A Motorcycle Safety Guide for New Riders
Perhaps you’ve seen people racing motorcycles on TV or riding in your area and thought of how much fun it looks like they’re having. Riding a motorcycle can be thrilling, but it’s important to remember that it can also be dangerous. Within the past decade, nearly 5,000 fatalities per year were caused by motorcycle accidents. Most of these deaths were preventable, caused by either drunk riding or not wearing a helmet. That’s where safety knowledge comes into play.
You can take simple steps to help avoid the possibility of danger. Common sense plays a role in keeping yourself safe, but so does knowing what to be aware of when driving and how to recognize potential dangers on the road. By preparing yourself for a safe ride, you can maximize your odds of enjoying this activity without injury.
Invest in a Motorcycle Within Your Riding Ability
The most important decision to make when you start riding a motorcycle is to pick the right one that fits your experience level and personal needs. Start by recognizing what got you interested in riding in the first place. If you’re planning on commuting to work, racing on a race track, or riding for leisure, the motorcycle you choose should suit your needs. Next, figure out which motorcycle suits your height and size, as that can help you determine the safest motorcycle for you.
Consider purchasing a used bike to start off. Plenty of riders go all in on a shiny new motorcycle and then lose interest in riding. It’s important not to splurge on more bike than you can afford. However, if you find yourself in a financial bind, a title loan or title pawn can help bridge the gap in emergencies. Your purchase is an investment in yourself, so it’s important you purchase responsibly.
Invest in ATGATT
ATGATT stands for “all the gear, all the time.” This acronym describes a cardinal rule of riding safely: making sure that you have the necessary motorcycle safety gear to protect you in case of an accident. This is doubly important when you’re learning to ride, as you’ll be at a slightly higher risk of an accident while you’re learning the ropes.
Safety begins with your helmet. Statistics show that in 2016 alone, 2,089 motorcyclists died in an accident because they were riding without a helmet. Because of this, most states have a helmet law requiring all cyclists to wear one at all times on the road. When purchasing a helmet, make sure that it’s DOT-certified or in compliance with European standard 22:05. All DOT-certified helmets need to have “FMVSS218” written on them as well as “DOT” and the manufacturer’s name and model.
Wearing a helmet is mandatory, but you’re free to choose from the different sizes and styles and wear whichever kind you like best. For instance, you can choose either a full-face, half-coverage, or 3/4-coverage helmet (though of course, the full-face style provides the best protection). Be sure to wear a helmet that fits properly: It should be snug but not uncomfortable.
Choosing the right motorcycle jacket will keep you safe from environmental factors like extreme cold and winds as well as help to protect your body in the event of a fall. Find a jacket that fits well before you think about design: It should fit snugly but not tightly, like your helmet. Also, look for a material that’s sturdy and functional. Leather is a good choice, as it can stand up to some abrasion, though some thicker textiles can also work. And make sure that the jacket you choose has plenty of pockets to hold everything you’ll need to carry while you’re riding.
Gloves keep your hands safe from bugs, pebbles, and debris hitting your knuckles while riding, and they’re also good for protecting your hands from the sun and windburn. They also keep your hands comfortable and safe while you’re on the road.
Like jackets, gloves come in a range of materials. Leather is good for resisting abrasion, but it’s not water-resistant. Other fabrics may be waterproof but less resistant to scrapes. As with the rest of your outfit, it’s also important to have a good fit here: Make sure they’re snug but not so tight that they restrict your ability to use the bike’s controls. Look for a tightening strap or elastic around the wrists to help keep them in place while you’re riding.
Although some say that hiking boots are adequate for riding a motorcycle, that’s not necessarily the case, as shoelaces can get tangled in your bike and cause issues. Ideally, you’ll choose a boot that’s comfortable and has good tread. Consider the type of riding you’ll do when choosing a style and material. If you might go out in wet weather, choose a waterproof textile; if not, leather might be a better bet.
Boots should be snug but comfortable. They should come up as least as high as your mid-calf in order to protect your ankles. Boots made specifically for motorcyclists will often include extra reinforcement around the ankle to safeguard against abrasion, and they’ll also be designed to tuck the laces inside to avoid entanglement. And be sure to get boots with oil-resistant soles, which will give you better traction when stopping at intersections.
