For over two decades the NZMSC has been running motorcycle rider training courses, ranging from beginner to professional level. Thus, the NZMSC is well aware of the difficulty of not only getting motorcyclists to undertake formal rider training but, having got the rider to the course, of teaching him/her the many skills allegedly required to survive on a motorcycle.

We were concerned that most motorcycle riding course syllabi seemed to include personal riding skill beliefs, lifted segments from other syllabi, and other subjects added just for good measure and that many syllabi had no specific focus on teaching crash avoidance. So the NZMSC decided to look at motorcycle crash statistics to see what were the most common motorcycle crashes and then investigate to see if there were common skills needed to avoid these crashes.

The idea was to see if one could avoid having to teach time-wasting blue moon skills at formal riding courses. (Blue moon skills are the skills that one rarely has to use and, indeed, may never use, such as the skill of accelerating and pulling up on the front wheel if about to hit debris on the road.) Other means, such as through motorcycle magazine articles or a site on the Internet, could be used to teach blue moon skills.

Taking this approach, the study the NZMSC made of motorcycle crash statistics was revealing. Taking riding skills into account, three main types of motorcycle crashes were soon apparent. These were:

Having established these general category of crashes, we then looked at the base riding skills that were required to avoid each crash. While we found that there were some common skills required in virtually every crash situation, such as the Emergency Braking skill, some specialist skills were required for some types of crash. And some of these specialist skills were quite complex.

Ultimately, our study revealed that there were three main types of motorcycle crashes (which account for well over 90% of all crashes and, indeed, 99% of all serious crashes) and that there were six skills required to avoid these crashes.


The Essential Survival Skills

Emergency Braking.

Emergency Braking is an obvious survival skill. In a crash situation one needs to be able to scrub off speed fast to either avoid crashing into something or to reduce the severity of the impact.

A less obvious fact about emergency braking on a motorcycle is that poorly implemented emergency braking can itself cause a crash. In a crash situation in a car, locked wheels simply reduce the extent of speed reduction. On a motorcycle, locking a wheel (and especially the front wheel) is likely to cause the bike to go out of control and the rider to crash.

In the first two years of riding, most riders untrained in emergency braking skills tend to lock the front brake under hard braking and fall off. Whether this crash is serious or not is mainly a matter of luck. This experience will undoubtedly cause the rider to be scared of using the front brake, the most effective brake on the machine, and can make him/her extremely vulnerable in a crash situation.

Research by Harry Hurt of the University of California has established that only a small minority of riders correctly use their brakes in a crash situation. Most use only the back brake (which only provides about 20% of the machine's total stopping power) while about a third apply no brakes at all! It has been suggested this happens because the rider, having fallen off under brakes in the past, is scared of his brakes.

Getting riders used to using their brakes in emergency mode is essential to their health and survival. Just getting riders informed about the procedures and factors involved in emergency braking will go a long way to reducing the number of crashes, injuries, and deaths.


Direction Perspective

The eyes play a major role in the control of a motorcycle. On a motorcycle, where you look is where you go and, to establish your direction perspective, the motorcyclist must use his eyes correctly. The way the rider uses his eyes also plays an important part in anticipating the actions of other vehicles around him and in the messages he sends to other motorists in conflict situations. Target fixation is also part of this. The rider who looks at the roadside furniture s/he is trying to avoid is sure to hit it!


Manoeuvre Anticipation

Anticipating what a vehicle is likely to do in a conflict situation involves a number of skills, many of them quite complex. Yet, looking at the most common motorcycle/car crash situations, the NZMSC discovered that there were a small number of anticipatory skills which, when carried out in a specific order, enable the rider to anticipate the likely actions of the driver, the movement, and speed etc of the car. Knowing this skill and implementing it enables the rider to get early warning of the actions of errant motorist and thus avoid impact with the offending vehicle.


Crash Survival

Sometimes, no matter how good the rider is, he will be invited to join someone else's crash and will be unable to decline the invitation. Where a rider crashes, there is a specific set of actions and reactions the rider can make that will greatly reduce the chances of being seriously hurt in the crash. A simple example is where the bike slides out from under the rider. In this situation the rider should always try to slide rather than tumble. This way he can see where he’s going, he can use his hands and feet to steer away from danger, and his body will not tumble with the extremities at risk of snapping as they impact with the ground or parked cars etc.



A skill that has only become widely recognised in the last decade, countersteering is the technique of using gyroscopic precession to cause the motorcycle to change direction quickly and accurately.

While used subconsciously by all people who ride motorcycles, this skill is little known consciously by most riders. Thus, it cannot be used by these riders as a means of emergency maneouvring in a crash situation. Yet this skill is often essential in a crash situation where a rapid and accurate change of direction means the difference between a near miss and a full impact.


Risk Management.

A modern management tool in big business, risk management is the skill of identifying risks, calculating their severity, deciding whether one wishes to carry that risk and, if one doesn’t, how to counter that risk. Risk-taking is, to a certain degree, part of the motorcyclists' psyche, be it when riding a bike or having fun at But most motorcyclists are still interested in managing that risk. They do this by identifying the risks in riding (for example, the risks of riding fast in a specific location) and deciding whether that risk is one they are willing to take. Most riders, until taught this skill, do not even consider the risks involved in riding in any logical way. Either the risk is considered as a whole (the risk of riding a motorcycle) and, as a whole is too large to make an informed decision upon (and is thus filed in the Too Hard basket of the rider's brain), or is unfocused, in that riding in one particular location at an excessive speed is not considered as a speed pertinent to that location but as the speed "I normally ride at". When given some basic pointers on the ways to use risk management in one’s riding, the rider is, for example, more likely to be selective in his speeding and to take a sensible and considered approach to risk.

