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Monday, December 10, 2018 - Fall/Winter Riding -- Eric Swan

There are a lot of "booby traps" that the unwary motorcyclist can ride into, including innocuous-looking alleyways, raised pavement edges, railroad tracks, loose sand, sunken manhole covers, tar snakes, and white plastic arrows glued to the pavement. Most of those hazards occur in the city. Out in the country on those twisty back roads we love to ride, we can expect some different types of booby traps.

One major trap that can spring on us is a wild animal, especially deer. Deer are so delicate and demure that it's hard to think of them as a hazard. But when we come upon the sickening sight of a dead deer along the highway, we are again reminded of the danger, both to the animal, and to ourselves. Animal strikes are a significant hazard for those of us who enjoy long-distance travel. Statistically speaking, vehicle collisions are the major motorcycling hazard, but as motorcycling experience builds and we get a little smarter, our risks of a car/bike collision should decrease. But the risk of animal strikes remains high because animals are so difficult to predict. They have habits and instincts that put them on collision courses with motor vehicles.

☞ To understand what to look for and what to do about deer, let's consider their instincts and habits. Deer are cautious, and prefer to hide in the trees. They like munching on tender foliage. So expect wild deer in forested areas or riverbeds where the trees and underbrush provide lots of cover and fresh salad. That lush roadside grass the highway department keeps mowed is a dinnertime favorite. That means you should expect deer feeding along the shoulder of the road in shady areas. In the daytime, a deer feeding on the road shoulder will have its head down, so it may look like a log in the ditch, or a mossy boulder, or a crumpled cardboard box. When the head comes up, you'll immediately see those large ears, and perhaps a rack of antlers.

☞ What should you do if a deer does leap out? Should you just keep riding along at the same speed, or should you attempt some avoidance maneuver? Should you slow down and then accelerate by as you would for an aggressive dog? Should you prepare to swerve, as you would for a car emerging from an alley? Or should you prepare for a quick stop, as you would for a left-turner? Unlike an aggressive dog, deer seem to react more to proximity than to sight or sound. A deer may not show much interest in you until you get close, whether your cafe racer has loud pipes or your Spyder is just burbling along quietly. The deer may glance up at you, then nonchalantly go back to munching. But when you get within 60 feet or so, the deer suddenly springs to action, jumping first straight ahead, then in a random zigzag "wolf-evasion" pattern. If it isn't obvious, the deer's first leap is in whatever direction it is facing. That's why hard braking is a smart evasive tactic.

☞ What about swerving? It's tempting to think that you might be able to maintain speed and slip on by, or swerve around the deer if it should leap out in front of you. But swerving assumes you can predict which way the deer will leap. The typical zigzag "wolf avoidance" pattern of the deer is random.

☞ What about speeding up? After all, the greater your forward energy, the greater your impact force. For every folk tale of slamming into a wild animal without getting hurt, there are several other reports of riders being seriously injured, and motorcycles destroyed. And if the winking reflectors you expected to punch through happens to be the eyes of a deer, the odds lean strongly in favor of not walking away from the impact.

☞ Don't forget about the other little critters scurrying around and crossing in front of you. 

☞ Watch out for leaves covering the road. Sure it's a beautiful ride thru the scenic roads during fall. But remember, that patch of wet leaves you come across in a curve can be as dangerous as ice.

Eric Swan  - Safety Coordinator


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