If ever you’re in a group of family or friends and you announce that you’re getting a motorcycle, be prepared for the reactions.
With the exception of moms the world over, who never want their ‘baby’ putting themselves in harm’s way (even if that baby is 6’4’’and 300lbs), someone in the group will be the appointed doom monger. They will delight in recounting various road traffic horror stories or claim that it is a statistical fact you’re going to have an accident.
Don’t be put off, the world of two wheels is fun, exciting and rewarding. Yes, the odds are slightly higher that you may be involved in a collision than if you were driving a car, but it’s not a forgone conclusion by any means.
And how do you stop the doom mongers from saying I told you so? Well, the good news is it’s not brain surgery. Many Motorcycle safety tips merely state the glaringly obvious, whilst others are usually a result of advice from bikers who’ve put the miles in and know the score. So, do yourself a favor my two-wheeled friends, read, absorb and act upon.
Whether you’re just starting out on your two-wheeled adventure or returning after a long absence, the one thing you have to be is realistic. Don’t be swayed by TV shows, bike riding movie stars, siblings, peers or girlfriends, who like the idea of sitting on the back of something sexy. Buy a bike that you can handle. This may sound so obvious as to be dumb but bad, bravado-based choices do happen, believe me.
Do your research and think of the type of machine you want. Make a short list, then get yourself along to a bike shop. Dealers want to sell their bikes and to do that they have to let you sit on them, ask questions about them and take a test ride.
Some things to consider are; can I get both feet down on the tarmac to keep the thing upright? How much of a stretch is it to the bars? Can I operate the levers and controls easily? What’s the rear visibility like? You should have read enough reviews on your choice before your test ride in order to have a good idea what to expect performance wise. One last thing, when you do go for a test ride, leave that 4lb ‘Live to ride, ride to work,’ brass belt buckle you love so much, at home. Buckles and shiny gas tanks don’t mix.
I’ve been guilty of ignoring this one in the past just as much as everyone else, but it’s something we all should do every time we pick up a lid. I’m talking of course about the visual inspection. If you haven’t been out on your bike for a while, take a few minutes to give it the once over. And even if you ride it every single day, the few moments it takes to kick both tires, squeeze a brake or check your lights are worth it.
If it’s been a while, or you’re going any kind of distance, making necessary safety checks are important. Get a pressure gauge on those tires (memorize what the pressure should be) and while you're there, check the treads. Statistics reveal that underinflated or worn tires give you a 30% greater chance of having a tire related spill.
Does the horn work, are the lights good, checked the main beam, stop lights and indicators? Check for plenty of pressure on the front brake lever and good resistance on the foot pedal. Chain drive or belt, even sticking a toe under it will tell you if it’s too sloppy and needs adjusting. Finally, check your engine oil, this is often overlooked and may seem a bit OTT, but there’s nothing like a seized engine to put a downer on your day. Besides, this gets you familiarized with your bike and that’s never a bad thing.
If you want to go out dressed like a power ranger, be my guest. But you don’t have to in order to protect yourself and increase your chances of surviving a spill in one piece. When it comes to crash helmets, obviously a full-face is going to give you the most protection, but even if you go with an open face, there’s plenty of cool looking examples out there with DoT certification. As for gloves, a leather glove designed for the purpose is best, but anything that’s abrasion resistant and allows you to grip the controls is better than nothing.
Marlon Brando didn’t wear a leather jacket just to look cool either (although let’s face it he did). Bikers from time immemorial have chosen leather because it works when you’re sliding down the road. But you can also go with textile jackets and trousers, although jeans are infinitely better than shorts.
Buy yourself a decent pair of boots too, there are 26 bones and 33 joints in the average foot and not one of them enjoys having a few hundred pounds of bike dropped on them. The basic rule of thumb with motorcycle clothing is an obvious one, buy gear that’s going to save your skin, whether it’s from a Harley Boutique or an army surplus store. Just make sure it’s compatible with your bike and riding style.
I know you can get Bluetooth equipped helmets these days, there’s even one on the market that boasts head-up display. But if you can bare to be surgically separated from your iPhone, try riding without any self-induced distractions. This will allow you to concentrate on what’s unfolding before you. You never know, you may even prefer it.
There’s a whole host of advanced rider courses that will teach you how to do this properly, but basically driving defensively is the ability to read the road ahead. Don’t just look at your headlight rim. Your gaze should be constantly shifting, watching out for the truck coming out of that side road, or the car breaking sharply three vehicles ahead. Getting into the habit of rolling off the throttle and covering the brake can make a big difference in your reaction time in the event of a potentially hazardous situation.
Regardless of where you live or what you ride, if things get gnarly and you lose control of your bike, you’ve got milliseconds to react before you kiss the sidewalk. Getting some off-road rider training can help you immeasurably with this. Just look at how many Dirt Track champions go on to dominate MotoGP’s. Why? Because when the front-end slides away or the back end locks up, they’ve been taught not to panic and how to correct it.
The more miles you put under your wheels the more confident you’ll become and the more you’ll get to know your bike. Becoming familiar with the way your ride performs and how you respond to it in various situations, will allow you to relax when riding.
This is really important because a relaxed body is a focused one and will react faster, because you're not having to overcome tense muscles before executing an action. Just ask any boxer.
Don't kid yourself into thinking that taking the rudimentary testing to get a full license instantly turns you into a capable rider. It doesn't, it just means you're legally ready. If possible, take an additional training course. Depending on what State you live in, these can range from a couple of hundred bucks to totally free. It might be the wisest money you've ever spent.
This is yet another staggeringly obvious one, but if we’re talking about safety tips, I’m obliged to mention it, so here it goes. Don’t ride drunk or drugged. According to the NHTSA, 42% of fatal bike accidents where no other vehicle was involved, tested over the legal limit.
And last but not least, and even though the majority of bikers also drive cars and trucks, if you want to make it out there in the big bad world, assume that everyone else on the road is an idiot. Don’t believe they’re going to make decisions that take your safety into account. Anticipate, be aware, react, don’t tailgate and don’t speed. And if you can do all that and still enjoy it, you’re ready to join an army over nine million strong.
Finally, if anyone tells you that there’s old bikers and bold bikers, but there aren’t many old bold bikers, don’t believe them.