Dealing with emergencies
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This chapter tells you how to be ready to deal with emergencies that may arise. Studies show that unprepared drivers too often freeze up or do the wrong thing when faced with an emergency.
Practice emergency stops in a safe environment, such as a vacant parking lot, to get a feel for it. The front brake supplies about three- quarters of your braking power, so use both brakes to stop quickly.
If your motorcycle is equipped with a clutch and gears, pull in the clutch and apply both brakes quickly and smoothly without locking the wheels. If either wheel locks, release the brake momentarily to get the wheel rolling, then re-apply the brakes but not to the point of locking. This is called threshold braking.
If your motorcycle or moped has an anti-lock braking system, practice emergency braking to understand how your vehicle will react. It is a good idea to practice doing this under controlled conditions with a qualified motorcycle instructor.
Anti-lock braking systems, which are also called ABS, are designed to sense the speed of the wheels on a vehicle. An abnormal drop in wheel speed, which indicates potential wheel lock, causes the brake force to be reduced to that wheel. This is how ABS prevents tire skid and the accompanying loss of steering control. This improves vehicle safety during heavy brake use or when braking with poor traction.
Although anti-lock braking systems help to prevent wheel lock, you should not expect the stopping distance for your motorcycle to be shortened. Under normal driving conditions on clean dry roads, you will notice no difference between braking with anti-lock brakes and braking without them.
If you are unfamiliar with ABS, the vibration that happens when you use them to brake hard in an emergency may surprise you. Make sure you know what to expect so you can react quickly and effectively in an emergency.
Even a quick stop may not be enough to keep you from hitting something in your path. A vehicle ahead may stop suddenly or pull out and partly block the lane. The only way to avoid a collision may be to make a quick turn or swerve. The key to making a quick swerve is to get the motorcycle or moped to lean quickly in the direction you want to turn. It takes practice to do this smoothly and with confidence.
Taking a turn too fast
A major cause of motorcycle and moped collisions is running off the road in a turn or curve. One of two things seems to happen: either the driver badly misjudges a safe speed and takes the turn too fast, sliding off the road and crashing into something; or an inexperienced driver thinks he or she cannot turn sharply enough and brakes too hard, locking the wheels and sliding off the road and crashing. Inexperienced drivers sometimes crash at speeds at which a more experienced driver could manage the turn.
Until you learn the cornering limits of your vehicle, slow down for turns. Remember to brake before you turn.
Driving over objects
Sometimes you have no choice but to drive over an object in your path. Debris on the road, such as a length of tailpipe, may be too close for you to steer around. Driving over objects is similar to driving over uneven surfaces. These three steps will help you drive safely over most objects you may find on the road:
- Hold the handgrips tightly so that you do not lose your grip when the front wheel hits the object.
- Keep a straight course. This keeps the motorcycle or moped upright and reduces the chance of falling.
- Rise slightly on the footrests. This allows your arms and legs to absorb the shock and helps keep you from being bounced off as the rear wheel hits the object.
It is a good idea to stop and check your tires and rims for damage after driving over an object.
From time to time, insects, cigarette butts thrown from other vehicles or stones kicked up by the tires of the vehicle ahead may hit you. If you are not wearing face protection, you could be hit in the eye or the face. If you are wearing face protection, it could become smeared or cracked, making it difficult to see. Whatever happens, do not let it affect your control of your motorcycle or moped. Keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the handlebars. As soon as it is safe, pull off the road and repair the damage.
Animals on the road
You should do everything you can to avoid swerving around an animal on the road. Swerving is very dangerous as it may cause you to hit another vehicle. If you encounter an animal on the road, brake and prepare to stop. If you cannot stop in time and the animal is large, such as a dog or moose, you may have no choice but to swerve; if you are in traffic, try to remain in your lane. However, if the animal is small, you have a better chance of surviving an impact with it than with another vehicle.
Dogs often chase motorcycles and mopeds. If you find yourself being chased, do not kick at the animal. It is too easy to lose control of your vehicle.
