What is Defensive Riding on a motorcycle?

Learning how to ride defensively, is the single most important skill that you will learn as a new rider. Appreciating and thinking about defence riding throughout your riding career is the essence of riding a motorbike safely, on the public roads. If you are interested in learning to ride a motorbike safely, please do read on!

Long before James Bond’s Aston Martin, V-12 Vanquish was blessed with its most notorious feature ( a cloaking device, which allowed it to become practically invisible ) all motorcycles have had this feature installed as standard. But when you Even police motorcyclists, with blue lights, flashing and sirens screaming, report that car drivers simply look right through them.

Motorcycles fall into that category of things that drivers don’t always perceive even if they are right in their field of vision. A motorcycle approaching head-on from a distance occupies a very small part of a driver’s vision. If it’s going quickly, it’s possible that the eye simply won’t get around to looking at it enough to make it “stick” in the brain before it arrives in the driver’s immediate vicinity. “Invisibility”

As a first step, you can try to have SOME kind of high visibility gear integrated into your set-up. It doesn’t have to be a bright yellow bib, but consider instead some white florescent helmet markings strips (or a white helmet). Having an element of high visibility gear can be done ‘fashionably’ .. but if fashion is your main concern you’re missing the point a little.

When is the last time you made sure all your lights (brake lights and indicators) are working?

There’s also a ‘school of thought’ that “Loud Pipes Save lives” – while there’s little research to support that loud exhausts are really effective, it must surely make a difference sometimes, like when you can help wake-up the car driver in front of you! (Aside from the ‘safety’ boon of having loud pipes..I admit I do LOVE a loud exhaust just for the sheer thrill of it!)

But even wearing high visibility gear, or having thunder erupt from your exhaust may not help … simply because of this ‘motorcycle blindness’ noted in bold above.

THE BEST way to keep safe while you are invisible, is to practice defense riding.

What is defensive riding?

You need to expect that every road user will kill you unless you take preventative action = DEFENSIVE RIDING. Learning this skill begins by believing that everything on the road posses specific risks (and associated danger) – you need to deliberately train yourself to be a mentally prepared, defensive rider, prepared for the unexpected.

  • Learn to have your eyes constantly searching for possible danger
  • Learn to ANTICIPATE (your life literally depends on predicting and riding your bike in a defensive way : you MUST LEARN to ‘defend’ against as many possible risks that you can possibly perceive
  • Read the road condition, adjust your riding style appropriately (type of tarmac, road markings, gravel, pot holes)
  • Read the corner type, think about your line and remember you’re not on a closed race circuit (open, closed, line of sight, camber?)
  • Anticipate all other road users : RIDE “AS IF” THEY DO NOT SEE YOU (The tractor driver towing a trailer into his home lane will have his evening meal on his mind not checking his rear view mirror before he pulls across you.)
  • Consider all the things that are at the road-side and they might affect your riding (you see that distracted Mum, turning round to calm an angry child. She won’t know you’re there until she hits you. It is your responsibility to see the pressure she is under and avoid the accident.)
  • The weather conditions – flex your style, be gentle (and have you checked the weather forecast so are you prepared?!)
  • Always ride well within your ‘limits’ (and within the speed limits) and do not try to keep up with more experienced friends.
  • The list is literally endless – keep aware, keep alert and mitigate.

All the time you must have your eyes up, looking ahead the next corner, keep a check in both mirrors, make yourself sit in the epicenter of a safe bubble of distance, protect yourself by using the information you are taking in, to ride defensively.

Riding defensively does not imply that you should ride everywhere at 25mph but rather, that before every ride you should fully engage your defensive riding brain. And I mean it. Say to yourself EVERY TIME you put your leg over that bike, “this is serious”.

Do not ever ride under the influence of alcohol, drugs or if you are very tired.

Finally, gain experience, and enjoy (as safely as is possible) absolutely every second of the best fun on earth.


If you are interested in becoming an even better rider , check our post on trail braking here.

Another basic that is often overlooked is counter steering – read more about it here.