Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Suddenly, there it was!

You're riding along enjoying the morning. Oregon's High Desert just east of the Cascade Mountains offers awesome and engaging scenery. Suddenly, an unexpected piece of scenery presents itself. Looking through your windscreen you see a bucket that has blown out of the back of the pickup ahead.

Maybe it's empty, maybe it's not. You certainly don't want to hit it and find out. You need to decide pretty darn quick what avoidance action to take. The preferred choice is to stop. That isn't going to happen. Stopping, even at maximum braking, takes room. Room you don't have. Choice number two is to swerve around it. This option takes less space. It also opens up other hazards if done incorrectly. Unfortunately, a lot of riders get it wrong.

Are you thinking the bucket thing is a bit corny or stretching it? Let me tell you about a recent motorcycle accident. It happened on the last day of the BMW rally in Redmond. The day after the first annual International Moto-Bloggers Convention ( copyright T-Bolt ). As part of the gang was heading west toward the Pacific Ocean they saw the accident scene. Here's the reference. Look at the sixth paragraph.

Briefly, here's what happened. Two BMW's being ridden two up. Both on the same road traveling in the same direction, but not actually together. A bucket bounced out of a pickup ahead of the bike in front. Yep, a bucket flew out of the truck onto the road. The first rider successfully swerved around the bucket. The second rider got around the bucket but ran into the back of the first bike in the process. Both bikes went down. All four people on two wheels went to the hospital. Those on the first bike with minor injuries. Those on the second bike with serious to critical injuries. Would you like to reconsider your opinion of my bucket photo and illustration, now?

I'm not going to dissect this particular accident. I wasn't there although I have talked to an officer that was on scene. Judging by the number of swerve attempts that end up in crashes, a lot of riders don't have a full understanding of the maneuver. Many riders in my classes who claim to have a lot of experience don't fully understand it, either. So I figured it might be a good idea to take a look at swerving correctly.

It's often easier to break a process down into parts. In the case of swerving we can break it into these parts: The presses, where we look, and traction management.

There's confusion about the presses in two different areas. The first is about actually realizing that a rider needs to press on the handgrip in the direction they need the bike to move. Some riders actually try to STEER around the hazard. In their "every bodily orifice tensed up" state they fall back on driving a car. Ironically, attempting to steer around a hazard actually countersteers a bike right into the very thing they were trying to avoid. Interestingly, Youg Dai made a similar comment on my post about Visualizing Success. Here are some excerpts.

Now dial in an :'Oh my god I am going to die!',bend that is tighter than you first thought. The if that is what is swamping your concious thought, as you have said before, the rest of the body is running on learnt muscle memory and reaction, so you try to steer towards the bend, as you would in a car. ..... where in fact you are applying counter steering input to the bike and in entirely the wrong direction.

This happened to me 12 years ago at less than 20 mph, so I healed and the bike was repaired. Now for many years I thought the cause of the bike running wide was me braking in mid corner.

We then had a presentation from an accident investigator at my riding group, about the number of single vehicle accidents on corners involving middle-aged men on summer Sundays, where he put up that theory. I thought back over my own accident and I now firmly believe it was me introducing the wrong steering inputs that actually put me across the kerb and into the wall.

Young Dai was talking about finding oneself too hot into a corner but the same principle applies. Tense situations often cause people to revert to ingrained habits. Good or bad.

Having established that we actually need to countersteer the bike in the direction of our escape route, let's talk about the actual presses. A swerve is two consecutive countersteers. A press in one direction followed by a press in the other direction. So what does each of the presses do?

There seems to pretty much be general agreement about what the first press does. The first press moves the bike into the new path of travel. Obviously, we want that new path to be one that is clear of the obstacle and that doesn't put us into worse danger once we get there. Hold that first press long enough to totally clear the obstacle. It doesn't do us much good to have the front tire clear the back end of a truck, for instance, only to find that our saddlebag hits the bumper. Or to catch a mirror in the visor.