While jackets, helmets, and gloves provide upper-body protection, motorcycle pants take care of the bottom part. The most crucial thing to remember here is that your whole leg needs to be covered: Shorts are not appropriate riding gear. Jeans are OK in a pinch, but they don’t protect you much from abrasion in an accident. Leather riding pants are a solid choice, though it gets hot if you’re riding in the summer. For a more lightweight option, look for pants made from Kevlar and denim. Make sure that they fit well: Baggy pants can make it harder to safely use the foot controls while you’re riding.
You might also want to opt for an all-in-one approach by getting a one-piece suit for riding. The most recognizable examples are the full leather outfits worn by racers, but you can buy textile suits for regular riders, too. Some go the extra mile by offering padding at the knees, hips, and elbows. Most one-piece suits are tailored to fit over your regular clothing.
If you want to go above and beyond in keeping yourself safe on the road, invest in some extra safety accessories.
- Ear protection: Wearing earplugs while riding will keep your eardrums safe from the noise of the wind rushing past, and it also filters out the constant hum of the wind and the road, which can act as white noise and make you drowsy and inattentive.
- Eye protection: There are many forms of riding glasses, including ones that look like sunglasses for a mix of function and fashion. When wearing a half-helmet, you’ll need proper eye protection to keep your eyes safe. The eyewear you choose must be shatter-resistant and wrap around your face to keep out debris and wind on all sides. You might also want to opt for tinted glasses to reduce glare.
Take a Motorcycle Course
The best way to begin your adventure in motorcycling is to take a motorcycle driving course. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers a multitude of courses to choose from, including e-learning options and small group classes. You can also seek out private instruction to get one-on-one attention or take classes for racetrack riding.
- Studies on the Effectiveness of Virtual Motorcycle Riding Training: In addition to different in-person riding courses, there have also been studies of virtual training options.
Conduct a Pre-Ride Inspection
Before hitting the road, checking your motorcycle is crucial to your safety because everything starts with a fully functioning bike. Use the acronym T-CLOCS to create your pre-check routine: It stands for tires/wheels, controls, lights/electronics, oil/fluids, chassis, and stands. Run through this list every time you get ready to go for a ride.
- A Pre-Ride Checklist Before Taking Your Motorcycle Out: Always take the time to inspect your bike before riding it.
Motorcycle Riding Techniques
When driving on the road, you’re bound to encounter different situations that you’ll need to be prepared for. It’s important to learn and master good riding technique to ensure that you’ll always be in control of your bike and your safety.
- Brief Overview of Traffic Safety: Before going into an in-depth explanation of the different techniques of riding and driver safety, this page provides a brief overview of safety tips to keep in mind.
- Ride Within Your Abilities: Reading this handbook from the California DMV will give you more safety tips from traffic experts dedicated to rider safety.
Your body position will naturally change while you’re riding as you use the controls and move with the bike. In order to get the right posture, align your torso with your hips at all times. It’s also important to make sure your hips, waist, and torso are centered on the motorcycle seat. Keep your arms away from your body, and allow your knees to hug the fuel tank as your feet rest on the foot pegs.
Leaning and maintaining your balance on the motorcycle can be quite difficult because it requires a few different things at once: keeping your body positioned properly on the motorcycle seat, looking to see where you need to go, and using a counter-steer to start your initial lean. When leaning, you’re going to need a certain amount of corner speed to find your balance. Maintaining your balance is key to keeping yourself from leaning into the pavement.
Braking and Turning
When you’re a new rider, it’s best to brake first, then turn: Keep these actions separate. By doing this, you’ll let the bike’s suspension settle into position before you enter the turn. Use the front and rear brakes in a straight line while you’re nearing the turn, which will allow you to finish braking more quickly.
Once you’ve counter-steered the handlebars and leaned into the corner, you can roll on the throttle a bit to help balance out the suspension. Remember that the faster you’re going, the more of a lean you’ll need to carry you through the corner on the same path. As you come out of the turn, slowly roll on the throttle and bring up your speed going into the straightaway.
You’ll need to use the clutch to switch gears to synchronize the road speed with your engine speed. To upshift using the clutch, roll on the throttle until you find the speed where you need to put the engine into a higher gear. Then, roll off the throttle, pull the clutch, click in into the next gear, and let out the clutch while rolling on the throttle. It’ll take practice to master this, but the more you do it, the better you’ll get.
