Mythbusters: Old motorcycle myths

motorcycle myths

There were no training courses for riders when I began riding, so we learnt a lot of misguided motorcycle myths from our friends.

Thankfully, there are plenty of riding schools and correct information available to young riders today to dispel some of the ridiculous motorcycle myths we believed back in my day.

Here are 10 motorcycle myths taught to me which we no longer believe to be true.

Road Crash target fixation - motorcycle myths

1: If it looks like you’re about to crash, lay the bike down.

  • BUSTED! We were even told that the police were taught how to lay the bike down. Clearly, if you are about to crash, you need to brake hard and leave the bike upright while slowing it as much as possible with the best traction available – rubber on tarmac. If you lay the bike down, it will slide a lot further with plastic and metal on tarmac. About the only time you may slow quicker by laying a bike down is on dirt where the handlebar, footpegs etc might dig into the earth better than knobby tyres.

2: You only need to use the back brake.

  • BUSTED! This myth came from a time when bicycles only had rear brakes and even the Captain America chopper from Easy Rider only had a rear brake. Of course we now know that when you brake, the bike shifts a lot of weight to the front tyre and lightens the back wheel, so you have more stopping effect with the front, rather than the rear. The best advice is to use both brakes for maximum stopping effect.

3: Wear elasticised boots, not lace-up boots.

  • BUSTED! This notion came from tales of people getting their laces caught in the footpegs and not being able to put their foot down when the bike came to a stop. However, lace-up boots are fine if you tuck the laces inside. The problem with elasticised boots is that if you fall off, they will easily slip off as you slide down the road.

4: You only need a jacket under 20C.

Harley jacket - motorcycle myths
I wished I had a Harley Triple Vent jacket back in the ’70s!
  • BUSTED! Motorcycle jackets are not just designed to keep you warm, but mainly to protect you. Old motorcycle jackets had no airflow and were hot even in warm weather. A lot of today’s motorcycle jacket have ventilation so you can be protected in any weather.

5: Loud pipes save lives.

  • BUSTED! I know I’ll cop a lot of flak for this and people will say a loud pipe saved their life, but there is no empirical evidence to prove it. In fact, many modern drivers have the windows wound up and stereo blasting in their air-conditioned cars, so they can’t even hear emergency services sirens pointed at them, let alone an exhaust pipe that is facing away from them!

6: The best motorcycle training is fanging around a paddock.

  • BUSTED! Back in the days before track days, this may have been the only place you could practise some riding skills. However, the best training combines both off and on-road skills. Road craft is just as important as bike control.

7: Never ride in the rain.

  • BUSTED! There were three reasons I was told never to ride in the rain – it rusted the bike, the roads are too slippery and there is no way to stay dry. Modern bikes are treated for rust prevention, modern tyres are much grippier in the wet and today’s motorcycle gear is very protective.

8: Speeding riders rarely get pulled over.

  • BUSTED! BUSTED! BUSTED! I think this myth started among my peers because we got away with it by riding late at night out in the bush. We also thought bikes were too small to be detected by radar. However, modern radar detection devices will even detect a speeding bicycle.
Mrs MBW manages a smile despite the lost luggage and reduced shopping capacity. Motorcycle myths
Mrs MBW

9: Motorcycle riders get all the women.

  • BUSTED! We don’t get ALL the women; just the good-looking ones, like Mrs MBW!

10: Bikers are temporary citizens.

  • BUSTED! You and I are shining examples of this being a myth. Yes, you are more vulnerable, but with some training, you can be a safe and long-term motorcyclist.

Do you have any motorcycle myths that you were taught when you began riding? Leave your comments below.

