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Time to Bail

Had to Lay ‘Er Down”: Is There A Right Time to Bail From Your Bike?

Time to Bail We’ve all heard the story before. Whether it’s on an internet forum, a Facebook page, or at a local biker’s meet, we’ve all encountered a story from a rider who, when faced with a choice between letting their bike lowside, or hanging onto their bike trying to save it and risking potentially much more danger, they made the split-second decision to “lay ‘er down” because it was the safest course of action in the given situation.Some riders say it sheepishly, i.e. “I went into a turn too hot and knew I was going to lose control of my bike, so I had to lay ‘er down,” while others tell their stories like their crash was the result of an act of heroism, i.e. “I knew my bike would have plowed right into the group of schoolchildren and disabled veterans on the corner, so I had to lay ‘er down – but luckily nobody was hurt!” In any case, the “lay ‘er down” is explained as a choice – a conscious decision to accept some damage to the bike instead of worse damage to the bike, rider, and passers-by by attempting to save it.This dangerous myth has penetrated motorcycle rider’s lore so deeply that many riders consider it a completely reasonable course of action in a given situation. Problem is, it is just that – a myth. There happens to be virtually no truth to the idea that intentionally crashing your bike is a better idea than keeping control of it and riding it to safety – and we’ll explain why.

“Had to lay ‘er down”…is there ever a time this is actually a sound idea? Most skilled riders don’t think so.

Why “Laying ‘Er Down” Is Never a Good Idea

Here are a few reasons why it’s never a good idea to “lay down your bike” on purpose, no matter what the situation.

First, a situation that causes a rider to think his or her best option is to simply lowside the bike is likely just a result of panicking, and a lack of training in carrying out emergency maneuvers. For a novice rider, when coming into a situation that seems unmanageable – coming in too hot on a turn, or having a car turn into your path suddenly – a crash may seem inevitable. Thus the rider starts thinking about how to crash rather than trying to avoid it, as they simply don’t have the skills to do the latter.

Expert riders – especially those who have had a large amount of training riding bikes at the limit, on the track or in racing – would never purposely crash a bike, as they would be relying on their skills to maneuver their way out of the situation instead. Motorcycles brake harder and handle far better than we think they can when a skilled rider on board, so the idea of “laying ‘er down” as a being a good option is false – only a lack of skills and training creates that perception. In other words, if you think that laying a bike down is a good idea, you should probably work on becoming a more skilled rider.

In addition, in a dangerous situation, you may in fact get lucky if you try to save the bike – but if you “lay ‘er down,” you know you’re going to crash, and thinking we can control the way a bike crashes is pure foolishness. There is no situation where a bike will stop faster or in a more controlled manner on its side, sliding on metal and plastic, than it will with rubber on the road and brakes applied. Even if you don’t like the way a situation looks, it is extremely unlikely that ditching the bike and letting it slide will make it any safer!

Finally is the idea of liability. You may be able to fool your friends and family (especially the ones who don’t ride) into thinking you were clever enough to determine in a split second that “you had to lay ‘er down,” but it will be a lot tougher to convince a police officer or your insurance company that your heroic lay-down was anything other than a crash. Even if you do still think laying your bike down is a good idea, it’s certainly not something you want to say on a police report or to your insurance company.

Overall, most experienced riders know that the whole “lay ‘er down” myth is one perpetuated by people who don’t have good riding skills, and who just want a way to justify their embarrassing crashes. Even worse, this myth is actually a damaging one to the riding community as a whole, because it causes riders to think that bailing from a difficult situation on a bike is a good course of action, rather than simply improving their riding skills to the point that laying ‘er down would never become an option.

 

Are There Exceptions To This Rule?

In doing my research for this article, I read several accounts of older riders who claimed that they were actually taught to lay the bike down in certain situations in riding courses back in the 1960s and 1970s. This was apparently a technique applied then due to the horrendous drum brake systems used on motorcycles at the time, which performed poorly in general, and overheated easily, making them perform even worse.

The case for laying a bike down as a remedy for poorly performing brakes is moot now, as modern disc brake systems, especially when equipped with ABS, make even hamfisting the brakes safe when compared to an intentional dismount. But is it possible that even on today’s high-performance motorcycles, there might be at least some situations where laying it down is the best option?

Some say that, in a situation where you know you are going to crash, it is better to opt for a lowside than a more violent and unpredictable highside. I reject this argument – unless you are a fortune-teller, you never know you are going to crash, and even if you did, thinking you are enough of an expert at physics to know exactly what the bike will do in a given situation is pure ignorance. It’s always better to try to control the bike – if you still crash, so be it.

However, what about a situation where you are fast approaching a dangerous obstacle – like a metal guardrail, for example, which look almost like they were made to impale motorcyclists. Might it be smart to bail on the bike so as not to follow it into a death trap like that? This is a situation I’m not so sure about. Personally I would try to maintain control, but it’s possible there is a way to get out of a situation like this one with a wrecked bike, but not a wrecked body.

 

If this rider had followed his bike down, he might have been sliced in half by this guard rail. On the other hand, with better skills, he may never have crashed at all. What’s really the best course of action here?

 

The only situation I could think of where it actually is best to lay a bike down? When you literally have no brakes, and thus no control of your bike, and are simply looking for the best place for a “crash landing.” With modern brake systems this is an almost inconceivable situation, but on a vintage bike with drum brakes coming down a steep incline, there could be a situation where even downshifting all the way to first doesn’t slow the bike enough, and you have to dump the bike to avoid going over a guardrail or plowing into another vehicle.

To me, there is realistically never a situation where it would be advisable to lay down your bike – I firmly believe it is always best to try to maintain control, and that those who insist they were in a situation where they had to “lay ‘er down” are looking for a way to retroactively explain why they crashed.

But I could be wrong. Are there really any situations that can’t be outridden with skill, and where dumping the bike really is the best and safest option? I’d love to hear what you all think. Click Here…

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