It is true that Singapore has some of the worst drivers in the world. To be fair to the driving community, I would also add that we also have some of the worst motorcyclists too. I’ve been driving and riding for about 20 years and I still can’t help but get upset when I see so many instances of bad behavior on our roads.
Our island is a very small place, and yet we have almost a million vehicles (972,037 vehicles as of 2014, to be exact) jostling for space on our roads. With such congestion, it’s no wonder we constantly see cases of road rage, reckless driving and vehicle pile-ups on expressways.
As a motorcyclist, you’re the most vulnerable of all, and every ride you take does put your life at more risk than any other road user. So I decided to pen down all the lessons I’ve learned over the years for other bikers.
As I wrote about in my earlier post “Should I Ride A Motorcycle In Singapore?“, motorcyclists are often looked down upon by non-riders because we are seen as reckless and not valuing our lives. SG bikers often complain that they feel like victims of unfair prejudice and nobody understands their needs.
But just think – if all people see are examples of bad riding, smashed up motorcycles and dead bodies on the tarmac, why would they think that motorcycles are a good thing?
If you want to be respected as a rider, you need to become a better rider.
Over time, if we can grow the proportion of skilled and respected riders on the roads, I’m pretty sure we can get people to change their mindsets about two-wheelers. To become that rider, you need to stay alive and here’s how:
1. Know that the car and lorry drivers often can’t see you.
Bikers often think the world of themselves and their motorcycles.
They dress up their bikes with all sorts of mods and paintwork, put on fancy mirrors and tail-fenders, wear loud helmets and jackets… the reality is that most pedestrians or drivers don’t even bother to take a look at your “beautiful machine”, they are lost in their handphones or have no peripheral vision apart from looking forward.
Yes, you’re actually invisible to most people.
Many new bikers are also unaware of the concept of a “blind spot”, which is where the car driver is unable to spot vehicles on the sides of the car due to the limited coverage of the car mirrors. Many accidents occur because the driver filters to the next lane without even realizing the biker is occupying the lane. Blind spots are taught in motorcycle lessons but unless you actually drive a car, you won’t understand how it actually works.
The blind spots for big lorries are even larger. Just watch this video from the British Transport for London and be frightened.
Many bikers also believe that “loud pipes save lives” and you’ll see some illegal exhaust pipes blaring their way through traffic. Guess what, Einstein, I can’t hear your Akrapovic or Yoshimura pipes because I’m also blasting my digital music loudly through my car sound system! But I do like loud pipes on big bikes anyway (IMO loud pipes are pathetic on small bikes – all noise and no real engine power).
Once you can accept that people aren’t noticing you or your bike at any time, and that drivers don’t really see or hear you coming, you’re already going to survive a lot better than the next biker.
To Survive: The solution to blind spots is simply to always ride up to near the front of the vehicle where the driver can spot you easily, or stay behind. Don’t ride alongside a car’s rear side window, or anytime along the side of a big truck.
If you insist on squeezing between two large vehicles (either moving or stationary), then you are really asking for trouble.
2. Small bikes and inexperience create the highest risk
Almost every day, I read about or see a road accident involving a motorcyclist on Singapore roads:
And if you’ve noticed, most of the time, the motorcycles getting into accidents tend to be small capacity bikes.
Is it a statistical fact because the majority of motorcycles on our roads are 200cc or lower capacity bikes (Class 2B)? Personally I don’t think so, because there are some other things you need to be aware about low-capacity Class 2B bikes and their owners.
– Many new riders (who can obviously only ride Class 2B bikes) lack road experience, yet I see so many of them ride like idiots – speeding, beating red lights, weaving recklessly, turning on the wrong lanes and so on.
– Class 2B bikes are designed and manufactured to be as low-cost as possible, so you get really basic brakes and narrow wheels (to match the small engine). While economical, they also suffer from poor braking ability and high-skid factor.
Put these two factors together, and you will get reckless riders who find themselves unable to stop in time, or unable to prevent a skid on wet roads, thus getting themselves into an accident. The following video is a classic example.
To Survive: I’m not saying that everyone should go upgrade to a Class 2A (201cc to 400cc) or Class 2 (401 cc and above) because budget is always a concern, especially with the current ridiculous $5,800 COE for motorcycles. If you are going to stick with a Class 2B bike, know the limits of your vehicle at all times, especially on the braking ability.
If you can upgrade, get to a Honda Super 4 (400cc) that offers decent performance, braking ability and has a rather fat rear tyre that provides much more traction on the asphalt. Don’t bother upgrading your Class 2B bike much because it won’t make much of a difference where it counts.
3. Avoid the rightmost Lane 1 on expressways
Experienced drivers all know that the rightmost Lane 1 is where all the pile-ups always occur on our expressways.
This is because there are many drivers in Singapore who tail-gate at high speeds and cannot react in time if someone decides to jam-brake for whatever reason in front of them.
Imagine if you are a rider and get smashed between two cars in the front and back. Interestingly, I’ve never seen a pile-up in other lanes apart from Lane 1…
To Survive: Avoid using Lane 1 unless you really need to overtake someone. But make it quick and keep watching the mirror for speeding cars coming up behind you.
4. Don’t emulate the reckless riders
A lot of the poor driving and riding habits are not taught – they are learned from poor role models.
I’ve observed how many new P-plate drivers or riders control their vehicles in ways that they could have only learned from other road idiots. Just because some people are doing it all the time, doesn’t mean it is right.
Some reckless riding habits are:
– Lane-splitting at high speeds, especially on expressways where you cannot always predict if a car is going to suddenly change lane.
– Moving off from the stop line before the red lights turn green. I honestly don’t know what’s the point of this.
– Squeezing through vehicles when there obviously isn’t enough space.
