Riding Skills Newsletter

 Published by the:
New Zealand Motorcycle Safety Consultants.

P O Box 26-036,

Email address:

Phone 64-4-478-5024
Fax 64-4-478-6197

The Seven Survival Skills

While most motorcyclists say that they believe that rider training is a good thing, nearly 90% don't bother taking any training. One of the reasons given for this is that, because of all the skills that are taught at these courses, most of the rider training courses take quite a few hours to do.

That's why the NZMSC decided to carry out a study to discover the minimum number of skills a rider had to learn to have a really good chance of avoiding an expensive and painful crisis is his or her riding life. And what better place to start that motorcycle crash statistics? After all, if there are a limited number of common crashes involved, a look at the skills essential to avoid those crashes would tell us what the essential survival skills are and would also identify the blue moon skills. Blue moon skills are the skills that one rarely has to use and, indeed, may never use, such as the skill of accelerating and pulling up on the front wheel if about to hit debris or a big pothole on the road.

What we found was interesting because the results seem to hold good for any western country where motorcycle crashes are a problem.

There appear to be three main types of motorcycle crashes. These are:
- Collision With Another Vehicle (usually a car and usually one that is changing direction)
- Failure To Make It Around A Corner
- Head-On Collision.

Having found these general category of crashes, we then looked at the basic riding skills that were required to avoid each crash. While we found that there were some common skills required in virtually every crash situation, such as the Emergency Braking skill, some specialist skills were required for some types of crash and some of these specialist skills were quite complex.

By the end of our study we had discovered that the three main types of motorcycle crashes appeared to account for well over 90% of all crashes (and, indeed, 99% of all serious crashes) and that there were six skills required to avoid these crashes.

The Essential Survival Skills.
Emergency Braking.
Emergency Braking is an obvious survival skill. In a crisis situation one needs to be able to scrub off speed fast to either avoid crashing into something or to reduce the severity of the impact.

A less obvious fact about emergency braking on a motorcycle is that if the emergency braking isn't done properly, this itself can cause a crash. In a crash situation in a car, locked wheels simply reduce the extent of speed reduction. On a motorcycle, locked wheels (and especially when the front wheel is locked) are likely to cause the bike to go out of control and the rider to crash.

In the first two years of riding, most riders untrained in emergency braking skills tend to lock the front brake under hard braking. More often than not this causes the inexperienced rider to fall off. Whether this crash is serious or not is usually mainly a matter of luck. After getting one or two frights when the wheel locks up, the untrained rider can get quite scared of using the front brake, the most effective brake on the machine, and can make him or her extremely vulnerable in a crash situation.

Research by Harry Hurt of the University of California has established that only a small minority of riders use their brakes correctly in a crash situation. Most use only the back brake (which only provides about 20% of the machine's total stopping power) while about a third apply no brakes at all! It has been suggested this happens because the rider, having fallen off under brakes in the past, is scared of his brakes.

Getting used to using your bike's brakes in emergency mode is essential to you and your bike's health and survival. Just reading up on the procedures and factors involved in emergency braking will go a long way to reducing your chances of a crash as you will have a database of information in your brain that it can use to work out the right thing to do in a crisis situation.

Direction Perspective
The eyes play a major role in the control of a motorcycle. Direction Perspective involves the way your brain uses the message from your eyes to balance, steer and control the machine during riding. On a motorcycle, where you look is where you go and, to establish your direction perspective, you must use your eyes correctly. The way the rider uses his eyes also plays an important part in anticipating the actions of other vehicles around him and in the messages he sends to other motorists in conflict situations, such as where a car is rolling up to as Yield sign at an intersection.

Manoeuvre Anticipation
Anticipating what a vehicle is likely to do in a conflict situation involves a number of skills, many of them quite complex. Yet, looking at the most common motorcycle/car crash situations, the NZMSC discovered that there were only a small number of anticipatory skills which, when carried out in a specific order, enables the rider to anticipate the likely actions of the driver, the movement, and speed etc of the car. This then enables the rider to avoid running into a car driven by a careless driver.

Hazard Perception
Hazard perception is the ability to recognise a hazard for what it is. Thus, a rider with good hazard perception will note as a hazard a car slowing at an intersection ahead with its indicator indicating that the driver intends to turn across the rider’s path. A rider with lesser hazard perception may take it that the vehicle is no hazard as the motorcycle has the theoretical/lawful right of way.
Hazard perception is a mental skill and involves attitudinal factors and an active learning process to master to any extent. When it comes to hazard perception, learning the hard way can be painful or fatal!

Accident Survival
Sometimes, no matter how good the rider is, he or she will be invited to join someone else's crash and will be unable to decline the invitation. Where a rider crashes, there is a specific set of actions and reactions the rider can make that will greatly reduce the chances of being seriously hurt in the crash.

