Motorcycles are a type of vehicle unlike any other. Depending on the individual, they can represent freedom, a rebellious nature, an exciting sense of danger, or a combination of these. With a history that dates back to the 19th century, motorcycles have developed a loyal following based on an appreciation of the beauty and grace of these two-wheeled machines.
Regardless of what draws a person to motorcycles, it is important that they not only appreciate the many positives of ownership, such as fuel efficiency, but also respect the fact that a motorcycle is a deadly machine if not handled properly. For novices and veteran enthusiasts alike, it’s important to not only understand what it takes to operate these machines but to practice motorcycle safety at all times to prevent injury to themselves and to others.
Getting Started: Basic Requirements
There are a few things first-time motorcycle riders should know when it comes to owning and operating a bike, including how to properly prepare for bike ownership. Start by determining what the requirements are in one’s state. A motorcycle license will usually be needed, and the requirements to get one will vary by state.
Safety courses are also a requirement for motorcycle riders in some states, but they are beneficial for riders regardless of where they live. Motorcycle courses help teach individuals the basics about relevant laws, how to handle a motorcycle on the open road, and how to ride safely. Courses should be given by trusted professionals or sponsored by reputable sources such as the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF). They are an option for both beginner and experienced riders, and not only do these courses provide helpful lessons, but they may also result in discounts on insurance.
Get the Right Motorcycle
It’s also important to choose the right bike. There are many different types of motorcycles for new riders and for those who are more experienced to choose from. Road, dual-purpose, and street-legal bikes such as cruisers and sportbikes are the most common. When choosing a bike, one should consider how and where they plan to ride it. New riders should ideally select a first motorcycle that’s lightweight and easy to handle.
Using the Right Gear
The right gear plays a crucial role in protecting oneself from serious injury caused by motorcycle accidents. Unlike with other means of transportation, motorcycle riding gear serves as a form of protection: As motorcycles do not have doors or provide any type of barrier between the rider and the road, what one wears adds an important level of safety.
Helmets are arguably the most important piece of protection that a rider should have. Helmets are needed as a cushion to protect riders from serious brain injury, disability, or death caused by hitting their head. Additionally, full helmets may also prevent or reduce injuries to the face. In most states in the U.S., helmets are required, but the specifics of motorcycle helmet laws can vary by state. Just buying and wearing a helmet isn’t enough. One should also pay close attention to the helmet’s fit for maximum protection and avoid purchasing novelty helmets or any helmet that is not certified by the Department of Transportation or does not have a DOT sticker on it.
Other personal protective gear that motorcyclists should have is the proper outerwear. This includes a long-sleeved jacket and pants made of leather or some other fabric that is abrasion-resistant. Choose gear that’s brightly colored for visibility and that fits comfortably without being too binding or overly loose. Riders should also wear full-fingered gloves to prevent cuts in an accident as well as protect against dryness, blisters, and irritation from the wind. Boots are the ideal choice for motorcyclists, particularly ones that come up over the ankle. While riding a motorcycle, avoid shoes such as sandals that leave the toes and feet exposed and tennis shoes that can fly off of a cyclist’s feet in an accident.
Get the Right Motorcycle
Regardless of how prepared a rider is, motorcycle accidents are still a very real threat. Motorcyclists should be aware of what some of the more common risks are and know what can be done to avoid them. Many of the accidents that motorcyclists face are associated with:
- Cars making left turns in front of them
- Hitting gravel after turning a blind corner
- Entering a corner too fast
- Vehicles veering into their lane
- Being rear-ended
- Collisions with riding buddies
- Locked front brakes
- An unexpectedly opened car door
- Slippery surfaces
How to Avoid Accidents
Experience, skill, and common sense can help prevent accidents. An important step in staying safe is to avoid alcohol or any other behavior- or mood-altering substance when riding a motorcycle. When on the road, riders should actively look for signs from cars that could indicate potential problems such as a vehicle turning in front of them or changing lanes. Common signs to look out for include movement of the wheels, the behavior of the driver, or changes in the flow of traffic. When these clues indicate that a driver is preparing to make an unexpected move into one’s lane or an unexpected turn, riders should prepare for evasive action by assessing the road conditions and surrounding cars and slowing down. Lane positioning is also important, as it helps motorcycle riders be more visible to cars and can afford them extra maneuvering room if necessary. Riders must be aware of other vehicles’ blind spots and stay out of them as much as possible. Never ride between moving traffic and parked vehicles, and be wary of the possibility of a sudden opened door.
In terms of speed, one should consider how far ahead they are able to see and how quickly they will be able to react if faced with an emergency or unexpected substances such as gravel or sand on the road. When going around corners, riders should enter the turn wide and at a slower pace, giving themselves time to see and react to the unexpected. One can also choose to buy a bike with antilock brakes or use a technique called trail braking to avoid obstacles, although this is a skill that requires training and practice on a course other than an open road.
To avoid being hit from behind, motorcycle riders should position themselves so that vehicles that have already stopped are between them and any cars approaching from the rear. Another way to avoid being hit from behind is to come to a stop between cars or, if none are around, to stop in wide lanes that can accommodate a motorcycle and a car. Riders should also avoid stopping in the center of a lane. At all times, riders should be alert to approaching traffic and prepared to move if an impact appears imminent. To avoid hitting other cyclists when riding in groups, ride in a formation that’s staggered for improved vision and to decrease the risk of collision. Accidents caused by riding in the rain or on other slippery or snowy roads can be reduced if the motorcycles have good tires and riders reduce their speed.