This is an article I wrote for the BMW ON about 2 1/2 years ago which was never published. Thought I would share it with you. Perhaps with your additions and differing opinions there might eventually be something worth editing for publication in the ON. At least, maybe we can help each other avoid really dumb errors we've made, witnessed, or heard about. I apologize for the length of this post. If you want to quote in a response, please do so selectively.
"LetÔÇÖs define dropping the bike as ÔÇ£a motorcycle accident at 0 ÔÇô 2 mph.ÔÇØ These accidents inevitably cause elevated blood pressure, fears about how to raise the fallen beast, at least some scratches to the bike if not the operator, and acute embarrassment. The otherwise excellent books and articles about riding safely mostly ignore the causes of these accidents and the preventive measures one should take to avoid them. My qualifications for writing this article are simple: in ten years and about 50K miles of riding IÔÇÖve made several of these mistakes and also admitted them in campfire conversations. Virtually every rider I talked to told me about a time or two that he also dropped a bike. Some of the ideas come from those conversations.
There is a myth that these are problems only beginners have. I wish! Sure, beginners make these errors more often, but I believe it is a life-long problem. Most of us donÔÇÖt repeat too many of our previous errors, but learning through print how to avoid any type of accident is definitely better than learning through experience.
Side Stands: While taking the MSF beginner course I once dismounted the bike without putting the side stand down at all. I thought I had put it down! Moral: always be sure the side stand is down and will take the weight of the bike before dismounting. On flat concrete you have no worries after you are sure the side stand is really fully extended. On every other surface, beware. Make sure the ground is not too high or too low or too soft before you commit yourself. Before you leave the bike, ask yourself if the side stand could sink into the asphalt - quite possible on a hot day - or if the weight of the bike could push the stand deeper into sand or gravel. Carry some sort of pad to place under the side stand whenever there is a question mark. Make it standard practice to always use the side stand before dismounting, even if you intend to pull the bike onto the centre stand. When your right foot encounters that forgotten duffle bag as you dismount, you will be glad that the side stand is taking the weight of the bike.
I guess it is obvious that parking a bike with the front wheel pointing downhill is inviting disaster. Occasionally it is unavoidable. Shift to first gear, use the rear brake to hold the bike in place as you shut off the engine, let out the clutch and release the brake to engage the engine. Then put down the side stand and dismount.
Center Stands: There is a knack to putting a bike on a center stand, but it is easily acquired if your bike doesnÔÇÖt have a lowered rear suspension and the ground is hard and flat. Remember those words, ÔÇ£hardÔÇØ and ÔÇ£flat.ÔÇØ If that bike tilts ever so slightly to the right because the ground under the two center stand contact points really wasnÔÇÖt flat or the right leg contacted softer ground, gravity will yank that bike out of your hands. While many of us prefer leaving our bikes on the centre stand, the side stand (with pad) is safer if warm asphalt, gravel, or strong winds are a threat. You do promise to never use the center stand if the ground slopes ever so slightly downhill, right?
Front Brake Mistakes: I guess almost everyone realizes by now that it is the front brake that provides most of the stopping power in most situations. The old fear of flipping the bike is almost groundless. The fear of locking the front wheel and falling down is not groundless! One problem with the front brake occurs on sand or gravel roads, or worse still, sand or gravel on hardtop. The instant that front wheel locks you will suddenly find your bike horizontal. IÔÇÖve twice dropped a bike making a very low speed turn when there was gravel on pavement. Both times I saw the gravel, did my serious slowing before reaching it, but I think failed to get completely off the front brake before the wheel touched the gravel. Riding on sand or gravel roads, favor the rear brake and use the front brake very judiciously if at all. On wet pavement (maybe all pavements) release the front brake lever when you are almost stopped and use the back brake for the final stop. Yes, IÔÇÖm afraid this is the voice of experience. The road was wet, my wife was the passenger, and all of a sudden there were two very unhappy (but unhurt) people and another scratch or two on the bike. And this was just a simple stop sign, not a panic situation at all.