What to do if a tire blows out
If you have a tire blowout, you need to react quickly to keep your balance. You cannot always hear a tire blow. You have to be able to detect a flat tire from the way the motorcycle reacts. If the front tire goes flat, the steering will feel heavy. If the rear tire goes flat, the back of the motorcycle or moped will tend to slide from side to side.
If you have a tire blowout while driving, take the following steps:
- Hold the handgrips tightly and concentrate on steering. Try to keep a straight course.
- Stay off the brake. Gradually close the throttle and let the vehicle coast.
- If it is the front tire that has blown, shift your weight as far back as you can. If it is the rear tire, stay where you are.
- Wait until you are going very slowly, then edge toward the side of the road and coast to a stop.
What to do if the throttle gets stuck (if applicable)
When you try to close the throttle you may find that it will not turn or the engine will not slow down. Here is what to do:
- Relax and let up on the throttle.
- At the same time, pull in the clutch and turn off the engine with the kill switch.
- If the motorcycle does not have a kill switch, pull in the clutch and let the engine race until you can stop, and turn it off with the key. You may also be able to leave the clutch out and stop the engine with the brakes.
- Park the motorcycle until you can get it fixed.
What to do in a wobble
When driving at a fairly high speed, the front wheel can suddenly begin to wobble or shake from side to side. The only thing you can do in a wobble is to drive it out as follows:
- Firmly grip the handlebars. Do not try to fight the wobble.
- Gradually close the throttle and let the vehicle slow down. Do not apply the brakes; it could make the wobble worse. Never accelerate.
- Pull off the road as soon as you can stop.
- If you are carrying a heavy load, distribute it more evenly. If you are at a gas station or have a tire gauge, check your tire pressure.
Other causes of wobbling
Other things that can cause a motorcycle or moped to wobble are:
- Windshield improperly mounted or not designed for your particular vehicle
- Loose steering-head bearings
- Worn steering parts
- Wheel that is bent out of alignment
- Loose wheel bearings
- Loose spokes
- Improper tire-tread design
What to do if a chain breaks
Chain failure usually is caused by a worn or stretched chain, which does not fit the sprockets properly, or by worn sprockets. You will notice if the chain breaks because you will instantly lose power to the rear wheels, and the engine will speed up. If the chain locks the rear wheel, you will not be able to disengage it, and it will cause your motorcycle to skid. Try to maintain control and find a safe place to pull off the road as soon as possible.
What to do if your engine seizes
Engine seizure means that the engine locks or freezes. It has the same result as a locked rear wheel. However, there is usually some advance warning of engine seizure, giving you time to respond.
Overheating or a lack of lubrication causes engine seizure. Without oil, the engine’s moving parts will no longer move smoothly against each other, and the engine will overheat. The first symptom may be a loss of engine power. You may also notice a change in the engine’s sound.
Pull off the road to the shoulder and stop. Let the engine cool. While you may be able to add oil and restart the engine, it should be thoroughly checked for damage.
If your motorcycle has a clutch and gears and the engine starts to seize, squeeze the clutch lever, disengaging the engine from the rear wheel, then pull off the road to stop.
Getting off the road
If you have to leave the road to check your vehicle or to rest for a while, check the surface of the roadside to make sure it is hard enough to drive on. If it is soft grass, loose sand or if you are not sure about it, slow right down before you turn onto it. Since drivers behind may not expect you to slow down, make sure to check your mirror and signal.
Pull as far off the road as you can. A motorcycle or moped by the side of the road can be very hard to spot. You do not want someone else pulling off at the same place.
If you need help, place your helmet on the ground near the road. This is a signal among motorcycle drivers that a motorcyclist needs help.
By the end of this chapter, you should know:
- How to deal with mechanical problems such as a blown tire, stuck throttle, wobble, broken chain or seized engine
- How to perform emergency braking and steering manoeuvres and how to avoid taking a turn too fast
- How to deal with objects or animals on the road or flying objects hitting you while you are driving
- How to safely pull over to the side of the road