Notice the term "hold the press". The amount the bike moves doesn't depend on how hard you hit the handgrip. It's the length of time we hold the press that determines how far the bike moves. Think of the press as standing in the doorway of your house. Then think of putting your palm flat against the storm door. ( of course, on the bike your hand will be curved around the grip ). Now push the door straight away from you to open it and let the cat or dog outside. It's that simple, because all you're doing is moving the front wheel slightly to one side. The faster the bike is traveling the more resistance you will feel to the press. Higher speeds require a firmer press.

Don't worry about a lot of upper body movement. There isn't time for that, anyway. Only the hands move. Let the bike move independently underneath you. In my classes I call it the "Elvis Presley School of Swerving; just let your hips swivel, Baby!"

Then my joke is "Notice I just said it, I didn't do it!" In my last Advanced Rider Training classroom I had a couple of Harley gals pull out some dollar bills and offer them to me if I did it. I might have blushed. Where's Jack R. when you need him?

Back to the presses. The first press moves the bike into the new path of travel. What does the second press do?

I've had a lot of riders tell me that the second press puts you back onto the original pathway. What if you can't go back? What if it's a fifty foot fuel slick? How about a quarter mile of nails spilling out of a truck? Or a line of stopped traffic? How do you go back?

The second press simply cancels the first press. In other words, it straightens the bike back up until we decide what to do next. That's it. A long press to move to the new path of travel followed by a short press to straighten the bike. Press and hold. Press to cancel. Long press, short press. Whichever way is easier to remember.

Where do we look? The answer to that should be thundering across cyberspace right now. WHERE YOU WANT THE BIKE TO GO!!! Keep your eyes up. Many riders who were unsuccessful in their swerves ran right into the hazard because they stared at it. It's called Target Fixation. A thing to be vigorously avoided, to be sure.

Ok, we've covered the presses and the look part. Let's take care of the last part. Traction management.

A swerve at any speed eats up traction. Higher speed swerves eat up more. Simple logic. Braking eats up traction. Look at the compressed forks and the squished front tire on the BMW above. Now we have two actions, each with its own large appetite for traction. Those two things should never be allowed to eat at the same table. There's a greater than average chance that there won't be enough food, or traction to go around. Never brake while swerving. Never attempt to swerve while braking. A lot of riders have tried and a lot of riders have crashed in the attempt.

You may need to swerve and then come to a quick stop. You may need to slow to see which way the object in front of you will roll ( such as a rolling bucket ). Do one, then the other. Brake, then swerve. Swerve, then brake. Never together. Separate, separate, separate.

Pop quiz. How many brakes does a bike have? Right away most people say two. Do I hear three? Yes, engine braking is the third one. So what do we need to do with the throttle through the entire swerve? A lot of riders start to roll off the throttle as soon as they start their swerve. It's a natural reaction. Danger = Slow down.

Isn't rolling off of the throttle braking during a swerve, though? Even if engine braking isn't enough to put us over the edge traction-wise, here's something else to think about.

What holds a bike up when it's moving? Speed, momentum, all that good stuff. So we're asking the bike to quickly lean over to one side and then pick itself up again. That's hard enough. To make it even harder, though, we're going to roll off the throttle as soon as we start to swerve, thus taking away the bike's power, speed, and momentum. In other words, all the means the bike uses to hold itself up. Somehow that just doesn't make much sense to me.

Hold the throttle steady all the way through the swerve. Don't roll off and don't roll on. You may need to refresh your roll-on afterwards, but in this case I'm talking throttle, not anti-perspirant!

Put it all together. Visually lock onto your escape route. That's the most interesting thing in your world right now. ( obviously, don't fixate and miss something critical around you ) Press the handgrip in the direction you need the bike to move. Hold that press long enough to totally clear the hazard. Once clear, execute a short press in the opposite direction to straighten the bike back up in the new path of travel. Hold a steady throttle until the bike is back upright. If braking is involved, do it before or after the swerve, never at the same time.

Swerving is like a fire extinguisher in your house. You pray you never need it. If the time does come, though, it's much better to have figured out how to use it correctly ahead of time. Therefore, go Thee, and practice in a safe place!

Miles and smiles,



cpa3485 said...

Excellent post! I have been thinking lately that my skills at swerving are a bit weak, just because I haven't practiced it much lately. I will do that just as soon as it's not 105 degrees outside.
Thanks Dan

Premeditated Scootin'

Steve Williams said...

