As an instructor, a student myself and with more than 200,000 miles of riding under my belt, I have come to see street riders making the same mistakes over and over. I've picked out the top 10 mistakes riders make.
To let you know where I'm coming from, I have been teaching the Beginner through Advanced Riding Clinics for Total Control Training, Inc. in southern California since 2014 and I have taken more than 21 courses myself, as a student, because I believe in the value of formal motorcycle education. So to help steer the riding culture in a better direction, I started making YouTube videos and have multiple books on Amazon to help educate and inspire riders.
Editor's note: To see more of the 200-plus videos MotoJitsu has created on riding techniques, as well as some other entertainment such as motorcycle movie reviews, see his YouTube channel or visit MotoJitsu.com to learn more.
From that experience and my many miles on the road, here are the mistakes I identify as the most common.
Not wearing full gear
"It’s too hot.”
“I can’t afford it.”
“I’m only going for a short ride.”
These are just a few of the excuses riders tell themselves and others to justify not wearing full gear. No matter the temperature, price, or distance, the consequences of wearing a T-shirt and jeans will be far worse if you go down. The weather shouldn’t dictate your safety. If you can’t afford full gear, you really can’t afford hospital bills. You can get into an accident at the first stop sign on your block or at an intersection 100 miles away; no matter what, wear full gear.
I know riders who have been riding 30 years yet are still at a beginner’s level in skill and understanding. Riding isn’t practicing. Practicing is focused attention to a specific skill in order to gain an experiential understanding of how or why something works. I often ask riders before a group ride in the twisties, “When was the last time you practiced emergency braking?" Nine times out of 10 the answer is, "I don’t practice." To which I reply, “OK, well you’re not riding behind me.” How can anyone expect to get better at any technique they learned if they don’t practice it? Trail braking, line selection, low-speed turning, body position, vision, throttle control, braking, etc.? Make time to practice weekly.
Putting the bike in neutral at stop lights
While at a stop light, you notice the car behind you doesn’t seem to be slowing down quickly enough. Are you ready to act? Putting your bike in neutral is just laziness. Multiple times since I started riding in August 2013, I have had to get out of the way to avoid getting rear-ended by someone not paying attention. You will not have time to pull in the clutch, downshift to first, find an escape route, then move there quickly if needed. Whatever reason riders give themself for doing this, getting hit from behind isn’t worth it. Keep the bike in gear, watch your mirrors and have an escape plan in mind, while remaining aware of your surroundings at all times.
Not anticipating cross traffic
While approaching a green light, too many riders I see don’t check to their left and right to ensure the path is clear before crossing through the intersection. Three times now I have noticed a car not slowing down, only for it to completely blow through the red light in front of me. If it hadn’t checked and slowed down, I would likely not be alive today. Check and re-check both directions for every intersection and be ready to respond.
Not using turn signals
You want to be predictable in traffic. Others should know your intentions and expect you to behave in a way you would want others to behave. When riders switch lanes without using their blinkers, it increases the stress and risk of everyone around. Now you’re unpredictable. Violations of others' right of way is exactly what happens when traffic around you cannot reasonably predict what you’re going to do. And no matter who is at fault, you’re vulnerable.
Riding in blind spots
I hear it over and over again: “This car just cut me off.” “This truck the other day just merged right into me. He must hate motorcycles.”
Look in the mirror before blaming others. So many times I see riders in the blind spots of cars. Then they blame the car driver for not seeing them. We are the smallest vehicles in traffic. We have to make ourselves visible and I’m not talking about wearing a bright yellow banana suit to draw attention. Be more intentional about where you’re riding, position yourself so you're not hidden in traffic and give everyone around you the best opportunity to notice you’re there.
Not looking far enough through the turn
When you're out riding in the twisties, your eyes should always be well ahead of your bike. That way if you see a hazard, you have time to think about what you’re going to do and respond. Too many riders are often looking only 20 feet in front of their front tire. Keeping your eyes up and looking through the turn to where you want to go is the goal. Use your peripheral vision to manage your lane position.
Just moving your eyes isn’t enough. Imagine taking out one of your eyes and gluing it to the chin of your helmet. Point your chin where you want to go. That’s a head turn. This allows your pupils to stay in the middle of your head, causes less fatigue, and gives you a wider perspective.
Getting too close to the yellow or white lines
While going through lefthand turns, too many riders get too close to the yellow line. If a car is coming from the other direction and you have to change your line, you’re too close. Your body or bike should never cross that line.
There is only one circumstance where it’s acceptable to get really close to the line and use all the pavement available to your advantage: when there’s no oncoming traffic and it’s an open corner. Since that is very rare on your favorite twisty road, a new way of thinking about line selection is needed. Outside-middle-outside makes more sense. Start on the outside of the turn like you normally would but only go to the middle of the lane instead of the inside. By middle I do not mean dead center, but somewhere in the three-foot margin of the middle third of the lane is where your tires should be. This way, even while leaning over into the turn, your head or bike will never cross over the yellow or white line. Additionally, with this approach, you will have more options mid-turn in case something happens. You’ll be able to slow down, speed up, swerve left or swerve right. If you’re all the way to the inside, you’re limiting your options and therefore adding risk.
Not understanding countersteering
Ask 10 riders what countersteering is and you’ll likely get 10 different answers, along with a few who don’t even believe it’s real or relevant. If you want to go right, push forward on the right handgrip and the bike will lean to the right, therefore going right. Same with the left. Pushing down is a myth. The more parallel your forearms are to the ground, the more efficient you’ll be while cornering. You will continue to push until you have reached the lean angle needed in order to make the turn based on your speed and radius.
This isn’t something you have to believe based on faith or from authority. Go try it and see for yourself.
Also, the two handgrips are connected so pulling on the left grip is exactly the same as pushing on the right. Many times going right I pull left instead of pushing right because my right hand is already handling the throttle and brakes and I don't want to overload it by having to do the steering, as well.
Riding faster than your skill or comfort level
When I'm leading a group of friends on the twisty roads, I tell everyone before the ride starts that the goal is to make it to the gas station at the end of this road. It will take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to get there. Your goal is to make it. No one will get a trophy for getting there faster. If I want to take the corner at 40 mph and you are behind me and want to take it at 30 mph, go 30 mph. You are responsible for your own safety and only you should dictate your pace.
Trying to keep up with other riders comes down to ego. Trying to prove something to others or yourself. Trying to fit in. Be one of the guys. Show others you’re a good rider, etc. None of these attitudes have positive outcomes. "Ride your own ride" is a good old saying for a reason.
Speed comes naturally with better technique. Continue to take higher level training, practice what you’re taught and you’ll naturally be able to take the corners a bit quicker without adding much risk.