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February 9, 2016

Touring Tip: Helping a Stranded Rider

In the earlier days of motorcycle riding, when bikes were less reliable, riders frequently became stranded by a mechanical malfunction. Back then, motorcyclists were often as handy with a wrench as they were with the throttle. If they couldn’t fix their own bike, other riders invariably stopped to help out. The bonds among fellow bikers had never been stronger.

Today, we’re living in very different times. Modern motorcycles are less prone to breaking down. Crime is more prevalent. Many times a stopped bike along the roadside is due to something other than a mechanical malfunction. The rider may be seeking personal relief in the bushes, or any other possible reason for stopping that doesn’t require assistance. It’s easier nowadays for other riders to rationalize not stopping to ask if help is needed.

In the event where an actual mechanical problem is encountered, many, if not most, riders have roadside assistance and carry a cell phone to procure help. Even still, there still can be situations when you find yourself on the road in a predicament: for example, you’ve run out of gas or discover a nail in your tire, and your cell phone is dead.

So let’s suppose a single rider is stranded. How does a passing motorist know if the rider needs help? The universal signal for a car driver needing help is a raised hood. Last time I checked, motorcycles don’t have hoods. So, is there a universal SOS signal for motorcyclists seeking help from a passersby? The Ministry of Transportation in Ontario, Canada, advises that riders who need help should “… place your helmet on the ground near the road.” (Another good reason to wear a helmet, even if it’s not required.) One of the more common hand gestures, used in some locations, is for the passing rider to give a thumbs-up signal, to which the stranded rider would return a thumbs-down gesture if help is needed or a thumbs-up if it’s not needed. The stranded rider can also try to get help by waving emphatically but there’s a chance that all you get will be a friendly wave back. Of course, most of us would simply pull over and ask if they need help — not too complicated.

What do you do if a rider is stranded? As indicated earlier, we live in a riskier world than our forefathers. Here are several questions to consider:

  • Do I have the tools and expertise to help someone repair their motorcycle?
  • Is it safe to stop and offer help to strangers on the road?
  • Is it too risky to stop after dark to offer help? Should I offer it only during daylight hours?
  • If a group of riders is stopped, how much can I really add to fixing the problem?
  • Does the situation feel OK or do I sense that something isn’t right?
  • Should a single female rider ever stop to help a male rider(s)?
There aren’t any easy, universal answers to these questions. Each rider has to assess the particular circumstances of each situation. Still, riders are often likely to offer help to other riders because of the overarching camaraderie and goodwill among motorcyclists, even now.
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