How Much Risk Are You Willing To Take?

This article begins a series of MotoSafe columns on “Street Strategies.” In the following months we hope to guide you, our fellow BMW MOA members, in the awareness and application of strategies to help you better enjoy your ride. We hope to introduce, and maybe reintroduce, you to those strategies that will help you ride more safely. Please note that much of the following article references are based upon the Motorcycle Safety Foundations (MSF) Basic RiderCourse SM (BRC) material.

NOTE: This article was originally published in October 2012 and may contain outdated references. Please verify anything involving the MSF with their current programs.

For those of you that have taken the MSF BRC, the title should sound familiar since it is the final words of the BRC video on risk. Risk is there every day that we ride. It is there in all our daily activities, but most especially when we choose to enjoy our sport.

There are three components of risk: Awareness, Acceptance and Management. Each is just as important as the next in helping us to not only enjoy our ride, but all three need to be there to have a safe ride. Let’s look at each component in order.

Awareness, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “having or showing realization, perception or knowledge,” in this case of risk. So what do we, as motorcycle riders, need to be aware of? We need to be aware of the limitations we have as motorcyclists. We may have powerful, nimble bikes, but our limitations can wipe out that advantage in an instant.

Does a car driver, or as motorcyclists like to call them, cage drivers, have to put their foot down when they come to a stop? No, but we do. Even those very experienced riders who have taken a biking bonding course have to stop sometimes and hold the bike upright. We ride a very unstable vehicle, as they tip over easily. We need to be concerned with stability. The stability issue comes into play each time we take a corner and lean the bike. Too much lean for our speed and we tip over, dropping the bike. Stability also is an issue in traffic, where we need to constantly be aware of keeping the bike upright, or as we say, keeping the rubber side down.

Next, we are not as big as the other vehicles around us, an advantage often, but also a limitation. We become invisible to those other drivers. Or, even worse, they see us but think we are farther away and going slower than we really are. Visibility, or rather the lack of visibility to the cage drivers, is a big cause of many motorcycle accidents.

Many a motorcyclist has found out too late that the car driver who just ran them off the road did not see them. A common response by car drivers is they didn’t see the motorcycle. The Hurt Study, released in 1981, found that “The failure of motorists to detect and recognize motorcycles in traffic is the predominating cause of motorcycle accidents. The driver of the other vehicle involved in collision with the motorcycle did not see the motorcycle before the collision, or did not see the motorcycle until too late to avoid the collision.”

We need to be aware that we are essentially invisible to those other road users.

Another difference between us, the motorcyclist, and the other road users is vulnerability. A car has metal, plastic, integrated roll bars and other safety equipment. We only have the helmets we wear, the pants, the jackets that cover our bodies, the gloves to protect our hands and the boots on our feet. Not much protection from a 2,000-pound metal object, which outweighs both our bike and us by at least a factor of three! Or, protection from that road surface we are riding on.

Acceptance is defined as “to receive willingly, to regard as proper, normal, or inevitable,” again from the Merriam-Webster dictionary. If we accept the risk, then we are responsible for the level of risk we experience. The MSF in their BRC material uses the illustration of a ladder. The higher you climb on a ladder, the greater chance you may fall. You have more factors to consider as you climb higher. Distance from the ground is only one of them. How about the stability of the ladder itself? You have all seen that warning on ladders about standing on the top rung, which is warning that you are at greater risk the higher on the ladder you go.

Ultimately you are the person who must accept the risk, so you must take personal responsibility. When we ride our bikes, not only must we be aware of the limitations of the motorcycle, but we must also accept those limits and learn to ride within them. They determine how much risk we can take, at any given moment of a ride.

The MSF uses a chain to illustrate the concept of acceptance. It is linked to the story of a motorcyclist heading home at night. The story sets up a situation with many factors. The point is that all the factors combined lead to the accident, but if the rider removes any one factor, the accident doesn’t happen. The rider is ultimately the person responsible.

The final component is Management. Having a strategy to manage risk is what the game is all about. If we can manage the risk inherent in our sport, we can enjoy it more and have a safer experience. What is the objective of a good motorcyclist when riding? Considering the topic of this article, wouldn’t you say having a desire and the motivation to reduce risk while riding? How do you do that? You have a strategy.

First, you need to have knowledge of the tools in your toolkit to manage risk. What are those tools?


Could you, as a new rider, do the same things that a superbike racer can do? Of course not! Knowing your limits helps you to assess the risk of a given situation.


Can an F 800 ST corner and accelerate like an S 1000 RR? Again, learning what your bike can and can’t do is critical to how you manage each situation. How new the bike is to you is also a factor. Again from the Hurt study, “More than half of the accident-involved motorcycle riders had less than five months experience on the accident motorcycle, although the total street riding experience was almost three years.” They had not learned what their bikes were capable of doing, or not doing.


Using a strategy that gives you both the time to respond, and also the space to respond to a given situation. Open up that following distance to the vehicle ahead of you. If following two seconds behind that vehicle in front of you is the minimum distance, why not make it three seconds, just to have an extra margin.

MSF teaches a strategy called SEE, which means Search, Evaluate and Execute. We will discuss this further in following articles.

Author: Tom Pemberton (#110334)