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Hello All, in this post I will be addressing Motorcycle Safety and the things all riders need to constantly remember and consider in preparation for, and during your journeys. Some of this content will be geared towards New Riders but is also a good reminder to Seasoned Riders alike. As motorcycle enthusiasts and riders, we take on certain levels of risk each time we throw our leg over our seat and start that engine, put the kickstand up and pull out onto the road. We can lower some level of risk, but we will always have some level remaining (you can never eliminate 100% of risk, but you can reduce it to an acceptable level). Then you have risk that you have absolutely no control over (such as wildlife, nature, distracted and inexperienced drivers, road debris, the list goes on…), this is where training, practice and time in the saddle will get you home safe.
I also just want to say that the level of risk each one of us is willing to take on is a personal thing, what I may or may not do is very different then what you may consider acceptable for the level of risk you are willing to take. The content being presented in this article is based on best practices and is an attempt to provide all of you with guidance to reduce your risk levels to an acceptable level for YOU. As you may notice in some of our pictures on this site, I take certain risks that I am willing to take. This may or may not be a risk you are willing to take, and that is all good. Again, this article is based on best practices and safety tips for all riders and passengers to consider.
Okay let’s get to the content.
You have had the itch to ride a motorcycle for quite some time now and you have decided to give it a go. You see riders all over and notice they always have a BIG SMILE on their faces, they look so relaxed and in tune with the road and the environment they are in. You are also thinking, I what to give it a go and experience the wind in my hair and the sun on my face as I explore all there is to see from the seat of a beautiful motorcycle. The main thing is preparing yourself before you ride, is knowing what to look for before and during a ride and knowing what to do when you recognize danger. It all starts with selecting your motorcycle. This is where the fun begins.
Selecting Your Motorcycle
In my opinion you will what to focus on two key elements when selecting your first motorcycle.
- Know and respect your riding ability and experience level – have you taken a Motorcycle Safety Course, have you ridden a motorcycle (dirt bikes, scooters, or mopeds)? I would not recommend going out and spending top dollar on a Full Dressed Touring bike. Start out with a bike that fits your ability and the purpose/style of riding you want to do.
- What type of riding do you want to do? Why are you buying a motorcycle in the first place? Are you just looking to get out for a ride around town on the weekends, commuting to work, or longer weekend getaways? Maybe you want to get into racing on a closed track, or do on/off road touring? Or you are like Pat and I and want to explore every part of this great country and do long distance rides. The type of riding you want to do will be a big factor in the selection and style of motorcycle to suit your needs.
Guide to Types of Motorcycles
This is not an exhaustive list of every style and type of motorcycles available it is meant to show you that the styles, options, accessories, modifications etc. are almost limitless.
I expect you would put a lot of thought into and do tons of research on what you would want for a Tattoo before getting one. You should do the same when considering purchasing a motorcycle. You should consider the following items when doing your research.
Overall Power of the motorcycle:
This will very drastically depending on the style of bike you choose. Higher displacement does not always mean the bike is faster than another. A 700cc Sport Bike can be just as fast or faster than a 1800cc Cruiser. The weight of the bike will be a key differentiator in this regard.
You also need to consider the weight of the bike. This has impact on the way the bike rides and handles the road. Also, at some point you will need to move the bike backward out of a parking spot or worst you drop the bike and need to up-right it again. Will you be able to do this? There is a proper way to up-right your motorcycle in the event it is on its side. We will get to that latter in this article.
This is very important to keep in mind when buying or using someone else’s bike. That is if you have someone that will let you take their bike (Don’t ask. Sorry I don’t lend my bike to anyone.). The higher the Power-to-Weight number is, the faster the bike, and if you learned to ride on a cruiser, BE CAREFUL if you get on a Sport Bike. Bikes with higher ratios will have shorter braking/stopping distances, have much faster acceleration, and higher top speeds. This is very different then the Cruiser you may be a custom to.
The bottom line, use your judgement, if your gut is telling this bike is out of your comfort zone – LISTEN TO IT… Don’t get on a bike with a sidecar or a big Sport Bike that is way to fast for your ability if you have never been on one before.
Wear Protective Gear:
There are a variety of helmets to choose from (Full-Face with or without a face shield, ¾ helmets, ½ helmets) whatever your preference it should be a DOT approved helmet. This is also a personal preference item on what type is best suited for you and the level of risk you are willing to accept. From a best practices and guidance standpoint a Full-Face Helmet with a Face Shield is going to offer you the most protection. Know the laws associated with the state you are traveling in related to helmet requirements.
You may be wondering is a Full-Face Helmet necessary?