37 Comments

  1. Loud pipes save lives – but there is no empirical evidence to prove it. “No empirical evidence to prove it” is not a refutation of whether they do or do not do so. It simply means that no-one has yet conducted and published a study on this matter. A few years ago the San Francisco motorcycle patrol officers were pleading for louder pipes so as to be heard in traffic and cut down collisions with motor vehicles. Here’s one scenario: You’re in traffic and somebody starts to move across and cut you off as they have not seen you. A horn blip could be aimed at anyone but a sudden loud increase in motorcycle revs startles them into a reaction, generally one that saves you. In many, many years of riding in three continents and doing big miles this has worked for me a number of times. I am not endorsing ridiculously raucous pipes but throaty ones a bit above the legal limit.

  2. Robert, long ago I learnt something about what happens when arguing with fools. When they find themselves in a position that they can’t talk their way out of and feel trapped they try to redirect the argument onto something that it was not about originally. That is what you are doing, so I have to repeatedly remind you what this discussion is about. Actually I do it for the benefit of other readers because you are behaving like a fool and there isn’t much point in telling you anything.

    My comments on this page, both recent and long ago, have not been about whether or not a bike can be laid down by using the brakes, because any well informed motorcyclist knows that it can be done. My comments are about how doing this can minimise a rider’s injuries in some crashes. I made some comments and you criticized them. If you are going to criticize my comments you actually have to address the issue my comments are about. If you were about to hit the guard rail on the coastal road and be thrown over the cliff (as described in a comment below), or run into the back of a truck with metal bars protruding from it, what would you do?

    1. Clearly MotoRain you need to heed your own advice!
      Here is the myth from the article “If it looks like you’re about to crash, lay the bike down.” Such a technique is a myth because, no-one does it, no-one teaches it, no-one recommends it. To believe you can do something without having done it and which is contradicted by reality and rational argument is delusional.
      Actually the well informed motorcyclists do not agree with you, your on your own. Feel free to find support for your delusion. Post a link, phone a friend, find some evidence and post it here. Until you are able to do that, your scenarios are your fantasies alone.

      1. Robert, your refusal to answer my question destroys your credibility. What I have said could save some peoples lives, but you are only interested in saving your own ego. You are a very sick person.

        1. MotoRain, your refusal to stay on topic and attempted diversion from the myth question is noted. You are unable or unwilling to provide evidence that choosing to lay a bike down is anything but a delusion.

          However, to answer to your hypothetical; NO, laying it down, it is NOT the preferred escape technique, a far better solution that every motorcyclist knows is true is to leap of the Bike, grab an overhanging branch, do a 180 over the branch, a half somersault, and land on your feet. There! Even though I have never done it, I believe I can do it, therefore its real……as real as ‘laying it down’.

  3. Some people are placing a lot of importance on what they have learnt from riding schools. Thinking that riding schools will teach you everything there is to know about riding a motorcycle is like thinking that a primary school teaches everything there is to know about maths. They teach you what is appropriate for your level.

  4. Some choice extracts from Motorain
    At that point I call bullshit, what you are saying is you think you could do it but have not.

    Motorain

    Nope only hearsay and myths. No experts or demonstrations of said technique.

    Motorain

    Therefor, stories of ‘laying it down’ are myths, ‘happy accidents’ or embellishments. You cant put into practice what you haven’t learned.

    Motorain

    That statement is so stupid.

    Motorain

    Ok I have thought long and hard, and come to the conclusion that your an idiot! Surprisingly no one had to teach me how to say that! I just knew that you are without even meeting you. See how that works.

    1. Robert, you are still on the wrong track. Everybody (except you) knows that a motorcycle can be laid down deliberately. That is not what is in dispute. The question is, is it the best thing to do in some situations to minimise your injuries.

      You didn’t answer the question. If you were about to hit the guard rail on the coastal road and be thrown over the cliff (as described in a comment below), or run into the back of a truck with metal bars protruding from it, what would you do?

