Here we go again. “Don’t let go of the bars!” Admittedly it’s usually said by the kind of people who also say “Don’t let go of the toilet!” to themselves in the mornings, but say it they do, promoting the kind of faulty logic which only the tired-of-hearing-it motorcyclist can hope to refute. Today it’s my turn to explain why letting go of the bars for a moment with your left hand to wipe your visor will not instantly end your life:
First you do not balance a motorcycle only with your hands. A mass of complicated factors including the gyroscopic effect of turning wheels, body mass distribution and various geometrical inputs take care of balance. Example: if I take both hands off my bars while riding along, lo – I do not instantly crash. My motorcycle is self-stable and I just continue in a straight line at an ever-decreasing speed looking like a bit of a neddy until I finally reach capsize speed and fall off into the hedge.
It’s not magic, not rider skill, just hugely complex physics at work. I personally wouldn’t ride a motorcycle if it were such a knife-edge dangerous activity that taking my hand off one bar resulted in an inevitable crash, in the same way that I wouldn’t drive a car if letting go of the steering wheel with one hand to adjust the air conditioning resulted in it suddenly swerving off the road and bursting into flames. That’s not how these vehicles are designed – and it’s not how they work.
Secondly you do not steer a motorcycle only with your hands. Dependent on speed, a motorcycle steers in response to changes in lean angle that are achieved in a combination of ways – body position, foot peg pressure and, yes, bar pressure. To non-motorcyclists it just seems obvious and logical that the handlebars do all the steering ‘because they turn the front wheel’ so proving conclusively that The Death Grip is all. This is not so. Actual motorcyclists tend to understand the mechanism of steering intuitively, which means they also understand intuitively that doing things with the left hand is not only possible, it’s a desirable and expected part of riding and is perfectly safe as long as you use your common sense (which, as a motorcyclist, you should already have in spades).
There are of course times not to let go. Accelerating or braking, spirited cornering, in heavy traffic or riding in strong side winds all suggest themselves as sensible times to hang on tight. But cruising along at constant speeds where you crunch most of your miles with a good distance in front of you to the next vehicle? Taking your left hand off the bars to do something motorcycle-related – like wiping a rainy visor with a glove – is a perfectly acceptable and normal practise.
Maybe you’re still not convinced so next consider an irrefutable fact: motorcycles have their main stop-go controls placed exclusively on one side and only a clutch (or on a scooter, frequently nothing) on the other. There are two good reasons for this. The most important is that the rider cannot physically counteract their own command of the motorcycle – either they are using the throttle or the brake – but not both together, just like in a car where you are taught to use the throttle and brake exclusively with your right foot.
The other is that – here it comes – while you maintain control with one hand your other hand remains free to do necessary motorcycling things as you ride: like flipping open a steamed-up visor (ever wondered why the moulded tab on your visor is on the left?) or turning the fuel tap from main to reserve as you ride (ever wondered why bike manufacturer put the tap on the left?) Dammit – I think we should be told!
I have a sneaking suspicion this also why British bikers passing right side to right side instinctively acknowledge each other with a nod (could their right hands be too busy to wave?) but why European bikers passing left side to left side instead take their lazy good-for-nothing hands off their left bar grips to acknowledge each other with a low two-fingered salute. Outrageous flouting of the safeties!
So there it is. “Hands on bars at all times!” means the person saying it either doesn’t fully understand motorcycling yet or they have a company with a vested interest in saying it. In either case, you can choose to patiently explain the outline facts as above or decide to be a sport and let them continue in their happy delusion. After all, if ignorance is bliss, you’re actually making the world a better place, right?