Riding a motorcycle can be a liberating and joyous experience, whether you are going out for a cruise, commuting or going on a road trip. Motorcycles offer a sense of freedom unlike any other vehicle, but they also leave riders exposed and more prone to injuries in accidents. In fact, motorcycle riders are 30 times more likely than car drivers to die in an accident.
No matter what type of vehicle you are driving, you have a responsibility to drive it as safely as possible. By following basic motorcycle safety tips, motorcycle riders can improve road safety and help lower the risk of accidents.
While it is not possible to avoid every dangerous situation, it is possible to increase the safety of your riding experience. All motorcycle riders should know how to select and care for their bike, learn the skills to ride it and know what to do if danger appears during a ride. To help you effectively prioritize your own safety and the safety of the drivers around you, this guide offers 10 comprehensive motorcycle safety tips for new and seasoned riders alike.
#1. Choose the Right Bike for You
Motorcycles today are built by designers who optimize them for the experienced rider, so it can be difficult for novices to find one that is easy enough to handle safely. The engines on newer bikes are more powerful than ever, even on small displacement models. If you are new to riding motorcycles, you must proceed with caution as you purchase your first bike. One of the biggest mistakes that a new rider can make is to get in over their head by buying a bike more suited to advanced riders.
When you buy your first motorcycle, make sure that the bike is the right size for your frame. You should be able to straddle it properly, with the soles of your shoes flat on the ground. If you are not able to plant both feet on the ground when you sit on the bike, or you have trouble mounting and dismounting, it means that the bike is too tall for you. You should also be able to reach both handlebars and all the control functions without leaning over or having to extend your arms straight out.
When shopping for a motorcycle, you should also pay attention to the engine specifications. The following engine levels are ideal for these types of uses:
- Beginner commuter riding — 250–cc to 300–cc engine
- Frequent highway riding — 500–cc to 750–cc engine
Engines within these ranges allow you to keep up with the general flow of traffic in their respective categories.
#2. Invest in Anti-Lock Brakes
All types of vehicles need their tires to keep traction on the ground when you hit the brakes. If your tires lose traction, they could skid and send the vehicle out of control. This is especially important on motorcycles, where the rider is much more physically vulnerable to his or her surroundings in the event of an accident. Because of this, most motorcycles today are built with anti-lock brakes, which allow tires to maintain traction when you activate the brakes.
When you consider all the ways a motorcycle can spin out of control, in driving conditions where rain, ice or other obstructions are present, it is easy to see why anti-lock brakes are an invaluable safety feature. In fact, motorcyclists are 37 percent less likely to die in an accident on bikes with anti-lock brakes, according to data compiled by the IIHS.
In situations where a motorcyclist has to make an abrupt stop, anti-lock brakes can prevent the bike from skidding and crashing. One of the most crucial tips for new riders is if your motorcycle does not have anti-lock brakes, getting them installed is imperative. For just a few hundred dollars, you can end up saving thousands in medical bills from an accident, and even save your life.
#3. Take a Motorcycle Safety Course
Before you ever hit the road on a motorcycle, it is crucial to hone your riding skills. Many people expect that learning to ride a motorcycle is similar to riding a bike, but it requires the development of a much more complex set of skills. After all, a motorcycle is not simply a bike with a motor. A motorcycle is a vehicle you ride among cars and trucks on the great open freeways.
When you get serious about using a motorcycle as your main means of travel and transportation, your skills will need to exceed anything you might have learned as a kid on a bicycle or mini-motorcycle. A professional motorcycle safety course will provide you with the tools and practice you need to handle a variety of situations on the road and highway.
To attain the skills needed for defensive motorcycling in all riding conditions, take a riding course from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF). With at least 2,700 locations throughout the U.S., the MSF offers convenient classes on basic and advanced motorcycle techniques as well as how to handle emergency scenarios. The cost for one of these classes is generally no more than $350, and some are even free.
Once you have passed an MSF-approved motorcycle safety course, you might qualify for an insurance discount in certain states.
#4. Buy the Right Protective Gear
Motorcyclists must contend with flying debris and, unfortunately, the occasional wipeout when they head out on their bikes. Since they do not have the protection an enclosed vehicle offers, they must wear appropriate clothing and motorcycling gear that provides this shield for them. High-visibility gear with high color contrast and reflectors is recommended.
Your helmet is the most essential piece of motorcycling gear you will own. Nearly every state has a law that requires riders to wear motorcycle helmets, and for good reason. Motorcycle helmets help to reduce the risk of death in an accident by about 37% and the risk of brain injuries by about 67%. The majority of your research on motorcycling gear should go toward selecting the safest helmet possible.