Downshifting is trickier because your engine will want to speed up. The method here is very similar to upshifting, but downshifting requires you to press down with your foot. Also, you need to let out the clutch much more slowly to let the engine’s speed catch up with the road speed.
When steering your motorcycle, there are two techniques you can use, depending on your speed. When driving below 12 mph, turn the handlebars in the direction you want your bike to go. If you’re driving faster than 12 mph, steer against the direction you want to go. To remember what to do, think “push left for left, push right for right”: You’ll want to push the handlebars with the hand that matches the direction you want to go.
Where to Look While Riding
The beauty of motorcycling is that you can see everything around you, but most of the time, you’ll want to focus your gaze on where you want to go. Keep your head up, stay alert, and look toward the horizon, scanning for obstacles as you go.
Riding in Proximity to Other Vehicles
Traffic is inevitable, and knowing how to navigate it can save you a lot of trouble. For starters, riding next to a car isn’t recommended, especially when you’re in a blind spot. In fact, driving next to another vehicle isn’t recommended at all and should be avoided at all costs. It’s best to stay to the rear or the front of another vehicle in case either of you needs to swerve in order to miss any hazards on the road.
When following other vehicles, allow two seconds of space between you to give yourself the reaction time you need. If someone’s following you too closely, don’t try to speed up to give them more room; instead, move over and allow them to pass.
While riding, you may suddenly need to avoid an unexpected obstacle, so it’s important to always keep an eye out for an escape path. Look for where you could swerve to if you needed to. Keep an eye out for potential obstacles like guard rails, which could trap you between the rail and a vehicle.
Intersections are particularly dangerous for motorcyclists, who may go unseen by other drivers. When approaching an intersection, it’s imperative that you slow down, even if you have the right of way. The best way to avoid an accident at an intersection is to always assume that you’re invisible to the cars around you.
Motorcycle Safety Tips
Follow these riding tips to keep yourself safe on the road:
- Ride Defensively: Riding defensively means assuming that others on the road might not be as careful as you are. Keep a safe distance between you and other vehicles, and make sure to have an escape path at all times. Be on the lookout for road debris and other hazards, and constantly be prepared to take action when and if you need to.
- Ride According to Your Skills and Ability: Don’t let your enthusiasm make you reckless. If you find others to ride with who are more experienced, don’t feel like you have to keep up with them. The important thing is to get where you’re going safely.
- Maintain a Safe Speed: Ride at a speed that makes sense for the conditions you’re in, whether you’re on a long, empty road with no obstacles or a crowded city street.
- Be Cognizant of Other Vehicles: For every motorcycle on the road, there are 32 other vehicles. Almost all of these will be larger than both you and your motorcycle, so respecting their space and being alert is vital.
- Beware of Road Hazards: Stay focused on the road ahead of you so you can spot potholes, dips, debris, and other hazardous objects on the road.
- Make Yourself Visible: When you’re riding in the nighttime or at dusk or dawn, visibility is a must. Make sure you have a bright headlight and reflective gear so you can be seen by others in all vehicles.
- Avoid Bad Weather Conditions: Rain can make the pavement slippery, so it’s best to avoid riding when it’s wet out if possible.
- Invest in Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS): Anti-lock braking systems help you stop sooner and maintain better control. Having ABS on your motorcycle is a great idea, especially if you’re a new rider.
- Follow All Traffic Laws: Traffic laws exist to keep people safe, but they can’t work if you don’t obey them.
- Never Ride Impaired: About 25 percent of fatal motorcycle accidents happen while the driver is under the influence, and being a part of that statistic is easily preventable.
- Keep a Tool Pouch and First-Aid Kit on Your Motorcycle: You don’t have a lot of storage space when you’re riding a motorcycle, but you never know when you might experience a minor injury or a small mechanical issue that you could fix yourself. Bring a few wrenches in the sizes your bike uses, and pack a mini first-aid kit, too.
- Ride in the Safest Lane: The safest lanes may vary depending on the situation, but ideally, you’ll be in the lane with the best visibility.
Motorcycle Clubs, Forums, and Fan Sites
Sharing your excitement for riding with others makes the journey all the more fun. Many communities exist, both online and in person, for bikers to come together.