Riding Right: Avoiding Hazards

The skinny on the swerve

By Susan Rzepka Orion

Why did the chicken cross the road? To see if you could swerve.

Pot holes, road kill, an inattentive motorist who decides to make a left turn in that intersection right in front of you. If you ride a street motorcycle, the odds are extremely high that someday soon something will jump directly into your path of travel, and youll need to execute a swerve to avoid a collision.

Coming into a swerve you should sit up tall holding your body erect, keep your feet on the pegs and press your knees against the tank. Never brake or slow down when executing a swerve.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation defines a swerve as two consecutive countersteers: one to avoid the hazard, and one to recover and put you back on a safe path of travel. Sounds reasonable, but what exactly is countersteering?

Countersteering means to press down and away from you on the handgrip in the direction you want to go to avoid the hazard. Press right, go right. Press left, go left. For a swerve to be effectively executed, firm pressure must be applied as you press down and forward on each of the handgrips. Press first on one grip, then on the other, in rapid succession.

The technique is similar to pressing on the handgrip when you lean with the motorcycle on a curved path of travel. In a swerve, however, you do not lean with the motorcycle. The pressure you apply to the handlebars causes the motorcycle to change its path of travel more quickly without your body entering the equation. Your body remains upright, independent of the motorcycle lean. Stay tall, hold your body erect, keep your feet on the pegs and press your knees against the tank. Let the motorcycle do a little dance underneath you.

Press hard on the grip, stay upright and steady on the throttle.

As always, when you execute a swerve, dont forget to look where you want to go. In the case when you need to swerve, you want to go into the area of safety, which is toward an escape route, and not into the hazard. Its unfortunate that riders often have a natural tendency to stare directly at the very object they want to avoid, but its a habit that can be broken with practice.

How many times have you seen a nasty pot hole in the road, looked right at it, and then scratched your head wondering how on earth you managed to roll right through it? Well, say a chicken crossed the road right in front of you. If you didnt want to hit the chicken, you wouldnt look at it once youve identified it was there. Instead, you would concentrate on avoiding the chicken while staying on the road. You would look toward the area of safety, say, to the right of that chicken. You would not fixate on the chicken crossing the road; you would concentrate on the road and swerve.

Look through the path of travel. Don#39;t fixate on the hazard you#39;re swerving around.

Another action to avoid when swerving is braking. Any braking during the swerve can be dangerous. If you must stop or slow, wait until the motorcycle is completely straight before braking. Maximum traction may be required to execute a life-saving swerve maneuver, which leaves little traction left for braking. A touch of the brakes when the tires are leaned over in an emergency swerve can be enough to cause the motorcycle to go down. Even engine braking may force the tires beyond their traction limits. Stay steady on the throttle. Do not decelerate and risk destabilizing your motorcycles suspension, stability and control.

In some cases you may have to slow down or stop, then swerve to avoid the hazard. If this is the case, be sure to separate these two lifesaving actions. When both swerving and braking are required, you can either slow down using both brakes first, then get off the brakes while you swerve around the obstacle. Or swerve hard to avoid the obstacle then brake hard in a straight line to bring the motorcycle to a quick stop.

Statistics show that at speeds above 18 mph, swerving may be more effective than braking to avoid a hazard. And crash analysis findings from the Hurt Report show that the skill most notably absent in avoidable crashes is the ability to countersteer to execute a swerve. A rider who can properly execute the swerve technique can avoid a car-sized obstacle in less distance than it takes to stop the motorcycle. Riders should maintain a safety cushion at all times so adequate time and space are available to execute evasive actions when necessary.

Press the opposite grip to recover into a safe path of travel after executing the swerve.

One way to avoid situations that require evasive maneuvers is to employ an aggressive search strategy. Scan the road around you for factors that might pose a hazard, and evaluate the constantly changing situation. Scan two, four, even 12 seconds ahead of you. Make sure you can see as much of the road around you as road and traffic conditions will permit. And check your mirrors. Stay in view with a view. And watch out for that chicken!

Susan Rzepka Orion is a certified MSF RiderCoach and Riders Edge Instructor who loves to ride, write, and help others who want to do the same. You can find her on the road on her Yamaha V Star 1100 Custom or on the web at WritingWays.com.

9 thoughts on Riding Right: Avoiding Hazards

  1. I'm new to the Web site and new to your articles, Susan. This was a well written and very informative article on proper swerving technique.

    As someone who's not yet behind bars (soon, soon!), I was wondering, is there a difference in technique when there's a passenger? And, what should the passenger do – and not do – to help facilitate a safe swerve?

    1. I can't say enough about how important it is for the passenger in the back to understand proper riding technique, too! In general, the passenger should do whatever the rider does. Stick with him or her like glue. Whatever you do while you're hanging out in the back can and will affect the safety and enjoyment of your ride.

      In the case of a swerve, the rider is making the motorcycle lean underneath you while you and the rider stay as upright as possible. You don't want to lean into or away from the swerve. Just stay upright with the rider as not to upset the balance of the bike. Make no sudden moves or shifts of weight. If possible, hold onto the rider instead of the bike to stay more closely aligned. You are a team!

      You can also take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Experienced Rider Course right along with your riding buddy as a passenger on the back of his or her bike. It's an excellent way for both rider and passenger to lean how to react as a team in all kinds of riding situations. The rider and passenger get to do maneuvers like cornering, quick-stopping, and swerving together as a unit. Visit your state's rider education site or the msf-usa.org.

  2. Thanks for the tips. I just took my test and overshot the U turn and drove out of the path. I'm sure if I didn't look through the turn or didn't apply the counter steering method. Maybe both. I will work on this this weekend with a one-on-one instructor who can pinpoint my weakness and hopefully be able to get it right and move on. Thanks

  3. I like the way there are pictures and specific details that are understandable to put into effect immediately. Thanks!

  4. Will be taking (actually re-taking) the Rider's Edge class next month, and look forward to practicing countersteering as well as all the other manuevers. Last year, on my third ever excursion on my brand new Low Rider, a cat darted out and across a secondary road right in front of me. I was doing 45 mph and I'm sure I countersteered since I avoided the cat and stayed upright — but it all happened so fast you hardly have time to THINK about what to do.

    I was just a couple weeks out of Rider's Edge so the technique was still fresh in my mind. So before the season gets going again, I'm taking a refresher course. It's well worth the time and money to me.

  5. Very grateful for this source of information. Years of asking the husband just does not compare to the service you offer in this (empowering) format.
    I still have issues with the gyro-scopic principals though.

    Here near Yosemite, we have an abundance of road hazzards from suicide squirrels to tourism. The 'swerve' is a way of life in the mountains. Thanks!

  6. Wow! This article put it all together for me. I took a riding course but never truly understood the rationale of countersteering until you spelled it out in detail. Thanks for your great articles keep them coming. Great to read and learn.

  7. Great tips! I always try to practice my swerves with the many potholes and debris on my Florida roadways! Love the articles! Keep 'em comin'!

  8. Thanks so much for the great articles. I do enjoy reading them and then passing them on to my other lady rider friends.

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