A simple example is where the bike slides out from under the rider. In this situation the rider should always try to slide rather than tumble. This way he can better see where he’s going, he can use his hands and feet to steer away from danger, and his body will not tumble with the extremities at risk of snapping as they impact with the ground or parked cars etc.

A skill that has only become widely recognised in the last decade, countersteering is the technique of using gyroscopic precession to cause the motorcycle to change direction quickly and accurately.

This skill is often essential in a crash situation where a rapid and accurate change of direction may mean the difference between a near miss and a full impact.

Risk Management.
A modern management tool in big business, risk management is the skill of identifying risks, calculating their severity, deciding whether one wishes to carry that risk and, if one doesn’t, how to counter that risk. In the case of the motorcyclist, this is a matter of identifying the risks in riding (for example, the risks of riding fast in a specific location) and deciding whether that risk is one he or she is willing to take.

Most riders, until taught this skill, do not even consider the risks involved in riding in any logical way. Either the risk is considered as a whole (the risk of riding a motorcycle) and, as a whole is too large to make an informed decision upon (and is thus filed in the Too Hard basket of the rider's brain), or is unfocused (for example, riding in one particular location at an excessive speed is not considered as a risk in relation to the speed sensible for that location but as the speed "I normally ride at").

When given some basic pointers on the ways to use risk management in his or her riding, the rider is, for example, more likely to be selective in his speeding and to take a sensible and considered approach to risk.

Risk management is, of course a high level riding skill and it is often only very experienced road riders who practice it, and then only in a subconscious manner if they haven't studied the process. Risk management is ideally suited to riding a motorcycle as it is a process that allows the rider to make his own value judgements in its use, such as the judgement of the extent of risk the rider is willing to expose himself too. But, whatever the value judgement, it must be based on a sensible baseline - basically one of staying unhurt while riding.

The Crashes.
Collision With Another Vehicle
Even a cursory study of most Western countries' road crash statistics reveals that by far the majority of motorcycle crashes involve a car, and usually one that is turning. Mobile obstacles in the form of cars are probably the greatest threat to the motorcyclist’s well-being on modern roads.

Of the car/motorcycle crashes, the majority are intersection accidents where the car driver is usually at fault and, in fact, makes not one, but two driving faults - not checking adequately and failing to give way.

It is our belief that car-turning/intersection crashes are the most common motorcycle crashes for the simple reason that surviving the careless car driver requires a rider to have all seven essential motorcycle survival skills. Yet, unless specifically taught these skills when getting a licence, most beginner riders will not be fully equipped with these skills and will thus be vulnerable. This belief is reinforced by the fact that motorcycle crash statistics show that beginner riders are disastrously over-represented in motorcycle crashes. It logically follows that more experienced riders crash less because they’ve learnt survival skills from experience, often very hard experience.

In order to avoid the Collision With Another Vehicle type of accident, the motorcyclist must have a knowledge of risk management to be prepared for trouble in risky locations, have hazard perception to recognise the hazard, have a basic grip of manoeuvre anticipation to see and judge the likely movement of any car in conflict with him or her, and must employ the direction perspective skill to take advantage of any escape routes that are available, etc. He or she must also be well equipped with emergency braking skills in order to scrub off speed, especially if there are no gaps available, and know how to change direction hard and fast should the need arise. Finally, should the worst come to the worst, the rider's chances are greatly increased if he or she is equipped with accident survival skills.

Failure To Negotiate A Corner.
There are basically two main reasons a rider fails to get around a corner and, although most Police motorcycle crash reports use the words Excessive Speed in reports on corner crashes, where a slippery surface is not involved most of these accidents happen at speeds at which the machine being ridden can theoretically safely negotiate the corner. The problem, our rider training experience indicates, lies in a lack of riding skills and, in particular, the direction perspective skill. This is also known as Target Fixation.

The typical scenario is where a rider enters a corner, suddenly thinks he or she is going a bit fast and sees a hazard ahead, either roadside furniture or an oncoming vehicle. In panic the rider's eyes fix on the hazard and the bike goes where the rider looks...

Reinforcing our view is the fact that a very large number of motorcycle crashes involve the machine T boning a lamppost in a rural area. Think of a lamppost in a rural area. It is usually surrounding by clear space. Think how slim a lamppost is and of the narrowness of the motorcycle. Yet bike and pole impact dead on! The rider looks at the lamppost because he or she is scared of hitting it and the machine goes where he or she looks!

A vivid example of target fixation was a recent multiple fatality crash in Wellington, New Zealand where two Harley Davidson motorcycles had a head-on crash on an open road corner. Both riders on a corner, one on the wrong side of the road. They saw each other, eyes locked, and CRASH! Two thin motorcycles hit head-on.

