Tips for safe riding in heavy traffic: Part 1


My profession and ministry take me all over the Florida Panhandle from my office in Destin. My black 2013 F6B Gold Wing is my daily driver, rain or shine. In the 36 months I’ve owned it, “Mr. Black’s” mileage has increased nearly 50,000. Living on the Emerald Coast gives a measure of safety for riders because a high percentage of car drivers are also riders, and the roads are straight and well-maintained. However, the heavy visitor traffic presents an unusual challenge because the natural laws of physics do not apply to all you readers when you come here on vacation. And 33% (SWAG, an acronym used by engineers to mean a wild guess) of America is driving our local roads on any day. I only started riding at age 59, six years ago (to my credit on nothing but a Gold Wing). When the caution of longtime riders is dull from long experience, I’m still scared. So I developed 17 safety principles in three categories: manage yourself, manage your environment, and for next month’s Part Two article, manage nearby drivers. Afterward, I discovered three unexpected benefits to my strong safety commitment. First, when safety occupies your mind, no room is left for stewing on the cares of life. Your ride should be a relaxing and worry-free escape from those cares; safety vigilance gives you that mental relief. Second, when your commitment to safety is visible, everyone who treasures you relaxes their fears for you. Third, you become a better car driver, because your safety eyes can’t be turned off.

The first three principles dictate my self-management, and they are the foundation of the other 14.

1. It’s your job to stay alive. Riding is a glorious sport, but when you become passive, you become an easy mark. I first met my GWRRA chapter in a tragic situation while riding solo in the country; they were all pulled over, surrounded by blue lights. An experienced member had veered off the road, reason unknown; he and his wife both died as a result. Death is never far away from us, motorcycle or not. I’m prepared to die at any moment; you can read more about my close calls at But I want to ride (and live) so no one says it was my own dumb fault. Especially my wife! So on every ride, I use these principles for effective safety vigilance.

2. Preserve your attentiveness at all costs. Brain energy is not unlimited, but finite. When your attentiveness wanes, the threat of crash, brain injury, death and family sorrow increase rapidly. Avoid sodas and snacks that get you up and then let you down. Even water endangers you if a full bladder takes over your mind (like me); use lip balm instead to stay moist. You don’t want your brain-battery to run out before you arrive safely. Eliminate your brain drains: music, helmet chit-chat, alcohol and stimulants, full bladder, snagged underwear, etc. etc. One brain drain is pride. If you aren’t a young man, don’t measure your riding by outdated endurance standards! Endurance is no virtue on your motorcycle. When you can’t pay attention, take a break or die. It’s that simple.

3. The devil has hired everyone to kill you. Not one person is safe. Do you remember the Matrix movie series? Mr. Smith could take over any citizen, anywhere, anytime. That’s our opponent. That attitude will keep you focused! As a Christian, I’m not afraid of being harmed, but I don’t want to be caught by surprise either. As my wife says, “Watch out for that guy!”

These four principles dictate what I watch continually.

1. Watch your rear. My safety instructor told us that 75% of motorcycle accidents are from behind. For proof, look at all the tailgating trucks wanting you to go 40 mph over the speed limit. I manage what’s behind me more carefully than any other direction. Is it an older person, a teenager, or the parent of an insistent child? Is the driver on his phone or distracted? You can tell a lot in a quick glance. My default road position is close to the center dotted line so I can veer away if
the driver behind is approaching too fast. When someone runs up too fast behind, hold out your free arm with a hand signaling “stop.” I find that usually, people don’t know they are too close, become afraid of threatening a motorcyclist, and back way off. When I am leading other riders, I make no lane change until I’m sure their rear is clear. If the tail rider in my group is being threatened from the rear, I will lead the group evasively to protect the tail.

2. Every driver is looking at their phone, and you must see them because they will not see you. OK, I admit: so was I, until I started riding. My wife would say, “You’re weaving,” and I would say, “No I’m not!” Well, she was right. Just like drunks think they can drive straight, cellphone drivers think they are paying attention. If drivers can’t keep a straight line, watch out for them! (Another favorite “wife phrase.”) Before you pull beside a driver you want to pass, glance at the driver’s behavior behind the wheel and assess their attentiveness. Wait, or even honk, if you are not satisfied about it.

3. Constantly scout your roadway. When no car is in front of me, I have to watch the road for potholes, debris, and dead raccoons. Riding through undeveloped land, watch the shoulder as carefully as the road surface; both wild pigs and deer have jumped in front of me. If you’re behind a car, use it as your early warning system. Watch its response to the road surface; if it bumps, prepare yourself for the same bump. Also look ahead for darker oil spots on the road; they signal dips and bumps. Surprise hint: Go through the middle of the dark spot, because that is the flattest area, not rutted by car wheels.

4. Always identify your escape path — or absence thereof. In Florida, highway shoulders are either grassy, wet or treelined. In towns, there may be curbs on all sides. Always watch ahead to identify where you could be trapped in a bad situation with little or no escape routes. Slow or accelerate as needed to avoid entering them with hazardous drivers around you.

The 10 remaining principles all pertain to managing nearby vehicles. We’ll review them in next month’s installment. Remember: It’s your job to stay alive. Death is not far from anyone, motorcycle or not. Work up your own safety commitment. Think it through and make it a part of you. Write it down and tell your family. That way, if the worst happens, no one says, “It was his own dumb fault!” Instead, they will say, “It was his time!” and “He was doing what he loved.”


Paul Renfroe and his wife, Diane, are FL1-E2 members. They serve people in seven states as financial professionals and are also ordained for marketplace ministry through Christian International of Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. Learn more at and, where their published books and articles can be obtained.


Like what you've read? Share it!