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Risk Hierarchy: Information - Rider Ed - Driver Ed - Conspicuity - Bike Defect - Ultra-Defensive Riding - Crash Avoidance - Injury Mitigation - Crash Scene
Ultra Defensive Riding (See this without tabs here)bikesafer.com Contact Us Sitemap <<<<
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We broke this out for you. The strategies tab outlines basic strategies and training for ultra defensive riding, and introduces the MSF Scan - Evaluate - Execute cycle. It's important to keep your eyes moving all the time. This works better with our peripheral vision, and if we stop swiveling eyes and head, we'll fixate on a single object.
Ultra-defensive riding will work for you if you have had the appropriate biker education.
Ride safe. Ride safer if you can.
- Scan Plan
- Threat Matrix
- Scan List
- Group Riding
- Other Animals
This area is directly related to Rider Education and Training. We recommend, at a minimum, that all riders take a Basic Rider Course and any other advanced rider training you like, see the Rider Ed section.
There is no substitute for training.
We suggest some basic strategies.
- The MSF scan - evaluate - execute process (download MSF training manuals). This helps us maintain a mental map of the road situation, including other road users and possible sources of risk.
- Assume that other drivers are out to get you. Motorcyclecruiser.com on street paranoia. This strategy follow's Sun Tsu's advice, to pay attention to your enemy's capabilities rather than assuming his intentions. Some bikers I know, like my buddy Special ED, follow this strategy. Of course, this could be carried too far. We still recommend conspicuity rather than the camouflage that might be suggested by this approach.
- Follow the pilot's strategy of flying from one potential crash landing site to another. This is also a Special ED strategy that I have heard from other bikers. It fits in with the MSF scan - evaluate - execute process, in that one of the things being looked for and evaluated is ways out of the current traffic situation. In effect, the mental map created by SEE now includes potential safer places which are pre-evaluated and ready to roll out in an emergency.
- Use the rules of the road. Clearly indicate your intentions and ride in a courteous and predictable way.
- Group Riding is partly a safety strategy. It has many potential safety benefits. Those cited include creating a more conspicuous presence and maybe getting more respect from other road users. Most groups have safety policies, and riders can help each other with advice and extra eyes looking out for bike defect and road hazards. It must be said that there are also extra risks in group riding, including crashes with other bikes in the group. As always, training is the key to reducing risk. We have a special section on group riding (see tab).
We put some notes on the elements of Scan - Evaluate - Execute process in the tabs above.
- the Scan Plan is an interactive visual road plan with clickable SEE notes.
- The Threat Matrix shows the tactical levels in SEE and prioritizes the tactical levels of ultra defensive riding
- the Scan List is a text version of the scan plan.
- Maneuvers is a series of articles on executing the actions you need to get you and the bike towards your destination.
- Group Riding is a special section on the Group Riding strategy.
- Highway is a special section on restricted-access highway riding and trucks.
There are a huge number of resources you can find on the Web and by talking to old bikers, and we have a selection of these.
Check if you are ready to ride.
Ride safe. Ride safer if you can.
click vehicles and objects for the Search - Evaluate - Execute notes. The notes open in a new window, use the Close button to continue.
The idea is we scan down the matrix, but anything from a higher level pre-empts the scan. For example, if we are checking for Active Conspicuity and time comes up for a maneuver, the maneuvers tab comes into play. Similarly, if a crash causation comes up, dealing with that takes priority. Otherwise we are executing the SEE strategy under the various headings.
Urgency Scan for Evaluate Execute Accident Avoidance All crash causations Go to Crash Avoidance section Maneuvering Maneuvering requirements Safe to make intended maneuver? Execute maneuver as per maneuvers section Active Conspicuity Objects blocking line of sight Can the driver of all vehicles in the area see you? Maneuver to increase your visibility to a driver Space Cushion Vehicles in or near your time/space cushion. Can you maneuver to increase your space cushions? Maneuver to increase your time/space cushion
List of steet situations in the Scan Plan
These all open in a new window, use Close Button to return.