I'll second Jim's kudos on this post. A lot to think about and consider, more than I can get away with at work right now. But I certainly agree that a bucket could create disaster. Right now I am worried about the coming firewood cutting season and the increase in pieces of wood on the road. My little scooter tires do not do well with them.

I will have to consider this a formal lesson and read and practice accordingly. Thanks for sharing this Dan.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

bobskoot said...


We saw the remnants of the accident while heading west out of Bend. Just after a left sweeping curve, the bike was in the ditch on the left side. At the time we did not know what had happened and continued on.

As soon as I find a straight stretch of road I'm going to try press on, press off.

I liked your technical explanation of the swerve procedure. Makes you think

Wet Coast Scootin

Stacy said...

I wasn't in the group that rode past the accident scene, but I read about it in the news later.

Clearly, the first motorcycle did everything right in that they avoided the bucket.

I was thinking what I would do if I were in the second motorcycle's situation, and I wondered if there wasn't a third option: hit the bucket and take my chances. (Sort of like "surmounting the obstacle".) A bucket that flies out of a truck is likely not a loaded bucket or a heavy one.

But don't get me wrong: a correctly executed emergency stop *or* swerve would be 100% better than leaving your fate to chance.

Great post as always, Dan.

Young Dai said...

Blimey, I made the front page !

Glad I could provide part of the spark to launch your ideas form this blog. Long may I be able to throw up the balls that you knock into the crowd chief !

The double swerve is so very useful in day to day riding, manhole covers, pot holes, pea shingle, never mind cagers on the phone coming out of side roads.

And on road debris generally: 9 or 10 years ago, I was in heavy commuter traffic and too close to the car in front of me, so I couldn't react to the spilt box of 2 inch wood screws on the road we came across until I was already in the middle of them. The cars before had already cleared two tram lines though the spillage, but because I was in the centre of the lane I ran straight though the lot. My tyres had more holes in them than a holely thing. And the back one only had 60 miles on it !

An expensive lesson

A thought to Stacy, even a light builders bucket will weigh a lb or two. I feel that hitting that at anything above walking speed runs the risk of body panel damange, breaking a brake line or buckling the front wheel, while taking it on the foot or leg would really hurt, (think how a bee feels at 60 mph), no matter how much AGATT you had. You still run the risk of going into a dangerous wobble. For sure I would not want to test out the theory in anger.

Richard Machida said...

Stuff flying out of the back of truck is, I'm afraid, fairly common up here. Since there is no trash pickup outside of the city limit, everyone hauls their trash to collection points scattered around. I have hit a 5-gallon bucket sitting on it's side in the middle of the road with the right side valve cover. It just bounced to the side, no damage to the bike or the bucket, no ill handling. In fact, I pulled over and tied the bucket to the back of the bike and took it home since it was in pretty good shape. You can never have too many buckets....

bluekat said...

Great post! Some things I remember from class, and some new stuff to mull over and add to the knowledge base. It makes me nervous following trucks. I never know what's going to fly out of them. I haven't had to do much emergency swerving thus far. Most of my close calls haven't been terribly close, which is fine by me.

My swerving practice consists of dodging little rocks or any little thing in the road that looks swerve-aroundable. Maybe not the best place to play, but Sam very much likes flitting around stuff. Poor girl, she spends too much time reigned in.

You can do your Elvis moves in the upcoming class if you want to. We won't mind. Should we bring dollars? :)

Conchscooter said...

Blue crabs are on the highway this time of year waving their claws at passing motorcycles. I shall be more conscious of my swerving. Happily if I fail they crunch and I carry on regardless (irregardless if i want to crash my grammar).

Charlie6 said...

Another great reminder post....

I try and practice "minor" swerving using manhole covers and such while commuting and riding. No pucker factor of course as I am expecting it....still, muscle memory development.

On the Ural, no pressing, you have to do a pretty good "hanging out" and "hanging back" instead. It keeps life interesting. Do it wrong and you fly the chair, do it too timidly, and your swerve is not enough.....

Stacy said...

@RichardM: I just had a mental image of you picking up that bucket -- yeah, I could see you doing that. :)

Chuck Pefley said...

