How to Ride a Motorcycle Safely on the Highway


Motorbike riding on the highway seems rather simple. But you need to know how to get in, get out, how to manage the toll barriers and a multitude of small details that can come in handy.

In this article I’ll share the essential tips on riding a motorcycle on the highway to make it easier for beginners and perhaps even to introduce to the experienced riders some important information.

Pros and Cons of Riding on a Highway

One thing to understand: driving on the motorway is very different from a driving on a regular road.

Advantages: the highway is a generally safer environment, with no junctions, no pedestrians, no cyclists, no agricultural vehicles, and especially no vehicle in the opposite direction. Everyone rolls about at the same speed and in the same direction. It’s reassuring and gives a (false) impression of comfort.

The infrastructure itself promotes security: A highway is wide, well covered, with few differences in grip. In terms of layout, apart from a few exceptions, it is usually straight or barely curved, with a slight difference in height. In short, easy. Easy and boring.

Disadvantages: this is mainly the false impression of comfort that generates reduced concentration due to the monotony of driving, with a risk of drowsiness. But also lack of vigilance, visual controls, respect for safety distances between vehicles.

But it is also necessary to count with a higher solicitation of the machine (especially in summer when it is very hot) because of the higher speed, the higher heating of the tires, a coating more abrasive than the average which will wear the tires and higher fuel consumption.

1. Prepare your motorcycle ride on the highway

Distinguish different phases on your fast track journey:

Route

First of all, we will have to prepare the route. Especially if you are not familiar with your route, it is important to know in advance the main lines and points. All you need to do is to draw the route using a recent road map, an online tool like Google Maps, a GPS or a route software (BaseCamp, Tire, ITN Converter, etc.).

As a precaution, it is better to print the route and/or note the major directions, bifurcations and changes of direction. In the absence of a card reader on the tank, the paper can be taped on the tank or just put in inner pocket, to re-read at each break.

Mechanical

A long motorway journey will also be difficult for the rider (possibly his passenger as well) and for the motorcycle.

Prepare and take the necessary documents and other useful accessories.

Prepare and equip your bike with these safety checks:

  • tire pressure
  • tension and lubrication of the chain
  • suspension settings
  • liquid levels (oil, gasoline, water / coolant).
  • If your motorcycle is equipped with a tool kit, check that it is complete.

An extremely important point on the motorway will be the tire inflation pressure. It should be checked weekly and/or systematically before each long trip, especially with a loaded motorcycle.

Next, check the voltage of the secondary drive chain. The deflection of a correctly tensioned chain is 2 to 4 cm on the middle of its lower strand. To check its tension, it is preferable that the bike rests on its wheels with the driver sitting on it, and not on the crutch, especially if your bike has suspensions with large deflections (as on the trails). By sinking, the rear suspension inevitably tends the chain, and you may end up with a chain too tight.

When making the adjustment, be sure to act with the same amplitude on both sides of the swingarm to keep a wheel well aligned.
The frequency of the voltage of a transmission chain depends on its age and state. To make it last as long as possible, do not forget to grease it regularly.

Baggage

A long motorway journey is often underwent to go a long distance, so make sure to take necessary luggage. Again, be careful and make sure to avoid unpleasant surprises along the way. Prepare the loading of your motorcycle in advance.

A motorcycle with balanced baggage is more stable when driving fast … provided that its shock absorbers are able to manage the overload. If they are too flexible, they will begin to pump on the unevenness of the roadway. If curved, they can lead to unpleasant or dangerous scenarios.

Harden your rear suspension according to the weight transported, starting with the preloading of the springs, and then playing, if your motorcycle is equipped with it, on the hydraulic settings that will control the “bike pump” effect. This is a good video tutorial on adjusting a motorcycle shock:

Equipment

On the highway even more than on the rest of the road network, drivers do not pay much attention to motorcycles. Especially since there are even fewer motorcycles than on regular roads.

My point is this: be very visible!

  • Equip your bike to become visible.
  • Do not stay in the blind spot of other vehicles.
  • Do not hesitate to signal your presence to the driver that precedes you with lights.

2. The dangers of the highway

The areas with most risk of an accident are primarily motorway entrances and exits. Redouble your vigilance!

When entering a highway, accelerate.
Use the full length of the road to accelerate, on the 4th or 5th gear, to at least reach the speed of vehicles already traveling on the track. Don’t go beyond normal speeds, but you should be going fast on a “fast lane”.