Strategy for Maneuvers
These articles are probably all you need for maneuvers. We've included a couple of articles on countersteering. Bikers make a big deal about countersteering, and sagely offer advice and explanations to new bikers. Thing is, you don't need to understand countersteering to ride your bike. On most bikes, over 15 MPH or so, if you are turning, you used countersteering. It is natural and automatic. If you rode a bike when young, you learned it then. Much better to read the Beter Motorcycling posts on Safe Cornering and Making a Turn below. Read the countersteering articles if you are interested in the physics of the situation.
Braking is important. Promocycle Montreal on Optimal Braking describes the result of experiments they did to find out the most effective way perform an emergency stop. The sequence is:
1) Close the throttle.
2) Apply the rear brake.
3) Straighten the bike to be completely vertical, straighten your body, brace yourself and position fingers and feet - can be started during 1 and 2.
4) Apply the front brake with appropriate pressure, increasingly harder as the brake bites and the front of the bike dips.
We would add: as the weight transfers forward, the front wheel applies more of the braking force and the rear wheel has less weight on it. We need to let off the rear brake progressively to avoid locking it up. In other words, the maximum effect of the rear brake is during the first part of the braking process. But this is an important contribution, as it helps to start moving the weight of the bike forward, and Promocycle found that omitting the rear brake seriously reduces braking performance.
The important thing to note is that, if you plan to use this sequence when you have to do an emergency stop, the routine needs to be practiced into muscle memory. It's important to use this same sequence every time you stop, so that when you need it in an emergency you'll deploy it without thinking. The above information is from "Task Analysis for Intensive Braking of a Motorcycle in a Straight Line" by Promocycle Foundation, Canada, and is based on research.
Problems during Braking:
You can lock up the front or rear wheel. If you lock up the rear wheel, the only thing to do is to keep it locked, steer the bike straight, and ride it to a stop. Here's Better Motorcycling on rear skids. Don't let it off. A front wheel lock, on the other hand, according to the WebBikeWorld article cited, needs to be dealt with by letting off the brake until the lock releases. Not dealing with a front wheel lock risks a lowside.
References for Maneuvering.
Deciding to ride in a group has safety aspects.
The claim given for groups is that a large group of bikes is easier to see, a conspicuity benefit. If the group is well organized, riders also claim that they get more respect on the road.
We've seen situations where a following rider (Turbo Rabbit on the right) pointed out serious bike defects, such as a flat tire, and stopped the group to deal with it. In our experience, hanging out with more experienced riders is a good way to learn useful riding skills and lore.
We caution that there are some extra risks when riding in groups, mainly when bikes in the group crash into each other. Here's an example, where a pack of 26 bikers in Oregon tailgated a cage. The first two bikers managed to avoid the stopped vehicle ahead, but at least ten following bikes hit the stopped vehicle and each other, with ten seriously injured and an unknown additional number of bikes down. They were not allowing enough following distance, one of our peeves, but very common with riding groups. The point here is that a group with poor leadership or containing too many unskilled riders is a very dangerous place to be, so assess the group you plan to join very carefully.
The following sections outlines what to look out for when looking for a group to ride with.
We have had tons of run riding with groups. There is some security in numbers and it is good to have riding buddies to yakk it up with during breaks and at the end of a day's hard riding.
How Groups Work
Each group is headed by a Lead Bike or Road Captain, and tailed by a Drag Bike or Tailgunner. The group should have provided written or web instructions before the ride, study them before turning up. If a new rider is present, the ride leader should give a safety briefing, explaining procedures and demonstrating hand signals.
Most groups use a staggered formation, where the lane is shared by two rows of bikes alternating at usually one-second intervals, the 'State Trooper' formation. Some groups use a side-by-side 'parade' formation. Unless you are very experienced and know your partner, avoid side-by-side formation rides.
When joining a new group, judge it by the clarity of the way the riding instructions are presented. Lead and drag riders should be skilled. There should not be too many novice group riders, and the lead rider should engage them, assess their group riding experience, and provide any coaching or information the new riders need.
Once on the road, the safety and cohesion of the group is maintained by fixed procedures for group maneuvers, and signalling the lead rider's intention using hand signals. You can download a simple guide to standard hand signals here. The hand signals are relayed back, and everyone knows what to do.
As the ride leader will tell you, you are riding your own ride. If, at any time, you are uncomfortable with the way the ride is being conducted, the speed or any sloppiness in the riders near you, you can and should leave the ride.
