Help! There is an emu in my front forks!
January 4, 2009 4:59 PM   Subscribe

Motorcyclists everywhere! What are your experiences and tips for identifying (noticing) and avoiding animals on the road when riding? Different animals have different road/response habits. In your experience with animal X, what is the best way to avoid an accident?

Ah, metafilter. One thread leads to a link leads to another then to another and all of a sudden I have an urge to do a blog post on tips for avoiding different animals on the roads, especially for folk riding in foreign places. In my neck of the woods emus are a big killer of motorcyclists because of their particular instincts and habits. For example, if there are emus on both sides of the road, one is likely to run to the pack on the other side taking great big fast strides right in front of an unsuspecting rider who may not have seen it in the roadside scrub. I imagine for example that moose have particular responses that differ from emus / bears / cattle / donkeys / alligators / monkeys / etc.

In your riding experience, how do you notice, approach and pass animal X safely when riding on the roads? What animal habits do you know that may help a rider (or driver) avoid a collision?

(This can apply to car drivers too)
posted by Kerasia to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total)
Possums always freeze as soon as they are caught in your lights. I've lost count of how many possums I've run over in cars. Not only that, but to date I have killed/maimed four while mountain biking, usually at night with lights. I could avoid them in a car but don't bother to, and the ones I've run over while mountain biking came into my lights or showed up around a corner too quickly for me to come to a stop. Fortunately, they're too small to be more than a hefty bump, although it might be different on a motorcycle doing 75...

I've heard that people hit moose without even seeing them - the moose's torso and head are much higher than the average vehicle, and the legs aren't terribly noticeable.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 5:12 PM on January 4, 2009

In my motorcycle training course we were taught that animals came in two categories: squishable and non-squishable. Where I am the main non-squishable ones are white tail dear. My neck hairs stand on end when I see one, because they don't really have a "tell."
posted by piedmont at 5:26 PM on January 4, 2009

That would be the deer.

I am curious to hear more, in case I find myself riding in an area with more non-squishable animals.
posted by piedmont at 5:28 PM on January 4, 2009

I don't ride but I drive in heavy deer territory. The biggest thing to remember with deer is that there is never just one. If one crosses the road in front of you, anticipate another following it and perhaps another after that.
posted by 517 at 5:47 PM on January 4, 2009

In my motorcycle training course we were taught that animals came in two categories: squishable and non-squishable.

I've always taken the dividing line to be a medium-sized dog. Smaller than that and you are fine to give it some throttle and ride over it; larger than that you'd better find a way to miss it if you know what is good for you.

If you see a sign saying "open range," or just some cows by the side of the road, you'd better start paying attention. Hitting a cow or horse at speed will do you no good, and livestock are kind of unpredictable on roadsides. Sometimes they run across, sometimes they just stand there, sometimes there is a calf or foal that will come running to mommy.
posted by Forktine at 6:02 PM on January 4, 2009

Forktime is right, smaller than a medium dog, don't try to avoid it, it isn't worth it... Deer, assume there are more, and keep your eyes scanning the side of the road, but, chances are, you won't see the first one before it is in front of you....

bottom line...slow down..
posted by HuronBob at 6:10 PM on January 4, 2009

or...Forktine...if I could read
posted by HuronBob at 6:11 PM on January 4, 2009

I've had a fair bit of success avoiding 'roos. I try to make sure not to focus on the animal, more so on a clear section of road. It's like the pothole or rock, if you focus on it, you're likely to hit it. Thankfully the areas I encounter 'roos at night are usually devoid of traffic which helps.
Emus are crazy birds, they tend to alter course for no particiular reason which makes them really hard to avoid. I've had one run from the side of the road alongside my car and repeatedly ram me from the side. If possible I like to hit the anchors, and get the speed as low as I can.
posted by Duke999R at 6:12 PM on January 4, 2009

Wallabies are very active at dawn and dusk. So are road-feeding birds like crows. Man I hate riding in the country just before sundown.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:11 PM on January 4, 2009

Response by poster: white tail dear. My neck hairs stand on end when I see one, because they don't really have a "tell."
What do you mean by a "tell", Piedmont?
posted by Kerasia at 8:42 PM on January 4, 2009

I was making a bad parallel to a poker tell.
posted by piedmont at 9:12 PM on January 4, 2009

Response by poster: Ahh, yes thanks. The subtle sign that something is ticking in the brain of the beast and action may occur.
posted by Kerasia at 9:20 PM on January 4, 2009

My daily commute puts me on 15k's of twisty mountain roads at dusk. So far I have dodged kangaroos, wallabies, feral cats, rabbits, deer and wombats.

Birds I just don't worry about. The damage they can do to me or the bike is just insignificant compared to the damage I could do to myself trying to swerve. Same for the cats and bunnies.

Wombats are a different problem. Although they are relatively small, they are made from some weird antimatter and weigh a gazillion kilos. Hitting one at speed would be curtains for the front end of the bike. Wallabies are pretty small, but big enough to throw you off-line if you hit them. 'Roos are well and truly big enough to take me out.