Accelerate first and then join the party!
Above all, don’t do like some drivers that I see regularly who first get in the fast lane and only then accelerate. Because at the beginning of the way, one rarely has a good vision towards the rear. We can have the impression that there is nobody. A vehicle moving faster than our motorcycle can be a very nasty surprise out of nowhere. With such a speed differential, it will catch you in two seconds and you will hinder it, force it to brake or to avoid you at the last moment.

To accelerate, still be sure that the road in front of you is open
There is no point in accelerating like a brute if it’s to have to brake just after entering because we caught the front car too quickly. As a reminder, a motorcycle brakes much worse when it is in the acceleration phase, because of the change of attitude and the time required for mass transfer. It is therefore important to look far and check if the way is clear ahead.

Observe behind you.
By the left mirror, of course, which will be clean and well adjusted.
But also by turning to perform a direct visual control, with a much wider field of vision than the retro.
With a little bit of practice, it is possible to straighten up to release the left hand to put the latter in the back seat (or on the hip) and really to turn to look at the entire road in central vision (and not just the corner of the eye). A few back and forth trips to check everything while accelerating … and we are ready to join safely.

Be careful also on motorway exits!
Look behind you left and right, before the exit lane and all along it.

Some stunned drivers tend to cross one, two or three lanes at once, trying to reach an exit at the last moment. Sometimes they even go behind the head (the big green plastic separator)… or even tap a reverse in the right lane to catch the exit they had just missed.

It is not because you are on the way out that you are suddenly safe. Some drivers can break into the last minute, especially from your left, but also from the right, especially in the case of a biker who doubles everyone by the emergency stop to get out faster.

Even if you are already on the highway and do not enter or exit, stay alert at the entrance and exit lanes. Even if in theory, the entrants must give you the passage, some won’t because they like to play Russian roulette… or they’ve just not seen you.

Anticipate the brutal braking of other vehicles that occur especially at the height of the entry and exit ramps … but also in front of the radars!

Pay attention to trucks

The danger lies especially when overtaking a truck: the draft created by the truck at the height of its cabin can deport you more or less to the left.

When you arrive behind a trailer and go along it, there is a feeling of aspiration. When entering the air, the truck’s cabin compresses the air in front of it, causing a depression on the sides of the truck. If you are close to the truck, you feel pushed forward, the bike is gaining speed.
Arrived a little behind the cabin, you will feel turbulence.

And at the cabin, you’ll take a huge slap, what I call “the wind slap”, like a big gust of lateral wind, which can deport the bike, deflect it from its path.

Attention: the risk of offset increases even more in case of side wind already present before passing!

Here are some tips to avoid or reduce the wind problem:

  • Know that it will happen, do not be surprised. So hold the motorcycle tightly legs, knees, thighs, without twitching on the arms.
  • It may be helpful to tilt the bike slightly to the right, or at least to be ready to push on the right handlebar.
  • And most importantly, avoid coming to the truck too closely. The further you are from the truck, the weaker the air current will be.

The last advice becomes even more valid in case of strong lateral wind. A semi-trailer 18 meters long, well loaded to 33 or 38 tons, which takes a gust of side wind on the right … it moves! And sometimes it moves a lot, it can move two or three meters to the left.
Anticipate, do not stay right next to it.

The advice is all the more important because there is another danger, certainly rarer, but one that we must consider. Trucks often drive with retreaded tires.

On a tire that was (badly) retreaded, the tread of the tire can take off under the effect of heat, underinflation and centrifugal force due to high speed. And when it takes off at high speed on the highway, it flies to the side!

A tread of a truck tire weighs several pounds, it’s thick, heavy and hard, even sharp. A good piece of tire that goes in the air can cause serious injury or cut a man in half.

So, of course, this is an extremely rare accident because it takes an exceptionally unfortunate coincidence for a rider to be at the height of a truck’s tire at the precise moment when it happens… but that can happen, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Another accident that can happen is the bursting of a truck tire. There, the danger is not so much the projection of dangerous object as the noise itself, really huge, which will surprise and can cause a lurch for the biker who passes by at that time.

Tip: the burst is usually preceded by a heating up, or even a combustion of the tire. This combustion gives off black smoke. If you see smoke coming from the tires of a truck, go over it quickly and push the driver to stop.

3. Keep a safe distance with the 2 seconds rule

The main negative consequence of the false impression of comfort and safety of driving on the motorway is the  lack of respect of safety distances.

I can not stand seeing these bikers who stick to the ass of cars, which roll 130 to ten meters behind the bumper! The slightest brake of the car, and it will be either an emergency avoidance or a brutal crash.

In the event of an unexpected highway event, the driver’s reaction time before he begins to brake is at least 1 second. It is therefore essential to leave a sufficient distance with the previous vehicle of at least two seconds.