You also have the ability to initiate a signal yourself. An example of this would be someone needing more room passing a truck. The left-index-finger-up 'single file' signal can be done, and all riders behind you should lose the stagger and go to full 2-second, single file intervals. We at BikeSafer.com are very wary about passing trucks in staggered formation, as the sublane near the truck is a dangerous place. See our highway strategy page for more on that. Feel free to express any reservations to the lead rider prior to a ride and request single-file when passing trucks. It is the only safe way to go.
Except for the overview above, we are leaving our description of group riding at this purposely high level. We are not providing detailed instructions on group riding. This is because each group has slightly different practices, and it might be dangerous to make assumptions. If you want to ride with a group, find the group and study their printed or on-line group riding instructions very carefully before joining a ride. Seek out the ride leader, inform him of your experience in group riding and give him or her a chance to coach you. Your first group ride is not a place and time for machismo.
How to find a riding group
If you are looking for a local group to join, ask your local bike dealers. They might sponsor a local chapter of the manufacturer-affiliated riding group, or refer you to the local chapters of national riding groups. There are groups for special interests and particular styles of riding. They are not hard to find. Check for a clear safety policy before you turn up for a ride, and assess the competence of the ride leaders and other riders. Here's MicaPeak.com's rather complete list of riding groups. A bunch of my riding buddies like Southern Cruisers Riding Club, which has local chapters all over the US and abroad.
Be aware of the difference between a Motorcycle Club(MC) and a Riding Club(RC). MCs wear colors, induct pledges and are sometimes one-percenters. Riding Clubs sometimes wear patches (never colors), don't require a pledge process, are never one-percenters, and often support a charity. Read Wikipedia on MCs. Be careful out there, sometimes knowing a little about colors protocol can save your ass. Be aware of any MC affiliations your riding club might have, and which other MCs might take exception to your patch. And don't run your mouth or engage in any body contact if there are MC guys around, unless you know about MC protocol.
And don't be the rider behind the loud guy with straight pipes, your ears will ring by the end of the day.
There is weather that no-one should be riding in - thunderstorms, tornados, tropical storms, icy conditions and high winds. The reluctance of riders to set out in bad weather is well known. We often find ourselves navigating around storms and changing our schedules to avoid rain. In Europe, home of the Maids study, bike and scooter commuters commonly have fall-back plans for bad weather. Public transport ridership increases on rain days, and many riders have fallback carpools. In the USA, where riding is more of a pleasure activity, local rides are often cancelled for weather, and some riding groups have rules to that effect.
We think that the reduced number of riders in the rain masks the effect of bad weather on accident statistics. Unless a study makes a major effort to estimate reductions in ridership during the rain, the studies won't notice an increase in crashes per rider-mile in the rain. In fact, there might be a reduction due to fewer riders. We think that the Southern California location of the Hurt study had a lot to do with this, and the omission was repeated in Maids, but was corrected in Thailand, where the monsoon months bring the subject of rain to the forefront.
The Thailand study had an enhanced population control method, which accounted for rain, and found:
Rain was an infrequent cause factor because most riders did not ride in the rain... However, when it was present, adverse weather often contributed to accident causation. In the 18 cases in which the weather was inclement (i.e., raining) it contributed to accident causation in 12 of those cases, usually by limiting the rider’s ability to see.
-- Motorcycle Accident Causation And Identification Of Countermeasures In Thailand, V.I. Kasantikul, 2001.
We also think that we quickly train ourselves in what's needed for rainy riding. If we ride as usual, we'll soon go down. We might survive one or two put-downs in the rain, as the lowered friction and bulky rain gear might allow us to skid to a halt without road rash. We don't recommend experimenting with this. It won't take long for nature to teach us a hard lesson in rain riding.
Wet sufaces mean reduced friction between tires and road. You can't lean as far into a turn, so you have to take them slower. Braking and acceleration has to be more gentle. We need to practice even more defensive riding than usual, because we need more time and distance to speed up and slow down.