Another well written how and why-to post. Thanks for the written walk through!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear IronDad (Dan):

I enjoyed this post so much, that I bookmarked it for bedroom reading, following jackhammer sex. There was a lot of food for thought here.

Swerving needs to be a reflex action and is one of the first things I tend to practice pulling out of the driveway -- using manhole covers just as Domingo Chang suggests. But I am also in aggrement with Stacy, that a rolling, spackle bucket is somrthing I might be inclined to take my chances with, especially if the alternative was running into another rider.

On the other hand, I have also encountered less rolly things, like a burst sack of cement siting in the center of the road, which could have easily collapsed a three-spoke BMW wheel, or bent a fork.

Although I must also confess, I once followed a truck too cosely, and was in the process of changing lanes, in excess of 90 mph, and was suddenly confronted with a 'gator in the road, a strip of blown truck tire.

I had three seconds to react. I pulled the bike upright, and hit it dead-nutz on. The rubber strip was curved side down and I whacked at 90 degrees.
The bike barely bumped. But had that been a piece of angle iron or railroad tie, the outcome would have been very different.

I was going too fast.
I was too close to the truck.
And I was lucky.

I was also very tired and hot.

And Dan, a gentleman always lets a lady put a dollar bill in his shorts. I even let them feel around for change.

Well-written blog. Michael Beattie should take your correspondance course.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

irondad said...


Practice is good. For those who ride scooters with smaller diameter wheels: Be aware that the front wheel is more sensitive to the presses that a bike with larger wheels.

In other words, be smooth and gentle until you see how the bike responds.

Steve Williams,

Thank you for being such a long time supporter! Note my comment to Jim above about scooters.

Take care,


irondad said...


Was the description too technical? I always try to avoid that. I include enough technical stuff to explain what happens, but try not to sound like a pseudo-intellectual pontificator!

Mostly I just want folks to understand what happens and how to do things correctly.

Take care,


irondad said...


You are absolutely correct. There is some merit to possibly hitting the bucket based on what we observe. Where we are going to end up after the swerve is a huge factor in deciding if we should take that option. Hitting the obstacle may be the lesser of the evils. Not fun, but one of those "every other option is uglier" things.

In this case, it doesn't seem that the cause of the second rider hitting the first was actually the fact that he swerved.

The second rider apparently rolled on the throttle at the same time he started the swerve. He accelerated into the bike ahead. There was so much going on with the swerve, etc, that he didn't have time to react when he realized the gap closed so quickly.

Another reason for steady throttle. One less variable to deal with in a stressful moment.

Take care,


irondad said...

Young Dai,

A good blog should have the readers involved. There should be a sense of community and interchange. You are an important part of the community here!

I do want to make a quick semantic correction. You said that the double swerve was useful in your comment. I know what you actually meant was the double press. The swerve is the total of both presses, of course.

I can't imagine riding through a bed of nails!

Take care,


irondad said...


Following distance becomes important with shifting loads, doesn't it?

I'm going to have to go bucket hunting. The one in the photo is my last one.

Take care,


irondad said...


Thank you for your enthusiastic support!

Please note my response to Richard about following distances. You are wise to practice and keep the mind-muscle connection sharp.

You've met me in person. And you're still encouraging Elvis moves? I'm blushing, again.

Take care,


irondad said...


So now we have mental pictures of Richard stopping to collect buckets while you are gathering up crabs!

Just remember, obstacle avoidance is best practiced with obstacles that a rider actually wishes to avoid.

Take care,


irondad said...


Hanging out and hanging back, eh? So you have the hip moves down pretty well? Perhaps you should be the one doing Elvis moves for dollar bills in my upcoming class!


Thank you for the comment. I'm truly pleased to think somebody actually got something from my blog. I always wonder if I'm just deluding myself as a justification to keep writing.

Take care,


irondad said...


I'm always sincerely pleased to see you comment here. I don't know why. If I were normal I'd be doing something that made me a bunch of money instead of this.

Thank you for the tip on being a gentleman. Some of us don't have room for change.

I thought of you when I wrote this post. Figuring that most females were swerving to avoid you, it might help for you to understand what techniques they were employing.