      1. More dodging.
        Motorain Surprisingly I agree, sort of. BUT the point you are missing is that the said technique is a MYTH. It is a myth because, no-one (including you) does it, no one teaches it, and no experts recommend it. It is the suff mentioned after a few beers, or bragging, in reality (but apparently not your reality) no-one does it!

        re – unanswered question: Oh please, your confusing movie stunts with real life.

        and since you brought up unanswered question, there is this little list I asked you and have yet to see a response:
        How do you know this (the technique will work if you have never done it)?
        No motorcycle instruction courses endorse the technique, (i.e. find one)
        No one practices the technique. (i.e. find one)
        If you can’t practice it, how will you know how to perform it. (a truism)
        Found anything on youtube demonstrating it?(i.e. find one)

        1. Robert, no doubt you are aware of what ABS does. It was invented because some people have applied the brakes too hard causing the wheels to skid. And if that happens, and the rider doesn’t react quickly enough, the bike will fall over (lay down). Although they did not do it intentionally it was their fault. They actually made the bike lay down by applying the brakes too hard. Do you still need convincing that by applying the brakes really hard you can make a bike lay down?

          Again, this is not the point. Everybody knows that you can lay a bike down. The question is, is it the best thing to do in some situations to minimise your injuries.

          1. Still avoiding the questions, and trying to go off topic. Believing in something without evidence is delusional.

    1. The best way to learn a lot of riding skills is to go dirt riding. Crashing is just a normal part of dirt riding and usually causes little damage to yourself or your bike.

        1. It is easy to do. Perhaps a little harder to explain. While braking with the front, lock the rear brake (and I mean fully locked). Turn the bike and lean it over making sure that the bike is in front of you. When you hit the deck let go of the bike and focus solely on saving yourself.

          Some things like this really are simple. I guess it comes naturally to me because I have a vast amount of dirt riding experience. Dirt riding teaches you a lot of things including how to control a bike when the wheels are spinning, sliding and skidding because you are always riding on loose and slippery surfaces. And because you can crash and crash without much pain you can learn how not to crash. You don’t need an expensive bike. An old 250cc trail bike will teach you just as well as a modern dirt weapon. If you don’t have access to any dirt riding area you can gain a lot of valuable skills by riding on gravel and dirt roads. Along the way you might come across an abandoned gravel pit or a creek where you can do some real off road riding.

  5. Laying a bike down is not a legitimate safety technique. The only way a bike slows down is with the brakes (mostly the front) doing their job. If you are going to hit something, which none of us want to do, better to hit it at 5km/h than at 50km/h. Throw the bike away at 50km/h and you are both sliding at that speed. It is the sudden stop that kills and maims people. A sudden stop at 5km/h is a whole lot better than a sudden stop at 50km/h. As an example look at any form of road racing, when a racer crashes, the bike and rider slide for considerable distances which shoots down the argument of greater surface area. Yes they are going a whole lot faster but they also are not running into objects that cause a sudden stop.

    1. Terry, did you read the comment about hitting a guard rail on a coastal road? MotoGP (and Moto2/3) riders often lay a bike down to avoid hitting the fence. They will be going across the gravel trap at high speed and realise that they won’t stop in time so they lay it down. The problem is that hitting something front on while sitting on the bike results in nasty injuries even If at low speed. You don’t throw the bike away as soon as you realise that you are in trouble. You brake for as long as possible, then in some situations it is best to lay the bike down just before impact.

        1. How do you know this?
          No motorcycle instruction courses endorse the technique,
          No one practices the technique.
          If you can’t practice it, how will you know how to perform it.
          Found anything on youtube demonstrating it?

          Saying how a thing can be done “in theory” with no evidence that such a thing is possible is the very definition of a myth!!
          Showing how to stop correctly and then repeating it and passing it on, that is a technique.

          1. Robert,

            “Showing how to stop correctly and then repeating it and passing it on, that is a technique.”