For the NZMSC, further confirmation of this idea of target fixation comes with the common road crash statistic that parked cars are the most common object that motorcycles crash into in single vehicle crashes.

In view of all this, the skills a rider needs to avoid cornering disasters include the direction perspective skill, emergency braking skills, and accident survival skills.

Head On Collisions.
When one considers how slim a motorcycle is, one could well wonder why the third most common motorcycle crash is a head-on collision, especially since these are usually head-on collisions on a straight road. The answers lie in the youthful motorcyclist's tendency to regularly use the ample power his machine has to pass slower traffic, and the Target Fixation phenomenon.

The solutions to the high rate of head-on collisions are six of the essential survival skills: Hazard Perception to recognise the hazard, Risk Management to help provide the rider with self control, Direction Perspective to avoid target fixation and allow the use of escape routes, Emergency Braking where escape routes are not available and/or a sharp turn is required, Countersteering when hard and fast swerving is required and, when all else fails, Accident Survival skills to enable to rider to minimise the seriousness of the impact.

Seven Survival Skills
Thus, there are seven main survival skills a rider needs to avoid/survive about 95% of all motorcycle crashes. This 95% of crashes encompasses virtually all of the life-threatening accidents.

While some of the skills are relatively sophisticated, they are not beyond the learning ability of novice riders.

The skills and their related crashes are:

Collision with turning car Direction perspective, manoeuvre anticipation, accident survival, hazard perception, countersteering, risk management, emergency braking.

Failure to Negotiate Corner

Direction perspective, emergency braking, accident survival.

Head-On Collision

Risk management, direction perspective, hazard perception emergency braking, accident survival, countersteering.


There are many other motorcycle riding skills that a rider should learn to be absolutely safe but these are Blue Moon skills, needed very rarely and thus have a lower priority in the learning programme.

It is the NZMSC's belief that a motorcycle safety programme that focuses on teaching these seven essential survival skills would be a very cost-effective way of reducing motorcycle crashes and their associated economic and social costs.

It is for this reason that the NZMSC has been writing and publishing books covering these essential riding skills. Published to date are books on Emergency Braking, Cornering, Accident Survival, the Golden Rules of Riding, Crashes and Crises (Learning from others’ mistakes) and Mental Machine Control.

We are presently working on a new website which will have these and other motorcycling ebooks available on it.

The Golden Rules Of Riding


To keep your crutch dry, buy plastic pants. One rider reckons his cost him $40 and that they kept him dry through 16 hours of monsoon.

And if you haven't figured out what to do about the hands yet, try washing up gloves. Inside your gloves. These work a treat over light gloves. For heavier winter ones, get some green heavyish gardening rubber gloves - from K Mart, for example.

For rubber gloves to go over the outside of your gloves, you need something bigger. At a workplace where there is fuel and chemicals (nothing real nasty) the use of rubber gloves is required. These very solid gloves can be bought from the industrial safety supply places and they are available in BIG sizes to suit the average workman. They are not cheap but they are very durable. Might be worth a try...


You never know when that car coming towards you may do something extraordinary. Quite a few years back a woman was driving down the road in her car when she suddenly found a wasp in the car with her. Being somewhat terrified of the wee beastie, not to mention highly allergic, she started trying to run away from the thing in the car. Somehow she ended up in the back seat of the car while it was still going down the highway…

Now it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realise this isn't a very good state of affairs and the moment she'd calmed down a bit, the woman realised it as well. But it was too late. Her slammed into the culvert and the car flipped end over end three times over a nearby house’s driveway.

The woman was lucky, She had a small scrape on her arm and a piece of chocolate cake smooshed on her back. Her car was totalled. The only other casualty was determined to be the wasp….

Moral: Keep a weather eye for strange movements by oncoming cars.


Motorcycling Misquotes

We all know that motorcycling changes us. It's the thrill and the challenge of riding that ensures that, once captured by the adventure of riding, we stay captured.
Then motorcycling becomes part of our life and very persona. And, because the motorcycle invades its rider's life so completely, have you ever wondered what the words of the great literary figures of the world would have been like if they had been motorcyclists.
We did, so we took a look at a famous quote from a famous person and made a minor gentle adaptation to show you how this famous quote would have ended up if the author had been motorcyclist:

Every motorcyclist over 40 is a scoundrel.

George Bernard Shaw 1856-1950
Anglo-Irish dramatist, critic, novelist, social reformer, and wit.


A little verse

Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry,
Three lines, which must say all, and yet.
Some still feel hungry


How about some bike ones...

I have a TL100s
It is red and has a V-twin engine.
I wish it were a Ducati.

My VFR was built in 1985.
Its cams are built of cheese.
And so the noise continues.