I almost felt bad writing that last paragraph since you were man enough to tell the story about hitting the exploded truck tire. Almost, but not quite. Although you used different words a while back, I remember you saying something to the effect that real men aren't afraid to insult each other.

Take care,


Nikos said...

A very worthwhile topic - just unfortunate that a serious accident with a bucket promotes discussion on it.
In discussions such as these I always like to ask Instructors and experts about "how what and where with what result" with ABS brakes? In my car driving school I am told that the real point of ABS is that you can steer and brake at the same time and ABS does not necessarily lead to shorter stopping distances per se, (but you would have swerved around the bucket OK). not so with motorcycles according to my BMW riders manual as the laws of physics cannot be broken.

So why does my BMW carry the 20kg of ABS equipment when I'm not allowed to use it in arguably the most likely scenario whilst cornering? It would be better to ditch the ABS and shed the mass, reduce the moment of inertia of the bike and so allow more nimble cornering? Stopping distance would be reduced too because of lower mass.
That was discussion point 1.

Discussion point 2 is that I regard the act of counter steering in a similar way to banking an aircraft to turn it. One way of turning an aircraft is to kick the rudder pedals - kick left - turn left (actually its more involved than that as you need some dihedral on the wings to allow yaw roll coupling....). So if you consider the bars on a bike as a device that permits a bank rather than a steering tiller it all falls into place as it where.
Have a good weekend, N

Anonymous said...

Saw the orange bucket and imagined it was an orange cone. Not a cone filled with ice cream rather just a large orange cone. That's why
the collective "we" practice going around orange cones, to be
cognisant of what to do in such situations. After a winter layoff I always went to the cupboard and collected all the orange balls I had cut in half and found an area with no traffic, place the orange dots at various places and then spent the afternoon darting around them. Anybody can drive in a straight line, it is when the curves and swerves appear and you have to avoid them is when the fun begins, or touble if you are not looking where you are going.

That bucket could well have been filled with liquid cement or plaster or any number of other substances.

Then again that particular bucket was maybe from Dan's personal collection of things that go bump in the night!

Steve Williams said...

Since reading this post I have been thinking about one evasive maneuver that I have played out in my head many times on the way to work.

I cross an intersection with no light or stop sign for me but both side streets have stop signs. More than once someone has pulled out in front of my or turned left across my path. I don't know what it is about this intersection. It appears normal and nondescript.

So each time I approach I prepare. In my head I see a sudden weave right, through a narrow curb cut onto the sidewalk and then a drastic weave left to remain on the sidewalk and avoid a telephone pole. And all of this happening at a leisurely 30mph. I play this scene through to the point where other drivers, riders and a passing policeman nod approval and say to themselves, "that scooter rider is the shit".

I have never practiced this maneuver and it seems more like something a stunt man would do in the movies than I could actually execute under pressure.

What do you think? Should I practice this or just slow down?

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

irondad said...


Thought provoking comments. With your permission I would like to use your comments as a basis for a post by itself. Your comments are worthy of the space by themselves. Work for you?

Take care,


irondad said...


You were wise to brush up after the winter hibernation! Too bad the color thing isn't that simple. How easy it would be if we could simply watch for all things orange!

Take care,


irondad said...

Steve Williams,

Interesting scenario! There is great wisdom in planning ahead. I think you know the answer to your question. However, there is a great charm in being able to show off, isn't there?

Your sidewalk plan would require that you be in exactly the right place when the "stimulus event" happens and would also exact great precision. So don't rule it out, but it should go down as Plan B or even C.

Better to slow down and be ready. Which it sounds like you are already doing. Watch the front wheels of the cars. Don't fixate, of course, and risk missing some other hazard.

Front wheels give us the quickest clue as to what a driver is doing or planning to do.

If you do decide to practice the sidewalk move, please arrange for it to be filmed and shared, won't you? That would be awesome!

Take care,


Nikos said...


Works for me OK - I´m honoured!

Being half Greek I always like to start a good argument, sorry debate, and run for cover!

Best wishes from Europe, N

SheRidesABeemer said...

I hope they person following me has read this post! I'm teaching my daughter to drive (not like me) the car. I think of the many things we learn as motorcyclists that are helpful for car drivers. The fact that the motorcyclist may need to swerve is something I want my young cager to think about.