The advantage of risk management is that it is a process which is perceived by riders to be a professional process and a process that allows the rider to make his own value judgements in its implementation, such as the judgement of the extent of risk the rider is willing to expose himself too. Personal value judgements like these are amenable to change through social and peer pressure and, with the psychological make-up of the motorcyclist, the best safety improvements are achieved if the rider moves to a safer riding style voluntarily rather than through a legislatively-imposed system.


The Crashes.

Collision With Another Vehicle *

Even a cursory study of the New Zealand Land Transport Safety Authority's road crash statistics reveals that by far the majority of motorcycle crashes involve a car, and usually one that is turning. Overseas research indicates that these types of motorcycle crashes are a problem in most western countries. Mobile obstacles in the form of cars are probably the greatest threat to the motorcyclist’s well-being on modern roads.

Of the car/motorcycle crashes, the majority are intersection accidents where the car driver is usually at fault and, in fact, makes not one, but two driving faults - not checking adequately and failing to give way.

It is our belief that car-turning/intersection crashes are the most common motorcycle crashes for the simple reason that surviving the careless car driver requires a rider to know all six essential motorcycle survival skills. Yet, unless specifically taught these skills when getting a licence, most beginner riders will not be equipped with these skills and will thus be vulnerable to the motorised mobile chicane. This belief is reinforced by the fact that motorcycle crash statistics show that beginner riders are disastrously over-represented in motorcycle crashes. It logically follows that more experienced riders crash less because they’ve learnt survival skills from experience, often very hard experience.

In order to avoid the Collision With A Car type of accident the motorcyclist must have a knowledge of risk management to be prepared for trouble in risky locations, have a basic grip of manoeuvre anticipation to be forewarned about the danger of any car in conflict with him, and must employ the direction perspective skill in assessing the risk and likely movement of the danger and to take advantage of any escape routes that are available, etc. He must also be well equipped with emergency braking skills in order to scrub off speed, especially if there are no gaps available, and know how to change direction hard and fast should the need arise. Finally, should the worst come to the worst, the rider's chances are greatly increased if he is equipped with accident survival skills.


Failure To Negotiate A Corner.

There are basically two main reasons a rider fails to get around a corner and, although most Police motorcycle crash reports use the words Excessive Speed in reports on corner crashes, where a slippery surface is not involved most of these accidents happen at speeds at which the machine being ridden can safely negotiate the corner. The problem, our rider training experience indicates, lies in a lack of riding skills and, in particular, the direction perspective skill. What appears to happen is the rider enters a corner, suddenly thinks he’s going a bit fast and sees a hazard ahead, either roadside furniture or an oncoming vehicle. In his panic he fixes his eyes on the hazard and his bike goes where he looks...

Reinforcing our view is the fact that a very large number of motorcycle crashes involve the machine T-boning a lamppost in a rural area. Think of a lamppost in a rural area. It is usually surrounding by clear space. Think how slim a lamppost is and of the narrowness of the motorcycle. Yet they impact dead on! The rider looks at the lamppost because he’s scared of hitting it and his machine goes where he looks.

A vivid example of target fixation was a multiple fatality crash near Wellington, New Zealand's capital. In this crash two Harley Davidson motorcycles had a head on collision on an open road corner. While the road was only two laned, there was plenty of room to maneouvre and for two Harley Davidsons to pass each other. Yet the two narrow motorcycles impacted head on.

For the NZMSC, further confirmation of this idea of target fixation comes with the statistic that parked cars are the most common object that motorcycles crash into in single vehicle crashes

Given this, the skills a rider needs to avoid cornering disasters include the direction perspective skill, emergency braking skills, and accident survival skills.


Head On Collisions.

When one considers how slim a motorcycle is, one could well wonder why the third most common motorcycle crash is a head on collision, usually with a car, especially since these head on collisions generally occur on a straight road. We believe the answer lies in a combination of the youthful motorcyclist's tendency to regularly use the ample power his machine has to pass slower traffic, and the Target Fixation phenomenon.

The solutions to the high rate of head on collisions are five of the essential survival skills: Risk Management to help provide the rider with self control, Direction Perspective to avoid target fixation and allow the use of escape routes, Emergency Braking where escape routes are not available and/or a sharp turn is required, Countersteering when hard and fast swerving is required and, when all else fails, Accidents Survival skills to enable to rider to minimise the seriousness of the impact.



There are six main survival skills a rider needs to avoid/survive about 95% of all motorcycle crashes. This 95% of crashes encompasses virtually all of the life-threatening accidents.

While some of the skills are relatively sophisticated, they are not beyond the learning ability of novice riders.

The skills and their related crashes are:


Collision with turning car:

Failure to Negotiate Corner:

Head-On Collision


There are many other motorcycle riding skills that a rider should learn to be absolutely safe but these are Blue Moon skills, needed very rarely and thus a lower priority in a rider training programme targeted at reluctant clients.

It is our belief that a motorcycle safety programme that focuses on teaching these six essential survival skills to new riders would be a very cost-effective way of reducing motorcycle crashes and their associated economic and social costs.

Our experience is that a course that focuses on these skills can be effectively run over four hours - a one afternoon session - a very cost effective way of dramatically reducing the motorcycle crash toll..

Motorcycle Riding Skills Articles