Our ability to see is compromised when visors, goggles and windshields fog up and become coated with rain. Manufacturers often say not to use an anti-fog product on polycarbonate and other transparent plastic equipment. In fact, you should not use a product designed for glass on these plastics. The good news is that there are a variety of sprays and wipes on the market which do not harm plastics. I use stuff my optican gives out free, designed for plastic and polcarbonate eyeglasses. These products combat misting and cause raindrops to coalesce, where their greater weight makes them fall off faster. Other folks recommend the diver's remedy, to wipe spit on the plastic. This works, but I never seem to have enough spit for my windshield.
The owners forum for your bike or equipment may have more on what works on your gear, and some equipment manufacturers recommend or supply specific products for their gear.
The Thailand study identified issues with rider visibility, rather than friction issues, as the major cause of rain accidents, but these factors are related. Reduced friction requires more reaction time, and reduced visibility reduces reaction time.
You and your bike are even harder to see in the rain. If you have modified your bike lighting for conspicuity and are wearing bright gear, that's a start, but the actve conspicuity measures in this section become more important too, and you might consider using hazard flashers in extreme conditions. If you can't be seen, maybe it's time to pull over and wait it out.
Getting wet is a comfort factor, and when it's cold also a safety factor, due to exposure. Our injury mitigation section has information on riding gear. If their gear is not rainproof, most bikers carry rain gear. This is an individual matter as bikes vary in offering rain protection via windshields and fairings. Consider getting highy conspicuous gear as you need the extra brightness in the rain.
High winds and gusting cross-winds deserve mention. Unless we are in extreme winds, where we should not be riding, wind generally is not a threat. Winds tend to throw us off course and we might wander in the lane, but most riders soon learn to counter wind gusts and crosswinds. Many new riders think wind is very scary. There are risks involved, especially in highway driving around trucks, and when riding in a group. When these factors are combined, the problem is worse.
Wind is different for everyone. Lighter bikes and ones with fairings and windshields are affected more by wind, and the effects increase with speed. Novice riders generally have fewer of the skills needed to ride a straight line in wind.
Trucks are large windblocks. When passing a truck, you can get sudden blasts of wind through the gap between tractor and trailer,and at both ends of the truck, and these effects can be worsened by slipstream from the truck itself. This gets worse when topping hills and on bridges, and prarieland seems to always have high winds.
We recommend assuming that your bike will wander in high winds and when passing trucks. The best bet is to use the center of your lane. In the case of group riding, this is even more of a problem, as wandering into another bike is an additional danger. If the ride leader does not put the group in single file, any rider is allowed by the protocol to issue the 'single file' hand signal whenever he or she is concerned by wind and/or truck passing issues. It is part of 'riding your own ride'. Your ride leader, if he is paying attention, will probably do something like passing fewer trucks or issuing the 'single file' command himself when he sees riders asking for 'single file'.
If the wind is not bad enough to put your bike down, management of the bike space window to allow for bike wander is essential. In time, riders learn to automatically correct for wind wander, and the wind gets less scary.
A combination of wind and rain makes everything worse, and it is often necessary to slow down as wind corrections consume a percentage of the already reduced tire traction.
If you are on the highway and unable to maintain highway speeds because of wind and/or rain, consider getting off the road until conditions improve. Low visibility is a frequent cause of freeway crashes, and bikes, because of the conspicuity issues we taked about, are even more vulnerable to rear-end collisions in foul weather. We consider riding slower than the average slow-lane speed on restricted-access highways to be extremely dangerous for this reason.
Strategy for Restricted Access Highways
Riding on restricted access highways is in some ways simpler than city streets and highways. Except for the very occasional vehicle that crosses the median, most traffic is heading in the same direction and there are no cross-streets.
There are a lot of over-the-road trucks. I had a recent opportunity to observe truck behavior over a few thousand miles, and I talked to Bubba Strawn, experienced biker, SCRC West Tennessee Second Officer and truck driver for this section. See our Truck Issues page for background on truck blind spots, and motorcyclecruiser.com's article.
It's important to understand truck drivers. They are making a tough living driving these huge vehicles, which have diesel engines and maybe 18 gears. They have a narrow power band, and diesels are most efficient when run at a constant speed. Truck drivers want to sit in the slow lane and cruise all day. It is a real pain in the neck to have to slow down, and get back up to cruising speed.
