How to: Ride more safely

We’re coming up on May, which is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. It’s a subject that’s important to us at CMG, so we reached out a selection of riders from a wide range of backgrounds to get their safety tips — stuff that’s kept them in one piece on the streets. You just might learn something here.

Motorcycle safety czar

Raynald’s spent decades as a rider, and he also coordinates the Canada Safety Council’s motorcycling training program oversight, and is involved with several other motorcycle safety initiatives. He says you shouldn’t fire your bike up in the spring and go for an extended ride right away; there could be mechanical problems that only exhibit themselves when the bike is ridden.

“Now, I think that I would ride a shorter piece, and look at the bike again, to make sure things are okay.” This way, you can be sure that everything’s working properly before getting stranded, or worse, far from home.

Keep an eye on your mirrors, says Bondo.
Retired motojournalist, racer
Bondo pays extra attention at intersections and stop signs, he says — he never goes through the intersection after the light turns green until he looks both ways, and even if he’s approaching a green light, he’ll always check both ways to make sure nobody is running a red light. And he keeps a close eye on what’s going on behind him, if he’s stopped at the light.

“I was riding my Honda S90 to college when the cars in front of me stopped for a red light.  I pulled up behind the last car, leaving maybe three-quarters of a car length in front of me of open space. I knew it was a long light so I was sitting in neutral, hands off the bars when I checked my mirrors.  I saw a dump truck growing larger by the second, so I quickly snicked it into first and peeled off into the adjacent gas station just as the dump truck hit the car I was sitting behind.  From that day onward, I always leave almost a car length between a stopped vehicle and myself, and I’m always checking the mirrors.”

Clinton’s been studying motorcycle fatalities for years, and says the three most common factors are riding too fast in the city, being cut off by left-hand turners, and being hit from behind.
Riding instructor

Clinton’s got a whole story’s worth of safety information – he’s been studying motorcycle fatalities in Toronto for 20 years – but here’s one simple piece of advice that expands on Bondo’s theme of watching your tail at a stoplight. Clinton does that, leaving a bike length of space behind the vehicle he stops behind, “just in case you have to launch off and move up between cars to avoid being hit from behind.

“I also install an additional rear light from Admore lighting which enhances visible light for following vehicles.”

Be prepared to adapt to local traffic customs when you’re riding in a foreign country, Tammy says.
Adventure traveler
Tammy has ridden all over the world on-road and off-road, including some of the world’s busiest cities. Her advice for heavy traffic in an unfamiliar metropolis? Don’t hesitate, and keep with the flow:

“Remember that you are expected to squeeze into any available space. If you don’t, the person behind you may run into you, expecting you to go.”

Always leave yourself room for stopping when you’re riding on the street, says Larry.
Retired motojournalist, racer
Despite his many years in the saddle, the crashes Larry’s seen have all been on the track, not the street. That’s because he keeps the excessive speed at the track, and not on public roadways.

“Never over-ride your line of sight … always leave room to brake, and if you’re having fun riding on the street and are using your brakes for the corners, you’re riding too fast.”

Pick a good line and stick with it when you’re on a gravel road, says Rene Cormier. Photo: Paul Brooks
Adventure tour guide, world traveler

René guides riders in South America, Africa and Mongolia, taking motorcyclists into unfamiliar areas and traffic patterns; he says it’s important to fit in to local driving habits.

“Be predictable. If cars are not stopping to let the dude cross the street, you don’t either. If you stop to let him cross, you are going to confuse the cars behind you, the cars in front of you, and the dude.”

Gary likes to hone his skills by going for a rip down a pipeline trail on his DR-Z 400.
Riding instructor
Gary spends his riding season putting noobs through parking lot drills, but once you pass the course, you shouldn’t quit improving your riding techniques, he says.

“Practice your skills! Especially in the spring, but also throughout the season. Make an effort to regularly find a safe area where you can work on emergency stops and swerves, collision avoidance, cornering skills, push steering, and generally getting to know your bike, its quirks, and its limits.”

Sure, that two-wheeled front end helps keep you upright in the wet, but Costa says your eyes are what’s most important.
Motojournalist, racer, riding instructor
Being safe goes beyond bike control skills, Costa says; he believes the best tool you have in your riding survival kit is your vision.

“Use your eyes wisely; always look far ahead, do not fixate on any one item. If you’re following cars, look through their windows at what’s ahead; look over the roof. Use your eyes to recognize and understand what’s going on all around you, be situationally aware all the time.”

Dean’s had more than one close-call with cars pulling U-turns in front of him.
CMG’s new guy
Dean battles the psychotic cagers of the GTA on a regular basis, and says one thing he’s learned is to keep an eye out not just for the dreaded left-handed turners, but also watch for awkward U-turn acrobats.

