New rider? Here's what to do when you break down.

It happens to the best of us and can be a pretty big buzz kill. You go from enjoying a leisurely, smooth ride, when all of the sudden, there's some clanking and thumping that can't amount to anything good. Your calm ride is now one that is full of anxiety. 

Believe me, I've been there when something feels wrong and the panic sets in. I've had to try to clear my head so I can determine the right thing to do, but all I can do is hold on tight. When your motorcycle breaks down, it’s equal parts wondering if you'll be able to save your own skin, regretting not performing that summer motorcycle maintenance you were supposed to, and terror about how much of an arm and a leg it would cost to fix it. While it’s understandable to worry about the potential financial ramifications of your bike breaking down, your priority should always be your safety.

motorcycle sunrise

Here’s what to do when your motorcycle breaks down when out on the road:

 

Get to the right side of the road: 
This may come as a surprise, but traffic can be a very, very dangerous thing, especially if you’re riding on a highway or interstate. There’s a reason that laws exist that prevent drivers from stopping for animals when they’re driving on highways or interstates, and that’s because a horrible pileup can happen in seconds. If the cars around you are riding a road where it’s normal to average 65 to 67 MPH, your motorcycle breaking down in that situation is a very dangerous one. If you can feel your bike struggling and slowing, no matter the reason, you need to immediately get off the road.

motorcycle on side of road

When you’re stranded in the middle of the road, it’s much too high of a risk that a distracted driver can hit you at 65 MPH. And if that’s the case, I don't think that will be an accident you’ll be able to walk away from with just a few scratches and bruises. So if you do feel the bike giving up beneath you and struggling, do everything in your power to make it to the far right of the road or the shoulder. Get a hold of the clutch so that you can keep your bike going and signal as much as you can to the drivers around you that you’re trying to move over. If they see that you’re struggling, they’ll want to stay far behind you or move over to the lanes away from you. That way you’re safe from oncoming traffic, and it will be easier to get help. Once you’re there, you can take a look at your bike and assess the potential problem.

 

Find your nearest exit:
Depending on where and what time of day you’re driving, traffic might be too suffocating for you to get to the right side of the road. Even though your emotions will be in overdrive, you’ll have to determine if it’s safe for you to try to make it to the right side of the road. If you don’t think you can do so without hurting yourself or others, you’ll need to find the nearest exit.

road exit sign

Some interstates and highways won’t have exits on the left side, but for those that do, it will just act as an additional outlet to safety. If you're in the far left lane and can’t get over to the right, if there’s grassy room or a strip of pavement on that side where you can seek safety, use it. If the road you’re on does have an exit on the left slide, slowly take it until you can pull into a store or gas station parking lot.

 

 Turn signals are everyone's best friend:
Especially in this case, turn signals are going to be something that you want to use. You should either put on your hazard lights or the turn signal aligned with whatever side you’ll be turning on. This is especially true when it’s dark out because drivers will have an even more difficult time seeing you.

motorcycle turn signals

Yeah, I get it, cagers (strangely more commonly in luxury cars, go figure) are notorious for not using their turn signals or hazards, don’t be like them. Especially in this kind of situation, you want to give the people around you every possible warning as to what’s going on so that they get more time to adjust their driving.

 

Decide to fix or call for help:
So this one is going to depend on every individual rider, as every person will have different resources available, along with knowledge of what could be going on. Regardless if you have limited knowledge on how to fix a bike, it doesn’t hurt to try and hunt for the cause or problem. The more information you know, the better your chances of potentially fixing is yourself, or at the very least you’ll be able to verbalize this issue to someone else. If you can fix it yourself and have the resources to do it right then and there, it still might be a good idea to call someone, as you can never be completely confident that your solution will be correct.

bike in back of truck

If you’d prefer not to touch it and wait for help, your first goal should be to call a friend that has a truck that you can easily load. You can save money that way (depending on if you do or don’t have AAA) and sometimes, you know, it’s nice to just have a familiar face come to the rescue after your heart almost exploded from your chest. Depending on how scary of an experience it was, it might be best to call a friend or family member. Motorcycle accidents of any kind, especially when your bike breaks down in the middle of the road, is nothing to joke about.

 

You might be stranded:
Okay, not "Lost" level stranded, where no one will ever find you again, but if you’re riding on a removed road, it can sometimes take hours for you to flag someone down. Plus, if your cell phone is dead or can’t find service to make a call or send a few texts, then you really are at the mercy of whatever driver happens to find you. Let's hope they're friendly.
While we can’t know when our bike might break down, it’s always best to prepare yourself for the "what if." You have motorcycle insurance, correct? You hope you’ll never have to use it, but it’s there in case you need it. The same goes for being prepared when riding, and you only need a few things. Water is the first, and most important, because you don’t know how long you’ll be along the side of a road. You can get dehydrated quickly, and that is something you don’t want to happen. You should also always have sunscreen on hand, especially during the hot summer months, because being stranded could mean that you’ll burn to a crisp. If you're stranded, you might just need to be patient.

motorcyclist waiting

While your motorcycle jacket might be heavy enough to keep you warm, some cities and states experience insane dips in temperature once night comes, and it never hurts to have an extra jacket or sweater on hand. Also, just in case your cell phone dies, do yourself a favor and just memorize a few friends numbers. That way, if you can make it to a phone, you don’t have to rely on your phone’s contact list to reach out to some family or friends.

Proper bike maintenance should usually help to prevent something like this from happening, but you never know. And for those times, it’s best to be prepared with some kind of game plan in mind.


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