Truck drivers will move into the overtaking lane if they have to overtake something slow, if they see activity such as a stalled vehicle or flashing lights on the right shoulder or if a vehicle is coming up an on-ramp ahead of them.
There is a big blind spot behind a truck, extending at least 25 feet, and a trucker can see objects in his left mirror better than the right. There is often a large blind spot to the right of a truck and a smaller one to the left, depending on how the trucker has set up his mirrors. Small objects like a bike on front of a truck might be hard to see also. If following a truck, don't tailgate and stay to the left sublane of your lane so the driver can see you easier. Watch for 'alligators' and other road debris thown up by thr truck tires.
If you come up on a truck, and intend to overtake, approach in the passing lane. Give the trucker time to see you in his left mirror. You should be able to see the trucker's face. Wait four of five seconds to allow the trucker to go through a complete scan cycle, or until you make eye contact in the mirror.
When waiting for the trucker to see you, take a look at what the trucker is seeing. Look for flashing lights on the shoulder or stopped vehicles, upcoming exits and on-ramps and slow vehicles ahead. Anticipate any possible lane change from the trucker. It is courteous to flash the trucker on if he uses his turn signal. If you have a modulator, the trucker might assume that you have, in fact, flashed him on, as a short view of a modulated headlight looks like it is flashing. As you are probably on the road having fun and the trucker is working, be kind and let him make his move if he wants to.
Wait until any vehicles in front of you has finished passing the truck before you make your move. Once you decide it is safe to pass, accelerate and complete the maneuver as quickly as possible. Pass either in the center of your lane, if it is windy, or as far from the truck as possible otherwise. Don't linger passing a truck, as truck tires blowing out are often fatal to bikers. An 'alligator' from a busted truck tire has a lot of kinetic energy and sharp steel bands embedded in it. Think in terms of someone throwing a chainsaw at you. They say that the warning sigh of a truck tire about to blow is a rhythmic 'whump' noise, but I don't know of any biker who has heard this and lived, so this might not be accurate. Any unusual noise from a truck tire is a signal to get away fast, into your ready crash landing site. As you have waited for any previous vehicles to complete passing the truck, the way ahead should be clear, and if there is a lot of space behind, emergency braking might be a quicker escape.
Another reason to stay away from a truck is that there is often a vacuum behind and under a truck, which could suck your bike under the truck.
On completing your overtaking maneuver, wait until you are a safe distance in front of the truck, signal a lane change and move into the slow lane.
Truckers Driving Oddly
Trucker behaviour is usually regular and predictable. Be very afraid of truck drivers driving differently from normal. Assume that something bad is happening. Maybe he fell asleep or is having a health emergency. Give him plenty of space.
Sometimes, you will come across some bozo who has his cruise control on and is overtaking a truck doing a half mile an hour faster than the truck. This is a potentially dangerous situation. If you join a queue of vehicles waiting to pass the truck, you might be obstructed from the truck driver's view. You might collect a bunch of impatient, tail-gating cages behind you. Don't follow a car which is passing a truck or slower vehicle until it has completed passing the slower vehicle.
We think it's better to pull into the slow lane, well behind the truck and in the left sublane of the slow lane, where most of the cage drivers and the trucker can see you. Wait it out there until the cage drivers finish passing the truck, then change to the passing lane and maneuver as described. In this situation, making a few extra lane changes can make you more visible to the other road users. Never pass a truck on the inside, that's a dangerous place to be because of restricted trucker visibility on the right.
Overtaking cages, RVs and other vehicles is a different. With trucks, we can assume the drivers are well-trained and courteous, they will use their turn signals and generally be predictable. Cage drivers are unpredictable, can aggressively come up behind you and jam on, pass on the inside when you are waiting to overtake and generally act like doofuses. Watch for unexpected hood dip and wheel turn when around cars as usual for ultra-defensive riding.
The routine ultra-defensive riding strategies apply on the freeways, and we need to assume that we are invisible at all times. The SEE strategy, conspicuity, maintaining a large space window, and having escape routes ready apply on the motorways as much as on regular streets.
