Practical Safety Tips and Rules when Riding
Words: Monch Gupit
Photos: Jerel Fajardo and Maynard M. Marcelo
Inevitably, a non-motorcycle rider would ask an iteration of this question “How can you (possibly) ride a motorcycle in Metro Manila?” I used to have a standard answer, until a recent event made me wonder the very same thing.
How can I possibly ride a motorcycle in the Metro? It defies logic and all sense since riding a motorcycle exposes you to the elements, like rain and sun, resulting in either mud or dust, and more often than not, both in the same ride. A number of cagers (a term of endearment referring to car riders) have little or no regard for bikers, and if at all, between hitting a bus or a bike, realities would dictate the option taken. City roads are far from conducive, no small thanks to a convoluted traffic policy and messy politics.
Despite all these, I often take my bike to work, which raises the brows of family members who often wonder if I am really going to the office.
To complicate the issue further, the kind of bike used affects the way you ride and how others on the road treat you. To a great extent, I tend to have an easier time when I’m with “DaWife” (1997 HD FXDL); a twist of the throttle would normally be sufficient to fend off or warn a “lazy Sunday driver”. With Claudia (the little red Vespa PX150), I need to make myself more visible and at the same time accept having to dodge other bikes, staying clear of cars, giving way to SUV’s (even if I have the right of way) and pray to the Heavens that the cargo truck driver would see me, take pity, or at the very least, not be sleepy.
Even on the motorcycle lane on EDSA, the concept of “right of way” is but a theory existing only on the same mythical plane as “road courtesy in Manila”. (I’ve been told that this existed a long time ago, but there has been no recent sighting.)
So I observe a certain set of rules. These are by no means complete, and a different motorcycle rider may live by (pun intended) an entirely different set of rules altogether. But to make sense of the mayhem, I’ve found the following to be helpful.
1. Never underestimate the stupidity of drivers. Corollary to this postulate is that there are careless
drivers, and there are really, really, really careless drivers. I think some car drivers are not aware that they have things installed on their car called the “turn-signal” and “passing mirrors”. I am confident, or at least hopeful, that with a bit of consciousness and courtesy, traffic in the Metro would make sense and become quite literally, liveable.
2. Have a healthy disrespect for public works. That steel sewer cover you saw yesterday may not be there tomorrow. It is also foolish to assume that all roads are properly paved. Forget about the days of a well-designed road, and keep in mind that in all likelihood, that turn is off-camber and probably slippery for lack of proper drainage. We only have two wheels on the road and mistakes are unforgiving.
3. Assume nothing. If at all, that pedestrian WILL cross even if the traffic signal is in your favor and that car WILL turn even if you are already in the middle of the intersection. In this regard, a green light means it is safe for you to cross, but only after you make sure that the cars on the other side have ACTUALLY stopped.
4. It is ridiculous to spend a lot of money for the bike and for modifications and then be stingy when it comes to personal safety. Helmets work (to a certain point), and I suppose the last thing that you would want as your conscious thought is “I should have bought the right helmet”. Don’t skimp on safety!
5. Know that a lot of drivers don’t care much for bike riders, so please ride properly. I also enjoy riding in cars and SUV’s, and I see a lot of our motorcycle brothers who seem to think that being on a bike is an excuse to counterflow, even on a busy road. Lane stitching is a tricky matter and I do try to avoid being a nuisance to anyone. There is a reason for that yellow line dividing the roads, a fact often lost to a lot of us.
6. There is no trophy, there is no medal, and there is no plaque at the end of your daily ride. No reason for you to be reckless and be a menace to others and a danger to yourself in your quest to “get there first”.
7. Maintain your bike. Yes, there are breakdowns, but there are things that can be prevented. It also does not make sense for you to spend on some ghastly exhaust pipe to make it sound “racing-racing”.
8. Be aware. Trite but true. I see a lot of riders riding with earphones and listening to music. As it is, helmets (usually) already cover the ear. The padding further reduces the sound you can hear. Apart from sight, there are times when danger can be prefaced by sound, such as a blaring car horn, a police siren, or even the rumble of a big engine.
9. Help car drivers see you. I’m amazed how some motorcycle riders can ride without replacing their busted lights. One time, I encountered a motorcycle rider without any tail light, in the EDSA Ayala tunnel at night time. When I passed the bike, the headlight was also busted. One for Ripley’s, believe it or not (how idiotic some riders can be). On this point, a band of reflector tape on the helmet, your riding gear, and panniers, can be of some help. Think riding night time and rain and I guess you will appreciate the value of being visible.
10. Think – “I’d like to ride again tomorrow”. I hope you will, too! Despite all these rules, bikes make sense to me. In fact, these rules can very well apply to car drivers as well, the main difference being the fact that a car driver has substantially more protection afforded by a sheet of reinforced metal. Bikes make sense because of the smaller foot print, especially in light of an ever shrinking road network. For a whole lot, it is by reason of necessity.
The cards are stacked against the bike, and every ride has your life or limb on the table. But I believe it doesn’t have to be as much of a danger as people think, if everyone just remembers that behind every biker is a parent, a brother or a sister, a human being trying to get to her job, a person trying to reach his family. We all are trying to get somewhere. Some prefer four wheels,
some choose just two. Riding a bike may not be for all, but there is no reason to make it more difficult or dangerous for those who prefer to do so.