I’ve clocked around 500 miles in my month-and-a-bit as a biker, and so far, it’s been extremely rewarding. I get to work in less than half the time as public transport, commuting is finally fun, and I’ve saved a lot of money and frustration on train fares and delays.
You can read more about my experience on two wheels here, but now I want to tell you about a few bad biker habits that have crept in. So consider the following three points a kind of wake up call to not only me, but to new riders too.
One of the hidden ‘benefits’ of driving a car in a built up area like London is the relentless traffic that cripples your speed. The trade off, of course, is frustration, wasted fuel and diminished life, but at least you’ll come home with a clean license…
On two wheels, however, progress isn’t particularly hampered by traffic. That’s because a bike’s tiny footprint and effortless performance make overtaking and speeding easy and, dare I say it, enjoyable.
Now don’t get me wrong…I don’t ride around at 60mph in a 30mph zone, but I do find myself overstepping the limit by a few mph on many roads, so this is something I need to be a lot more aware of.
I also need to stop thinking about cars as things I have to overtake. Many bikers I’ve followed have this mentality, and it’s crept into my riding which means the likelihood of breaking speed limits (and bones) is raised even futher.
Over 500 miles, I can say I’ve had three “oh shit” moments. The first was when a school run mum in a Volvo XC90 pulled out of a side road and nearly knocked me off, the second and third times were my own fault which I’ll get to in my next point.
Since the Volvo issue - and with my growing confidence on the bike - my reaction to careless drivers has switched from being scared to getting angry, and this is something I need to work on too, because riding angry means riding dangerously (for me at least).
To give you an example, I was heading into central London yesterday on the A40 dual carriageway. I spotted a guy in a VW Touareg who was switching lanes multiple times without indicating, so I approached with caution.
As I went to overtake in the fast lane, he pulled out without indicating again and then straddled both lanes until I was past him. I didn’t want to take any chances that his manoeuvre was a fluke, so as I rode past, I bipped my horn twice to make my presence known.
As I did this, he screamed a word at me that rhymes with ‘runt’, to which I didn’t take very kindly. And so instead of letting this runt have his moment, I pulled along side and told him what I thought of him. I then rode off in anger, which meant that my throttle hand was twisted more than usual, at which point I had to chill out and remember that I was sitting on an engine with no crumple zones.
Maybe I should take up meditation…
Remember me saying ‘the second and third times were my own fault which I’ll get to in my next point’ above? Well, they relate to braking distances or, in my case, the lack thereof.
The Highway Code states that at 30mph, the braking distance of a bike should be 23 metres or six car lengths, while at 40mph, these climb to 36 metres or nine car lengths. As for me, I spend much of my time at 40mph, giving myself no more than three car lengths (the recommended distance for 20mph) braking distance.
This is no good, as I found out twice in a matter of two minutes when two cars suddenly halted in front of me, giving me very little reaction time to lower my speed.
Had I been on a crappy old 125, I’m sure I’d have been in the back of at least one of those cars, which is testament to the safety of the Honda MSX I’ve currently got on loan, because trust me when I say I made full use of its front brake.
Since these moments, I’ve allowed more distance between cars, but I’m still way off what’s recommended. Still, since writing this and admitting that my attitude to riding needs work, I’ve become more patient and observant, which should help keep me safe.
Is anyone else going through the same experience as me? I’d be keen to know how you’re dealing with bad habits.