It's not speed that kills on the highway, it is differences in speed. Traveling significantly faster than the average passing speed in the passing lane is dangerous. Equally dangerous is riding slower than the average speed in the slow lane. I have often seen small traveling traffic jams, where a slow-moving bike in the slow lane has accumulated a large group of tailgating cages, and there is a dumb driver with his cruise control still activated edging past in the passing lane. The glut of honking, impatient tailgaters is an accident waiting to happen. Having traffic come up behind you fast and have to jam on when they see you late is a very dangerous situation. (In fact, you can now get a ticket for coming up fast and jamming on, it is considered road rage). Going slow in the fast lane is even worse, as drivers usually assume that vehicles in the fast lane are at least doing the speed limit, and we have discussed how bike speeds are hard to estimate. If your bike can't keep up with highway traffic, consider taking another route. And when you get in the passing lane, speed up and complete your passing maneuver briskly. Rear-end crashes with bikes are relatively rare, but often fatal, and the biker is often helpless in those situations. Because the classic 'cage turning across' accident pretty much can't happen on an interstate, rear-enders are much more common on these highways.
A final point. If they are executing SEE and incorporating mirror views, most biker's scan cycle time is four or five seconds, when they are paying attention. It is quite possible for a very fast-moving vehicle to come from far behind to right behind you inside five seconds, so do extra mirror checks when you are in the passing lane. This is more likely to happen on the autobahns and autostradas of Europe than the interstates, but all it takes is some rich kid in a sports car, or a cop doing cop stuff to mess up your day. There are plenty of cages out there which can do 120 MPH, meaning that they can get from more than a quarter of a mile behind to right on your tail in one scan cycle.
Bike Animal Crashes
Strategy for animals is hard. Animals are unpredictable, often well camauflaged, and don't know the rules of the road.
We can't prevent or control animal interactions, and a deer impact can be fatal.
Our best bet with animals is to be aware of the sorts of places and times animals are more likely to be foud, to be extra vigilant for animals, to slow down and maybe cover the brakes.
The most frequent animal problem is deer, elk, moose and caribou. We have heard of issues with alligators, snakes and land-crabs. Squirrels, cats and small animals can also be a problem. A different category of animal crashes involve carnivores, principally loose dogs but possibly panthers, mountain lions and other predators. In parts of the country, cattle and sheep range freely and can get on the road, or herders use public roads to move stock.
Every biker knows someone who has had a large herbivore crash, or has had close calls. We think this is a bigger issue than many allow for. See David Hough's "Proficient Motorcycling" for an excellent treatment of animal hazards. We also like Motorcyclecruiser.com's article from 2009.
Animal Crashes: the facts
We consider large herbivores, principally white-tailed deer, mule deer and moose to be the most lethal animal crash causation.
The Hurt study, because it was done in an urban area (Los Angeles) where deer are rare, did not report deer crashes. We think if it had included a rural area or one of the top 10 deer crash states, that the conclusions on animal crashes would have been very different.
We like DeerCrash.com as a comprehensive resource on the dangers of deer. It has a lot of statistics and tables about deer crashes in general, which includes all vehicle types.
Top 10 states for deer crash fatalities, all vehicle types, 2008.
As data is very partial due to the limited data collection by FARS, the DOT accident statistics reporting system, we focus on one state, Minnesota, which is on the Deercrash.com top ten list. and compare the motorcycle accident stats from the Minnesota state motorcycle crash report for 2008. We also have to point out that Texas, while being the worst for number of fatalities, is also very large compared to many of the numbers, so the Deercrash.com rankings probably don't accurately reflect the relative probability of seeing a deer.
Motorcycle/deer crashes in Minnesota for 2008 totaled 111 incidents, with 120 bikers injured and 7 killed. There were 20 additional bike crashes attributed to other animals, with 20 injuries and one death.
Comparing this to the total deer crashes for all vehicle types in Minnesota, 2008, from Deercrash.com, there were 2,538 crashes, 360 injuries and 9 fatalities.
With the caveat that this data is from two different sources and we can't guarantee that the data was collected the same way, it looks to us like bikers are much more vulnerable than cagers to deer collisions. It makes sense, a steel cage is a good defense against most critters.
About 4.4% of deer crashes involved a bike. 33% of injuries and 78% of deaths in all vehicular deer crashes were of bikers. In 111 crashes, 127 riders were injured or killed. 6.7% of Minnesota bike crashes in general were caused by deer, but 9.9% of the fatalities. Deer are clearly a major cause of crashes, injuries and deaths in bikers, at least in Minnesota.
