How To Stay Alive Riding A Motorcycle In Singapore

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.

blind_spot2
You can be riding right next to a car but the driver may not be able to see you unless he turns his head fully to the side. Image from Crimson Concrete site.

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:

accident1
From the Straits Times, 13 Feb 2015
accident2
From The New Paper, 29 Nov 2014

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

accident3
A vehicle pile-up on the (Central Expressway) CTE on Lane 1 on 6 Oct 2014. Photo from Channelnewsasia reader Xabryna Kek, as posted on the CNA Facebook page.
accident4
Chinese New Year 2015 Day 1 (19th Feb) saw 10 cars piling up on the Pan Island Expressway. On Lane 1 again! Photo from Straits Times website.

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

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After years of procrastination and waiting for technology to get better, I finally mounted the Replay XD Prime X camera on my helmet for my own protection.

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.

gopro on helmet
The GoPro is the most popular action camera today but the boxy form factor is just not suited for bike helmet mounting. Image from US Rider News.

 

Thankfully there are newer and sleeker cameras from Drift, Replay and Contour that don’t disrupt the lines of your helmet so much.

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.

18 Replies to “How To Stay Alive Riding A Motorcycle In Singapore”

  1. Thank you Ian for your in depth explanation also video to make it easier to understand . I think many also wonder how come with our “high standard” driving school and also one for the hardest to pass driving/riding system in Asia . We still having so many avoidable accidents and road rages…… There is one important foundation that can help but many ignore which Think for others and be less selfish

    Thanks
    Meng

    1. I think our driving and riding practical tests do teach some fundamentals pretty well, but they are too focused on in-circuit courses and not enough on real-world, real-road skills which are the main cause of accidents and fatalities. For example, I don’t know why points get deducted in the test for “poor posture” during a motorcycle e-brake. For goodness’ sake, the only thing that matters about an e-brake is the braking distance. Also, the bumpy course (Class 2A and 2) is redundant in real-world scenarios, and not good enough for off-road riders.

      1. I thought the bumpy course it resembles the causeway exit area. It’s exactly like a bumpy course. But u get to choose to sit or stand to go through it.

        Just sharing 🙂

  2. Good tire are very important for small cc bike, ride sensibly are equally important, worse riders are youngsters and Malaysian with their cub kia. Also once in a while test your ebrake skill coz you never know when you going to use it.

  3. Thank you for this blog entry.

    I commute by bicycle sometimes and I usually play the role of a pedestrian and a road user when I cycle. Cyclists are in such a grey area. However, I do enjoy that flexibility on the road. Eg: When the traffic light is red, I can continue cycling by using the pedestrian crossing. I can also make a few short cuts to some destinations simply by cycling against the traffic via the pavement.

    Mostly, I will cycle on a quiet pavement (not in the case of Orchard Road or Chinatown) or simply stick to the unofficial bicycle lane; the double yellow line on my left hand side.

    It is indeed shocking to learn about the blind spots of a monster lorry truck via the first video you shared.

    Some time in January 2015, I had a near death / accident experience when a lorry truck almost brush me off my tiny lane (the double yellow line) while I was cycling back home.

    Somehow I felt his truck getting closer to me so I decided to just brake and let him go first. The entire truck indeed cut into the double yellow line just as I stop. I’m so glad I did.

    I cycled into the pavement and at the same time, trying to get a glimpse of the driver. To my dismay, he’s completely oblivious to what just happened to me and simply carry on. Now, that video explains it.

    I chanced upon this article in dezeen.com after my incident and thought ‘Car Sense’ system should be made compulsory in every vehicle. It can cut down the ‘blind spot’ accidents drastically and saves the lives of many, animals included.
    http://www.dezeen.com/…/jaguar-bike-sense-alert-tap-driver…/

    Have a safe journey on the road everyone!

    1. The double yellow line is not a cycle lane. If you ride that close to the side of the road you are inviting vehicles to squeeze past you, which is dangerous and exactly what happened with the lorry you talked about.

      When cycling on the road you are entitled to take up the full lane in order to keep yourself visible to other vehicles. If they want to pass you they need to move over to the next lane. A bicycle is a vehicle, just like motorcycles and cars and should be treated as such. Give yourself space so that if a vehicle does try to brush past you, you have space to move left to get clear rather than being forced off the road.

