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Q: Can you teach yourself to ride a motorcycle safely. i believe in days gone by that was the way you learned.

A: Sure. And you can teach yourself to pack a parachute for sky diving. Yes, people used to do it this way, and no, it was never a good idea. If you dump the bike once, the repairs are more than the cost of a course. Statistics show that, even for experienced riders, motorcyclists who take an MSF course have remarkably lower rates of injury in accidents in the six months following a motorcycle safety course.

Many riders never learn the fine points of controlling a motorcycle. They may be able to get around, but they can’t turn easily, and their braking skills are poor. Sooner or later they get scared to death, and many of them stop riding.

Riders who take the time to learn to ride well, have more control and more confidence. You ride for enjoyment. Why not set yourself up for more enjoyment, not less?

Q: I just started my 5 month restriction of to/from “employment” from a DUI i got a while back. My lawyer says since im a full time college student that school is technically my employment so it is within the stipulations, but I wanted to get an LEO take on the subject and see if any of you have ran into this and how you handled it?

A: A restricted license is addressed in California Vehicle Code §13353.8(a) and the related form “Application for Critical Need Restriction”. This is not necessarily based on employment. In fact, part C of the form is specifically designed for need based on transportation to and from school. However, the form requires approval for the specific hardship. A 30 day mandatory suspension is required prior to issuance of a hardship license.

Q: Okay, so, this was entirely my fault, and forgive my longwindedness here. The other night I was out for a ride and going down a hill with a traffic light at the bottom. Usually, I expect my green light to go yellow. Naturally, the one time I didn’t, it went yellow. In retrospect, I wasn’t terribly far away from it and could have beat the red, but my first instinct was grab the front brake, stomp on the rear brake, and start downshifting.

Bear in mind it wasn’t my choice to be spoiled with ABS when I learned to drive. Anywho, the front brake was fine (thank the gods), but the rear brake locked and the wheel started to slide. I let off it, the bike snapped upright, and as I was almost at the light, I just grabbed a handful of throttle and scooted through the intersection before any cars got into it.

Lesson learned to prevent this is, always expect the yellow light. But what if I’m in a situation where it’s not just a traffic light in front of me? What if it’s a truck, a deer, or something just as solid and unpleasant to smack into? I ended up going through the intersection despite braking as hard as I did. If it had been a car and not a light, I would’ve crashed.

So I guess I’ve got a few questions here. First one is, what’s the best way to practice panic stops? Quick stops are fine for me- it’s when something unexpected happens, or even something I did expect but is just too close, that I react on instinct like I did with that intersection.

Second, what if something like that happens when I’m leaned over? Do I just straighten up, brake hard, and hope for the best? I mean, in either of those scenarios, swerving would hopefully be an option. But I’m still adjusting to riding a bike from driving a car. The maneuverability’s new to me, and the idea that braking isn’t the only solution in traffic is hard to shake. Any suggestions on practicing these things at normal traveling speed, meaning upwards of 40 or 50 miles an hour?

And am I correct in thinking it would’ve been a better idea to just accelerate through the intersection, or should I have simply braked more gradually?

A: The general guideline is that you should be able to stop your motorcycle smoothly and easily in 50 feet from a speed of 40 mph. The way this is taught is usually to find a large asphalt surface, mark the distance with a cone, and practice. Take your time, slowly do better, and keep within limits that are comfortable. When you start to get close to where you want to be, the brakes will “scream”, and you will hear it. Make sure you balance the brakes and use them both.

Nothing wrong with ABS and linked brakes. Statistics show that you are 41% less likely to be involved in a fatal accident if your bike has these than if it does not. The problem is that, even with a lot of training, in a real accident situation, the rider tends to panic and lock up the brakes. This is true even for experienced and trained motorcycle cops.

As to your next question, you only have so much traction available. MSF courses teach that you should brake first, then let up on the brakes to swerve. Again, difficult without a lot of practice, and few can manage this when panicked. Another reason ABS linked brakes are a great solution.

Speeding up to make a yellow light is never a good idea, but then again, there is a reason for the yellow, which is to allow you to go through rather than doing a panic stop and getting rear ended.

Sounds like an MSF course would help you enjoy your riding more. The advanced course deals with the issues you raise in a thorough manner.

Q: I’m interested in getting another textile 1 piece. I used to have a Tourmaster Centurion and it worked pretty well for commuting. It was miserable in the heat and useless in the wet. Held up pretty well after a crash.

So I’d just like to find a suit for crash protection during my commute. It would be really nice if it was water proof. Like seriously. Seems like my options are:

Tourmaster Centurion(again)
First Gear Expedition
Joe Rocket Survivor

Anyone have other suggestions or experience with the brands?

A: Andy Goldfine at Aerostitch works as hard as anyone can to make an excellent product. Of course, like everything else, there are many competitors who use cheaper overseas workers to compete with Aerostitch. When buying protective gear, remember that most of the time abrasion resistance is not the most difficult issue on the street, because most of the time the speed at the time of the accident is not all that great. More critical is the body armor, which is a big deal at almost any speed. I have had great success with Motorport, and I like their multi-layered armor a lot. They have stretch Kevlar available, which lets a little air flow, and is therefore not as hot. Motoport fits individually, and they last 20 years or so.

Q: Summer is coming up and im looking at new bikes, Ive had street bikes for the past 3 years and im looking to try something new. I LOVE the triumph Bonnevilles with the drop handlebars and the chopped seat. Anyone have any advice on their bikes? How are they as far as power goes, reliability, common issues with the electronics or fuel system, what mileage i should keep an eye out for, or even testimonials from you guys/girls who have owned one.

Any feed back would be much appreciated, thanks.

A: Other than the name, and retro styling, the new Triumph company has little to do with the old company. Oil leaks are a thing of the past, and the new bikes are better in every way – power, reliability, handling, braking, and comfort. All motorcycles have glitches, and a particular bike may be excellent or a lemon. That said, the new Triumphs are terrific motorcycles, and if you like the look and comfort of the new Bonnevilles, I wouldn’t hesitate to go for it. Steve McQueen would be proud.