Extrapolating the Minnesota stats nationwide, and assuming the same biker percentages, it would seem that the 223 fatalities in 215 fatal deer crashes nationwide might have included around 174 bikers, with an estimated 3000 crashes and 3600 injuries.
Deer and Herbivore Strategies.
It's essential to know when to expect deer. First, the ten states from the Deercrash.com site above are the most common states, but deer, elk and moose can be encountered almost anywhere.
Deer like forests with occasional grassy areas, but they can be encountered anywhere, including cities.
Mule deer and other species, especially in the West, have regular migration patterns. Check Deercrash.com for tips on animal migration patterns that might affect your upcoming ride, especially if going to an area with which you are unfamiliar.
Deer are seen more at dusk and dawn, and, as they don't like insects any more than humans do, they sometimes move out of the trees and into open spaces near roads to avoid them. If you are getting a lot of bugs on your visor, you might also look out for deer.
Deer, moose and wild herbivores. An obvious sign to look out for are the yellow diamonds with the deer silhouette. Road authorities generally put the signs up in repsponse to reported deer crashes or deer carcasses found by the road. Be aware that not all localities do this.
Deer carcasses by the side of the road are another clear sign to look out for. If you see one deer, there may be more close by, because they are herd critters. You might also see signs for bears, alligators, panthers and other animals in various places.
Strategies for Animals
There are various purported countermeasures available to individuals. Motorcyclecriuser.com details some studies on deeer whistles that suggest they don't work, in fact, in one study the deer might have been attracted to the whistles. The whistles themselves can be clogged by road dirt and bugs and stop working, and as you can't hear the ultrasonic noise, you'll never know. Put not your faith in anti-animal devices. Deer repellant doesn't seem practical either, as it'll be smelt mostly from the rear.
This means that our best bet is to carefully look out for deer, and when you know there's a good chance of some being around, take extra precautions. Slow down a bit, maybe cover the brake. The biker advantage of height and no blind spots is the only thing going for us, as it improves our chances of seeing the deer. The usual visual scanning rules apply. Our chances of seeing a moving target are better in our peripheral vision, so keeping our eyes moving improves our chances of seeing the deer.
Swerving to avoid deer or other large hebrivores can be problematic. They are capable of changing or reversing direction unexpectedly, or being caught in your headlight and freezing. There's no way of saying what they'll do if spooked by your bike.
This leaves braking as the evasion best bet in many cases. You've been practicing emergency braking, you've slowed down, you're covering the brake and using your peripheral vision to try and spot moving deer. If you decide on braking as your default deer measure, you can cut the decision time. Covering the brakes cuts reaction time, and practicing emergency braking improves your braking performance. Slowing down as little as 5 or 10 miles per hour also cuts vital feet from your braking distance, and more is better.
ET reports a deer near miss from 2009, when just a touch of the brakes slowed the bike enough to let the deer slip by just a foot or two in front of the bike. You don't necessarily have to be able to stop the bike to miss the deer.
Braking, even if you hit the deer, should reduce the impact. We have also heard from bikers in deer crashes who walked away, and attribute their survival to good protective gear. As the most critical times for deer are dusk and dawn, even in summer it might be a good idea to stop and put on the best gear you have with you.
Deer crashes are common where bikers like to ride, in the countryside and on the twisties. There are no really good way of avoiding them. Extra vigilance and preparedness, knowing when and where to expect large herbivores, slowing down and being ready to brake hard seem like the best bet for avoiding and mitigating the dangers from deer. Personal protective gear in high-risk areas is a great idea.
Although deer and other large herbivores are the main animal killers of bikers, there are a number of other potential animal hazards out there.
See Also: Other Animal Crashes.
Other Animal Crashes
Deer and other large herbivores are a responsible for the majority of motorcycle/animal crashes, but by no means the only problem.
We like Hough's "Proficient Motorcycling" for its cogent treatment of either animal issues.
Dogs are carnivores, and act completely differently from deer.
Dogs can stray onto the road, and probably should be braked for in most cases, when in front of the bike. The strategy is similar to deer.
