Top 10 Ways to Stay Safe on Your Motorcycle
Motorcycle riding has an unmistakable aura of romanticism. But that thrill can be dangerous if you're not careful.
Editor's note: This post was written by Nathan Chandler.
Motorcycle riding has an unmistakable aura of romanticism. Avid motorcyclists will tell you there's nothing quite like taking to the open road on two wheels, with the wind buffeting your whole body and fewer obstructions to attenuate the sensory experience of hurtling down the highway. But that thrill can be dangerous if you're not careful.
The carnage is, statistically, undeniable: When motorcycles crash, their riders get hurt. In single-vehicle accidents, motorcyclists are injured 96 percent of the time, according to the Hurt Report. Sometimes, they die. Between 1975 and 1999, more than 38,000 motorcyclists perished in single-vehicle accidents alone. And according to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, riders were at least 35 times - yes, 35 times - more likely to be killed in a wreck than people in passenger vehicles like cars and trucks, which offer more protection. That's not stopping people from riding, however. From 1998 to 2007, U.S. motorcycle registrations increased 84 percent, from 3.9 to 7.1 million.
More motorcyclists mean more chances for horrific, two-wheeled calamities. But a lot of motorcycle accidents are preventable, and even in unavoidable wrecks, there are precautions that can help reduce the severity of injuries.
Keep reading, and you'll see 10 ways to make your motorcycle journeys safer - for you and for your fellow travelers. After all, there's nothing romantic about breaking your body to bits.
10: Find Your Brain's Power Band
Motorcycles aren't transportation toys for the absentminded or angry. Sans the protective glass and metal that come with driving, say, a semi or a truck, a clear mind is your primary shield against harm.
If you're feeling very distracted, emotional, sick or just tired, you're better off leaving the bike in the garage until you find your happy place again. Otherwise, you're far more likely to make a tiny mistake that can have huge consequences.
9: Kick the Tires
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation calls it T-CLOCS, and it might just save your life. T-CLOCS stands for Tires, Controls, Lights, Oil, Chassis and Stands. It's the quick safety inspection that you should perform before you ride.
If you can't remember what the acronym stands for, you might want to print the foundation's safety inspection checklist. It reminds you to scope your bike for a range of potential problems, from worn tires and frayed wires to oil leaks.
Happily, few fatal motorcycle wrecks are due to problems with the bike. But keeping tabs on your tires and brakes, among other vital components, will give you peace of mind and also keep you from getting stranded on the side of the highway with a malfunctioning machine.
8: Just Say Slow
With the highway rolling by just beneath your boots, it's easy to get caught up in the thrill of the motorcycle experience. But hauling back on the throttle and rocketing to the speed of light is, shall we say, a rather unsafe rush.
In 2008, 35 percent of motorcyclists who died in crashes were traveling above posted speed limits. Excessive speed gives you fewer chances to correct for errors of all kinds. What's more, many riders misjudge their speed on curves, which is why many people die simply because they ride right off the road.
Slowing down and remaining at speed with the traffic around you is a great strategy for survival. If you must speed, join a racing club and get your acceleration adrenaline fix on a closed course.
7: Get Your Peacock On
Motorcycles are vastly outnumbered by other passenger vehicles. They're only about 1 percent of vehicles on the road, yet their riders make up 10 percent of traffic fatalities, according to The New York Times. One reason that so many bikers die is that other drivers just don't see them. Motorcycles are so small that they slip neatly into blind spots, and many drivers just aren't paying attention. Both facts doom some motorcyclists to ugly crashes.
Make yourself as visible as possible. Most motorcycle stores sell high-visibility safety vests with neon colors and reflective strips that stand out much better than black leather jackets.
Consider installing a motorcycle headlight modulator. This device makes your headlight flash quickly, almost like a strobe light, and grabs the attention of other drivers, even in bright daylight.
Being seen is being safe. Gaudy may not be cool, but it might keep you alive.
6: Practice Your Panic
On good days, when everyone on the highway is driving in a safe and friendly manner, motorcycling is a pretty easy task. But those days are rare, meaning you often have to dodge other vehicles to avoid a wreck.
In a car, when panic strikes, you can quickly spin a steering wheel and slam on the antilock brakes. Motorcyclists, however, must twist their bodies and find a balance between braking and steering in order to avoid collisions and also to keep from sliding or flying over the handlebars. These maneuvers don't come naturally to most riders.
