Managing a Breakdown

Aug 16, 2010 View Comments by

Thanks to many technological advances, the likelihood of a modern motorcycle breaking down and stranding its rider is far less likely than it was several decades ago. Still, the possibility exists for a punctured tire, engine failure, broken chain or any one of a number of other unexpected malfunctions. The important thing is that you already have a plan in mind for managing the situation. Here are several possible steps you could follow in devising that plan:

Step 1—Get Off the Road! The loss of forward momentum means that you need to get to the right shoulder of the road as soon and as safely as possible. This won’t be a problem if you’re riding on a lightly trafficked two-lane road, but it can be an entirely different story when traveling in the far left lane of a congested, multi-lane Interstate Highway. If it can be safely avoided, you don’t want to get trapped on the left shoulder, in the center of a busy freeway. Putting the bike in neutral or just squeezing the clutch may provide additional time and distance to work across several lanes of traffic. Park the bike as far away from moving traffic as possible. If the bike has to remain on the shoulder of the road, the rider (and passenger) should move further away, to a safer position.

Step 2—Stay or Go? There are several questions to consider, before deciding whether to stay with the stranded bike or leave the scene for help:

  • Do I have the expertise and tools to repair the problem and is it safe to work on the bike in its current location?
  • Does my cell phone have coverage at this location, allowing a call for help?
  • How likely is it that a motorist will stop (considering the level of traffic and remoteness of the area) to provide assistance?
  • If I don’t have cell phone coverage, how far do I estimate that it is to the nearest landline telephone?
  • Do I have enough water to sustain me on a longer than expected walk in hot weather?
  • Do deteriorating weather conditions mean that I need to immediately seek shelter?
  • Will it be getting dark soon?

The wisest course of action always will depend on the particular circumstances surrounding the breakdown and the rider’s judgment of how best to deal with them.

Step 3—Expect the Worst, Hope for the Best. Like many other things in life, your success in managing a breakdown will depend largely on your advance preparation for dealing with it. Here are my 10 suggestions:

1. Leave a copy of your intended tour route and itinerary with a friend or relative; this is particularly important if you will be traveling alone and/or in remote areas.
2. Check in with that person at least daily.
3. Always carry a cell phone and keep the battery charged.
4. Carry basic tools and a tire repair kit.
5. Pack a first aid kit.
6. If you’ll be traveling alone, consider bringing a GPS locating device.
7. Bring extra food and water.
8. Pack clothing that will protect you in the event of a long walk in very hot, cold or otherwise inclement weather conditions.
9. Approach dwellings in remote areas with appropriate caution and courtesy.
10. Practice aggressive preventive maintenance on your bike, both at home and on the road.

The best way to think about managing a potential breakdown is to assume that you’ll receive little or no help from strangers and will have to be largely self-reliant. Your reward will be the peace of mind of knowing that a breakdown, if it occurs, likely will be only an inconvenience and not a life-threatening crisis.

Tags: Categories: Touring & Safety Tips