The following list of motorcycle safety tips will help you, as a motorcyclist, avoid an accident and/or reduce the severity of injury should you have an accident. You will note that most of these tips are steps you can take before you even get on your motorcycle.
1. Motorcycle safety course. If you are a novice motorcycle rider avail yourself of a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) riding course. The course costs approximately $300 and is 15 to 20 hours long, with about 2 hours riding a motorcycle for every 1 hour of classroom work. In Arizona, upon completing the course you are issued a license waiver. This waiver allows you to get your motorcycle driver license from the Department of Motor Vehicles without taking the required written and riding tests.
For experienced riders MSF provides advanced courses emphasizing cornering posture, braking techniques and other advanced skills. Upon completion of this course you’ll again receive a certificate of completion which may qualify you for a reduced insurance rate.
2. Helmets. Although the use of helmets is controversial and many riders exercise their freedom of choice by not wearing one, it is without contradiction that the use of a motorcycle helmet reduces motorcycle fatalities and injuries. (See my Motorcycle Helmet article). If you do wear a helmet be sure it has the DOT label which constitutes the manufacturer’s certification that the helmet conforms to the federal standard. If you don’t wear a helmet at least wear protective eye wear.
3. Other protective clothing. Studies show that in addition to head injuries, arms and legs are most often injured in a crash. Road rash is no joke! Protective clothing provides comfort and protection from the elements and some measure of protection from injury. Obviously leathers are ideal motorcycling gear but given Arizona’s long hot summers many riders won’t wear them. At the very least wear long pants, long sleeved shirts and sturdy boots/shoes and leave the shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops, etc. at home.
4. Anti-lock Braking System (ABS). Beginning in 1988 BMW provided anti-locking brakes as an option on its motorcycles. Until the past 4-5 years ABS systems were offered as an expensive option and usually only on deluxe models. However, ABS brakes are now available on most motorcycle manufacturers’ models, albeit at a cost. The added expense is worth it! An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study revealed that motorcycles equipped with anti-lock brakes were 37% less likely to be involved in a fatal accident than those without ABS brakes. On motorcycles not equipped with ABS, if the brakes are hit too hard, or with the wrong front/rear distribution, a wheel can lock and cause the bike to lose control and eventually fall. Alternatively, if the brakes are applied too gently the bike may not stop in time to avoid a crash. ABS, however, works in 2 ways: reducing brake pressure if a lock-up is impending, or increasing pressure again when the bike is under control. It allows the rider to intuitively apply the brakes with full force without holding back due to concerns of locking up a wheel. If you are a first time buyer, or are ready for a new motorcycle, make sure the bike has an anti-lock braking system.
5. Weather. When preparing for a ride, check the weather. If rain, snow or ice is predicted leave your bike at home, unless of course the motorcycle is your only mode of transportation. Still, there are precautions you can take. If you must ride in the rain avoid, if at all possible, riding right after the storm starts. In addition to reducing visibility, the rain mixes with the accumulated oils and other vehicle fluids that have dried on the road, especially after a long dry spell, making the surface dangerously slick. Waiting for a period of time after the storm has begun allows the rain to “wash” the road surface reducing the danger to motorists. Even so, you must exercise particular caution in inclement weather of any kind.
6. Walk-around. Finally, before getting on your motorcycle walk around it checking the tires for anything you might have picked up on the road. Make sure the headlights and turn signals are working properly and of course check your brakes before you leave your driveway.
7. Defensive driving. I bet you wondered if I’d ever let you get on your motorcycle! Now that you’re ready to ride it’s time to talk about riding defensively. Your motorcycle provides virtually no protection in a crash but the following short list of defensive driving techniques can help keep you safe on the road. Motorcycle safety courses will provide you with a much more detailed list of techniques and maneuvers.
• Intersections: Studies estimate that between 46% and 70% of motorcycle/vehicle collisions occur in intersections. Statistics further show that 3 motorcyclists are killed in intersections every day! Slow down before entering an intersection and never assume that the other vehicle will yield the right-of-way to you, even if you are entitled to it.
• Remain visible: Remember, your motorcycle is small, especially in someone’s rear view mirror. Avoid riding in another vehicle’s blind spot and be aware of the fact that trucks and vans have much larger blind spots than the family car. Bright clothing increases your visibility, so don’t be afraid to add color to your riding wardrobe.
• Lane changes: Before making a lane change, check your rear view mirror, turning your head if possible, and of course use your turn signal.
• Tailgating: Don’t do it!
• Hazards: Watching for road hazards is perhaps my primary caution to bicycle riders. However, it applies equally to motorcyclists. All motorists should continually assess the condition of the road surface ahead. For motorcyclists in particular, road conditions such as pot holes, oil slicks, uneven pavement, debris, railroad/cable car tracks, sand, etc. can easily affect the tracking of the bike.
It may sound odd but where you are riding, a city street or a country road, and the time of day you are riding, may pose different hazards. Just as debris on a city street poses a risk for motorcyclists so do animals darting across a rural road. Riding at night or at dusk on a country road exposes a motorcyclist to the activities of night-active animals. Be an aware driver!
• Other drivers: This is my caveat which you will not find elsewhere. Although you may have the legal right to assume that the other driver will obey the laws of the State of Arizona including, most importantly, right-of-way, etc. do not make this assumption! You must be observant of every other driver on the road and assume that they won’t obey the law and that they won’t even see you.