            That only works if there is enough room to stop, but doesn’t save you from injury if impact is inevitable. Read the comment about hitting the guard rail on a coastal road. What would you choose to do? There are many other situations where it is better to be off the bike at the point of impact, such as if you are about to slam into a rock wall, go over a steep embankment, run into a truck with lengths of steel protruding from the back. What would you do? I have done it plenty of times on the dirt and have done enough drifting and sliding on the bitumen to know that I can take it a step further and lay the bike down. We have all heard of plenty of examples of a bike being laid down whether intentionally or accidentally, which proves that a bike can be laid down. And in some situations it is better to be off the bike instead of staying on the bike and slamming into something front on. I have seen racers deliberately lay bikes down to avoid colliding with another, and I have seen serious consequences when they haven’t. You won’t get taught how to do it at rider training courses because it can’t be done without causing pain and damage. It is so simple and basic that you shouldn’t even need to be taught how to do it. If it can be done or not is not the question. The question is, is it the best thing to do in the particular situation to minimise your injuries. What would you do?

            Pushing a point to win and argument and gain some brownie points like you are doing does not help anyone. Think before you reply. And remember, some people can ride better than you.

  6. Re 3, it’s not the foot pegs but rather the hero knobs or side stand prong that catches the laces. It’s not a myth, it does happen and they catch in the crossing between the eyelets not the bow (have seen it happen, twice) . Agree about the elastic boots.
    I have never met anyone who has intentionally layed their bike down, but have met a couple who said they did, then grudgingly agreed years later that it was accidentally layed down, a bit of post hoc reasoning going on.

  7. Haha. Brilliant. Years ago an older bloke I worked with tried to tell me his grandfather and uncle ‘invented ‘ leaning speedway bikes to corner. The grandfather tied a rope to the bike and pulled it over as the uncle rode a circuit with a milk can base strapped to his inside boot. I tried to explain actually physics was the reason bikes lean during cornering, and that it has always been that way. But this fellow was having none of it, his grandfather ‘invented’ leaning a speedway bike

  8. “if you have the time to think about laying a bike down you have more than enough time to avoid the accident entirely!”

    Can’t agree with you there, Al. Skilled, experienced riders react amazingly rapidly in emergencies. They remain calm and control the bike to achieve the best possible outcome. Other riders just panic, slam on the brakes, freeze and wait to suffer whatever the consequences may be. After the incident they will say, “it all happened so fast there was nothing I could do.”

    I am aware that most times a rider says that they had to lay the bike down they actually just stuffed up their braking and went down. And sometimes it is their stuff-up that saves them. But laying the bike down remains a legitimate safety technique. Nobody doubted that until ABS came along. Then those in favour of ABS started to discount this technique. There probably are a lot of riders who have no idea of how to lay a bike down, but aren’t willing to admit that other riders can do things that they can’t.

  9. Loud pipes have saved my life, and generally increase other motorists awareness of my presence. Fact from my experience. When driving, I also hear some bikes before seeing them, again proving the theory.

    I also love the noise … but go out of my way to respect neighbours, built up areas as I understand not everyone loves my HD sound as much as me.

    1. You can say that again JFE. HD’s have the same effect for me as running a nail down an old school chalk board. Excruciatingly offending to my ears at such inappropriate times, unless at a drag strip of course.

  10. The pull method for changing direction in a hurry saves lives.
    Actually I think it’s killed more than its saved, why? It’s counter intuitive and too easy to get wrong and it’s like the tail waging the dog. The push method is marginally better as at least it is not counter intuitive but it’s still waging the dog and easy to over do.
    I prefer the dive method, you look where you need to head and dive in that direction like you are diving to catch a ball (without letting go of the bars of course) it requires no thought and can’t really be overdone and is probably faster as it is in line with the bodies natural reflexes.
    And best of all the dog is waging it’s tail so there is little chance of being left behind while the bike heads to safety.
    Explanation of the methods
    Pull method:
    Pull on the side of the handlebars that is opposite to the direction you need to go.
    Push method:
    Push on the side of the handlebars that you need to go.
    Dive method:
    Dive in the direction you need to go.
    Benefits of dive method
    Requires little conscious thought, places the riders weight on the inside of the turning motorcycle instead of on top of or out side as with the other methods, naturally pushes the handlebars forward in the correct direction by the correct amount. Although moving the body as opposed to just the hands may take longer to do the method is probably as fast or faster than the other methods due to the naturalness of action and minimal thought required.
    Problems with other methods
    The pull method can cause confusion and may cause the rider to pull the wrong way or pull too far and drop the bike or cause a high side. The push method is less likely to be gotten wrong direction wise but may still be over done and result in a high side or other type of get off.
    Even if the bike is dropped using the dive method the rider will have the bike between their body and whatever’s approaching not the other way round as is very likely with the other methods.

