6 May 2014

Five Things Non-Motorcyclists Don't Know About Biking

For car, van and HGV drivers who don't ride a motorcycle we bikers can appear to be annoying, weird, wear odd clothes and wilfully undertake something that is inherently dangerous.  Only the last of these is true.  Here are five things non-bikers don't know about motorcycling.

You see, smell and hear a lot more than anyone else

Being on a motorcycle means you aren't encased in a steel box with snugly fitting windows, pollen filters and climate control.  You wear a helmet which, in order to stop from steaming up has lots of gaps in it.  The first thing to hit you when you ride a bike is that you can smell so much more than in a car.  I can smell rain coming before the first drop hits.  Also, out of sense of self-preservation your senses are acutely acclimatised to what's going on around you so your hearing and vision is utilised so much more than when you're in the safety of a car.

Bikes aren't as economical as you might think

Bikes may weigh less and have much smaller engines than cars but most return dismal miles per gallon.  My Triumph weighs 150kg and has a 675cc engine with 100bhp yet it will do 40mpg at best. Sports bikes will return 20-30mpg.  This is due to the fact bike engines generally rev very high (my Triumph red-lines at 14,000rpm), the power band is normally high and we don't often cruise - we go up and down the gears much more so than in a car.  Most bikes will do 100 to 150 miles on a tank of fuel.

The 'rules' for cars and other vehicles are different for motorcycles

Double white lines stop cars overtaking.  They're sensibly placed to prevent head on collisions.  But bikes are both narrower and accelerate much faster than almost all cars.  This means we can often overtake when double whites are present quite safely, and sometimes without even crossing the lines. Also, speed cameras normally see the front of a vehicle, and a bike doesn't have a front number plate.  The police often ignore bikers going quickly on main roads because they know most bikers stick to the limit in villages and built up areas whereas a lot of car drivers don't.  Many other rules and laws can quite safely be flouted or ignored, not that I'm condoning that kind of behaviour.

It takes more skill and intelligence to ride a motorcycle than drive a car

Bikes are inherently unstable, they go a lot faster than cars and their contact patch is tiny.  Under heavy braking the entire force of the bike is focussed on a piece of the front tyre no larger than a credit card.  Add in incompetent motorists, mindless pedestrians and wilfully ignorant cyclists and bikers have to be alert 100% of the time, and have the skills to ride in every condition.  If you're braking or cornering on a bike and hit a patch of gravel or mud you will go down.  The skill is avoiding these hazards, and then dealing with them when they arrive.  Driving, meanwhile, can be done with one arm, one foot and a tiny proportion of the brain switched on.

Motorcycling is sometimes extremely miserable

Riding a motorcycle can feel like the best thing in the world, and the worst.  I once toured Scotland, did 1400 miles in four days. It was fantastic - except the last 100 miles were amongst the most horrible 2 hours I've ever experienced.  I'd already ridden 300 miles in a day when I arrived at my brother's house, and had to be at work the next day. It was 8pm when I set off on the 200 mile trip home.  It went dark at 9pm-ish and the rain started shortly after.  It was summer so the roads were surfaced in dust and silt, which was kicked up by the trucks and cars right onto my visor. I had to stop every few miles to clean it so I could see.  I was also tired, wet and frozen to the marrow.  The same thing happened at the end of a trip to the Isle of Man when I rode home through the night.  If you've never ridden a bike when you're tired, wet and cold you have yet to experience true misery.

Thanks to @philxj4l and @king_driving for the photos!

By Matt Hubbard