“One situation that I have found myself in more than once is an oncoming car not only turning left in front of me, but making a full U-turn, thereby entering the lanes in the same direction, not just passing through the intersection. This can be even more dangerous, since the car now takes up one of the escape routes the motorcyclist may have attempted to use to avoid the turning car. ”

Frank says potholes should be tackled aggressively.
Retired dealership owner, riding instructor, adventure rider

Potholes are one of the worst hazards that Canadian riders regularly face. Frank Simon’s battled them coast to coast in Canada for decades, and says you should tackle them aggressively for best results.

“The secret to potholes is to move your weight back slightly, put yourself to the rear, where you have very good throttle response, and skim over them as fast as you can, or as the speed limit allows.”

When Wolfe Bonham heads out to do crazy mileage, he avoids getting stuck behind a transport truck.
Iron Butt Rally rider

Wolfe is a guy who puts down big mileage on long distance rallies, including the Iron Butt Rally, so he’s got a lot of tricks to stay safe. He says he’s very careful to avoid getting stuck behind transport trucks on the highway; even though many riders think this makes them safer, he says it’s actually quite dangerous, because trucks obscure upcoming dangers.

“They don’t swerve for debris, and when you’re tucked in behind them, you can’t see that debris until it’s too late. So that’s something I try to avoid, getting tucked in behind a tractor-trailer on the highway.”

Do you have some advice of your own to share? Let us all know in the comments below.


  1. How you sort the BS from good advice is a tough one to answer with so many self appointed experts ready to speak on how to ride. I have ridden for over 50 years with very little misadventure. I hit a bear when unseen it lept from the ditch so believe me when I say despite your best efforts things can change in an instant. My obsession with wearing top quality protective gear allowed me to live but not unscathed. I have heard many who hold them selves out as pundits of riding knowledge give bad advice so give extra effort to where you get your riding knowledge. I do a lot of driving for work and fear for so many riders I see exibiting a staggering lack of knowledge and skills. Get some good rider training and read the best books on how to ride like Sportbike Riding Techniques. My favorite advice is “make sure you see them see you” and wear lots of gear “dress for the slide not the ride” don’t blame other drivers it’s your responsibility to be sharp, anticipate and be safe

    • As I have said I will have 49 yrs next month with one not my fault accident that took away my career choice. I agree and disagree with points in your post. Not sure where you are Willard or if you would know the problem that has taken the lives of many riders around where I live in Ont. Can. How can you not blame the car driver or even avoid someone turning left in front of you. Over 40 deaths last yr from this very thing. Being sharp, which I can admit I am when I am riding, which I do every day to work, is not going to avoid a car turning left. Sure I am watchful approaching someone ready to turn left and you can slow off in case, but slowing in case gives them reason to turn. I read peoples advice on safe riding, but 49 yrs has taught me well.

      • Well Bill I’d have to say if you hit the car it’s you and if the car hits you then its them. 49 years may have taught you well but like all riders there is lots to learn, every day, every near miss and every dumb ass out there has to be a learning experience so you can learn and ride till your last day. I say ride em like you stole em and be safe as you can

  2. Look where you want to go, not where you are.
    Its too easy to fixate on the 5-10 meters directly ahead of you and miss the bigger picture – doors opening, lights changing, pedestrians walking out from the curb.
    I do a fair bit of city riding, and the sense of entitlement some folks have is astounding.

  3. Steve Bond sort of touched on this , but my advice is to slow down for intersections . This is most likely where an accident can occur . Don’t hit the brakes . Just roll the throttle a few KPH and move to the right of your lane so that you have a more clear escape route if needed .

  4. For traffic on cross streets : keep an eye on his front wheel, as it will help you to better gauge vehicle speed (which can be hard to do when you’re closing with a crossing car). If the wheel doesn’t stop rolling, he’s going to go for it, whether he’s looking at you or not.

  5. These are good pointers.
    I do like Clinton’s example of adding visibility lighting for others, I have done that with my own bikes front and rear for years.
    A short rant on lighting: why on Earth someone would replace decently visible stock running/turn signal lights with those tiny short-stalk mini indicators that are so small and so close to the head or tail lights as to be virtually invisible is beyond me.

  6. I am just 1 1/2 months age 61. Been riding since age 12. So almost 49 yr riding, 45 on the streets legally. I also ride an 88 goldwing GL1500, so not a tiny light bike either. In those yr of riding I have had 1 accident when I was 18 and not fault either. Car ran stop sign on highway. Can you say T-Bone at 80 kph. There is a lot I have learned in my yrs of riding. Also being a former trucker of almost 30 yr, I know distance between you and the vehicle in front is very important for sudden stops, maneuvering around something on the road that the car might straddle, potholes or what ever. In the newsletter it was mentioned about sitting at a light at night behind another vehicle. Seeing a car coming up behind, flash you brake lights so that this car can determine the difference between you and the car. Something that riders will do is put bike in neutral while sitting at a light. Give you clutch hand a break. That’s all well and fine, but if you are the last vehicle in line, not a good idea. Some may know about this when sitting behind a car at a light. If you are last in line, Leave space between you and leave in gear and watch mirror. If someone is not paying attention coming up behind, you can quickly get of the way. Either at a light or traveling down our 4 lane main street here, I always look for an escape route in case someone decides to change lanes and do not see you or hear you. Have had to use driveways into parking lots before. Hope some of this might help.

