I am frequently asked, “Can you teach me how to Lay-My-Bike-Down?”
As a motorcycle safety instructor, my first thought is, “WHY?” My next thought goes to the social norm that suggests to consider it. But, really? Let’s go back to, ”WHY?”. When would this ever really be a better technique?
True, there are many o’ myth, many o’ opinion, and many o’ movie that suggest a Lay-The-Bike-Down technique is a practical approach. Some movies even show the rider and bike popping back up and riding safely away. Although AWESOME to watch, reality and facts show a very different story.
Since the late 70s, research has consistently shown that most motorcycle crashes are actually caused by the rider. How do we know this? By investigating the crash and documenting evidence. This evidence consistently shows that the rider wasn’t able:
- to brake effectively,
- to swerve effectively,
- or willing to make any avoidance decision, and rode directly into the hazard. 😦
The reality is that many riders lose control while trying to avoid a hazard. They panic and crash. Often crashing well before the threat! (One I was just reviewing showed a +40’ skid and +50’ slide of bike, before hitting the car.)
So when I hear, “I had to Lay-The-Bike-Down,” facts prove that the rider is MASOCHISTICALLY saying, “I lost traction… and crashed my bike.” (This, however, doesn’t sound so cool to friends and family.)
Let’s take a deeper look into this social norm:
1. It’s true that repetitive training with lots of practice (multiple times per week to maintain minimum proficiency), can help you learn ways to minimize injuries from a fall. Training can also help you learn strategies to avoid FALLING in the first place.
As an example, through Gymnastics, Parkour, Tumbling, or Marital Arts (such as Kung Fu, Judo, Ju-Jitsu, Aikido, Ninpo Taijutsu, Kenpo, Shorei Goju Ryu, Hapkido, Ukemi, Kempo, Jeet Kune Do, etc.) you can learn skills
- 15 different Ukemi techniques (ways of falling) to dissipate harmful forces:
- proper breakfalls and slap-fall landings
- front-falls and shoulder rolls
- general (core) strength and flexibility
- and, the most important of all, the strategy of AWARENESS & AVOIDANCE!
2. Crash and fatality statistics continue to show that most riders have little time to “choose” to Lay-The-Bike-Down as a hazard avoidance technique.
The two realities crash research reveals are:
- the majority of crashes occur within 2-seconds or less of noticing a hazard
(i.e. this doesn’t allow for awareness, evaluation, and reaction time to choose a technique to apply)
- over-reaction via over-braking or unsuccessful swerving can cause an instant loss of traction and drop a bike very quickly
(e.g. a panicked grab of front brake, slam of rear brake, or over-aggressive swerve compromises traction)
So, while trying to research this Lay-The-Bike-Down technique during an off-road course, I intentionally tried to do this…
It ain’t easy to do! The brain says NO! The body fights any effort to intentionally drop the bike.
But IF this is something you want to try, let’s take a look at how a rider would actually Lay-The-Bike-Down:
- First, decide if it is something you really are willing and able to practice –on your own bike?
- Second, what protective gear would you wear to practice continual drops of your bike?
- Third, what method would you use to intentionally initiate a drop technique?
- an overly aggressive “press” of your handlebar?
- an overly aggressive “slam” of your rear brake pedal?
- a panicked “grab” of your front brake?
- a body/shoulder-throw to offset the balance of the bike?
As we know, a sudden loss of traction typically caused by a panicked reaction (i.e. unskilled over-use of controls) can quickly drop your bike. We also know research shows that appropriate and safe(r) hazard avoidance techniques require both skill and time to apply.
So thinking this through, IF a rider has time to
- perceive and evaluate a developing hazardous situation,
- formulate a strategic response to consider variable options
- and, then apply a hazard avoidance technique…
Critical thinking allows us to reason that if a rider intentionally Lays-The-Bike-Down, they have given up all hope. They have given up all traction. They are putting themselves and their bike into a sliding mess of vulnerability and danger. Isn’t it better to apply an effective avoidance technique (brake-to-a-stop or swerve) rather than Lay-The-Bike-Down?
Even slowing (as much as possible) could reduce the crash speed significantly. Even if the rider can’t stop in time, but slows to a negligible speed via quick-stop application, hitting something upright at 5, 10, 15 mph is much safer than sliding into something at 30, 50, 65+.
Some argue that many martial arts and sports teach strategies and techniques for safe(r) falls. While true, one must be aware that a primary discipline taught is the strategy of awareness and avoidance. Prevention of putting yourself in a dangerous/hazardous situation is the easiest way to avoid. My martial arts training always taught me to be aware and always have an “escape”. To quote one of my Sensei’s, “Avoidance by being aware of one’s environment is the first line of self-defense and self-preservation.”
Awareness and escapes are exactly the same for motorcycling. Riders must be aware of potentially hazardous situations to avoid or escape them. Just like martial arts, I promise that staying in control (mental and physical), being aware of hazardous situations, and maintaining traction to escape is a much better choice.
As an Instructor, instead of working with riders to learn how to Lay-The-Bike-Down, I train how to identify hazards early, evaluate a response to neutralize a threat, and control your panic instinct to use effective hazard avoidance techniques.
I invite you to consider a novel and innovative approach that can be applied to all street riding and hazard avoidance skill development. Think about professional motorcycle racers. Think about their abilities, awareness, and techniques. What do the best-of-the-best riders do to train to avoid crashing? DIRT!
Yes, my suggestion to learn about traction, skidding or drifting of tires, navigating shifting surfaces, and developing hazard avoidance skills is to take an off-road (dirt) training class! It may sound like an unusual approach for a street rider; however, it is absolutely true that dirt skills can help street riders be more stable, less reactive, and safe(r). Off-road courses develop skills that can’t easily or safely be taught on pavement.
I challenge you to consider taking off-road/dirt training. I expect, like me, you will learn an amazing amount of control and response that can/will help you be a much better and safer street rider.
Specialty Program Operations
MSF RiderCoach Trainer
+500,000 mile (on and off-road) rider of Honda ST1300A7, Valkyrie Interstate, and KLR705