Motorcycle riders seek to raise awareness of those with whom they share roads

Riding into summer safely

Posted: Wednesday, May 01, 2002

With the coming of warmer weather one thing is sure: Traffic increases on Kenai Peninsula roads. We begin to see motor homes, boat trailers and motorcycles. Of the three, motorcycles and their riders are often the ones which cause some to say (after an accident), "I didn't see him."

During the month of May we who ride would like to help you become more aware that motorcyclists share the roadways with you.

Gov. Tony Knowles has proclaimed May to be Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month around the state. Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley has proclaimed May to be Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month on our peninsula. We who ride are thankful for both of these proclamations.

Proclamations are written on paper, however, and are only as good as the paper they are written upon if nobody outside of the motorcycling community knows about them. That is why I am writing this article to let you all know how to help us be safer on the roads and how to be safer yourselves when you see us on the roads.

The following hints are adapted from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site:

Respect the motorcyclist: Remember the motorcycle is a vehicle with all of the privileges of any vehicle on the roadway. Give the motorcycle a full lane of travel. We don't lane share; we travel "stagger formation" when group riding -- we ask that you not cut into our lanes should you pass us.

Look out: Look for the motorcyclist on the highway, at intersections, when a motorcyclist may be making a left turn and when a motorcyclist may be changing lanes. Clearly signal your intentions. Motorcyclists are taught in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Safety Courses that if we cannot see the mirror of the car ahead of us, the driver cannot see us in his mirror.

Additionally, while much of the motorcycle gear on the market consists of black leather, many riders wear colorful gear, including jackets with reflective strips and vests which glow in sunlight and headlights. Some bikes also have flickering headlights -- the better for you to see them coming.

Anticipate a motorcyclist's maneuver: Obstructions (debris, potholes, etc.) that you may ignore or not notice can be deadly for a motorcyclist. Predict evasive actions. This is where a motorcyclist using an entire lane to travel comes into play. To a biker there are three lanes within a lane: we use all three --especially during the spring when there may still be ice and sand on the roads and when we need to dodge those potholes.

Allow plenty of space: Don't follow a motorcycle too closely. Allow enough room for the motorcyclist to take evasive actions. This hint goes along with the above hint. Should you feel the need to pass a motorcyclist, again, allow plenty of room (as you would if passing a car or motor home) and don't cut back into the lane too closely. In addition, when following a motorcycle, don't come too closely as we have quicker stopping power and a brake light could mean a quick stop.

Many times you will see groups of motorcycles traveling "in a pack." In these situations most groups will have a "ride captain." The ride captain's job before the ride is to make sure the group understands hand signals -- such as the index finger extended upwards meaning travel in single file -- and that the group knows the planned route and planned stops. The ride captain travels in the front of the group and will facilitate passes as needed.

There is also a rider at the rear whose job is to make sure that nobody is left behind. Should a rider have problems on the road, it is this rider's job to make sure they are OK, taken care of, help called, etc. This person is usually the possessor of the cell phone, although that is a sign of a modern biker -- motorcycle and cell phone.

Again, group riders will ride "stagger formation," not side by side, in order to allow stopping room if needed.

The various groups on the peninsula (ABATE, GoldWing Road Riders Association, Women On Wheels, HOG) plan many group rides throughout the spring and summer months. I have ridden with members of each of these groups and find the attitudes of each to be one of camaraderie and "brotherhood."

Look around you as you work or shop today. Do you know that the woman ringing up your groceries might be a biker? Do you know that the CPA or attorney in the coffee shop might be a biker? Do you know that the pastor, executive director, gas station attendant, politician might be a biker? Do you know that you could be a biker?

Each of us would encourage you to take the MSF Motorcycle Safety Course whether you have never ridden before and want to learn or if you have ridden for years and want to hone up on your skills.

Each of us would say -- come join us.

And, each of us would thank you for celebrating Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month with us in May -- indeed, throughout the entire riding season.

Barbara Waters is a Kenai resident who has been riding motorcycles only since becoming a grandmother. She is the founding director of the Soaring Eagles Chapter of Women On Wheels and can be seen riding her teal and silver Virago, wearing a pink and blue "SeeMe" vest and silver helmet. "If you can't see me because of my size, you can certainly see me because of my vest," she told the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly when accepting the proclamation from Mayor Bagley. For more information on area motorcycle groups contact her at

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