the rentabike guide
How to Ride a Motorbike
The roads in Vietnam can be a dangerous place. Just riding a motorbike safely requires a fair bit of concentration, and the chaotic nature of the traffic here can definitely be intimidating for those unfamiliar with it. It’s for this reason that we put the notes below together as we feel that if you are able to control your vehicle effectively without too much thought then you will be better able to pay attention to any potentially dangerous situations that are developing around you. We hope you find the notes below useful and invite you to pass them on to friends you feel could also benefit from them.
Table of Contents
Most tyres will state the recommended pressure on them: follow these recommendations. The recommended pressure varies between the front and back, and often gives a range, so if carrying a pillion err on the high side.
As a rule of thumb, once a tyre tread has worn to below the diameter of a match head (1.5mm) it should be replaced. Having a good pair of tyres on your bike is always important and this is especially true on the roads in and around Hanoi which are often covered with a fine layer of dirt and often even oil, particularly after prolonged dry spells.
It’s important to ensure both front and back brakes have the correct amount of play in the cables: braking ability is severely reduced if there is too much slack. Also, have your levers/pedals adjusted to suit both your riding position and your size.
Don’t ride without them. Make sure your mirrors offer the best rear vision possible and that they are correctly positioned so you can easily see without the need to move your head.
In many developed countries motorcycle headlights are ‘hot wired i.e. there is no on/off switch and they are on all the time. There is a very good reason for this and it applies more so in Vietnam, as visual awareness often has more of an effect than the constant use of horns. Check all your lights are operational before you set out, head lights, tail light and indicators.
These are often ignored here but, once again, every little bit helps.
Try to sit as far forward as is comfortable. This also applies to your pillion. The aim is to have as much weight forward as possible to allow you to both steer and stop efficiently. It’s not a good idea to have your pillion wrap their arms around you (although it can be nice). It’s better to hang onto the hand grips supplied or relaxed on your thighs.
- Sit Well Forwards.
- Keep your head up and point your chin in your direction of travel.
- Relax your arms and keep minimal weight on your wrists.
- Keep your back relaxed and support your weight with your stomach muscles.
- Grip your bike firmly with your legs and knees. (This can be difficult on a scooter but do try to keep your legs together.)
Mounting and Dismounting
Always get on and off your bike away from the traffic. In Vietnam they drive on the right so get onto your bike from the right hand side.
Stand out from the crowd (yeah, not many people in Vietnam actually check before they make a turn or merge with traffic) and look before you leap.
The rear brake on a bike is poorly named. As far as stopping goes it accounts for about 10% of your ability to do so. Think of it more as a stabilizer than a brake. By dragging your rear brake when taking off you will be able to maintain a straight line and avoid those embarrassing bumps into surrounding bikes when taking off from the lights.
The faster a motorcycle travels the harder it is to turn. Reducing speed before turning is essential. During very low speed turns, such as doing a U turn, the gentle use of the throttle combined with the use of the rear brake (dragging) will allow you to complete the maneuver with confidence.
A motorcycle can be steered in a number of ways. Handle bar pressure, body weight and changes in speed all have an effect on a motorcycle’s direction of travel. Experienced riders will use a combination of all three to achieve a smooth turn.
Always keep your head up. Focus on the road ahead and not on your front end. Remember, your head acts as a spirit level and if it stays up, the odds are you will to.
The correct road position to maintain, especially in Hanoi, is not always the easiest thing to figure out. At the same time, using the correct part of the correct lane is one of the best ways of protecting yourself from danger. Keep well clear of hot spots such as oncoming traffic and parked vehicles and always have an exit strategy up your sleeve. The tactics you employ outside the city are going to be different yet the underlying principle remains the same: always give yourself somewhere to go should the unexpected happen. Really, there are three things you need to consider when choosing your position on the road: space, surface and sight.
As a motorcyclist you have very little to protect you in a crash apart from your protective riding gear. The more space you leave between yourself, other vehicles and pedestrians, the better. Creating space from hazards is known as buffering. Keeping well clear of hazards also increases others ability to see you.
Paint, oil, water, sand, gravel, pot holes and debris are all examples of different road surfaces a rider needs to manage. Although it’s best to avoid riding on such surfaces, sometimes it’s unavoidable. A good example in Vietnam is when you try buffering away from oncoming vehicles even though the road surface you’re going to have to move on to is terrible. In these situations it’s best to slow down and keep your buffer space.
A good road position can allow you to see further and gather more information about what is happening up ahead. Try to choose a road position that gives you good vision without compromising your buffer from hazards.
Stopping is all about friction between your bike and the surface of the road. In order to get the best possible amount of friction you must prepare, or set up for it. By correctly setting up the bike for braking you can almost double the friction footprint available. Braking is a two-stage operation: first you set up, then you squeeze. Setting up, or, taking up the slack in your brakes, does a number of things:
- It moves your weight forward.
- It compresses the suspension.
- It places the brake pads against the disc.
- It flattens the tyres (increasing friction).
To set up your braking, put light pressure on your brake levers and pause, then squeeze, applying the necessary braking pressure. This two-stage braking technique (set up and squeeze) vastly improves braking effectiveness, reducing the likelihood of skidding and providing better control.
The majority of motorcycle accidents are caused by over-reacting to a dangerous situation. It is human nature to react to danger but with practice your braking technique will reduce this percentage. In effect, it works as your own ABS (Anti-lock Braking System). Oh, and one more thing: remember to brake before you enter a corner, because applying the front brake in a curve can make the bike run wide, or skid.
Head position is extremely important, more so on the smaller motorbikes most people in Vietnam are riding. Looking through a corner will help your coordination and balance when cornering. Use your peripheral vision to scan the road surface while keeping your head pointed in the direction you want to go. Remember, if you look at it you’ll hit it.