In rainy weather or in degraded conditions (fog), the braking distance is increased, the inter-distances must be increased (three seconds minimum) and the speed reduced.

When we roll behind another vehicle, we not only shift on the side, but above all we should respect a minimum of distance.
From experience, many users, including bikers, retain only one thing: two bands of difference.

I advise you to adopt another method, valid everywhere and at any speed: always two seconds apart.

I take a fixed landmark on the roadway or just beside it (a sign, a post, a bridge, the shadow of the bridge on the road, a stain on the ground, a bitumen seal, a marking, etc.) and when the vehicle in front of me passes on (or at its height), I count two seconds. And to count two seconds, it’s necessary to pronounce them well: “one second, two seconds”.

If it’s a truck in front of me or any other big or opaque vehicle which hinders my visibility, I go to three seconds.
And always shifting to the side of my lane, usually left, but rather to the right if I’m on the left-most lane.

Slowdowns

In case of slowdown, anticipate, plan and adapt!

A motorcycle on a highway is small, very small. It can not be seen clearly, especially if it doesn’t stand out clearly on the horizon. If it’s a little hidden by another vehicle, it will “disappear” visually for the driver who arrives from behind.

In the event of a slowdown, wherever you are, especially when you arrive at the toll gates, shift systematically!

To reduce the risk of rear-end collision, stand at the edge of the lane, either to the left or to the right. And preferably with the brake light on, a flashing light in action, or even the hazard warning lights. In short, make yourself as visible as possible.

Remember: a motorcycle that stops on a highway is in immediate danger!
In the event of a stop, for example in a queue in case of an accident, do not stay behind the last car in the queue. Take shelter between two cars at a standstill or at least shift.

4. On managing the tolls

Once again, to avoid unnecessary stress at the toll, the key is to anticipate well.

Except in strange cases, we do not find ourselves at a highway toll barrier by chance, we know we will spend time there. You already know you’ll have to pay. So let’s recount this situation:

You are approaching a toll barrier! Do not wait until the last moment to place yourself in the right terminal.

As on the gas stations, most people go to the shortest and easiest terminal immediately. The least frequented terminals are those that ask to move, change course, so often those are at the ends of the barrier.

Be careful however if you choose to go right. These are the tracks used by heavy vehicles, so they’re often smeared with hydrocarbons on the ground. Avoid any sudden maneuver since it can be slippery.

Above all, take a good look at the illuminated panels placed above to choose the best terminal for your payment.

You have arrived at the terminal!

There are three ways to pay at a tollbooth:

  • in cash, banknotes or coins
  • by credit card
  • by electronic toll badge

That does not prevent some from trying otherwise, like this motorist behind which I once found myself who absolutely wanted to pay by check. He pissed everyone off behind him for ten minutes and it did not cause him any problem of conscience!

In any case, keep your wallet or wallet in an easily accessible pocket, where you are sure to find the means of payment easily and quickly.

If it is raining and your jacket is not waterproof or does not have a waterproof outer pocket, a good idea is to put the wallet in a waterproof pouch, plastic or Gore-Tex.

To take your card or your coins or your bills, take off your gloves!
Hence the interest of having waterproof gloves, with waterproof membrane, because there is nothing more annoying and longer than trying to quickly put on gloves with wet hands…

Take off your gloves, but put them in a stable place, where they can not slip on the ground because of the vibrations of the bike or the wind.
The best is often on the switch or between the handlebars and the tank.

The best time to prepare your payment method is in the queue before the terminal.

If the weather is nice, put your wallet at hand, but again, not on the tank: it will slide. You have to find a place to block it. Very often, on the crotch, well wedged between a thigh and the tank, it will not move. Or, give it to the passenger who will give it to you at the appropriate time. Of course, if you ride a GT motorcycle equipped with an empty pocket, this question does not normally arise.

Focus on electronic toll for bikers

For those who still doubted, know that the electronic toll is quite accessible to motorcycles.
You can take a subscription, annual or monthly (only months when you use the service), receive a badge electronic toll and use it at all the toll barriers where they’re available.

How it works

You receive a badge that is actually a passive RFID transponder.
As soon as it comes into the field of a sensor of a toll terminal, it will be identified and beeping. Your passage is recorded, the barrier opens, the light goes green, you can pass.

The sensors are located at the top, above the passageways, sometimes just in front, sometimes slightly to the left. These are big gray boxes. As the sensors are located at the top, your badge should be placed as high as possible to be well detected and not be covered by a surface that hinders the propagation of waves. In a pocket, a bag or a similar place.

You leave a toll barrier!