Highway riding carries the risk of dangerous rocks, pebbles, insects or other debris slamming into your hands. Gloves shield your knuckles while providing protection from the sun and wind. Most gloves are also made of material that improves grip, enhancing your control while riding.
Some novice riders assume that a high-quality hiking boot is good enough for riding, but they fail to consider how the laces may get tangled in bike components. A good set of motorcycle boots eliminates this issue while offering better heat protection and comfort for riding.
Most pants won’t provide adequate protection for your lower body, and shorts are out of the question. Riding pants are removable, allowing you to place them over your regular clothing for commutes. Motorcycle pants are crucial for protecting against abrasion in the case of an accident, and they are also a good candidate for high-visibility gear.
There is a wide range of eye protection available for motorcyclists. Some are essentially sunglasses, and on the other end of the spectrum are full helmet visors. No matter what type of visor, glasses or goggles you select, they should be shatter-resistant and wrap around your face for optimal protection.
Consider tinted options that are tailored to bright daylight or dim night driving conditions if you know you will be riding more at a particular time of day.
#5. Avoid Distracted Driving
When it comes to safe driving practices, motorcyclists are generally more responsible than car drivers are. This is largely because there are far more distractions to tempt car drivers. In fact, car drivers are responsible for 60 percent of all collisions with motorcycle riders.
Smartphones, in particular, are a common cause of accidents today. When a call or text comes through, drivers are often tempted to pick up and look at their phones. During these split seconds of distraction, vehicles sometimes collide. Another gravely dangerous yet common pitfall is using the rearview mirror as a makeup mirror.
As a motorcyclist, you do not have these distractions. You do not have the option to text or primp because both hands are needed on the handlebars. Since you cannot predict what the drivers in your midst might do, you need to be alert at all times and watch out for erratic driving caused by distraction.
If a nearby driver abruptly switches lanes or turns onto the road from a side street, proceed with caution. Avoid tailgating in all instances, as this can deprive you of the time you need to stop if an accident occurs up ahead.
#6. Avoid Bad Weather and Hazards
One of the most basic motorcycle safety tips is to avoid rain, which poses far more threat to the traction of motorcycles than to cars, trucks or vans. Unlike these other vehicle types — which balance naturally with four wheels under thousands of pounds — motorcycles can easily slide off balance on the slippery surface of a wet road.
Rain can affect your vision as well as your balance when on a motorcycle. In times of heavy rain, the downpour can reduce your visibility of the road ahead. The wetness of the road can loosen the traction of your tires and make it difficult to turn at corners and intersections. Rain can be especially dangerous when it first begins, because this is when oils within the ground start to circulate and make surfaces slippery.
If you must ride your motorcycle in the rain, be sure not to brake or turn abruptly. Take into account the stronger winds that often accompany rain. When riding in wide lanes, veer slightly to the side of the lane that the wind is coming from, as this will give you room in case the push of a wind gust occurs.
Watch out for Road Hazards
Another thing to be cautious of is road obstructions, which compromise motorcyclist safety and can very easily end up causing a collision. A car can simply straddle many small pieces of road debris. The same does not hold true for motorcycles, which can easily be knocked off balance by small rocks and other debris on the road.
In the autumn, leaves and foliage can be dangerous to motorcycle riders as well. While a car can momentarily lose traction over wet leaves, a motorcycle can easily be thrown off balance by a rain-soaked pile of leaves and mud. Stray pebbles and bark dust — which sometimes blows onto streets from around the trees along city roads — can also be dangerous to motorcyclists. Even hazards like bumps and potholes, which often go unnoticed by cars, can be detrimental to motorcyclist safety.
In some cases, the dangers can be hard to spot. Always stay alert and aware of all potential hazards on the roads and freeways. When you see any rocks or leaves along the road ahead, slow your motorcycle down slightly and try to steer clear of the hazards.
#7. Inspect Your Bike Daily
One of the advantages of motorcycles over cars is that the former is far easier to inspect — so easy, in fact, that you can inspect your motorcycle each time before you hit the road and notice any issues as soon as they occur. While car trouble could begin anywhere within the motor or under the chassis and could spread to other parts of the car before the trouble becomes apparent, motorcycle problems can be spotted instantly and rectified before any further issues occur.
Each day before you put on your helmet and mount your motorcycle, take a quick walk-around to inspect the following:
- Turn signals
Make sure that each of these parts is in good working order and is free of visible defects. Check the tires to ensure that the pressure is right, and look for any signs of wear along the rubber.