That means you have to practice emergency braking and steering - in an empty parking lot, of course. Repetition trains your body and mind to control the significant heft of your motorcycle, no matter the situation. And more riding time means you're more familiar with the bike as a whole, too.
5: Before You Intersect, Inspect
In about 70 percent of two-vehicle accidents involving motorcycles, the driver of the passenger cars just don't see the two-wheeler, according to Motorcycle Cruiser.com. In two-thirds of those accidents, the car driver violated the motorcyclist's right of way and, as a result, caused the collision, according to the Hurt Report.
Intersections are particularly dangerous. When other drivers don't see bikes, they often make left turns right in front of them or even right into the motorcycle itself.
Be alert and wary as you proceed through intersections. Scan every part of the intersection before you enter it, and if a vehicle coming from the opposite direction looks as if it may be planning to turn left, slow down and prepare for evasive maneuvers.
Ride defensively and as though other drivers will never see you. In doing so, you could dodge a really large, wheeled bullet.
4: Forget the Flip-Flops
If you're ever tempted to wear open-toed sandals and short-sleeved shirts while riding a motorcycle, think cheese. That is, think of your skin as a nice, soft cheese, and the road as a cheese grater, filled with billions of tiny, sharp teeth.
You already know that even one-vehicle motorcycle crashes almost always result in some sort of injury, be it minor lacerations or scrapes, or compound broken bones and gaping flesh wounds. But wearing the proper gear can significantly reduce and, in some cases, even prevent injury.
Wear solid motorcycle boots to prevent exhaust pipe burns and painful toe strikes. Protect your hands with thick gloves, and your arms and legs with good-quality gear, like leather chaps and jackets. All motorcycle shops stock clothing that shields your skin, and often they sell items designed to be breathable even in hot weather. Some jackets have ultra strong armor integrated into the fabric to safeguard you in case of a collision.
Even the best gear can't save you in a really bad accident. But in the event of a minor collision or wipeout, really good protection can mean the difference going home and spending weeks in a recovery room.
3: Eyes Off the Skies
If you've ever taken a long road trip in a car, you know how your mind drifts as you navigate the highways. But cars are more forgiving than motorcycles, and a mental vacation while you're riding might end in a pricey ambulance ride.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation encourages riders to use their SEE (search, evaluate, execute) strategy to keep their minds engaged on short or long trips. In searching, you use your eyes to continually monitor road and traffic conditions. You evaluate every potential risk. And you quickly develop and execute actions to avoid problems.
In short, really, you just need to keep your eyes, and your mind, on the road. By anticipating problems, you can actually avoid them.
2: Break the Bottle
If you drink, don't ride. In 2009, 29 percent of motorcyclists in fatal accidents had blood alcohol concentrations above legal limits, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Alcohol slows your reaction time and messes with your judgment. In other words, when you drink and ride, you're more likely to make mistakes - and your decreased reaction speed means you might not recover.
In 1999, alcohol involvement in fatal motorcycle accidents was a whopping 50 percent higher than it was for cars and trucks. In the same year, almost half of riders who died in single-vehicle accidents were drunk, according to the National Highway Safety Association.
So if you're going to drink, don't ride. Your family, and everyone else on the road, will appreciate it.
1: Wear a Quality, Full Face Helmet
Helmet laws vary by state and country. Many people eschew helmet use or flaunt helmet laws altogether for a variety of reasons, from claiming that helmets obstruct their vision and hearing (they don't) or infringe on their civil liberties.
Whatever your stance on helmet use might be, the empirical data on helmet effectiveness are hard to argue with. In 2008 alone, helmets saved the lives of nearly 2,000 motorcyclists, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Association estimates that over 800 more would have lived if they'd been wearing a helmet.
But you can't wear just any helmet. In the United States, full-face (with chin guards), DOT-approved helmets are your best option. Other regions, such as Europe, have their own standards, such as the CE mark, indicating products that conform to high safety standards.
In spite of these facts, use of DOT-compliant helmets actually decreased by 13 percent in 2010, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Don't be a clichéd statistic. No part of your brain, or your body, needs to meet the asphalt at high speed. Ride defensively, go slow and keep your eyes on the road, and you'll ride off into the sunset instead of the hospital.