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#301 No sign of trouble

Four-way flashers are standard kit for every automobile on the market. Then why not so, motorcycles?

We’re just wrapping up our photo-shoot on Iona Island, home of Vancouver International Airport (YVR), as the sun is sinking into the Salish Sea. The Mike Hailwood Replica has been a temperamental starter all afternoon, and as Greg pulls onto YVR’s perimeter road, an erratic but persistent misfire sets in. I take off behind him in the van, but we’ve only travelled a couple of kilometres before the Ducati emits a loud bang and a cough of black smoke from the exhaust. Greg drifts to the side of the road and climbs off the bike, the motor quite dead.
The perimeter road is barely two lanes wide at this point, and the grade slopes away abruptly on either side. There’s no shoulder. No worries, I think. I’ll just park behind him, put my four-way flashers on and call a towing company. But I get a negative response from the first two I try: the airport is under federal jurisdiction, they say, and one company has the exclusive towing franchise. So I call them. They have no equipment for lifting or transporting motorcycles and they decline. So it’s Plan B. I call a buddy with a trailer and ask if I can borrow it. The trailer will be ready, he says. But he’s 30-odd kilometres away.
The light is failing now, and the traffic picking up. Dump trucks thunder past, heading for a nearby construction site. In the gathering gloom, Greg’s tail light is barely visible and he’s wearing black motorcycle gear. Only the MHR’s reflectors catching the trucks’ headlights are clearly visible.
To collect the trailer, I have little choice but to leave Greg cowering with his prize bike at the side of the road. It takes me a couple of hours to get back to YVR with the trailer, and I’m wondering what I’m going to find. Greg and the bike in the ditch? A Mack truck with a new hood ornament?
But all is more-or-less well, though Greg is clearly shaken by the experience. I hit the four way flashers on the Chevy and we roll the MHR onto the trailer. And that’s when I have an epiphany of sorts: why doesn’t the Mike Hailwood Replica have four-way flashers too?
I mentally make my way through the bikes then in my garage: of eight motorcycles fitted with turn signals, only one—a 2000 Triumph ST—has four-way hazard flashers. Doesn’t that seem odd? And what about new bikes?
So when I get back home I decide to investigate. A survey of manufacturers’ websites reveals nothing: whether or not four-way flashers are fitted is a secret. I next do some hands-on research in dealers’ showrooms, and the results are somewhat puzzling. It seems that hazard warning flashers are typically restricted to high-end touring and adventure bikes: for example, Triumph’s Trophy is equipped, but none of the other Hinckley bikes (though I can’t find a Tiger 1200 Explorer to check that).
Similarly, Moto Guzzi’s Norge, California, and Stelvio have a four-way flasher switch, but no other bikes in the range. Every BMW I see has hazard lights, yet Aprilia has none. Ducati fits four-ways only on the Multistrada, Hypermotard, Hyperstrada, and rather oddly, I thought, the Panigale 899. I can’t find a Diavel.
It’s a similar story at the Yamaha dealer, with just the FZ-09, FJR and V-Max with four-ways; and a similar finding at a dealer with multi Japanese lines. There seems to be no logic to which bikes have four-way flashers and which don’t. Maybe it has something to do with the supplier of the switchgear?
At the Harley dealer, the touring models have a dedicated switch, but I also learn that on most H-Ds the hazards can be turned on by pressing both turn signal buttons at the same time. I try that trick on my 1991 BMW Paris-Dakar, but it doesn’t work.
The bottom line is that some bikes have them and some don’t—which seems totally ridiculous. If I got a flat on the Gardiner Expressway or ran out of fuel in the Massey Tunnel, I’d want to be as visible as possible to the 18-wheelers behind me—even more so if I was a new rider on an entry-level bike. Even my push-bike has a tail light with a flashing mode!
There’s another reason for having hazard flashers: motorcyclists typically have better sight lines when riding in traffic, and can usually see what’s happening further ahead than somone driving an automobile. Numerous times I’ve been riding on the freeway and noticed that traffic ahead is slowing or stopped. I use my four-way flashers to alert drivers behind me, so I can avoid becoming a speed bump.
It seems irresponsible for motorcycle manufacturers to distribute and sell bikes that aren’t able to communicate visually that they’re in trouble, especially now that so many motorists are driving distracted. All cars have four-way flashers: why not bikes?
If you look up four-way flashers on the Web, there are lots of sites showing how to hook up your own hazard lights for less than $10, so it can’t be the cost or the complexity. And if there’s no regulatory requirement, perhaps it’s time there was.
Are you listening Transport Canada? Or do we need to wait for the Americans to take the lead?

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