(Our thanks to PaulH on the Aus. motorcycles newsgroup.)


Any you can think up,
will be well received,
by an instructor contemplating rain tomorrow.


The motorcyclist went for his annual check up.

"Your hearing is getting worse!" said the doctor, "and you must cut out drinking, smoking, and sex."

"What?!" cried the rider. "Just so I can hear better?"


Bob was riding to work when he crashed. It was about 08:46am and he was passing a firehouse on the near corner to his left. He was moving at less than 30mph, making his way toward a green light at an intersection. He says he’s always cautious (read slow) at this intersection because people break the red at those lights all the time.

As he was moving across the crosswalk just before the intersection, his eyes picked up a quick motion directly (like inches) in front of his visor. His mind said "STRANDED STEEL CABLE!?" a split second before it was across his neck and he was essentially held in place, like washing on a clothesline, as the bike continued forward, before ultimately parting company with him.

He landed on his left shoulder, back and head and slid quite briefly, feet first, in the same direction he was heading. The bike made it most of the way through the intersection and then bore right, jumping the curb and ended up being caught by the three foot high chain link fence outside the corner house.

Bob jumped up and ran over to the bike, shut off the engine, and put it up on the side stand. Several of the people sitting at the red light had witnessed the crash and were out of their cars to see if he was OK.

Brushing them off, Bob ran into the firehouse and told them what had happened, then ran back out and down the block to where workmen were stringing cable (for a cable TV company according to one of the firemen).

"Don’t go anywhere", he said. It must have been the way he said it - they didn’t!

The police arrived and summoned an ambulance so Bob could be checked out as they were concerned that being strung up on a cable may have damaged his neck/spinal cord. At least two witnesses had seen the whole event and were only too willing to tell the cops what happened. Apparently, the guys running the wire had allowed it to fall right in front of Bob, just as he was passing under it. They couldn't have done a better job of biker fishing if they'd tried, dropping it to neck height at just the right time.

As Bob says, if the cable had been on the ground, or somewhat lower, he'd have spotted it in advance.

The ambulance men immediately impressed upon Bob the importance of not moving his neck, as something could have been injured that movement could make worse. So he stood there feeling rather foolish, holding his head in one position. They immobilized his neck with a plastic collar, and then strapped him to a full backboard while he was standing. Bob then got an ambulance ride to hospital.

The firemen kept Bob’s helmet, gloves, and bike in the firehouse for me, telling him to "stop by and pick it up whenever you can". They were nice guys.

After being poked and prodded and x-rayed thoroughly at the hospital, Bob checked out OK. Everyone was amazed that he was so uninjured. As Bob says in rather an understatement: "It must have been rather dramatic".

Bob says that if he had a buck from all the people who have told him "you're lucky to be alive", he could have bought himself a new bike to replace his crashed one.

Nowadays, Bob tends to keep a weather eye up lampposts as well as everywhere else!


Some riders have asked about our logo which shows a hand using only two fingers on the brake.

"Shouldn’t you use all four fingers?" they ask.

About 20 years ago the use of two fingers over the brake was indeed dangerous with the use of drum brakes and levers that often came back to the bars when the brake was hot. Our instructors can remember squashing their fingers under hard braking a couple of times until they learned to use all fingers on the brakes. And the early disc brakes weren't all that much better.

But, over the last decade, braking systems have improved dramatically. On Allan Kirk’s Bennelli with its Brembo brakes, he can do a red hot emergency stop using
just two fingers. He says that if he uses four fingers, he is inclined to lock the front wheel!

As you may know, the NZMSC runs riding courses for motorcycle licence applicants at which they are taught high level, tyre gripping limit, emergency braking techniques. Here, where no one can sue for injury owing to our Accident Compensation legislation, we can do that. During these exercises we used to insist on the use of all four fingers on the brakes. Then, in the past decade, we noticed that too many guys on sports bikes were locking the front wheel and going down when they used four fingers. So we started doing what we should have done in the first place - instructed on the results rather than the technique. If the rider of a modern bike with disc brakes
stops as fast as is possible for that bike while using two fingers on the brake then we regard that as OK. Indeed, if the rider keeps locking the front wheel using four fingers, we will suggest he/she try using two fingers (but, at the same time, we will point out that, on some bikes, four finger braking is necessary).

We must be doing something right. Last time we looked, these courses appeared to have reduced the serious crash rate for new riders here in New Zealand's capital by about 40%.

So, as with everything about riding, you do what works best for you and your bike. If, with the use of two fingers on the brake, you can stop as fast as the bike can possibly stop, then that's OK, especially if using four fingers is likely to make you crash!

The most important thing to consider is - What works best?

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New Zealand Motorcycle Safety Consultants
PO Box 26-036, Newlands, Wellington, New Zealand