South African bikers often have to fight with unruly drivers on SA roads, which not only puts them at risk of damaging their bikes, but also at risk from sustaining injuries.

This could be attributed to other road users being uninformed on motorbike safety, but too many people don’t realise what a biker goes through while managing his/her commute.

Unfortunately, many road users treat bikers as a second thought when the same road is shared and motorists often do not give them the time of day when it comes sparing a thought of consideration.

Not all motorists are like this and thank you to those who actually #ThinkBike.

In light of this it was encouraging to experience BMW South Africa’s Motorrad rider training, but the exercise proved to be more eye-opening than merely getting to grips with a 250cc motorcycle.

Managing the controls

Unlike driving a vehicle, motorbikes require a different approach. Bikes are equipped with an accelerator, clutch, brakes and gears – just like a car – but navigating these controls is almost as confusing as Jacob Zuma reading a finance report. On most bikes, like the Yamaha units that were available for the training, the accelerator is on the right handle bar and the clutch lever on the left handle bar. The gear-selector sits slightly ahead of the left footrest.

Front brakes can be applied via the handle hovering in front of the right handle bar and the rear brake near the right foot.

Understanding these controls and their way of operating is daunting at first, but as the hours drew on managing it all became easier. Only at the end of the day could most of the trainees bring their bikes to a halt without stalling.

On the open road, then, bikers need to know what they’re doing and managing the different controls has to be second-nature rather than “what to do next”. In the event of something happening in the rider’s path, s/he needs to react in a matter of moments while ensuring that the bike does not stall. Evasive action needs to be taken at a moment’s notice, all while working the controls to get through an instance that might cause bike and driver damage.

By simulating real-world conditions of what riders can expect, BMW Motorrad SA prepares both newcomers to the bike scene and motorists for the very real challenges and dangers bikers are faced with on our roads. One wrong move from a road user, including motorcycle riders, can result in a biker careening into a vehicle ahead, or lock the wheels and have him lose control of the bike, or stall the engine and having the bike stutter to a sudden halt and someone driving into them.

It’s a lot to take in, but putting yourself – as driver and road user – in a rider’ boots can often be the catalyst to us being more vigilant and considerate towards the two-wheel brigade.

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Driving conditions

Bikers are often exposed to various types of conditions in which they have to navigate their way. BMW Motorrad spent a good part of the theory lessons on this section alone; getting it across that bikers have to continuously adapt their riding styles and patterns. On the open road, let’s say driving in the countryside, it is advisable that riders position themselves as close as possible to the middle of the road. This will prevent bikes from slipping on oil that might have spilled onto the middle of the lane, as well as hitting potholes on the lane’s edges.

If you do hit either one of these two obstructions, simply come off the throttle and navigate your way through it. If a biker finds him/herself behind another vehicle, position the bike on the right-hand side of the vehicle ahead but between the right rear lights and the road markings. And when a rider approaches oncoming traffic, move to the left to create a safety buffer and return to the middle when traffic had past.

Increase this buffer when a truck or bus approaches. On a blind crest, move to the left of your lane in case an inconsiderate driver overtakes from the other side.

In the city, it’s best for bikers to stay in the middle lane, but also here keep to the right. BMW Motorrad SA says that research has shown that motorists often perceive bikers in this lane to have more confidence than those in the slower lane. It is also important to keep a distance of at least three seconds between you as the biker and the vehicle ahead. Increase this distance when it’s raining.

Cities are also prone to have roads connecting, so best not overtake from the left.

Navigating through corners should be done with the rider entering from the left and moving to the right when it’s safe to do so. Always scan the road 30-100m ahead and keep an eye on the point you want to exit the corner.

Throughout the training this proved to be important in finding and maintaining a balance on the bike.

BMW and bikes

BMW Motorrad has been building motorbikes since 1923. In fact, the first BMW was a bike; called the R32. Since those early years the company has grown and revolutionised their two-wheel offerings and every year the number of new units finding owners increases.

The manufacturer is aiming to sell 200 000 bikes in 2017 globally and in SA it has a 43.4% market share in the 500cc segment. So it should come as little to no surprise that the Motorrad training it offers is towards 1) achieving the 200 000-target and 2) increasing the market share in all six segments it is competing in.

It was an insightful experience getting to grips with riding a motorbike, but it was even better growing familiar with the intricacies of “being a biker”.