The “Lay ‘Er Down” Myth

This one has to stop. Just yesterday I read an online plea from a friend of a rider who, upon entering a local rotary, was surprised by an SUV and “had to lay ‘er down” in order “to avoid broadsiding” said SUV. Keep an eye out for this SUV, they said – those jerks didn’t even stop.

Come sit with me for a moment, and let’s think about that.

The motorcycle did not make contact with the SUV. But the rider insisted that “laying the bike down” was the best course of action, and insisted that all of this was the fault of the SUV driver.

I’m willing to accept that the SUV probably didn’t yield to the traffic already in the rotary per local law. Heck, that driver might have been toying with their phone instead of watching where they were going. But the blame in this case falls with the motorcyclist.

Let’s break it down.

Last I checked, the coefficient of friction of metal and plastic on pavement was quite a bit lower than that of rubber. That is, given similar momentum, a motorcycle will slide a lot farther on its side than it will upright on its tires with the brakes well and properly engaged.

So unless the brakes on the motorcycle he was riding were completely shot (not the SUV’s fault) or the tires were so old they had no grip left (I know, I’m reaching), or the SUV got very, very close to the rider (not bloody likely given the fact that there was no contact), the crash was entirely the motorcyclist’s fault, for not knowing how to brake.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves, fellow motorcyclists. It does us an injustice. When we say “I had to lay ‘er down” we are saying we had to crash to avoid a crash. This makes approximately zero sense. In fact, when there is no contact you are worse off from an insurance/at-fault standpoint. When there is no contact, it is a single vehicle accident and you cannot sue anyone for damages.

You cannot expertly throw a motorcycle to the pavement without some kind of training. Are local clubs holding “lay ‘er down” seminars on a sacrificial bike? Have they done this so often that they know where the bike, and they, will go, upon pavement contact? Mustn’t they be spending a ton of money on the gear they’re replacing, or hospital bills for all that skin loss?

Do yourself a favor, each and every rider. Hie thee to a deserted parking lot and learn to brake. Use both brakes. Unless your motorcycle is a relic, your brakes are better than you think they are. No “toss you over the handlebars” myth applies. Front brakes apply the majority of your bike’s braking force, so use them. Learn to make your tires howl without breaking contact, and learn to love that sound. Learn how fast you can brake without skidding. Learn to ride out a skid that does happen. If you have ABS, learn what it does and where it engages so that it never surprises you.

Knowing how to stop your motorcycle is just as important as knowing how to make it go fast, and someday, when that SUV enters a rotary, unexpectedly, right in front of you, you won’t be picking up pieces of your bike in the road. You’ll be cursing that ignorant driver and continuing on your ride, none the worse for wear. Okay, your brakes might be a little warm.

But relegate the “lay ‘er down” myth for the ages. You’re just admitting that you’re a bad rider.


  1. You know what really grinds my gears? The “Lay ‘Er Down” myth. I mean, yeah, sometimes a crash is unavoidable. But you still have enough control to minimize the consequences. Maybe you can turn a T-bone into a glancing blow. But if you “lay ‘er down,” you’re throwing that control away. You’re never forced to lay ‘er down.

  2. Gives more reason to purchase an ABS equipped motorcycle is people knew they could rely on the braking system rather than locking them up. Maybe I’m just a stickler for proper technique but it always bothered me to watch so many “experienced” riders rely so much on the rear brake as if they were scared of applying the front.

  3. In my sleepy little town with it’s rather small rotary, people are always entering without looking for traffic. Well, maybe they look as most times it seems like they are at least pointing their head in the proper direction, but it doesn’t appear to register that there is another vehicle there – car, motorcycle or otherwise. Whether they’re not judging speed correctly or they just want to “get there first,” they go and it’s something you need to watch out for. And it’s not just cars/trucks doing this (entering the rotary incorrectly), it’s motorcyclists (squids?) as well. There are a couple of sayings/thoughts that come to mind – the first is: you know what you’re doing, but you have no clue about the other guy and that’s what you have to watch out and plan for. Another that’s perfect for motorcyclists: ride as if you are invisible, because chances are good that you’re not being seen.

  4. I don’t believe that any real biker believes anyone who says “had to Lay ‘er down” but we never call the other guy out on it. It is more so he can save face, kind of the right “brother of the road” thing to do. Yeah, we all know he’s full of s^&t but what the hell, he just lost his ride, probably banged himself up pretty bad in the process, we don’t really need to pour more salt in the wound by calling him out on it. Eventually, if you ride long enough, you do have a momentary lapse in judgement. Your mind might wander at a crucial moment, you might misjudge a vehicles intention, or you might even just hit a patch of bad road that throws you. Never a question of if, always a question of when. We are human, we can guard against it as best as possible, but for the most part it is inevitable. We all have dumb ass moments. To the outside world, the ones that don’t ride, they don’t understand that going down is always a bad move, and the fallen biker can get away with his little white lie. You know he was a dumb ass, and if he knows that you know how to ride, he knows that you know that he was a dumb ass. I say just let the poor bastard have it, let him have his cover up to keep a little salve on a bruised ego. He has probably had it pretty rough as it is, and doesn’t need some know it all calling him out on his one last little shred of dignity he has left.

    1. That’s an interesting take on the whole thing — more of an incantation than an excuse? Still, the serious motorcyclists I know always analyze their accidents, admit what they did wrong, and have a good discussion wherein hopefully others can learn from their (our) mistakes. A community of honest riders is a very valuable learning environment.

      1. Most motorcyclist do not practice braking , let alone Threshold Braking, Braken n Escape or Collision Avoidance. Training at the entry level leaves a lot to be desired.
        If you routinely travel at speeds 40,50,60 + mph then you ought to be VERY Proficient at emergency braking , most are NOT. Not slowing in traffic, I mean emergency stopping !. If you do not practice that skill set ( in a controlled environment then you seriously lack that skill set.
        As far as laying it down, as a last resort and only as a last resort , you are going to hit what ever it is, the technique would be to shed as much speed as you can prior to executing this maneuver
        the operator has been trained in the steps of doing this, with the goal of putting the motor in between you n the object your about to strike, letting the motor, suspension etc absorb what hopefully is minimal impact. This is a last ditch effort when all else has failed and performed by a trained professional. ( not for the faint of heart) Is it a debateable move , ? Maybe , but it does work. Folks who ride for a living have different needs , train often , than the average weekend rider .
        As far as ABS , dont use ABS as your crutch to please yourself as an end all be all to safe operation, it is NOT

  5. Recently had an SUV stop suddenly in front of me. Oncoming traffic made going left impossible. A big ditch did the same for the right. Locked up the brakes, all was going well, then hit a damn tar snake and the bike went down and I rolled along behind it. I didn’t lay it down by choice, no contact, no fault, nobody to blame.

  6. Until you have personally been in that position, I really think you better rethink your logic. I was in a situation where I had to make a decision, hit the back of a car that had stopped and had no brake lights or hit the brakes and lay it down. I walked away because of my decision to lay her down…

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