TOTW: Have a breakdown plan

The riding tips on these pages are my personal opinion about matters related to motorcycle riding. They are not the official position of any organization, and are for your consideration only. They are not hard and fast rules, they should not necessarily be applied in all circumstances, and they should not be applied without thinking. Always use your judgement and take all current safety factors into account while riding. You are responsible for your riding, not anyone else (especially me). These tips were originally published by a motorcycle riding course, called “Tip of the Week” (the reason for the TOTW in the titles).

What’s the problem?

Any vehicle can have a breakdown on the road: it can run out of fuel, have mechanical or electrical failure, have a flat tire, or experience engine problems. Breakdowns on the road are more serious on a bike than on a car.

A car with one flat tire can still be driven to safety. A motorcycle with one flat tire cannot. Furthermore, most cars carry spare tires, while motorcycles do not.

Cars provide shelter and protection, and are a safe place to await help after a breakdown. Motorcycles offer little protection, and leave their riders exposed to weather and traffic while awaiting help.

So, while many car drivers give no advance thought to breakdowns, they are still able to easily recover from problems on the road. With a motorcycle, however, you should think through your specific riding circumstances and consider what you’ll do if you encounter problems on the road.

Breakdown plans

On long-distance rides, planning what problems you might encounter and what remedies you can take with you is part of the fun and challenge. For city commuting, you’ll want to stick to basics. Your plan will depend on the kind of riding you do, and might include some combination of the following options:

Do nothing. I just commute a few kilometres in this city, and I’m never more than a block or two from help. I ride for fun and I’m not prepared to make an issue of this. If I have a problem I’ll just walk.

Carry money. Touring riders have a saying, “Carry half as much clothing and twice as much money as you think you’ll need.”

Carry a cellular phone. I’m not far from help and I’ll just call if I need assistance. (Note: Who will you call, and how will they help you?)

Subscribe to a roadside assistance service. Services like CAA-Plus will supply roadside assistance to motorcycles. You’ll need a cellular phone with you to call them.

Do roadside repairs. Most bikes come with a basic tool kit suitable for minor roadside repairs. You need the mechanical knowledge and skills to use it, and the side of the highway is not a good place to learn. If this is your chosen option, open your tool kit at home and satisfy yourself that you have what you need and know how to use it. Many mechanically-oriented riders will upgrade the tool kits in their bike or add specialty tools.

Carry a tire repair kit. Compact kits to plug and re-inflate tires are available to fit under your seat or in your storage compartment. They will fix punctures and minor leaks, but not major tire failures. (These are not permanent repairs — you use them to enable yourself to ride to help.)

Carry a first-aid kit. In the city, this may be unnecessary, but on back roads you may need to treat an injury before help arrives.

Carry survival gear. If you are touring in the back country, staying alive until help arrives may be a real concern. Your emergency kit might include water, matches, a poncho, a flashlight, a knife, and so on.

Carry spare parts. On long-distance rides, you may wish to have spares with you for those things likely to need them. Common items to carry include oil, chain lubricant, light bulbs, wire, and cables (for clutch or throttle).

Adjust for circumstances

Any time you ride outside your normal routine, adjust your breakdown plan accordingly. For example, if you choose the “No plan needed; I’m in the city” option, you may wish to temporarily adopt a different approach before you make a cross country trip. Likewise, if your bike is filled to capacity with tools, spare parts, and survival gear, you should probably lighten your load before using it for your daily one-kilometre commute to your office.


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