From a safety and risk perspective a Full-Face Helmet offers the most protection to the rider. Statistics show that the most common area of impact to a motorcycle helmet is the chin at 19.4%.
I personally use a ½ helmet the majority of the time, and also travel with a ¾ helmet with a full-face shield for inclement and cold weather riding. Again this is a personal preference and a risk I am willing to take.
Protect your eyes ether with a Face Shield that is attached to your helmet or a good pair of sunglasses. I typically have several pairs in my bike’s saddle bags and will change them out depending on the weather and lighting (day-night-rain-fog-etc.).
Boots that cover your ankles are a must. I personally prefer work boot style foot ware that lace all the way up.They provide excellent support, provide good coverage of my ankles, and can be easily cut away in the event of an unfortunate incident. Just a quick side note if you do injure your ankle or foot, do not remove the boot, your foot and/or ankle may swell to a point you can not get that boot back on. Get to a safe place that you can care for your injuries or receive medical care.
Long pants or jeans, you should never be on a motorcycle with shorts on, or for the ladies capri pants or leggings. Even long pants or jeans only offer minimal protection. Think of this. It is a beautify sunny day you are out on your bike with shorts and flip-flops on, a Bee goes up your shorts leg and stings you. You react, loose control of the bike, and go down at minimum now you have road rash all over your legs and feet. Or you hit that hot exhaust pipe with your bare leg and get a very nasty burn and scar on it. And to all the riders out there that have passengers on the back of your bike, it is your responsibility to ensure your passenger has proper gear on. Remember you are responsible for their well-being.
You can also get abrasion resistant jackets and pants with armor to reduce your risk as much as possible. Also, when considering your gear think visibility having dark colored clothing may look cool but it also makes you blend into the background. You will want to get bright colored jackets and rain gear with reflective pipping of some kind, so you are more visible to other drivers.
Planning your road trip is where the fun begins. You map out your ride, all the sites and stops you want to make along the way. You know where your fueling stops are located, the hotels or camp sites you will stay at, etc. Don’t forget to check the weather. What can you expect for the time of the year you are traveling and the locations you will be in? What are the average temperatures and precipitation for the region you will be traveling? You will want to check this frequently before, and during your road trip. I typically check historic records for averages when planning and then I also keep an eye on live stream weather feed during the trip. Also use your eyes, you will see when you are heading into some nasty stuff. This would be a good time to stop, take a look at your weather app and make the decision to put on your rain gear or take an alternate route to avoid the weather, or maybe you need to find some shelter depending on where you are and what Mother Nature is throwing at you today.
One year I was in Upstate New York in the Adirondacks (If you haven’t been to the Adirondack region add it to your list. Pat and I love it up there and have been several times.). We were coming out of VT crossing over into NY the sky was pitch black out to the North West region. We stopped and checked the forecast and sure enough they had a very nasty storm coming across the northern portion of the Adirondacks. I decided to head a bit south (yes this was the wrong direction for where we wanted to go) and then circle back west behind the storm. This worked out perfectly (this time anyway) we missed the storm entirely and came in behind it. The damage from the storm was quite extensive. Downed trees and limbs all over, all the leaves covering the ground, and all the locals working diligently to clean the mess. Not to mention power outages.
The bottom line is plan and be prepared, take a slight detour, or hunker down if needed. Know your abilities and stay safe. Don’t wait till you are in the rain to pull over under an overpass on the expressway and gear up. Gear up before it starts, and when you do gear up do it in a safe location not on the side of the road or highway. Get to a parking lot, I always use this time to get a hot cup of java in me to.
Don’t Drive Impaired:
This should be a No-Brainer and we all know it, but I will say it anyway. Never – and I mean NEVER operate a motor vehicle (car, truck, motorcycle, etc.) if you have been drinking or partaking in other recreational libations of any kind. This also goes for riding when you are tired as well, it effects your mind and body, it impacts your response times the same as drinking and driving. Just Don’t Do It. Save the party for the camp site when you are in for the night and all you need to do is find your tent.
Stay Alert Get Some Rest:
This one should also go without saying, but maybe not so much. Operating a motorcycle takes a significant about of focus, when you are out on a long ride (and “Long Ride” will differ for each rider) you get physically and mentally exhausted. Plan for breaks and down time (especially on multi day trips).
Pat and I love long distance riding, to date the longest multi day trip we have taken was last year (2020) it was 18 days covering 14 states. We worked in down time days that we did not go far on the bike. We spent time on the beach and relaxing, getting some much needed out of the saddle time at Carolina Beach, NC. We also took a few days off when visiting Pat’s daughter in OH. Though I did get Kelly hooked on riding and we did two day-trips down into KY while Pat got some extra rest.