Phew, it’s paid, the green light comes on, the barrier is rising … Hallelujah!

If there is no one behind you, take the time to put away your belongings, put the wallet back safely, close ALL the pockets and put your gloves on properly.

If there are people, it’s the rush, a day of great departure … best hold the gloves and the wallet, start and go a little further to put your stuff in order.

Two safe stopping points:

  • just after the terminal, in the space between two terminals, behind the concrete separator, for a brief stop (less than a minute)
  • on the parking area that is (almost) always on the right after a toll gate, for any stop a little prolonged. Obviously, in this it is better not to leave the terminal on the left

In any case, starting from the toll gate, act as on a path of insertion: frank but progressive acceleration, observing a max around you, especially behind on both sides.

5. Managing long-distance fatigue

The number one enemy of the biker on a long distance is fatigue. But everything tires the brain and muscles of the biker: the driving itself, of course, but also stress, nervousness, cold, noise, monotony etc. While it’s impossible to completely avoid these dangers if you plan on taking the highway, at least you can reduce them with good preparation.

It’s all about maintaining your fitness during long-distance rides. This happens first with frequent, regular breaks that you will take BEFORE fatigue occurs. On the road, I advise to take a break of 5-10 minutes every hour to two hours. On the highway, it is better to halve these intervals.

When you’re not used to the highway, you have to stop every hour or so. Then, later, with years and tens of thousands of kilometers of experience, we can sometimes ride hours without a break. Today, I can go from three hours to five hours of highway journeys without a break.

A prerequisite for driving safely on the highway for more than 30 minutes is wearing hearing protection. If you are planning a long motorcycle ride, it is imperative that you have plugs or ear filters.

In addition to driving fatigue (due to concentration), a long motorcycle ride often causes numbness in limbs. This is mainly due to a static position maintained over a long time. But who said we had to stay still on the bike? We don’t have a seat belt after all, so take advantage of this fact to make small movements!

Do not wait to be tired, stiff, cramped. Make these movements regularly, every half hour, to oxygenate the muscles.
Not only will you be less tired on the road, but you will arrive cooler, and feeling less “broken”.

 Avoid overheating of liquid-cooled engines

During summer and when it’s hot in general on the highway, the bikers are suffering, but the engines too!

Even though the dashboard temperature gauge has not recently revealed any significant heat, be sure to check the coolant level in the expansion tank. It is normal to add some in summer.

During a long motorway trip, the motorcycle motor will run for a long time at full load and will be more likely to overheat. If your thermometer needle goes red, stop immediately and allow your engine to cool before leveling again.

Only use coolant, never water. Another important point is to never open a radiator cap with the engine warm! With internal pressure, you could be badly burned if you do so.

Avoid over-heating of air-cooled engines

As with the coolant, the oil consumption can also increase when your bike stays at full load for a long time. Overheated, the oil becomes more fluid and rises more easily in the combustion chamber of the engine.

This is especially true with air-cooled engines that can not be controlled against overheating. Be sure to check the oil level when refueling.
Carry out this check by the window on the side, waiting two or three minutes after stopping the engine.

6. What to do in case of a highway accident

I did not find any specific procedure for motorcycles on the highway.
But the principle remains the same:

  • Turn on your hazard warning lights (or flashing light)
  • Take your safety vest and put it on
  • Get off the bike on the side of the guardrail
  • Take shelter behind the guardrail
  • Call for help
  • Join your vehicle while waiting for help
  • When we talk about “joining your vehicle”, it is not a question of going back on it!
    Stay behind the guardrail, but close to your bike, to be able to signal to the rescue or the tow truck.
  • Even when the rescue is there, even if there is a beacon vehicle, stay as far as possible behind the slide, avoid as close as possible to the traffic lanes.

There is a small concern in these tips: more and more call points are not maintained, they fail or they’ve been disabled.
To avoid any problem, I advise you to install on your mobile phone an app that is designed by the highway company, depending on your location.

In Conclusion: How to Ride a Motorcycle Safely on a Highway

Highways are generally safer than other roads. They’re well maintained, there aren’t any pedestrians moving about and you’re riding in a straight line for the majority of time.

But there are still dangers such as high speed, drivers changing lanes or simply not noticing motorcyclists while in full speed. This is why it’s important to follow the tips outlined in this article.

Mainly to prepare well, know where you’re going, make yourself visible to others on the highway and adjust your speed according to circumstances. If you follow this advice you’ll have no problem riding from point A to point B on any well-maintained highway.

Luka Barron

Motorcycle mechanic, writer and Heineken lover. A bit like Hank Moody on a Suzuki.

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