Bad Habits and Motorcycles

bad habits

Bad habits are negative behaviour patterns, and in motorcycle terms, this can most certainly be the difference between life and death.

The fact of the matter is that it is much easier to learn or create a new habit than to try and fix an old one. The willingness to change is key, followed by a certain level of commitment, and guided by a vigilant attitude.

How would you describe or define what is a “Bad Riding Habit”?
A bad riding habit spawns from the infected mental and physical state of the rider, which in turn affects the person’s riding abilities. A bad habit puts the rider up for certain disaster, ranging from a minor “parking-lot drop” and a major crash. A bad-habit-rider is a high-risk-rider!

Don’t become a Stat

The Motorcycle Safety Institute keeps accurate records of crash data – What has this data been telling you about bad riding habits?
The single biggest contributor to motorcycle crashes has been speed! The wrong speed, too fast – the wrong place, in an Urban traffic environment.

How is this a bad habit? It is an infected thought pattern, resulting in an uncontrolled situation and a minor or major turn of events.

According to our 2017 report, more than 72% of motorcycle crashes involved another vehicle, of which 63% happened in an Urban area. It is true that not all crashes are because of rider error, but my safety is my responsibility, therefore my riding habits are directly relevant to my risk.

Not every bike crash is caused by riding that is Illegal – sometimes it is caused by bad riding habits – what would you describe as the bad habits that cause most crashes?
Riding a motorcycle starts with your mind, and the decision to think. Below are three habitual errors every rider should pay attention to:

Attitude – Applying a healthy attitude pretty much means riding with your head securely screwed onto your neck. Letting destructive influences like ego, peer pressure, intoxication, and distraction make decisions for you will eventually lead to a hospital visit; if you’re lucky. So, just say no to stupidity!

Overconfidence – Riders at times define their riding capability based on their years of experience. But I’ve seen experienced riders making the most common mistakes, like engine braking, using the brakes with clutch pulled in, or not checking blind spots. No matter how experienced you are, there’s always room for improvement. The first step is to admit that you lack certain skill and practise on getting it right. Remember ‘Overconfidence is the most dangerous form of carelessness’.

Ignorance – Don’t think for a second, “I don’t need training”. You can never learn enough, and the best way to learn is under the expert guidance of a professional. You spend an average of R100 000 on the purchase of a motorcycle, R10 000 on riding gear, and NOTHING on Rider Training. Where’s the logic in that? Ignorance is a bad and merciless habit, it is the decision not to think.

Relax your Arms, Drop your Elbows

Is it fair to say that bad habits start even before starting the bike or even by incorrect positioning on the seat? What are the bad habits in our positioning on the seat?
I’ve seen over the years of training a few 1000 riders, from all experience levels, that they mount the motorcycle incorrectly, sit on the motorcycle incorrectly, and dismount the motorcycle incorrectly. Getting on, riding, and getting off a motorcycle should be a natural practise.

Most folks mount a motorcycle with the “door closed” or handlebar turned in to the left. This results in a very awkward or unnatural hand to grip arrangement when holding on to the handlebar and mounting. Instead, the rider should “open the door” or straighten the handlebar before mounting, which provides for a more natural and easy way of getting on the motorcycle. It also brings the righthand grip closer so you don’t have to reach that far, or lean over the tank when mounting. The same goes for dismounting; leave the “door open” until you’ve dismounted, then “close the door” if you must or want to lock the steering.

When sitting on the motorcycle, don’t sit up on the tank, leave some shift room between your crotch and the tank. If you come to a hard stop or hit something on the road, you could knock them jewels and sound like you’ve inhaled helium – an inch or two of a gap will do. On the same note, don’t sit so far back that your arms are fully locked when riding. You can’t effectively steer a motorcycle with locked arms – relax your arms and shoulders. Just drop them elbows, and allow your forearms to run parallel to the road surface. This way you take some load off the grips, and so you can properly brace yourself when braking hard.

Space Management

What are the most common bad riding habits you have observed as an instructor riding along on the road?
Oh boy, let me think… It will have to be space management and risk perception.

I constantly observe riders putting themselves right up and behind another vehicle, or taking their time to overtake a truck. This compromised buffer or safety zone, leaves very little response time, in case the rider needs to avoid impact or contact with the other vehicle.

The same goes for the rider who rides in Lalaland, just riding over a manhole cover, through road debris, and in the famous suicide lane. Most riders cannot remember anything between point A and B, unable to recall potential hazards or areas of improvement in their riding manner.

Nearly 80% of riders do not cover their levers (Clutch, Front Brake, Rear Brake) when riding. Not covering your levers (fingers on Front Brake and Clutch Lever, Right Foot on Rear Brake) in a High-Risk Environment sets you up for disaster, resulting in NO brake use to avoid or minimise impact. Covering your levers will most certainly help in response time, whereas most riders just grab the grips tighter in a panic situation. Learn to brake effectively!