  11. Yes your right, and your about to cop some flak.
    So I am about to embark, on breaking down your logic. You state there is no evidence to prove it. You also state that a pipe facing away from them (the car driver would not be heard.
    Sorry, but what a total load of codswallop.
    I agree with part of your statement, about sirens and drivers oblivious to the fact, and firmly believe its due to the piss poor driver education in this country, your not trained to ride/drive, your trained to pass a test.
    Anyways back to the argument, Sound. only high frequency sound travels in a very narrow path from its point of origin. (fact) scientifically proven fact. Low frequency sounds travel equally in all directions from its point of origin, another scientifically proven fact. Hence why boy racers at the track are often overheard to say, “I knew he was there, I could hear him coming” well well well, on his modified bike with modified intake, modified exhaust, full face helmet, earplugs, he could still hear his competitor, chasing him down. If we used your argument, that would impossible because the exhaust outlet of the following bike was facing the wrong way. However this could be true if the above mentioned boy racers where in fact travelling at at speeds greater than the speed of sound.(Note not yet to be achieved) So if world class motorcycle riders can and in fact can hear each other, on very loud high reving machines, over the mechanical noise of their own machines with all the hearing protection on offer to them, kinda blows your argument clean out of the water.

    Sound and the human ear verses sight.
    Most humans even with impaired hearing, (industrial impaired hearing in my case) ( ok maybe some damage from exposure to noises from riding motorcycles, some loudish, some stock standard, for 35 years plus. But I can and do for my safety on the job, be able to distinguish from where a noise is coming from. I have skid steers, excavators working around me, I know where they are I know how close they are, I don’t need to turn my head a make visual contact. Why is this so?
    The human ear can almost pinpoint within a 4 dimensional 360 degree range a noise and know where to find the point of origin. The human eyes have a range of less than 180 degrees on the horizontal axis and less than 100 degrees on the vertical axis. I ask you, which of these two senses has the greatest potential to save our lives?

    So we have lights on, now we have the introduction of Hi Vis, maybe, some drivers can not hear us, but relying upon only a visual stimulus, ie lights Hi Vis, we all know the fact that most drivers don’t bloody look either, or are they to per occupied by phones internet, in car entertainment, what ever, watching that speedo so so intently so not to cop a fine for going 3 k’s over the speed limit.

    So putting your money where your mouth is, which of these 2 senses would you reckon your’d get bang for buck.
    I know were mines going, and it ain’t on a pretty pink dayglow Hi Vis vest. And I get the a little extra performance, better fuel economy from my bike.

    The only sense I didn’t bring to the table is common sense, but that’s not relevant, in todays driving/riding environment.

  12. I’ve been booked as the fourth and last bike in a group. I was told that my speed was checkable because there was nobody behind me to cause reading confusion. So following somebody will not save you. This was west of Longreach in far western Queensland.

  13. 10: I have been called a temporary Australian many times. I have been riding for 42 years. Could someone please explain what temporary means.

    7: I love riding in the rain, but I live in the far north and here the rain is warm.

    6: People who have extensive dirt riding experience are far better riders. A couple of years of dirt riding will teach you things that you won’t learn in a lifetime of riding on bitumen.

    5: A pedestrian stepped out in front of me in a 100km/h zone causing me to brake moderately hard. I don’t know why he didn’t look but if my bike was not so damn quiet he would have heard me.

    3: Elasticised boots can not only slip off but they also provide no real protection for your ankle. If you slide down the road with you leg under the bike you will quickly start to grind the bone away. Don’t ride with them.