When owners bring their motorcycles into repair shops, the most common problems that mechanics notice are worn brakes and tires with improper air pressure. With improperly inflated tires, stirring and handling become harder to manage. This increases the risk factor of riding.
#8. Stay Alert and Energized
One of the most dangerous things that anyone can do behind a set of wheels is to grow sleepy and continue driving without stopping for a rest. No matter what type of route you are on — a city street, a gravelly back road, an interstate freeway — it is never safe to drive in a state of drowsiness. If you feel less than alert before you need to ride, you must evaluate whether your energy levels might sink to drowsiness.
If you find yourself getting tired in the midst of a long commute, pull over for a rest. It does not matter if it is at a hotel or under a tree at a highway stop. While it can feel a little uncomfortable when you do not at least have the shelter of a passenger compartment, it is simply not worth the risk to drive while drowsy. You certainly do not want to risk blacking out on the road. Besides, it usually only takes a 20-minute nap to feel well rested again.
#9. Learn the Correct Techniques
1. Body Position
As all motorcyclists know, riding is not just sitting on the bike and steering. Your body will constantly change position as you do things like leaning to take corners or changing the position of your arms for better comfort. The rule of thumb is that no matter what you are doing, your torso should line up with your hips. When your hips are in the center of the seat, your torso should also be centered. When you move to the left to lean around a corner, your torso should also lean while staying centered over your hips.
Your arms should be somewhat bent with your elbows close to your body. If you over-extend your arms by keeping them too far away from your body, you will increase your fatigue over time. Your knees should stay close to the fuel tank, while your feet should always be ready for action on the foot pegs.
Learning to lean your motorcycle is more complex than a lot of people realize. It is all about finding balance between the counter-steer and your initial lean. If you do not have enough corner speed and lean, or vice versa, you may end up running through a corner or getting much closer to the sidewalk than you intended to be. To successfully lean, you have to evaluate the corner and start the lean with a counter-steer.
3. Braking and Turning
When you are just starting out, best practice is to separate the action of braking from the action of turning. When you brake before starting a turn, you compress the front suspension. Finishing all braking before you enter a turn lets the suspension return to a neutral position before you use the traction to corner. It is a good idea to complete all braking in straight lines before you approach the corner. You will be able to brake faster and optimize cornering potential.
#10. Be Aware of Other Motorists
Defensive riding on motorcycles typically involves significantly more elements than defensive driving in a passenger vehicle. Juggling all the elements at once is something riders have to learn over time, but one of the most important is being aware of other motorists on the road. Not everyone knows how to watch for motorcycles or how to drive safely around them when they are aware of a motorcycle’s presence. These three tips can help you be aware of what other motorists are doing to improve road and highway safety.
1. Ride at a Safe Speed
Naturally, the speed limit should be the basis for your riding speed. However, there are other factors to consider as well. You can ride more safely at higher speeds when on the open highway, for instance, as there are likely to be fewer obstacles and more room to perform evasive maneuvers if it becomes necessary. When you are in light to heavy traffic, you will need to ride more slowly in case of unexpected events that require quick reactions.
2. Know Where Other Vehicles Are
Nearly every other vehicle on the road is bigger and heavier than your motorcycle. While this means they should be looking out for you, it also means doing your due diligence to respect their space and maintain a defensive riding style. Whenever possible, adjust your speed to ensure you are not in anyone’s blind spot. When following other vehicles, keep at least two seconds of following distance. If a driver is crowding you, the safest thing to do is get over into the next right lane or pull over so he or she can go by.
3. Find Your Escape Path
Sometimes, something will suddenly appear in your lane, and you need to take action immediately to avoid a collision with it. Your plan of avoidance is called an “escape path,” and you need to be considering it at all times. While riding, observe the current state of your position. If something were to enter your path, which way would you maneuver to avoid it safely? If you are in a spot where a right maneuver would work, is there a guard rail that might pin you beneath another swerving vehicle? It is essential to assess your escape paths and evaluate them as necessary while riding to maintain highway safety.
KBG Injury Law Is in Your Corner
As long as you follow these tips and learn how to be a safe motorcycle rider, the experience should be relatively danger-free. Sometimes, however, even skilled riders have accidents and suffer injury. If you need representation after a personal injury in Pennsylvania, contact KBG Injury Law for a free consultation.
The personal injury attorneys at KBG Injury Law are all experienced litigators. Almost all of them represented insurance companies prior to becoming advocates for injured people, which provides them with a unique perspective and insight into how these companies operate. They also offer extensive courtroom experience if going to trial is the best legal alternative for the client.