And Yet Another Video Lesson: Surviving the Unexpected

In this installment of Video Lessons, we see this guy on an R6 cruising down the highway when suddenly he finds himself facing a big yellow foam tube that fell off the back of a boat. The rider is okay (see interview video below), so watch with that in mind.
Take a look at the video and I’ll catch up with you on the other end. I’ll wait.

Nasty, right?
So, what can we learn from this video?
Be Wary of Shit Strapped to Vehicles. Whether the cargo is lashed to a boat, trailer, car roof, or back of a truck, you must be alert to the fact that a lot of drivers do the bare minimum to secure their load. Most use the “good enough” measuring device to determine acceptable compliance. Be extra wary if rope is used and if the load is moving in any way.
Be Ready! This bit of advice applies to all sorts of motorcycle mishaps. If you’re alert to the possibility of something bad happening you are essentially pre-loading the mental software required to respond fast and effectively. Daydreaming or failing to predict this possibility means you will not be ready when the poop hits the fan.
Don’t Just Sit There. OK, so you see the potential problem; what’s your plan to deal with it? Sure, maybe the cargo won’t come flying off, but you’re setting yourself up for trouble if you aren’t getting yourself away from the danger. This is the time to consider a change of lane or lane position and identify an escape plan if things do go pear-shaped.
Resist Target Fixation. Listen, it’s incredibly difficult to not put a laser focus directly on a real hazard like a big yellow foam tube bouncing in front of you. But, resist you must! The trick is to find an escape route and focus on that.
Act Fast! Let’s say the big yellow foam thing is now hitting the pavement ahead of you. Humans taken by surprise can’t help but freeze for a moment before acting. In the case of the R6 rider, he waited over half a second to move in his lane and waited almost 3 seconds to get on the brakes. As far as swerving right; situational awareness should have told him that the right lane was clear for him to make the maneuver, but I suspect he was not aware of his surroundings.
Have Skills! When he did move in his lane it was mostly ineffective…more of a drift, rather than a real swerve. And his braking attempt was equally weak. This is a common reaction from riders who have not developed these evasive skills and those who don’t keep those skills sharp.
Now to be fair, anyone would have freaked in this situation. But, there are things he coulda done. His first mistake was riding too close behind the boat. He should have predicted the possibility of a problem and maintained more following distance. When in these situations, we need to be ready to respond fast.
Unfortunately, he was taken by surprise and then froze, which used up precious moments that would have allowed him to respond more effectively. This freeze-up response is what humans tend to do, but is especially noticeable with unaware and untrained riders.

The takeaway: Be alert for the possibility of things like this and be ready, both mentally and physically.
You still may end up on your ass because we can’t control everything thrown at us. But, it’s your responsibility to do what you can to survive calamities like this. That includes being well trained and wearing full protection. Glad he is okay.
UPDATE: The local news station interviewed the 20 year old rider in THIS REPORT. It’s great that he had a helmet and motorcycle jacket, but wearing protection in itself does not prevent crashes…it’s keen situational awareness and having smart strategies that does that. I stand by my statements above.

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10 Replies to “And Yet Another Video Lesson: Surviving the Unexpected”

  1. Ok so I have only been riding a little over two years so I am far from any expert with only 18,000 miles under my belt. I am a conservative rider so I tend to keep some distance. This guy was flying up the boat. I get he should have noticed the right lane open, but I probably would have swerved left because the foam rolled right. There seemed to be time to react to that, but in the situation of running up the boats stern he probably freaked.
    As far as the interview by the station. That guy that said he did everything he could is NOT who I want to ride with.

  2. “His first mistake was riding behind the boat, but that wasn’t unreasonable.” – I beg to differ slightly, Ken. When we talk about anticipating and mitigating risk on the bike, I believe following any vehicle towing ____ or with ____ lashed to it is too high a risk to accept. (I change lanes ASAP, looking first… or wave traffic on and create a physical buffer.)
    In this case, I believe the risk is compounded by the fact that they’re in the “fast lane” and impact of wind, road undulations and more on the trailer/boat/stuff is compounded. My MSF Basic Rider instructor practically jumped on his desk when he advised us to avoid following a vehicle with anything on it or connected to it. I received similar advice from my bicycle shop friends who shared stories of “hanging” bike racks that came off a car or that dropped a bike on the road. (I don’t get close to roof racked bikes either…and I’m a 30+ year user of roof racks.)
    Ken – Thanks for the update to let us know this rider is OK, too!

  3. Rider needs to do trackdays! Did many things wrong, typical sportbike street rider. Why follow anything on the highway especially something you can’t see around and carrying a load!!
    He could have braked HARD, that bike with the right rider and good conditions could have stopped right there. Learn to turn your bike–HARD–could have easily rode around that thing.

  4. I also stay away from rental trucks esp those big straight body ones. People driving those for I’d say about 99% of the time, have never driven something that big and have no concept about their own size on the road or how to use their mirrors. Gravel trucks and open loads in pickup trucks are another hazard. In the video it looked to like he aimed for the foam roll to get around the outside of it’s trajectory as opposed to going the opposite way of it’s slide path.

  5. A lot of good information on this page. When I worked for Weyerhaeuser they stressed in their safety programs that there where several kinds of vehicles which demonstrated a unsafe or distracted driver and that it was in our best interest of safety to not follow or be around them. These vehicles where trucks, tractor trailer rigs, mini vans with children in them, and regular vehicles pulling a trailer of some kind. Tourists are very high on the list of unsafe driver as they not only are trying to follow some sort of navigation but also do not have mind or will on the task of driving or car of the loads they might be hauling.
    Weyerhaeuser also suggested that we take stock of our condition to drive or ride whenever we went out. Assess if you can be alert and reassess it during your ride, you may not be seeing those hazards because your fatigued or your mind is wandering to other things.
    My safety instructor at SAIT in Calgary really stressed your mental condition during the ride and dressing for the slide not the ride. He also shared a lot of information on practicing slow speed maneuvers and avoidance technics.

  6. I ran into a similar situation on a major roadway in upstate NY last year. In my case, a mattress was suddenly right in my path on the road ahead, although I did not see it fall off a vehicle. Luckily,I had time to check my mirrors & swerve around it.
    Being aware of surrounding traffic,keeping your focus on your ride, wearing protective gear and not riding too close are keys to avoiding this rider’s experience.

  7. I am an MSF Rider Coach and this is something I bring up in every class – never, ever follow behind a vehicle that has ‘stuff’ (anything) strapped on/piled on – pick up trucks without a cover on the bed (you never know what’s about to get caught by the wind & pop out of those things.

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