Visible Reserve

What are the mistakes our bikers make on the open road as compared to riding in urban areas?
A relaxed state of mind can cause a rider to become oblivious to his or her surroundings. You leave the busy traffic of the city behind, there is less and less traffic, you start to relax body and mind, and then BAM! A farm truck comes out of a hidden entrance, or a cow steps out in front of you around the next bend. It is true that Freeway riding is less of a risk than Urban, but nothing stops another vehicle from making a U-turn in front of you on Rural roads or Freeways. The difference is that you are now travelling a lot faster than in an Urban setting, and the question is: Can you react and respond at the same pace?

The truth is that the physics of speed applies to all road types, and is directly connected to your visible reserve.

The visible reserve is the visible distance in which you can safely avoid incident or accident. For example, let’s say your bike can come to a stop from 100 km/h in 35m. If you can’t see any further ahead than 35m, your speed shouldn’t be any faster than 100 km/h.

Of course, in real-world situations, it also takes 0.5 seconds or so to react, and another 1 second of progressive front brake squeezing to full braking capacity. At 100 km/h, 1.5 seconds will eat up an extra 40m. OH SNAP! That means that your actual stopping distance from 100 km/h is more like 75m!

Ride your Own Pace

How do bad riding habits differ between men and women – are there some you find more prevalent among specific genders?
The number of female riders on our roads in South Africa are ever increasing. As exciting as that might be, the risk remains the same. Female riders tend to analyse situations more effectively than their male counterparts. Some boys may look older but take longer to grow up, happy to say I’m one of them. I haven’t met many female riders with an ego, but the number of male riders with an ego far exceeds their riding abilities.

According to our Crash Report, male crashes account for 92% of the total crashes 2017 to date; this percentage will decrease accordingly if we take the number of female riders to male riders into consideration.

There are no specific habits that stand out for female riders, but one thing to keep in mind is peer pressure. Ride your own pace, listen to good advice, and use that 6th sense of yours.

Fools are Not Cool

What do you believe are the reasons for bad riding habits – Is it the poor teaching of bad examples from others?
Poor coaching can play a huge role in the effective development of a rider’s skill. An inexperienced instructor can very easily miss a vital part of his teaching agenda, but the bulk of bad habits come from “instruction” by friends and family.

Over the years your friends and family, have developed bad riding habits themselves, and them passing it on to you is the last thing you can afford. If your friend or family really want to help you, let them pay for a proper rider course conducted by a professional instructor. Sure, not all friends or family are bad-habit-riders, but professional instructors coach with structure building confidence in a well-controlled setup.

Bad examples are everywhere. One rider feels he or she wants to ride without a proper riding gear, some even decide to be a “cool idiot” and ride without a helmet. I’ve even seen some, wearing a helmet and jacket, but then with shorts and tekkies and no gloves. A few years ago, a local rider set out to taunt me, riding past my training venue smoking, with this helmet on his arm. Needless to say, I made him famous in the local newspaper. These arrogant fools might get away with it, but the next ignorant rider may not be so lucky. Your decision not to set a good example is self-righteous, and a certain threat to riders around you. Grow up!

What are the major differences between the bad riding habits observed among inexperienced bikers as compared to more experienced bikers?
Too big too soon! Inexperienced riders don’t give themselves enough time to learn without being intimidated by the size or power of the motorcycle. Like female riders, inexperienced riders are open to peer pressure from friends and family.

You cannot learn good habits while intimidated, or riding in fear!

It only takes repeating something 25 times to establish a habit. An inexperienced rider is more likely to make mistakes than an experienced rider, and when they make these mistakes, start to establish bad riding habits because they don’t know any better. Seek professional help, my friend, learn what you can from the old dogs, but compare it to professional guidance before you make it your own.

We always talk about the “power of habit / mag van gewoonte”. Would over-confidence lead to bad riding habits?

Oh, for sure. “You can’t touch this” or “Hold my beer, I’m gonna be awesome” only proved harmful to the fool who said it. As mentioned earlier, riders at times define their riding capability based on their years of experience. The first step is to admit that you lack certain skill and submit yourself to proper training.

Overconfidence is the most dangerous form of carelessness.

No shame to Train

How would you suggest that we detect and address / reduce these bad riding habits?
This horse is getting tired but let’s ride it anyway – Professional Training!

The only way you can effectively identify a bad habit is when you change from a know-it-all to a learn-it-all attitude. It is very difficult to train yourself, and there is certainly no shame in getting trained either.

The next time you ride, ask a good and experienced friend to ride with you and point out any errors or areas of improvement in your riding.

Any other thoughts you might like to share?
The internet, web and YouTube, hosts a vast number of articles on motorcycle safety. I have more than 100 of my published articles on the MSI website, open to read and learn from.

If there’s no riding school or academy in your area, then take a few friends to an open parking lot. Print an article or two, and go practise a few moves. There’s always a way, not just the Freeway.

Realise how important your safety, and that of others, is to you. Setting a good and life-saving example is what riding a motorcycle well, should be all about.

Ride to Live!


This has been an interview by Johan Jonck of Arrive Alive

Hein Jonker

Founder of the Motorcycle Safety Institute of South Africa
Editor in Chief of Bike Talk South Africa
Chief Instructor of Bike Talk Motorcycle Rider Academy
Motorcycle Safety & Skills Expert for Arrive Alive South Africa

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