      I cycle on the roads often in Singapore and always stay at least one meter from the side of the road. I look over my shoulder often to see what is going on behind. Awareness is key to survival. The same applies when riding a motorcycle which I do also.

  4. Truly informative article and I agree with every survival strategy.

    See you around.

    Ride safe. Arrive Alive.

  5. Hi Ian,

    Great article! I’m curious about the Replay XD Prime X. Does the video recording have a loop function such that there is no need to constantly empty the memory card before every ride?

    Cheers
    Glendon

    1. Yes, it does, but you have to manually edit the text file in the microSD card, and the settings get reset each time you format the card (which you’ll have to do often since the Replay XD Prime is very unstable and crashes often). I love the form factor and I use it daily, but I won’t recommend the Prime X to anyone who wants a reliable camera.

  6. “– Moving off from the stop line before the red lights turn green.”

    Some small capacity bikes do this because unlike big bikes, they cannot easily out-accelerate other vehicles at traffic light, without a large open on the throttle, which will cost fuel economy where they tend to be sensitive about. If they don’t out-accelerate other cars when moving off, they’ll end up being surrounded by a lot of cars passing by, that is more dangerous.

  7. the camera looks small and good to be mount to the helmet with more issues, however any cheaper alternative to the cameras?

    thank you.

  8. I enjoyed learning from your humorous articles. I planned of motor biking from JB to Singapore when I visit anytime this end of April and mid of May. I thought Singapore had the most polite drivers because cars would stop & let me pass each time during my 2014 visit and I said, “wow!” but that’s because I compared it with motorists and bikers in Ho Chi Mihn , Bangkok, Phnom Pehn, and Manila.

    I drive only a 125cc Kymco, well, that’s super cheap compared with your Ducati, which perhaps of same looks as the Ducati and Big Honda parking beside me, or squeezing me between them at our residence hahaha!! I don’t think that my 157cm and 5.7kg frame can control a Ducati or a 400cc Honda. I’d be so stretch that I’d look like I’m flying if ever I drive those.

    Anyways, if you say nobody notices the appearance of my bike, then what difference it makes what I’m driving? I just need to get from point A to B and vice versa. But, I still get noticed all the time because I’m female and motorists often glanced sideways at me.

    Funny thing I discovered in Asia is that some men are dangerous when their ego is threatened by a female. In a number of occasions, most sleek car drivers would impress me by attempting to out-accelerate my speed of 45-50km LOL! How can they beat me when we are in a semi congested road? Cars can’t beat bikes during traffic jams! At one time an Audi driver who probably spotted me when I turned right & him coming from the other direction joined my lane intentionally tried to side sweep me while we crossed a 3 lane bridge. I felt a gust of air when he passed me by, I think I felt the metal of his car. I knew he was at the left lane behind me until he suddenly moved to do that act. And the bridge was empty except me, him, and another 2 or 3 cards ahead of us. I tailed after him, he knew it, and he drove like a cockroach at an intersection, between other cars, perhaps trying to lose me, but I kept on even when I was out of my way home. Then when he got stuck at another cross road, I drove next to him, by his driver’s side. No, I didn’t glance at him. I just made him see I was there, and i could smell his sweat smelled fear.

    Ok, It may be crazy of me to do that. He could use a gun and shoot me if he was crazy fearful. Or I could shoot him up close and personal (no, I don’t have a gun). Point is, bikers can shoot and get away fast.

    Anyways, thank for the tips and I’d observe more when I get to Singapore & KL.

  9. Thank you for the wise reminder and advise. I am 28 this year who just got my 2b license. Am struggling to make a decision to ride. I guess at this age, you can’t really avoid to have unforeseen circumstances due to commitments.

  10. Very very nice write-up.

    I have bike licence but I drive these days. The more I drive the more afraid I am to ride bikes and that explains why I’ve last ridden 9 years ago.

    I cringe and I get angry (but not reacting) at many near-misses that I see but there seems to be nothing I can do.

    I wish more people could read this. Unfortunately the reckless ones out there are probably those that could never read, would never come across this article.

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