Motorcycle Safety in the US: What Riders Need to Know

Jake Robison - November 17, 2021

No matter which part of the country they’re from, riders usually end their conversations in one of a select few ways—with a “ride safe”, “keep the shiny side up”, or something similar. These wishes all mean the same thing: ride carefully, so you can live to do it another day. But, when we risk our lives the minute we get on the bike, how can we ride safe? Here, you’ll learn a few ways to improve motorcycle safety by managing risk.

Choose Your Bike Wisely

Before visiting a trusted motorcycle dealer and throwing a leg over the seat, you’ll need to find a bike that suits your riding style and skill level. While many riders choose bikes based on their appearance, it’s more important to consider a motorcycle’s:

  • This is a difficult metric to evaluate, as not all high-displacement bikes are fast.
  • Wet weight. Are you test riding or renting a touring bike and have only ridden sport bikes in the past? While it’s okay to branch out, it’s crucial to be prepared.
  • Power to weight. The higher the ratio, the faster a bike is. A motorcycle with a high power to weight ratio will have faster acceleration, a higher top speed, and a shorter braking distance.
  • Your own judgment. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to listen to your gut. If something tells you not to climb on, don’t do it! Your intuition may save your life.

With these and other considerations, you’ll find it easier to choose the right bike for your next ride.

Wear the Right Helmet

On every ride, wear a helmet with a face shield or one with added eye protection. Many riders skip wearing their gear for short trips, but this practice is dangerous. Most accidents happen at low speeds, and not wearing the right headgear puts you at risk.

Put On Your Protective Gear

Along with a full-face helmet and/or goggles, protective gear will keep you safe in the wind. Start with boots that cover the ankles, as well as jeans or leather pants. Choose an armored, abrasion resistant jacket, as well as a sturdy, yet flexible pair of riding gloves.

Many riders ask, “Do I really need all this protective gear, especially during the summer?” We always answer those questions with an emphatic, “Yes, you do!” Just because you haven’t dropped a bike yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen. If the heat is truly unbearable, buy a vented helmet and some nice new white- or light-colored gear.

Check the Daily Weather Report

Planning is a crucial component of a safe ride, and it takes time to do it right. Even if you’ve spent months planning a long ride, you’ll need to make daily adjustments to that plan. No matter where in the country you are, the weather can change quickly—and when we anticipate those changes, it’s much easier (and safer) to work around them.

Stay Sober, Always

There’s a rule among pilots that it’s best to wait eight hours between the last drink and getting into the cockpit. That rule applies equally to motorcyclists. Riding safe takes a great deal of concentration—you’ll use all your senses and all four limbs to stay alive and aware. We’re not going to lecture you on impaired judgment, delayed response times, and the health effects of alcohol consumption—because we’re sure you’ve heard it before. Just don’t drink and ride!

Be Well-Rested

This tip should go without saying, but it bears repeating. Riding safely requires a substantial amount of focus, and it’s easy to get exhausted after a long and monotonous ride. When you’re riding, be sure to get a good night’s sleep before setting out. And, take breaks while you’re on the bike. Stop to stretch, rest, eat, and stay hydrated. Sometimes, a bit of a rest is all that’s needed to stay safe and upright.

Assess Your Comfort Level

Think back to the first time you sat on a bike in the showroom. You probably adjusted the mirrors, checked the bike’s suspension, and imagined yourself in the wind. Sometimes, those daydreams feel comfortable, like sitting in a favorite chair, while at other times, they feel like a bumpy roller coaster ride.

Before riding, think about how the bike feels. Are your arms and shoulders relaxed, or do you feel cramped and constrained? If there’s any discomfort, try making some basic adjustments and checking the brake and clutch levers. Do they have enough resistance with a bit of “give”? If so, great. If not, get to the root of the problem before putting the kickstand up. A bike’s front brake gives it about 90% of its stopping power—so it’s important that they work properly.

Do a Pre-Ride Check

This step is essential, but many riders still forget it. You’re ready to hit the road for some much-needed quiet time and relaxation. So, the last thing you’d need to do is to waste time ticking boxes on a checklist, right? Wrong! A basic pre-ride check only takes a few minutes. Assess the bike’s turn signals, headlight, and brake lights, check the tire pressure, and measure its fluid levels. With these steps, you’ll reduce the risk of running into unanticipated roadside problems.

Be a Defensive Rider

While their shiny chrome and loud engines should make them conspicuous, motorcycles are all but invisible on the road. Do you know what most drivers say after they’ve collided with a motorcyclist? “I never saw them,” or some variation thereof. Drivers are taught to look for other four-wheeled vehicles, not bikes.

And, because of a bike’s narrow profile, it’s easy to get caught in a driver’s blind spot. The easiest way to stay safe is to ride defensively. Assume that no one can see you and try to predict other motorists’ behavior to the extent possible. Don’t stop thinking, looking, checking your mirrors, and being situationally aware.

Ride Safe Today—Do It Again Tomorrow

While this list of motorcycle safety tips is by no means comprehensive, it’s a great start. By reviewing these suggestions before each ride, no matter how far you’re going, you’ll become a safer rider—and you’ll increase the chances of living to get in the wind another day.

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