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Are You Vulnerable?

Chris has gotten out of work early and is grateful for the opportunity to get in an unexpected ride on a beautiful summer day. She is riding through the light afternoon traffic well before the afternoon commute when the traffic light ahead begins to change. Obeying the law, she slows to a halt at the stop line where she shifts to neutral and checks out the cars moving on the crossroad. As the light turns green, she drops her bike into first and moves through the intersection.

Several hours later Kelly is heading home from work after putting in a little overtime on a project. Past the late afternoon rush, he has an easy time with the moderate traffic mix of people on their way to evening activities. As the car in front of him stops for the red light, he pulls up right behind it comfortable in the knowledge that being centered in the lane and a bike length from its bumper he remains visible in the driver's rear view mirror. When the light was green, he follows the vehicle as they both move on their way.

Sounds pretty normal, doesn't it? Chris didn't speed up to try to run the light before it turned fully red. Kelly tried to remain visible while waiting for the light to change. "What's the problem?" you might ask. In Kelly's case, it's the position in which he stopped. For Chris it's what gear she is in, or rather, not in.

Because motorcycles are smaller than most vehicles in the traffic mix, drivers don't always see a biker on the road. This is compounded by the overabundance of things drivers can find to do while they're driving their cars and trucks diverting their attention from their surroundings. What would either of these riders do if the vehicle approaching from the rear didn't stop?

Sitting so vulnerable when stopped can be a formula for disaster. If Chris had stopped in first gear, she would be ready to move out of the way of a non-stopping car. If it's clear, she could run through the intersection to avoid a rear end crash. If there was cross traffic, she could make a sharp right turn from a stop. That's why it's a good idea to always be in first gear before your foot comes down at a stop.

Even if Kelly had been in first gear, where would he have gone to avoid ending up as the filling in a metal sandwich cookie? Had he stopped in either side of his lane with more room between his bike and the car ahead, he would have had the space to quickly move into a safer position alongside of that car and elude the problem when he heard the squealing tires behind him.

Of course both Chris and Kelly would have to be paying attention to their mirrors as well to see what was happening. Where and how you stop in traffic is more important than most riders realize because you are extremely vulnerable when you're not moving. Becoming an unintentional hood ornament doesn't seem like a good ending to an otherwise enjoyable ride.

Ride Smart! Ride Safe!