Motorbike Rookie Mistakes of DEATH


This information is in no way intended or warranted as a substitute for proper driver training under the supervision of a qualified instructor in a controlled environment. Readers who choose to follow any of the suggestions or advice presented here do so at their own risk.

Rookie Mistakes

  1. Hold Your Line
  2. Don't Fear the Creeper
  3. Skate Where The Other Players Aren't
  4. Feet on the Pegs
  5. Songthaew KERPOW!
  6. Death Race 2000 Crosswalks
  7. The Unfastened Chin Strap
  8. Double 8-Ball Special
  9. No Pre-Ride Inspection
  10. Right Left NOT Left Right
  11. Two-Way One-Ways
  12. Kickstand Death
  13. Not Signaling
  14. No Idea How to Brake HARD
  15. No Idea How to SWERVE
  16. Driving with Friends
  17. Sandy Corners
  18. The First 2 Minutes of Rain

#1. Hold Your Line

The first rule of driving in Chiang Mai is HOLD YOUR LINE—just like a train on the tracks—as any sudden change in lane position carries the potential for accidental collision (your fault). PROBLEM: Other drivers speeding past you from behind on either the left or the right. WARNING: Especially dangerous are situations when a car slows in front to turn. Do not swerve around a rear bumper without shoulder-checking first or risk getting NAILED from behind (your fault). The only time this doesn't apply is when you're speeding past everybody. Next time out, observe just how solid even an 11-year-old Thai school girl is at this basic but critical survival technique.


#2. Don't Fear the Creeper

Anyone driving a car in Chiang Mai spends heaps of time going absolutely nowhere thus creating this second hazard


"Intersection creep" is a common practice where a car pushes its nose into the intersection looking for that first hole to keep moving through the daily gridlock. It happens at every single intersection. PROBLEM: The moment drivers see you start to brake is your CLEAR signal giving them permission to pull-out in front of you.

PROPER COUNTER STRATEGY: When you encounter the creeper, DO NOT SLOW DOWN AT ALL. Creepers see you just as they are getting into position to sprint into the intersection the moment you pass. Just lay off the throttle a tiny bit, keep a sharp eye, and get ready to brake hard if necessary. MORAL: He who hesitates is TOAST.

#3. Skate Where The Other Players Aren't

The "Great One" Wayne Gretzky once explained that his secret to being the best hockey player was to simply skate where the other players weren't. Same thing driving a motorbike in Chiang Mai. Due to the sheer density in numbers of vehicles, never drive at the same speed as the cars and motorbikes around you. Riding in these tight packs is inherently dangerous, so whenever you find yourself surrounded by cars and motorbikes, clear the pocket by accelerating away to a safe, neutral location. Think of it as a little game where you constantly chase an open space with short bursts of acceleration and NEVER deceleration since driving slower than the traffic around you only makes you a pylon everyone else has to avoid.

If you're not comfortable gunning it past others to secure open space when driving in Chiang Mai, may the Lord have mercy on your soul.

#4. Feet on the Pegs

Plain and simple, drivers do not have proper control of a motorbike unless both feet are on the pegs (or floor). This is not motocross where heels can dig into soft dirt as you round the corner.

PROBLEM #1: Touching your foot to the ground when moving yanks your leg backwards—you'll either be sucked off balance or right off your bike completely.

PROBLEM #2: Employing the "hover feet" technique where your feet dangle off the sides but never touch the ground risks a 99% chance you will nut yourself HARD before you and your bike begin cartwheeling if someone pulls out and you must stop extra fast.

PROPER TECHNIQUE: Left foot only goes down after your bike comes to a complete stop (right foot always covers the back brake—even if you don't have one—yet).

#5. Songthaew KERPOW!

The sole mission of Songthaew (or red bus) drivers is to pull over and either pick people up or try to convince them they need picking up. The curb lane is the front door for their business and they guard it mercilessly.


PROBLEM: Songthaew drivers are always pulling over to the left and stopping to pick up fares. Trying to pass on the inside therefore comes with a real risk of being accidently herded into the curb.

LESSON: Red means run. Don't ever pass a Songthaew on the inside unless there's oodles of room, no pedestrians within a mile, or everyone is STOPPED in gridlock traffic. Even then be nervous.