David Hough preaches that in an emergency your reaction will be your usual riding practice. I think this idea can be extended: in an unusual situation (for many of us, riding in the rain qualifies) you will probably apply your dry road habits, though you certainly wonÔÇÖt brake as hard unless you have and trust anti-lock brakes. If using only the back brake for the last bit of a stop in the wet is a good idea, I think doing the same thing on dry roads is also a good idea, even though easing up on the front brake certainly works just fine on dry roads. Build good all-weather habits.
Modifications: I had just installed a new windscreen and took the bike for a short test ride. When I pulled into a gravelled church parking lot and made a slow left hand turn, the bike again was suddenly on its side. The proximity of the church did nothing to improve my language. It took me awhile to figure out the cause of that accident. With the bar turned fully to the left, the windscreen touched the front brake lever. Rotating the clutch and brake levers a bit provided the necessary clearance. This is definitely something to check before you ride off with your new screen.
Flat feet: I think it is a very good idea to be able to put both feet flat on the ground while sitting on your bike. It can be tough for people with shorter legs on some bikes, but there are solutions. Tippy toes are ok on flat concrete. Every other stopping situation puts you at much greater risk of dropping the bike.
Check it out: A couple years ago I was examining a friendÔÇÖs quite new F650. Though this man has ridden many more years and miles than I, his right saddlebag bore lasting testimony to a drop. ÔÇ£We pulled into this gravel parking lot. I put my right foot down and it just kept sinking. CouldnÔÇÖt hold the damn bike up.ÔÇØ Maybe you should park the bike and check out suspect parking lots on foot before committing yourself. That, of course, is for wimps. But being a wimp can save you both money and pain. IÔÇÖm now old enough to take the kidding.
Ramps: If parking your bike involves riding up a ramp, make it a very wide ramp. Yet another time I dropped the bike, the ramp was pretty narrow because the rise into the open shed was only a couple inches. I managed to kill the engine and that extra two inches before my foot touched ground was more than enough to put the bike on its side. And also into my wifeÔÇÖs scooter. Our bikes are now housed in another building that requires a ramp. That ramp is 4.5 feet wide.
I have transported motorcycles a few times in the back of my pick-up and remember getting the bikes in a rather scary experience with narrow plank ramps. Suggested article for someone who knows what he/she is doing.
Pushing and pulling: A lot of bikes topple while being pushed or pulled. HasnÔÇÖt happened to me yet, but boy am I ever careful. These accidents frequently involve less than ideal footing such as gravel or wet grass, a slight grade (slight, because nobody expects to push or pull a road bike up anything greater) or else you bump into something. At home, figure out a safe routine for moving your bike in and out of where you store it. At a campsite you might want to park the bike and then figure out how you can park it under power so you can also ride out under power with no manhandling. Brainpower beats muscles in this department. If you err and there are people around, ask for help. I assure you they would rather help push and pull while you steer than help you pick up the machine. These efforts always involve both hands on the grips with a couple fingers over the front brake lever. IÔÇÖve heard that some more modern BMWÔÇÖs have almost no front braking with the engine off. If that is the case on your bike, be sure to find it out before you have it pointed downhill with the engine off.
Snags: I heard about a low speed catastrophe in Spokane at the 2004 rally. The guyÔÇÖs pant cuff caught on the footpeg as he tried to plant his left foot. The foot peg severely injured his leg as the bike toppled over. Could this happen to you? Do you ever ride with loose cuffs? Not if you always wear riding boots. Before I bought my own BMW, a friend let me ride his K75RT. A fine bike, and I almost dropped it, because there was fairing exactly where I was used to putting down my foot on my 1980 Honda CB750. Before you ride a different bike, be sure you can get your feet down.
Certainly not the last word: I remember Sandy Cohen, former editor of this magazine, mentioning in an editorial that she had dropped bikes quite a number of times. No details were mentioned. Good for her to not come on as the total expert, though I am sure she has more years and miles under her belt than the majority of our clubÔÇÖs members. I wish she and others would write a sequel to this article because I feel that what I have written is just the tip of an iceberg. It seems that having a serious accident has a certain cachet. Dropping your bike because you backed it into your car, etc. just seems (and is) stupid. But most of us have done a few of these really dumb things and only realized after the fact that the accident could have been avoided with a little thought. Anybody else willing to ÔÇ£fess upÔÇØ and save the rest of us some pain and bucks?
Anyway, I hope this article saves some scratches on both you and your pride and joy."