Summer is just around the corner and more motorcyclists will hit the open road. There’s no denying that motorcycles are cool, fun, and fuel-efficient, but it’s also true that riding a motorcycle is riskier than driving a car. To some people, that’s part of the appeal. Living life on the edge and taking risks can be part of what makes riding a motorcycle rewarding.
The reality is, a crash as a motorcyclist is 30 times more likely to be fatal than as a motorist, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). But, riding a motorcycle doesn’t have to be an exercise in cheating death. Motorcycles may be inherently less safe than cars are, but there are several things motorcyclist can do to keep everyone safe. To make sure you stay on the safe side of riding, here are some tips to keep your rides incident-free.
1. Take a Motorcycle Safety Course
Most states require a skills test if you’re going to get a motorcycle license, and some states also require a motorcycle safety class. Even if your state does not require you to take a motorcycle safety course, you should seriously consider it. The class will teach you about the traffic safety laws that apply to motorcycles in your state, how to respond to emergency situations on a motorcycle and give you a chance to try out your new skills in a controlled environment. You will also get tips on motorcycle maintenance and how to avoid unsafe situations. Taking a motorcycle safety class prepares you to hit the road safely and with more confidence.
Most motorcycle dealerships offer motorcycle safety courses, and some even give discounts or promotional giveaways to people who have completed their course. If you’ve got your heart set on a particular brand of bike, taking a motorcycle safety class from that dealership is a good way to get to know the brand better.
2. Get the Right Gear
Contrary to popular belief, looking cool is not the top priority when getting on your bike. No matter how hot it is outside, shorts and sandals are not proper riding attire. Since a motorcycle offers little protection in a crash, what riders wear is part of the crash protection system. You can go for extreme protection with leathers or reinforced jackets, pants, and boots. There’s a reason a lot of bikers wear leather: it’s strong enough to protect their skin if they slide along the road surface. Plus, leather can also protect you from small rocks, bugs, and lit cigarette butts. Also, make sure that you protect your feet with sturdy closed-toe shoes with a rugged sole, ankle support, and a low heel.
Glasses or goggles are a must if you have an open-faced helmet and to protect your hands, you should always wear gloves. For warm weather, there is specially designed gear that is intended for ventilation and cooling. And, it should go without saying—never ride without a Department of Transportation-approved helmet.
3. Stay in the Comfort Zone
Know your abilities and make sure that neither your chosen route nor motorcycle is more than you can handle. Your bike should fit you—your feet should be able to rest flat on the ground when seated and if the bike feels too heavy for you, it probably is. You want to be able to get on and off your motorcycle easily, and the handlebars and controls should be easy for you to reach. The more familiar you are with your route, the easier it will be for you to focus on safety instead of not missing a turn.
To stay safe, make sure you are always riding within your skill level. If you’re riding with a group, don’t push yourself to keep up with the pack. Take the time to build your skills and only ride in situations where you know your skills are up to the job. To increase your skill level, many motorcycle dealerships offer advanced riding courses where you can practice more advanced maneuvers.
4. Avoid Distraction and Use Caution
One of the keys to staying safe on a motorcycle is staying hyper-aware of everything that is going on around you. Remember, motorcycles are tough for drivers to see, so you need to see and avoid them rather than bet on them seeing you. While mirrors are there for a reason, you can’t solely rely on them to remain aware of what is in your immediate riding space. To keep aware of your surroundings and your position in relation to those around you, you need to use your head. Experienced riders know that it’s important to keep your head and eyes up while rounding corners and that the safest way to change lanes is to actually turn and look over your shoulder to make sure you are clear.
Don’t tailgate. Keeping a safe following distance is critical, both to ensure you have enough stopping distance and so you have time to react to obstacles in the road. Most new motorcycles have anti-lock brakes, but many of the older models do not. That means that motorcyclists can’t just slam on their brakes like drivers can. Practice stops on your bike in a safe environment and know how much space you need, then make sure you give yourself that much space in traffic.
5. Avoid Bad Weather
The dangers of wet or icy roads multiply when you’re on two wheels. So when preparing to go for a ride, check the weather. If heavy rain, snow, or ice is predicted, leave the bike at home. If you absolutely must ride in the rain, don’t ride right after the storm starts. When rain first hits the road, it brings up oil and other residue, making the road extremely slippery.
Slippery conditions increase your margin for error and without windshield wipers, your visibility is compromised. Rain not only cuts your visibility but reduces your tires’ grip on the road, which can make cornering tricky. Avoid making sudden maneuvers and be especially gentle with the brakes, throttle, and steering to avoid sliding. If you can, wait a while to allow the rain to pass. Then, be extra cautious, go slow, and leave plenty of space for stopping.
6. Be Ready to Roll
Before each ride, do a quick walk-around to make sure your light, horn, and directional signals are working properly. Check the chain, belt, or shaft and the brakes, and check the tires for wear and make sure they’re set at the proper pressure. Many motorcycle mechanics say they routinely see worn-out brakes and improperly inflated tires that greatly increase safety risks.
When all is said and done, it boils down to this: wear your gear, know your motorcycle, and know your abilities. You can’t control your environment but you can control how you react to it. Don’t let an urge to prove a point or retaliate against an inconsiderate driver overwhelm your better judgment. After all, that takes away all the joy, which is why you’re riding in the first place.