sure if you can stop quickly enough.

“Wait a minute – the road is damp and I’m slightly leaned over. There is no way I can jam on my front brake right now to stop as quickly as I normally could if a deer pops out. Should I be going this fast?”

You can only have that conversation coherently if you know exactly how quickly you can stop.

It also promotes slowing down to the proper speed in a straight line before you even get to the turn, and then when you turn in you can slowly accelerate through the turn.

I’m pretty rock solid on this approach, and I won’t bore you with the references, but recognize there are differing points of view. (Multiple ways to skin a cat.) It’s all good as long as you’re thinking through the logic and being very cognizant and systematic to where your limitations lie.

——
I’ll hoist a beer with damn near anyone! Figuratively or literally.

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