Let's face it: While motorcycles are cool, they just aren't as safe as cars. To some people, that's part of the appeal. Living life on the edge and taking risks can be part of what makes riding a motorcycle rewarding.
Motorcycles can travel as fast as cars do, but lack car safety features most people take for granted. Motorcycles don't have an exterior frame to absorb crash forces. Instead, the forces of a collision are born directly by the bike and the rider. Motorcycles also don't have seatbelts, which increases the rider's risk of being thrown off the bike in an accident. Finally, there's that little matter of being on two wheels. Motorcycles are simply not as stable as cars.
But, riding a motorcycle doesn't have to be an exercise in cheating death. Motorcycles may be inherently less safe than cars are, but there are a lot of things motorcyclists and drivers in cars can do to keep everyone safe.
10: Take a Motorcycle Safety Course
In most states, if you're going to get a motorcycle license, you need to take a skills test. In many states, you also have to take a motorcycle safety class – think of it as driver's education on two wheels. Even if your state doesn't require you to take a motorcycle safety course, you should. The class will teach you about the traffic safety laws that apply to motorcycles in your state, how to respond to emergency situations on a motorcycle, and give you a chance to try out your new skills in a controlled environment. The instructors will also give you tips about motorcycle maintenance and how to avoid unsafe situations. After all, the time to learn how to recover from a skid on a bike is not when you go into one for the first time. Taking a motorcycle safety course prepares you to hit the road safely and with more confidence.
The good news is, most motorcycle dealerships offer motorcycle safety courses, and some even give discounts or other promotional materials to people who have completed their course. If you've got your heart set on a particular brand of bike, taking a motorcycle safety class from that dealership is a good way to get to know the brand better, and you may even be able to try out some of their models.
9: Get the Right Gear
We've all seen people on motorcycles in shorts and flip flops. Those people are not being safe. Since a motorcycle offers little protection in a crash, what riders wear is part of the crash protection system. Even if you aren't in a crash with another vehicle on your bike, you could simply lose control and lay the bike down. In that situation, you'll be sliding along on asphalt. That's not something you want to do in shorts.
There's a reason a lot of bikers wear leather: it's strong enough to protect their skin if they slide along the road surface. Plus, motorcycle riders are exposed to other road hazards, like small rocks, bugs and cigarette butts, that people in cars are protected from. At 60 miles per hour (96.6 kilometers per hour), even a small rock can sting. Leather gear can help protect you.
Of course, you don't have to look like a reject from "Easy Rider" to ride a motorcycle. A lot of companies specialize in armored motorcycle gear, and it's not all leather. You can get vented motorcycle jackets that keep you cool while keeping you safe. These jackets are made of lightweight, breathable material, but have heavy-duty amour panels in key places (along the spine, torso, shoulders and elbows) to protect the wearer.
8: Protect Your Feet
The right shoes are also important to riding safely. To shift gears on a bike, you lift up with your toes – so open-toed shoes can become painful fast. Plus, when you're riding a bike, you're sitting on the engine and exhaust system, which get hot. It's easy to burn your feet. Not only do open-toed shoes like flip-flops expose your feet while on a bike, they can slip off, causing a dangerous situation.
When riding a motorcycle, you want study shoes. Those shoes are the only protection your feet will have. Look for something with a rugged sole. Shoes with smooth soles make it easier for you to slip. When you're at a stop and using your feet to balance, the last thing you want to do is slip and drop your bike. Motorcycle shoes should also have sturdy ankle supports and a low heel. You want something that makes it easier for you to balance. Look for shoes or boots in a durable material, like leather, for better protection.
7: Ride Within Your Skills
Riding a motorcycle is a skill, and like all skills, it's something that you need to develop. While you may be fine to go on an easy cruise around town, it takes time to grow the skills you need to be an expert rider. To stay safe, make sure that you always ride within your skill level. Your friends who have been riding longer may be able to go super fast, weave in and out of traffic, or control their bikes on curvy roads, but that doesn't mean you should. Take the time to build your skills and only ride in situations where you know your skills are up to the job.
Of course, you should still challenge yourself - that's how your skills grow - but you need to do it in a safe, controlled way. Many motorcycle dealerships offer advanced riding courses where you can practice more advanced maneuvers. And, if you're interested in motorcycle sports, it's easy to find a racing school. Those schools are not only fun, but they help you safely build your skills so that you're safer on the road.
6: Avoid Distraction
We all know distracted driving is a bad idea, but it's worse when you're riding a bike. One of the keys to staying safe on a motorcycle is staying hyper-aware of everything that's going on around you. Remember, motorcycles are tough for drivers to see –especially drivers in large cars or SUVs. You need to see and avoid them, rather than bet on them seeing you. If you're fiddling with your phone or iPod, you're reaction time is cut by several precious seconds, putting you at higher risk of a collision. And running into a Chevy Suburban while going 60 miles per hour (96.6 kilometers per hour) is no one's idea of a good time.
In addition to the risk of distraction, taking your hands off your bike lessens your control more than taking your hands off the wheel of your car. Not only is steering compromised, but so is braking, accelerating and shifting. It's just a bad idea.
If you're on a bike, remove all temptation for distraction. Don't wear headphones, and put your phone where you can't get to it.