Motorcycling Safety in the Mountains

There are lots of safety tips for motorcyclists in general available on the Internet; however, there isn't a lot of materials available specifically addressing motorcycling in the mountains. This section will grow as we continue to consult with various authorities across the Blue Ridge area.

Hey Doc, I seem to have developed Road Rash…got anything for that?

Ever heard that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? Wearing protective gear while out on your bike, or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the first and most important step you can take to insulating yourself (and your skin) from pavement, rock, cliff faces, and mean mountains in general.

Riders unfamiliar with mountain territory may take PPE for granted where they're from, but mountain roads are the last place you should find yourself without.

Wear bright colors - especially at night. Yes there's a certain sex appeal to the sleek black look, and we'll be the last to take that away from you. Let's face it, no one can say that fluorescent orange really sets off their eyes right? But compromising with outer vests made of the fluorescent stuff combined with reflective striping can go a long way to making you visible on the road.

This way when you do reach your destination, you can pull around to the back of the building, slip your garish vest off into your saddle bag and stroll in like Tall, Dark, and Handsome is supposed to (or for the ladies, Lovely, Dark and Mysterious).

So you guys have some seriously wicked curves and hills up here!

Yes, indeed, and the names of some of the more infamous routes reflect the nature of those wicked curves to a tee. So let's evaluate the importance of Lane Placement when it comes to negotiating curves and hills, that way the ride stays "wicked cool" instead of the designs on your leg cast.

The North Carolina Bike Safe program teaches 3 Lane Positions:

Lane Positions for Motorcyclists

Position 1 - The Nearside Position

  • Early views on right hand curves
  • Nearside views past large vehicles
  • Extra space for oncoming vehicles
  • Best position for right turns where there are no other hazards

Position 2 - The Central Position

  • Good margins of safety on both sides
  • Easy to change position
  • Best position for left turns

Position 3 - The Offside Position

  • Early views on left hand curves
  • Increased safety from nearside hazards
  • Best position for left turns

Image and information on Lane Positions courtesy of BikeSafe NC.

Optimal lane position depends on what kind of curve you're taking, the hill you're approaching, and so on. The best and safest way to learn these techniques is by taking a rider course near you. This information is to help you understand the importance of having this knowledge but isn't a substitute for taking a class.

So by taking one of these courses, you'll learn that if you're approaching a hill that you cannot see the other side of, taking Position 2 is your best bet for several reasons:

By being in the middle of the lane you're creating a safety margin. This way when that 16-year-old comes over the hill texting her new BFF while approaching the same hill in the opposite direction you'll be better prepared to avoid her.

Should you find yourself facing a car that has gone into your lane you'll still have the rest of the road to your right to perform evasive maneuvers. Another bonus is you will avoid developing Road Rash - see safety tip above.

Riding a motorcycle in the mountains is like playing chess, you've got to think 3 or 4 moves ahead because most two-wheeled challenged drivers are not thinking about you or your safety!

Ultimately, you should always sacrifice your position for safety so you can SEE and BE SEEN!

Statistics show that the mountain areas have a lot of motorcycle wrecks - I never knew there were so many motorcycle owners in the area!

Well no that's not actually the case. We have a disproportionate number of motorcycle crashes compared to the number of motorcycle owners that actually live in the area.

For those of you high on exhaust fumes this means that most of the wrecks involve out-of-town motorcycle riders.

If you're unfamiliar with an area slow down. Take your time because trust us, no one is impressed with the guy that wrecks due to his or her own negligence of the surrounding area. Besides, part of the draw for motorcycle riders to this area is the amazing natural beauty the mountains have to offer. Slow down and enjoy it to take it all in.

Man I really don't care about all the pine trees, I just want to feel the whoosh of the curves!

Ok, so pine trees and mountains aren't your thing. But our guess is that wrestling with a 200-pound deer probably isn't your thing either. A lot of the curves in the area are "blind" - that is you don't really have a lot of lead time visually to assess what's coming at you as you come around a curve.

So for what it's worth, slower speeds give you the advantage when it comes to split-second decisions. Learning and practicing evasive maneuvers with a local motorcycle rider course can be a huge benefit here as well.

Practice common sense and play it safe.

When riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway I keep seeing this hilarious sign! But what does it mean?

This sign is funny, we agree, but it also carries a serious message. This sign warns you that the curve ahead will get tighter as you ride through it. Usually standard highways and roads have a radius that never changes which means you never have to adjust your steering.

So just think of "descending radius curve guy" as a friendly warning not to take things too fast or you may find yourself in the same funny pose!