    1: Mark, you’ve got this one seriously wrong. When braking hard many bikes will have very little weight or none at all on the rear wheel, so braking is done by the tiny contact patch of the front wheel. If you lay the bike down it is not about plastic and metal on the road surface. You will let the bike go and it is your riding gear that is gripping the road which has much greater surface area than the front tyre, and it only has to stop you, not the combined weight of bike and rider. It would depend on the type of riding gear. Perhaps we should bring back waxed cotton – very grippy. In any case you will probably stop well before the bike does.

    There is no standard crash, but in many cases it is safer to slide into something rather than slam into it while sitting on the bike. Have a think about what happens if you slam into something front-on while sitting on the bike. Your upper body will be thrown forward causing your head to take the full impact possibly breaking your neck, and your legs will wrap around under the handlebars shattering them and possibly your pelvis. However if you are about to hit something like a train sliding under the wheels is not a good idea. In any case laying the bike down is a legitimate safety strategy. You just need to make the right judgement on when to use it. Unfortunately if your bike has a standard non-adjustable ABS you can’t do it.

    1. MotoRain,
      Based on your idea in #6, you contradict yourself in your explanation of #1.

      If one is simply in the moment, paying attention to their surroundings, they will always have an out, because they will always be responding to the conditions of the situation. Laying the bike down has killed more than it ever saved. Check it out… Once you have a get-off, you are at the mercy of your own momentum on a surface that can break you, tear you, flail you, and pocket you (pot holes), AND get you run right over! Not to mention the immovable barriers and limb takers (think highway railings). No sir, you do NOT want to “lay the bike down”…EVER!
      When you are trained to know that the “some things that a couple of years of dirt bike riding taught you” cannot be applied to the bitumen, then, and only then, will you understand the physical calamity you’ll find yourself in from trying execute that “some thing” on the pavement in 2D. I can tell you that you will very quickly end up in the Z axis.
      Situational Awareness is a term especially suited to the motorcyclist. Braking control is the inverse skill to throttle control, and when the two become one, you can and will be able to thread the needle that you have in your sight. You have to. Life and limb depend on it, but your family and friends reap the reward.

      1. Zone, obviously you have little or no off-road experience and are unwilling to accept that people who do have it have a greater level of skill. So I suggest that you get out and do some dirt riding and you will be amazed at how much your riding skills improve. I rode dirt bikes and trail bikes for 8 years before buying my first road bike. Changing from dirt bikes to road bikes can be daunting at first because road bikes seem so heavy, clumsy and incapable of performing the manoeuvres you are used to doing. But after a while you realise that they are all just motorbikes and the same handling principles apply.

        All crashes are different and many different reactions are required. Crashes can be very complex so when giving explanations it is best to use examples that are easily understood. You said, “No sir, you do NOT want to “lay the bike down”…EVER!” If you were riding on a winding coastal road and found yourself going too fast into a right angle bend with no hope of stopping in time would you stay on the bike, get pitched over the guard rail and fall over the cliff to land 100metes below on wave swept rocks, of would you choose to lay the bike down and slide into the guard rail? Again, this is a simple and easy to understand explanation.

      2. There are only about two or three situations where laying down a bike might be better than not,
        1. As seen in stunts sliding under the trailer of a truck.
        2. oil spill, you know you’re going to go down so it may be better to do it yourself than have it be a surprize.
        3. you’re going to hit something and there is a chance that you can get the bike down and your feet on the seat so as to minimise the impact.
        there also may be situations in the dirt or if you’re about to go over s cliff but more often than not if you have the time to think about laying a bike down you have more than enough time to avoid the accident entirely!

        1. Agree with most except loud pipes I drive trucks with windows up and stereo on with 2way 90% of the time if you are alert and watching around you will hear emergency sirens or see lights as you will hear a bike or see a bike coming. When we say loud pipes 94 to 96 decibels is plenty and much safer than riding in stealth mode. When teaching our clients on their bikes we teach them ride to be seen and heard. Never rely on car drivers to see you and ride as if you’re invisible because most car drivers generally drive with there heads up there asses.

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