  7. Ride further back from vehicles in front than you normally drive so you can decelerate slowly (4 second rule). This also increases reaction time for drivers behind you. If you are being tailgated, ride even further back or pull over and let them hassle the driver formerly in front of you.

  8. In Toronto, I’ve noticed myself mentally categorizing vehicle and driver types by threat level. When I see certain vehicles or vehicle-driver combos, I prepare for additional mayhem and am usually proven right. This is my ever-changing list, from most dangerous to slightly less dangerous (also includes geo-threats and others):

    – BMW sports-cars, esp. modded, aftermarket exhaust, paddle-shift, convertibles — two young dudes indicates 2x ego factor
    – VW cars, the louder the pipes, the greater the menace
    – Beck taxis, count on sudden U-turns and pulling across two lanes without signalling, mirror or shoulder checks for street fares waving them down. Be triple aware when competing taxis are nearby and see fare waving
    – Audi/BMW SUVs, esp. driven by blonde women — aggressive, impatient, ready to race
    – Japanese tuner cars driven by young men, esp when in pairs
    – Economy cars, esp. worn-out old domestics like Sunfires, driven by mean, aggressive morans (those too stupid to spell “moron” correctly)
    – Minivans, esp, dirty, banged up or rusty ones driven by riled up middle-aged-to-old men
    – Pickup trucks, esp very clean ones driven by non-tradesmen — have 500+hp and the urge to demonstrate it
    – Medium-sized urban delivery trucks, like Hinos — drivers are rushed, late, on the phone, looking for addresses
    – Luxury SUVs/convertibles like Lexus, Mercedes and BMW helmed by real estate agents, often blondes with big hair, on phones, texting, very sloppy and inconsistent, but fortunately in quite low numbers
    – Uber/Lyft cars, weak driving skills, not watching traffic conditions, looking for addresses, etc.
    – Cops — often don’t signal, run yellows and stop signs, do U-turns in dangerous places like over hill crests without their emerg lights on
    – Driving on the 401 either way between Whitby and Pickering there are always extra-aggressive speeders and incompetents
    – Mississauga city thoroughfares — drivers are rich, out to lunch, speeding incompetently, pulling out into fast-moving traffic and not accelerating sufficiently fast. This region is to be feared if you’re caught riding in the rain at night, esp watch big intersections
    – Elderly folk in sedans — slow reflexes, not fully aware, bad vision, low ability to gauge vehicular velocity — give them space and patience ‘cuz they’re old and you will be too one day
    – Old, damaged and dirty vehicles can signal potential mental/emotional health or intelligence shortcomings reflected in driving technique
    – Anything with a big-haired female driver, suggests extra vanity, meaning sun visor or rear view mirror may be deployed to apply makeup on the fly
    – Anything with weed smoke wafting out the window
    – Anything that takes too long to go at red lights or in heavy traffic — indicates a texter; don’t get in front of this person
    – Anything with blackened windows — no way to make eye contact, so assume they don’t see you
    – Motorcycles… from 7pm till 2am on the night of a Moto Social

    I upgraded to a rally car horn (@120dB) and a Baja Designs XL80 LED 9500-lumen dimmable headlight. These have helped me be seen/noticed immensely. I toot “politely” at any developing threat. It usually resolves. I don’t provoke anger. I try not to get mad, but if I do, I pull over somewhere safe and shaded, kill motor, take off helmet and gloves, listen to birdies, call wife — tell her I love her, calm down before continuing.

    • fantastic and comprehensive observation of Toronto drivers….Perhaps ad the young man in his big and blacked out sports SUV with eastern disco music blaring out….and ready to side swipe you….always in a hurry and not aware….or just doesn’t care about others

  9. Learn to ride and brake to locking with two fingers on the brake, it will cut down response time significantly.

    Do some time on a dirt bike to learn how to handle loss of traction front or rear.

    Don’t ride to your limits; ride well below your limits, so you can up the ante to your limits in a panic situation.

    • Most courses teach (and most safety experts agree) that riding with your fingers (even 2) on the brake is a BAD idea, because one unexpected pothole or bump could easily cause you to jam on the front brake, with predictable results. At MOST, you should COVER the front brake when a potential issue arises.

      • Been down this road before. They are wrong. It is a skill to be learned, they should figure it out and teach it. I’ve hit many potholes with two fingers in contact with brake, it does not put more force on the lever if you rest your fingers on top.

        • + 1 on covering the brake, in spite of what others may say it has saved me on several occasions from the left turners. As for the potential upset by pot holes, I and many much faster guys ride in the woods with the front brake covered, and have done so for many years without accidentally grabbing a hand full.

      • Those so-called experts and safety courses are wrong. I have no idea how a bump could cause you to jam on the front brake unless you really don’t know what you’re doing. I’ve taught a couple of courses and read a lot of material from others and I’ve never heard of this.

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