#6. Death Race 2000 Crosswalks

The vast majority of red lights encountered driving around the Old City and universities are for pedestrian cross-walks. Here locals activate a red light in preparation for an extremely cautious, potentially life-ending dash across the street. Those nervous looks on their faces say it all.

pedestrian crossing sign

As motor vehicle compliance is far from guaranteed when that button is hit, the "rules" here are loose at best. DRIVING ADVICE: When you see the red light, if the pedestrians are not directly in front of you, DON'T slow down. Keep driving straight through as stopping to wait only forces all the traffic behind into evasive action to avoid running over you.

This goes hand-in-hand with the golden rule of shoulder checking when stopping (bikes can stop twice as fast as cars). If you must stop, as soon as the pedestrians are out of your immediate path, gun it to avoid getting run over by all the drag racers bolting away from the same starting line.

#7. The Unfastened Chin Strap

Driving without fastening your motorcycle helmet chin strap is STUPID—technically it's on, but it doesn't offer any real protection. If you and your bike become separated at speed, the last thing you want popping off your melon is your lid. Say hello to DEATH.


Motorcycle drivers who have had accidents are easy to spot. They're the ones wearing expensive full-face helmets, full-leathers, gloves and boots in 40-degree weather. Burn me twice—shame on me. PROMISE: Strap it on even for that 2-second beer run to the 7-11.

#8. Double 8-Ball Special

Many Chinese tourists who rent motorbikes in Chiang Mai will either buy or borrow helmets with giant number 8’s emblazoned on them for good luck. The “double 8 ball special” then is two Chinese tourists double riding together with matching lids making this simple to spot.

Far more dangerous than the "single 8 ball special", this hazard appears as a low-speed, lane drifting obstacle presumably caused by both riders "searching for Mr. Zhou" with cameras at the ready. Oblivious to all who are forced to veer around them, when you see a double 8 ball special ahead, treat it just as you would an old blind man crossing the road. He's not going to be moving out of your way.

#9. No Pre-Ride Inspection

Always Rule Out the Flat

Before you jump on your bike and drive, at MINIMUM you must give both tires a quick kick (tap) to make certain you don't have a flat. Otherwise, the moment you'll be discovering that flat will be around corner #1 while your ass slides on the asphalt. If one tire goes, chances are the other won't be far behind if both inner tubes are the same age.

Check Air Pressure

Another mandatory base to cover is tire pressure. Next to the brakes, the tires are the most important safety devices on your motorbike. Incorrect tire pressure will compromise cornering, braking and stability. In a worst-case scenario, improper tire pressure can lead to tire failure and a serious accident. Incorrect tire pressure also will affect your comfort, fuel economy and tire life. DO IT: Once a week use the free automatic air pump at the gas station.

Check All Lights

In keeping with this minimalist theme (), once a week it's also wise to ensure your headlamp and all four signal lights are in proper working order to avoid becoming a hazard to yourself and others.

#10. Right Left NOT Left Right

If you come from a country where traffic flows on the opposite side of the street, you'll arrive in Chiang Mai with a really bad habit called "Left Right". MISTAKE: Doing a rolling stop at an intersection looking left when traffic is coming from the right. REALITY: When you finally look right it will be just in time to see the whites of the eyes of the person colliding with you (your fault).

#11. Two-Way One-Ways

MISTAKE: Turning onto a one-way street and only looking in the direction of the approaching traffic. REALITY: Besides potential blind-side victims like texting back-packers, vendors pushing food carts, bicycle riders, walkers, joggers, cats, dogs and kids chasing balls, ADD MOTORBIKES because there is NO SUCH THING as a one-way street inside the old city (except the perimeter road). DO IT: Always look RIGHT and LEFT at every intersection regardless of whether it's a one-way or not (because it's not).

#12. Kickstand Death

While many models of motorbike have a built-in kill switch when the kickstand is down, some don't. Here’s a special warning when renting these models.

PROBLEM: Driving away oblivious that your kickstand down.

HAZARD: First left-hand turn your bike will pivot off the kickstand resulting in a critical loss of control. Even WORSE is the scenario where your first turn of the day is a right where you then accelerate to speed. If the next turning motion then just happens to be left, this wipe-out will be guaranteed to be spectacular. MORAL: No kickstand engine kill switch? Do up that chin strap and practice mindful meditation.

