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Motorcycle safety: Five tips for a safer ride

At least four people have been killed on motorcycles in Ottawa this year, three of them in the past 10 days alone. The riders, all men, ranged in age from 32 to 60. Two were killed in single-vehicle crashes and two died in collisions with another vehicles.

Between 2014 and 2018, 17 motorcyclists and two passengers were killed on Ottawa’s roads. For comparison, in the same years there were 61 vehicle drivers killed along with 18 passengers, 32 pedestrians and seven bicyclists.

Ottawa’s Rob Cass has been riding motorcycles for nearly 30 years and teaches motorcycle safety with the Ottawa Safety Council. He offers five tips to make the roads safer for two-wheeled riders.

Eyes wide open

The first tip isn’t for motorcyclists, it’s for the drivers with whom they share the road. Motorcycles are hard to see and estimating their speed is difficult, especially if you’re judging a biker’s single headlight against the double headlights of an oncoming car.

“You’re looking down the traffic and it’s a single, thin thing you’re seeing,” Cass said. “A lot of the time, the collision happens because of a driver who’s turned left in front of the motorcycle. He might have seen it, but it just hasn’t registered. We ‘see’ a lot more than we ‘register.’ It’s about making that connection between what we see and what we need to do.”

But motorcyclists can play a part here too. Those garish, high-visibility safety vests might not be the coolest thing to wear, but they do attract the attention of other drivers. Cass also teaches riders to stop their bikes at traffic lights and stop signs at a slight angle, again to give oncoming drivers something bigger to see than a narrow, straight-on view.

Drive defensively and be predictable

“This is the big one,” Cass said. “Ride your motorcycle as you’d drive your car. You can’t be jumping lanes all over the place. Just because you are smaller and can fit into those tighter spaces, doesn’t mean you should be going there.”

Anticipation is important too, meaning riders must be looking far down the road for potential hazards.

“It’s not good enough to be looking a couple of seconds ahead. You’ve got to be 15 to 20 seconds ahead. When you approach the intersection it’s better than to slow down rather than to just keep on going and thinking, ‘It’s OK, he’s not going to turn.’ ”

Practise, practise practise…

Most drivers — Cass included — learned how to drive a car at 16 and have never taken another lesson. That’s a bad idea for motorcyclists.

“I’ve been riding motorcycles for almost 30 years now and I still take a skills course every year, and that’s even as an instructor,” he said. “It’s not just to learn new skills, but to reinforce those skills you already have. We see the same people come back to us every spring and they’ll say, ‘OK. It’s time to dust the cobwebs off.’ ”

The Ottawa Safety Council offers a range from an introductory “gearing up” course to get you started right up to advanced riding skills.

“Just getting your licence isn’t enough,” he said.

Get the right gear — and wear it

“I know it gets hot, but you still need to wear the right clothing and the right boots. They can save you,” Cass said.

Some companies are even making safety vests that have airbags inside them that inflate almost instantaneously if rider is thrown off the bike.

Ride within your ability

“You can get a licence pretty easily and at the end of that course you can go out and buy a 1000 cc motorcycle,” Cass said. “But you should probably start with something half that size.”

Technical advances have made bikes lighter and faster. The tires are better. The brakes are better. But think twice before making your first motorcycle a 300 km/h superbike.

“The Europeans have graduated motorcycle licences,” he said. “There’s no reason you can’t do that for yourself. You don’t have to go out and get that great big motorcycle.”

ALSO IN THE NEWS: 

Motorcyclist, 55, dies of injuries sustained in Monday night collision

Motorcyclist killed in Greenbank crash identified

Gatineau motorcyclist dies after hitting tractor trailer on Highway 43

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