– Not giving way to vehicles which have already signaled their intention and have right of way. Singapore drivers/riders have a big problem when it comes to giving way to others.
– Riding on shoulder lanes, where sometimes you might just encounter someone or his vehicle parked there.
– Tail-gating other cars or motorcycles. Once you collide into the rear of a car, you will take flight over the car roof.
To Survive: Emulate calm and composed riders, you know them when you see them.
5. Speeding is NOT a measure of your skill level
Expensive cars and motorcycles tend to be status symbols in materialistic Singapore. They are also capable of high acceleration and top speeds that our parents’ generation could only dream about experiencing.
We like to joke about how bad BMW drivers are, but generally there are just too many people in any brand of car who associate the act of driving/riding at high speeds as being “skilful”.
What utter rubbish.
Skilful driving on city roads is the ability to contribute to smooth traffic flow without endangering others or yourself. There are times when you have to floor the pedal, there are times when you have to slow down. You need patience, you need verve, and you need to be 100% aware of road conditions at all times, and you need to have absolute control of your vehicle’s capabilities.
And it helps to be polite.
Just a few days ago, I was driving my Altis on the middle lane along Upper Serangoon Road at 70kmh (the same speed limit of the three-lane road) and along came an Audi SUV who tail-gated me and flashed his headlights for me to get out of the way. I ignored him and he got fed up and filtered to the right angrily to overtake me at close quarters. I still ignored him since I wasn’t road-hogging or doing anything wrong.
The funny thing about such drivers is that they can often only go fast in a straight line. I’ve seen some of them take a long time to turn a sharp corner at junctions or do U-turns because they are either slow to react to changing lights, or don’t know how to control their accelerator pedal.
Singapore is a small place – no matter how fast you drive or ride, you aren’t going to save that much time anyway. Some folks are upset with all the new red-light and speeding cameras that are popping up all over the island – personally I don’t think they will do much to change this small-genital mindset of many drivers or riders out there who think always-on speeding makes them a real man (or woman).
Even on my 1200cc Ducati Monster that can outrun most cars from the get-go, I’m careful not to crack the throttle unless there’s really a need to overtake a road-hogger or get away from large trucks that cannot see me. In the Monster’s Sport mode with low traction control and high throttle sensitivity, you do need a lot of experience and a firm wrist to ensure the bike doesn’t go crazy on you.
If you really want to go at high speeds, suit up and get on a race-track in Pasir Gudang or Sepang. Don’t do it on our roads because people don’t deserve to get killed due to your inflated ego or poor understanding of your vehicle engine.
To Survive: Master your motorcycle, know its limits and use its high-speed abilities only when the situation demands it, and not because you want to feel good. On the other hand, going very slow is a sin too.
The below video from May 2014 is a grim reminder about speedsters – two people died after the driver sped across three lanes into the East Coast Parkway exit and he lost control at the tight turn.
6. Don’t pick fights with other riders or drivers
I had a conversation with a buddy recently and he said that there was this young driver who cut into his motorbike’s lane abruptly. Both driver and rider argued while their vehicles were still moving slowly forward and I said, “Isn’t that really dangerous?”
Honestly, I feel the same surging road rage as any other aggrieved driver or rider when something bad happens, but there really isn’t any point picking a fight with the other party, especially if both vehicles were unscathed. It never ends well.
Sometimes, I get other riders who come up next to my bike and signal that they want to race. I don’t bother, because I’m riding to get to my next destination, not to win a MotoGP cup.
To Survive: As a motorcyclist, if you can’t keep your anger under control, please take a bus or SMRT train. Any challenge made to a larger vehicle or to another motorcycle, can end up in a fight, an accident and probably a video of both parties being posted on YouTube.
And speaking about videos….
7. Start using an action camera to protect yourself
There may be many government and police cameras watching us each day in Singapore, but there are even more in-car cameras and people whipping out their handphones to snap a quick video. Some think that we have become “1984” but I think it’s a good thing when everyone has some form of video evidence to provide their own version of the truth when a road accident occurs.
In-car cameras have become very small and easy to install, but for motorcycles, we’re still behind the curve for onboard cameras. Some riders put on a GoPro on their helmet, but the box on the top just looks silly to me.
I chose to put my Replay XD Prime X camera on the top of the Shoei helmet instead of the sides so that I could capture a good frontal view of the vehicles. It’s not pretty, I look a little like a Roman centurion but hey, I’m not that vain.
In case you are wondering what the video quality of the Prime X is like, here’s my own test ride video at 1080p. You can get the Replay from Armourite in Singapore.
8. Watch as many traffic accident videos as you can
This sounds morbid, but the more accident videos you watch, the more you’ll realize how accidents can occur in our urban jungle and how you can possibly avoid them.
This is also why the first thing that the Traffic Police do when you pass your riding practical test is to show you some really horrific motorcycle accident videos. Once you know how you can die in these terrible ways, perhaps you’ll remember how to ride a little more safely.
In the video below capturing accident videos from 2014, just see how many motorcycles get smashed up versus cars. Sometimes, it’s the car’s fault, other times, it’s the biker’s fault. But do everything you can to keep away from cars or dangerous situations, and you improve your chances of staying alive.
To Survive: Subscribe to The Singapore Reckless Drivers Community (I have no affiliation to them) as they’re often posting the latest accident video submissions from the public, and learn from other people’s mistakes or misfortune. And pray very hard these accidents never happen to you while you continue to enhance your riding skills and situational awareness.
Don’t forget to suit up in a protective riding jacket, a full-face helmet, gloves and riding shoes (these are my Dainese armored sneakers in the photo above). Yes, it takes effort to stay alive, including some time to put on all the right riding gear.
And make sure you don’t wear all black, because drivers just can’t see you at night.
All the best and ride safely, my fellow bikers.