#13. Not Signaling

Motorbike drivers who grow up in Chiang Mai are really, really good about signaling. Why? In a city with a million hidden intersections, it's one of the best ways of avoiding and causing accidents.


SCENARIO: Driving merrily along you encounter slower traffic so you pull out to pass on the right (like you should).

PROBLEM: Without signaling, the person in front also turns right and BAM gets t-boned by you (your fault).

REVISED SCENARIO: Driving along you encounter slower traffic. You're about to pull out to pass on the right (like you should) when the bike in front quickly signals right just before turning right down an intersection you never saw.

MORAL: Act like a local and be really, really good about signaling. And DON'T be one of those oblivious dorks who drives with their signal light blinking and blinking and blinking. It's dangerous to others and a real public statement about your skill level as a rider.

#14. No Idea How to Brake HARD

Do you know exactly how much distance you need to come to a hard, controlled, straight-line stop on your bike at any given speed on dry, wet and sandy road surfaces? Probably not and that's a shame because when it comes to collision avoidance, STOPPING is your first (and safest) option. When you know you don't have room to stop, swerving is your second (but more risky) choice.


Unfortunately, the first time many drivers try hard-braking is in live panic/crisis situations where they end up having a serious accident. Emergency braking is a skill best learned with proper instruction and practice at gradually progressive speeds (a set of brake pads is definitely worth your life).

FACT #1: Although 70% of braking power comes from the front brake (applied using proper low wrist position), maximum deceleration comes with simultaneous application of both brakes. .

FACT #2: For collision avoidance, emergency braking is your FIRST option. Your second option is swerving. Now follow this logic: If you don't know how much distance it takes to stop your bike at any given speed, swerving when you shouldn't only compounds the risk. .

FACT #3: If you don't have the foggiest clue how your bike handles under hard-braking, there's a real chance you will lock up the front tire and go down extra hard into that panic-triggering obstacle. OUCH. Got a little money? Take a defensive driving safety course.

#15. No Idea How to SWERVE

Swerving (correctly termed counter-steering) is an obstacle avoidance technique used only when emergency braking is not an option. The technique involves the counter-intuitive concept of pushing the handle bar in the opposite direction of the direction you wish to turn. This knocks the bike off balance to achieve a quick change in angle which the driver then corrects to complete the swerve. Confused? Watch the video which defines counter steering as "the act of steering a two-wheeled cycle’s front tire away from the direction of a turn in order to lean the cycle into the turn".

 #16. Driving with Friends

When you're driving around with friends, DO NOT drive side by side EVER. This isn't an episode of CHiPs (California Highway Patrol). Staggered formation keeps you properly spaced and separated and reduces the risk of rear-ending the person directly in front of you.


NEVER do the CHiPs thing.

This principle also applies to driving in regular traffic. If you happen to be out with someone you've never driven with or don't know well, don't mince words laying down the law when you discover the rookies.


#17. Sandy Corners

"Looks like you had a little mishap there. Motorbike?" "Yeah...sandy corner...." HEARD IT A THOUSAND TIMES.

PROBLEM #1: Rounding a corner, you find yourself on a sandy surface, apply the brakes to slow down and BAM. LESSON: When you find yourself too hot in a corner on a slippery surface (oil, rain, sand), if you feel your tires start to break loose DON'T TOUCH THE BRAKES. Just hang on and do that same controlled slide you did a thousand times during your motocross years. That heel may want to come down, but RESIST or risk making things worse. If you must brake—touch them ever so gently while you start looking for the safe out.

PROBLEM #2: Starting to brake in a straight line, you find yourself on a sandy surface, brake too hard, and your front-end slides out. OUCH. LESSON: Scan, scan, scan the road surface always. If there's sand or if it's wet, apply brakes lightly while being ready to lay-off immediately if tires begin to break traction.

#18. The First 2 Minutes of Rain

The first minute of rain is when all the oil drips (and all other crap) from every car, tuk-tuk, Songthaew and Toyota 10-seater gets lifted up and spread around the entire road surface. It's insanely dangerous.

When you live in a place like Chiang Mai with extended periods of drought before the rainy season hits, this first rain is extra saucy. GOOD ADVICE: There is nothing wrong with pulling over and waiting 10 minutes for some of the sauce to clear. The last place on earth you want to be is driving down from Doi Suthep ANY TIME it starts to rain. It's pure ice for those $10 tires of yours.

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