The most common problem with dogs seems to be in more rural areas, where god owners sometimes allow their animals to roam free. As predators, some dogs have an instinct to chase motorcycles. They are pretty good at estimating the closing speed of a bike, similar to fleeing prey. Hough recommends variations in speed to confuse the dog's closing speed calculations. Perhaps slow down a bit, let the dog fixate on you as a target, then speed up enough so the dog misses you. If the dog is really close, maybe just speed up.
In the case of a persistent bike-chasing dog, the dog will eventually figure out the slow-down, speed-up routine and get you. Best bet there is to locate the dog owner and discuss the problem, requesting the dog be restrained. If an owner refuses to be reasonable, it might be possible to talk to the local animal control officer and have the issue sorted.
Other large carnivores.
I've seen panther signs in Florida, and there are mountain lions out West, and bears of varying ferociousness in many states. You don't often hear of bikers coming foul of these animals, but, as carnivores, a similar strategy to dogs might work. Most critters try to avoid humans, but give these guys a wide berth if you can.
You sometimes see alligators on the road in the South and Florida. These guys are really quick. Stop if you can, and if you have to swerve around them, try to go to the tail side if you can. Again, slow down if you see alligators or signs, or dead gators by the roadside. They are carnivores and can move very fast, so avoid the sharp end if possible.
ET was once riding in a group led by a biker named Clone, in north Mississippi. Clone saw what he thought was a dead copperhead snake on the road, to his right, and, in the customary manner pointed the hazard with his right foot when passing.
The snake wasn't dead, and it struck at his boot, then skittered along the road passing close by the other two riders in the group. The boot protected Clone's foot and Clone was uninjured.
The moral of that story is don't assume snakes are dead. They can strike at you as you pass, but boots are good protection. It might be a good idea to swerve around snakes if you can, and if you can choose the tail end to swerve towards, so much the better. If you think a snake might strike, remember that they are predators, so the dog strategy of slowing down and speeding up to put the animal off its aim might work.
You might also decide to ride over a snake, which will probably break its back. The problem here is that the snake will be thrown back towards you, still alive, and they are quick enough to bite you if they pass close.
Large Farm Animals.
In certain parts of the country, on small rural roads in cattle country, you might see cattle guards or cattle warning signs in the road or at side roads. You might also see cattle, sheep or other animals grazing freely and no fence between the road and the grazing land. You might even see dead animals by the road.
As herbivores, if they get on the road, they might act like deer, suggesting the deer strategy of observation, slowing down, covering the brakes in preparation for an emergency stop, and wearing all the protective gear you have with you.
Be prepared to meet a herd of sheep or cows being moved along the roadway. The drovers will generally let vehicles by, but be patient and let them do their thing. Sheep will take you down if you get among them.
Insects, venomous spiders and scorpions.
There's nothing worse than getting a stinging insect under your visor or inside your jacket, but the major hassle from critters like this, while you are actually riding, is keeping your eye protection clear. Another good time to cover up and get the eye protection straight.
Land crabs swarm in South Florida in the spring, as part of their breeding cycle. We've seen them completely close sections of US1 near Fort Lauderdale, tens of thousands of the critters completely covering hundreds of feet of the roadway. if you don't expect it, it's an amazing sight.
We've seen cars try to drive across the crab mass, and they generally get a few feet before all four tires go flat.
If you encounter swarming land crabs, figure out another route around them. They'll be there for a long time.
Small animals, like squirrels, cats, rabbits, rodents etc. sometimes dart across the road. They usually move very fast and don't give you much reaction time. The conventional wisdom for small critters of 5 lbs or less is just to ride right over them. Swerving is problematic, as they move fast and can change direction unpredictably, and you'll probably be very close before you see them.
If you have religious scruples about killing critters, best bet would be to treat them like deer, i.e. try to emergency-stop.
There's usually no good way of predicting when small critters are around, unless you see others in the area. If you see a lot of squirrels, for instance, you might want to slow down and be extra vigilant. Same might be true of prairie dogs and the like.
Riders occasionally hit birds. There's no warning, no way to avoid them, and wearing good gear might be the best counter-measure. Probably just forget about birds. Diminishing returns have set in, time to stop...