Open Letter to Experienced Riders: My Best Advice

written by David Mixson

When I set out to write my first book, Motorcycle Smarts, I was motivated by the data in the Hurt Report to do something to help riders understand how motorcycles work—and why they crash. 

Years later, when I started researching the most recent data for my third book, Motorcycle Hacks, I quickly realized nothing had changed.

It sure would be more comfortable to blame the distracted driver who pulled out in front of us or the drunken driver who swerved into our lane. But that’s only a fraction of what’s causing us to crash. 

The data doesn’t lie.

A Fresh Approach

From all my research, I believe Hurt was right when he said that experienced riders are making the same mistakes we did forty years ago.1

We’re killing ourselves in single-vehicle crashes by refusing to learn how motorcycles work and why they crash.

Riders are still crashing because they aren’t using their front brake, don’t understand what happens when they lock up their rear tire, and don’t know what to do when going wide in a turn. The riding community needs a fresh approach to educating and training riders at all experience levels.

The Risks Are Real

If you ride a motorcycle, the burden of learning how to control it is on your shoulders. Unfortunately, wearing a helmet won’t help with that. Neither will riding a motorcycle with loud pipes.

Am I suggesting we can reduce our risks to zero? No.

Skilled riders crash and die every day when there is nothing they could have done to prevent (or avoid) it.

But it’s also true that under-skilled riders crash and die every day when there WAS something they could have done to avoid it.

If I didn’t think I could measurably reduce my chances of being in a crash, I wouldn’t ride. I believe you can reduce your chances too.

Riding Well

Mastering the art of riding a motorcycle well is about learning how to ride the right way. It’s about taking each ride seriously. It’s about enjoying the experience and making good decisions based on the laws of physics. 

It’s about being confident you can avoid distracted drivers. It’s about having a plan before you need a plan. It takes effort. 

It’s about understanding and overcoming rider fear, and having the head knowledge of how your motorcycle works so you can make it go where you want it to go. It’s about understanding why riders crash. 

Learning how to control your motorcycle should be your primary goal when you buy your first motorcycle or your next goal if you’ve ridden for decades. 

Control is the skill that makes you less likely to be in an accident. It’s the path to proficient riding. 

My Challenge

My best advice to all riders is to BE INTENTIONAL. 

Be intentional about learning how to ride more proficiently, intentional about taking steps to reduce your risks, and intentional about taking hands-on training because nothing can take its place (not even books or websites).

Don’t be the rider who says there’s nothing you can do to reduce your chances of crashing. Don’t be the rider who doesn’t know about the Hurt Report, what countersteering does, or why you should never lock up your rear tire. Don’t be the rider who doesn’t wear a helmet because his buddies think helmets aren’t cool.

Instead, take each ride seriously and learn something new about yourself and your motorcycle every time you ride. Keep a journal. Document what you did well and what you need to work on next. 

Choose who you ride with like your life depends on it—because it does.

Find a motorcycle that fits your body and your riding goals. 

Be extra careful of drivers turning left across your lane. Riders crash and die every day when this happens.

Assume motorists can’t see you because sometimes they simply can’t—especially if you’re wearing dull colors.

Know how to use countersteering to put your motorcycle exactly where you want it, regardless of how small you are and how large it is. 

Consider buying a motorcycle with ABS because the advantages of ABS far outweigh the disadvantages. 

Practice in different weather conditions so you’ll be ready when it happens. Don’t be the guy who brags: my motorcycle has never seen the rain.

Always leave margin so you’re not pressured to ride faster than you planned to. Take a ride to nowhere just because you can. Explore roads near your home that you’ve never taken. 

Don’t get ahead of your skills. Save the cross-country trip for later. Ditto for riding Deals Gap until you’re sure you can handle it. 

Believe you can reduce your chances of crashing—because you can. 

Use rider fear as a motivator to improve your riding skills or as a sign you should choose a different craft. 

Know what to do when you start going wide in a turn and how to keep from lowsiding and highsiding. 

Read the Hurt Report and listen to what it teaches us. 

Represent the riding community well by being courteous and cool. What one of us does reflects on all of us, whether we like it or not. 

Wear bright colors. Avoid riding at night. 

Choose loud pipes if you think they sound cool. Just don’t ask them to save your life. Lazy solutions rarely work.

Don’t lock up your rear tire because bad things happen when you do.

And the simplest way to keep from locking up your rear tire is to ride a motorcycle with ABS. Even better, ride one that also has Electronic Stability Control (ESC). Why is this even controversial?

And There’s More

Never buy a motorcycle until there’s margin in your finances.

Look where you want to go because that’s where you’re going. 

Treat every intersection like it’s one of the most dangerous things you do on a motorcycle—because it is.

Know when to call it quits, and have the courage to do it boldly.

Never ride when you’re not at your best. 

Leave margin at all times. Then, call on it to save your life.

Be super careful riding in gravel. It’s like walking on marbles. 

Never be somewhere a motorist might want to go.

Ride at your own pace. Choose your riding partners carefully. 

Wave to all riders, regardless of what they’re riding or whether you think they’ll wave back.

And lastly, one of the most important things you should do on a motorcycle is to use your front brake.

A Journey

Mastering the art of riding well is a journey, not a destination. Ask any experienced rider who’s been doing this for decades, and they’ll tell you they never stop learning. 

I learn something new about myself every time I ride. That’s one of the best things about motorcycles—there’s always something left to learn, something left to experience, and something left to ask yourself. 

Enjoy every mile.


* A portion of this article is an excerpt from my book Motorcycle Hacks.

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About the Author

David Mixson writes about the topics other motorcycle books gloss over. He worked as a NASA engineer for over thirty years and is the author of three books.

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