My advice with all of these is to ride within the limits of the situation. Try and keep to the centre of the road. This gives you the maximum time to respond if something comes charging out of the undergrowth. If it's dark enough to need lights, slow down to a speed that you can actually identify objects at. If the object you see is big enough to really hurt you, slow down to reduce the damage if you do hit them.

'Roos and wallabies generally feed on the side of the road and then get spooked by vehicles. Why they don't hop back into the forest is beyond me, but there you go. But if you're keen-eyed, you can generally see them in advance and at least make up your mind. Swerving is pointless. Slowing down is much better.

I don't know what to do about deer in my area other than to try and hunt them into extinction. Those buggers are big, and they don't hang around on the edge of the road before charging out.
posted by tim_in_oz at 9:27 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Deer will usually bolt in front of an oncoming vehicle. If you see one crossing, SLOW DOWN, because there are usually a few others lurking at the side waiting for their chance to turn you into road pizza.
Dogs: When they're chasing or coming at you, I was taught to slow down, determine the "intercept point", and then accelerate past if before the dog gets there.
posted by cosmicbandito at 10:27 PM on January 4, 2009

A lot of animals seem to have some basic programming to backtrack when they're scared. That is, they turn around and run back the way they came. I lived in a house with mice once and I learned that when I heard rustling in my bedroom somewhere, I could just go to my bedroom entrance, unquietly, and a mouse would run straight into my hands.

Sure, that's just mice. But a year later I was driving down the road and saw a deer leaving the road, on the right. It was OFF the road, it had completely crossed it, but when it saw me coming it turned around and ran back across the road again, right in front of me.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 10:32 PM on January 4, 2009

If I have to ride on the highway at night, I choose the inside lane, which gives me one lanesworth of warning if an animal is going to cross suddenly. Deer, elk, dogs, coyotes, and the occasional sheep are the most common around here, so the first sign I get is usually a pair of reflecting eyes or a flash of underbelly as it clears the ditch.

If I don't have a four-lane highway, I will find a "pace car" and ride five seconds behind. Yeah! You there! Absorb some of my risk!

Once, I had to brake hard for a big cinnamon bear. I ended up sideways and barely upright, about ten feet away from him. I am glad he had somewhere else to go and did not have time to maul me.
posted by Sallyfur at 11:01 PM on January 4, 2009

Response by poster: These are great. Please more examples and experiences. Europe? Japan? India?
posted by Kerasia at 11:26 PM on January 4, 2009

In Cambodia the stray cows are really annoying. The will often spend the evening just standing in the road.
In the smaller towns there's not much street lights and you get used to them being white, so even by moonlight/crummy headlight you can still make them out. BUT one or two in the whole town is black. I had close call with that cow. Luckily, they dont bolt or even move out of the way, so its just a matter of going around them.
posted by Iax at 1:18 AM on January 5, 2009

I ride nearly every day around my home in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, USA. I've dodged a long list of animals, from flying squirrels to wild boar. The rule I was taught is that if you can't eat it in two meals, try to avoid it. Big grazers like deer, well, juke & jive to avoid them if you can. Practice your panic stops and swerves. There's another classification of animals here, which are those you really don't want to hit - ones it may be better to ditch the bike than tangle with. Those include mountain lion and bobcat (rare) and bear and boar (very common). These are the animals that would likely want a piece of you when you stop sliding. I had a close encounter with a momma boar & her piglets a few years ago; I seriously considered riding off the road to avoid the porcine family. Luckily, they ran off just before I had to make that decision.

My experience tells me that there is no good way to predict what any animal will do - I had a cat run under my rear wheel (you'd think a cat would be smart enough to not do that) and I've watched opossums do the fandango in front of me as they tried to decide which way to go. A wild turkey (unlike their domestic cousins, they can fly) missed the windshield of my old BMW 650 by inches; I suppose something more threatening than an F-bike chased it out if the field next to the road.

If you ride the same roads with regularity, you might learn to predict when animals might be in the neighborhood. There's a section of NC28 where bears appear like clockwork (it's tied to trash time at a restaurant's dumpster) and a section of GA180 where I've had three close calls with deer. If you're traveling unfamiliar roads or can't find a pattern to the critters, slow down a bit and try to focus more on your peripheral vision. I would have seen that turkey coming for my head if I'd been looking for it.
posted by workerant at 9:55 AM on January 5, 2009

Deer, also unfortunately are most active at twilight hours and after dark it seems.

Dogs, if they are making a beeline for you just speed up, or slow down then speed up - it throws off their "firing solution" on you where theyve already calculated where you will be when they get to you.

Cats tend to dart out unseen.
My own encounter with a bobcat was too fast to react at 60mph and it fell in the size of non squishable category as I rode over it running out into me - it died and ruined all my gear, some bones, and half my bike in the process.

Some areas turtles are bad especially in turns.

this looks to be an interesting thread if we get any more international or exotic area comments. :)
posted by clanger at 11:35 PM on January 5, 2009

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