Get a good night’s sleep and start with a good breakfast in the morning (nothing heavy though, some eggs and fruit, a protean bar, whatever works for you) keep it light, you don’t want to have heavy, greasy food working on you 30-40min down the road. Be mindful of “Highway Hypnosis”, this applies to all motor vehicle operators not just motorcyclists. You should stop every 125-150miles or so to get fuel (for some bike that is the normal fueling time anyway – for larger bikes like ours we could go 200-235 if we pushed it, and some bike will last longer on a tank of fuel) and to stretch, get the blood flowing to all your body parts again. If you need to lay-down and take a rest under a tree that’s cool. An extra 30min break will get you to your destination safe. Don’t Push It Till You Regret It.
Pre-Ride Safety Check:
Yes, guys and gals this should be done before every ride, that includes each day on a multi-day trip. But we all already know that. Because as much as we all love the open road, the sun on our faces, and the wind in our hair, we all want to do it all again tomorrow. Let’s face it we don’t have a ton of protection surrounding us when we are on our bikes, so let’s take a look at and inspect what we do have.
Take a few minutes (it only takes about 15min) to do a safety check on your bike. Check your tire pressure, this will save on wear and tear, improve gas mileage, and most importantly keep you safe. Inspect your tire’s sidewalls & treads for cracking, excessive wear and foreign objects (nails, screws, etc.). Check your fluid levels, check for any leaks, inspect your final drive (belt, chain, etc.). Adjust your mirrors if needed, check your suspension (was it set for a fully packed bike and now you have unpacked the bike and are planning on riding some nice twisty roads that you may want a softer suspension on) readjust your suspension as needed when possible. Check your clutch & break levers (do they have the right amount of play in them). Is everything secure on your bike if you have it packed. Make sure you double check that everything is latched and secured.
I had a buddy that didn’t check his saddlebag covers and one went flying off the bike and got ran over by a truck. Or your cellphone goes flying off your bike. I think you get it.
If anything is not what you expect it to be, GET IT FIXED, don’t take unneeded risk.
Drink plenty of water and bring extra emergency water with you. I call this out because if you did not heed my warnings about getting rest stops in and refueling you may need that emergency water when you are stranded with no fuel or pushing a heavy motorcycle that extra mile or two (if your lucky) to get to the next fueling station. You should have water that you will drink to stay hydrated and extra water for those unforeseen situations. You would rather have it and not need it than, need it and not have it. Trust me. Pat and I (and I’m certain a lot of our readers) have been out on some back wood country roads where we didn’t see another vehicle or person of any kind for 60-70miles. I have also pushed my fuel to the point of sucking fumes, and when I did get to the next fuel station my bike took 5.25gal. This was not fun, and I was stressed pushing it to the limit like that.
Ride with people you know and trust:
When riding with a group of other motorcycles it is extremely important to know how they ride, their riding abilities, and trust them and their judgement. There is nothing worse than being in a pack of bikes with all experience levels and surrounded by people you have never ridden with before, and you get someone that is revving up their bike, accelerating and breaking hard. This will cause an inexperienced rider to get nervous and respond in a less than optimal way, possibly losing control or hitting another rider.
Once you find a group of people you ride with and the number may be very small (and I know other seasoned riders know exactly what I am talking about) you will be able to interpret and anticipate their next move before they make it. They are also looking out for you and your well-being. I personally only ride with a very small group of guys (6 of us) on our annual ME trip, and only 1 guy that I will go anywhere with, and we ride together quite often. Other than that Pat and I ride solo.
Now don’t get me wrong or miss interpret what I’m trying to say here. I support all the group and charity rides that go on over the course of the season and will from time to time take part in them. They just put me out of my comfort zone. I know a lot of riders that love doing them and it is one of the reasons they ride.
This goes back to personal preferences and that is what draws me deeper and deeper into the lifestyle. Most motorcycle enthusiasts are like minded on a lot of this content and believe and support the lifestyle. They don’t judge you for what you ride, or how you look or talk, where you live, what you do for a living, or the choices you make in life. We are drawn together and called to the open road, where we meet and trade stories and experiences. Learn about one another and our adventures on our bikes. Through this common bond we are drawn to one another. I love meeting all of you when Pat and I are out on one of our adventures. I learn so much from everyone we meet, that is how we add to our list of next adventures. I love hearing about the amazing places you all live, have visited and were willing to share with us.
I hope our adventures and stories bring you the same. Ride safe we look forward to seeing you out on the road.