Defensive Riding Strategies for Motorcyclists

defensive riding for motorcyclistsOne of the tips that the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) offers motorcyclists who get that feeling that car drivers are looking right past them is: “Pretend You Are Invisible.”

If you assume others on the road can’t see you, and any car that can hit you will hit you, you will tend to ride in a hyperaware mindset and learn to notice every detail about your surroundings, the MSF contends.

In other words, you will ride defensively and be on the lookout for that oncoming car turning left in front of you at an intersection or a driver in the next lane veering into your lane before changing lanes even it appears as though he has looked in your direction. Somehow even the most alert drivers who are not distracted by their cell phones, the radio or their GPS do not register a motorcycle in the rear view or one that is oncoming. Even if someone is looking right at you, do not assume they have seen you.

Here are some more ideas from MSF about how you can improve being seen to compensate for being “invisible” to other drivers out there on the road:

• Be as conspicuous as possible by wearing bright clothing and a light-colored helmet.

• Always keep your headlights on. When stopping in traffic, flash your brake light to alert traffic approaching from the rear. A flashing light attracts more attention, especially at night.

• Plan escape paths in case a driver violates your right-of-way and be prepared to hit the brakes so your reaction-time is quickened if something does happen. Vary your speed and lane position to place yourself in the best spot on the road to be seen and to avoid collisions.

• Imagine you are way up high above the traffic and you have a bird’s eye view of how changing your lane position or your speed will affect traffic conditions.

• Don’t let your eyes focus too long on an object. Target fixation happens when the eyes and brain are focused so intently on something that awareness of other obstacles or hazards can diminish. It may also cause you to run into the object you are fixated on.

• Use your horn to alert a driver who doesn’t seem to be noticing you.

• Take an approved rider training course in which you will learn how to maneuver your motorcycle in normal and emergency situations. You will also practice braking and swerving maneuvers and other skills.

• Keep in mind that safe riding depends on the mental skills of awareness and judgment as much as on maneuvering the machine. Try to respond early to possible hazards rather than having to react instantly in an emergency.

• Remember car drivers only see what they expect to see and a motorcyclist is not anticipated to be part of the traffic mix. Assume you are invisible, but clearly attempt to communicate your presence and your intentions (mental motorcycling). Use your turn signals when changing lanes and use them well in advance. Motorcycle Ohio Riding Guide recommends using hand signals to attract attention.

• Ride with the right skills, strategies and attitude. Every time you hop on the bike take extra responsibility for your safety and the safety of any passengers.

Riders Should Remember to S.E.E.

There are two other defensive riding programs that motorcyclists should become familiar with – SEE which is hazard perception training that reminds the rider to Search, Evaluate, and Execute. The second program, SIPDE, is a mental strategy for making sound judgments which helps reduce risks.

SEE is utilized by MSF in its Basic Ridercourse and is also a strategy for minimizing risks. The Search and Evaluate portions of SEE focus on the use of the eyes and mind while Execute emphasizes the feet.

• Search means the rider should actively scan and identify factors that could create a hazard or increased risk, for example the ability to identify a potentially dangerous traffic situation. This means 360-degree awareness scanning everything side-to-side, near and far, using mirrors frequently. One should scan the area about 12 seconds ahead concentrating on cars, trucks and pedestrians and looking for problem spots: shaded, wet or icy areas on the pavement, debris, potholes or gravel. The motorcyclist must also constantly look for escape paths—where he can move if something goes wrong. Part of SEEing is also glancing over your shoulder to check your blind spot before changing lanes, being in control when entering and taking curves and being extra alert at intersections, on side streets, near driveways and in parking lots.

• Evaluate means to consider potential problems from the interaction of identified factors and prioritize multiple risks. It is thinking by the moment and being able to predict the worst.

• Execute refers to manipulative actions required for communication to other drivers and time and space adjustments.

SEE is an active thinking strategy that places responsibility on the motorcyclist to reduce risk and ties together the mental aspects of riding. Searching is a visual task, Evaluating is cognitive and Executing is a motor skill. A rider must be a good decision maker who makes smooth and well-timed movements so that mistakes made by others do not affect his or her time on the road.

The SIPDE Strategy

SIPDE is an acronym for Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide and Execute and some of the concepts are similar to the SEE strategy. (Some refer to it as IPDE dropping the Search or Scan part of the acronym.) SIPDE is a mental strategy for making sound judgments and helping reduce risks. A key to successful street riding is searching out potential hazards and anticipating actions and consequences.


Scanning is an aggressive, continuous, purposeful search for information. The rider must search for other roadway users and make sure they can see him. He must also Scan for traffic signs, signals, and roadway markings that warn of upcoming hazards or situations, and search for escape routes. Scanning for potential hazards includes more than just looking in front of you. Always be aware of what is on either side of you and what is behind you. It also means the rider must periodically glance at the motorcycle’s instruments to monitor speed and check warning lights.


The rider should be able to Identify three categories of hazards:
• Other vehicles sharing the road with you—your response to them is critical.
• Pedestrians and animals—they move unpredictably and their size alone can be a hazard, especially if you are in a smaller vehicle.
• Fixed hazards such as stationary objects near and alongside the roadway, surface hazards, signs and signals, guardrails, bridges, etc. All of these can affect your escape path.


Once you’ve identified the hazard you must quickly Predict what it will do. How critical is the situation? What are your options? What are the consequences? Is a collision likely? These are questions you ask in the “what if” phase. How well you can answer them depends upon your knowledge, experience and skill and may indicate what will happen in the moments ahead.


Based on your predictions, Deciding means what are you going to do and how are you going to do it? In any situation, you have three options:
• Adjust speed—Roll on or off the throttle, brake or downshift for greater acceleration.
• Adjust position.
• Communicate—Sound your horn; flash your brake lights or headlights and/or use your signals as a warning.
Many times you will need to compromise and choose a path and speed that offers the most time and space between two or more hazards.


Act on the decision you have made. Your safety and success on the road requires effective use of SIPDE and other mental strategies. The experts say that riders with superb physical skills and poor SIPDE skills and judgment ride into trouble much more often than riders with poor physical skills and excellent SIPDE skills.

Common Causes of Crashes

Motorcycle Ohio states the following are often factors contributing to multi-vehicle crashes in which the driver does not see the motorcyclists until it is too late:

• Drivers failing to actively scan for traffic or confirm that it is safe to enter an intersection.

• Riders failing to command attention and communicate their presence and intentions.

• Riders hidden from view by other traffic.

• Riders failing to anticipate that a motorist will violate their right-of-way.

Motorcycle Accidents

If you have been involved in a motorcycle accident anywhere in Ohio, please contact us for a free and private consultation with one of our experienced attorneys. We can be reached at all times by calling 1-888-534-4850, chatting with one of our 24-hour live chat representatives or sending us a website message.

Defensive Riding Strategies for Motorcyclists
Article Name
Defensive Riding Strategies for Motorcyclists
Ohio motorcyclists should always pretend they are invisible to motorists to prevent an accident from happening. Learn about defensive riding strategies.
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Slater & Zurz
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