As riders, we hear warnings all of the time—“be careful, ride safely, watch out for the other guy!” There has to be a happy medium where a motorcycle ride can be enjoyed without ruining the thrill with thoughts of crashing.
Based on my experience, here are 10 recommendations for avoiding crashes.
1) Learn from Experts
You may have taken a class if you’re new to riding, but finding a mentor will help you build confidence and can also provide good advice.
For the experienced riders, challenge yourself to learn more. If dirt road scares you, have someone show you proper technique, then go practice. If you want to learn to take tighter turns, take an advanced rider course where you’ll have a safe space to practice.
Watch videos and read articles and books such as "Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well" and "Total Control: High Performance Street Riding Techniques" and then find a space without traffic to practice.
2) Drive Defensively
There is no room for aggressive driving on public roadways. Most vehicles are larger than a motorcycle so be ready to yield to larger vehicles even if you have the right-of-way.
Don’t tailgate—leave enough space between the person in front of you and yourself so you have plenty of time to stop if needed. Getting close to someone’s bumper will not make them go faster.
Do not hang out in another vehicle's blind spot, being aware of what they see is as important as seeing them.
3) Avoid Impairment
Motorcycling demands all of your attention and sluggish reflexes can result in crashes. We all know drinking alcohol slows reaction times, but that is true for most mind altering substances.
It can also be true if you are deep in thought or sleepy. Before mounting your motorcycle, ask yourself, “is my mind clear?” You should also be aware of how medical issues can impair your ability to ride safely.
How is your balance? How is your night vision?
4) Wear Proper Gear
Choose safety gear that is comfortable and does not impair your ability to function. If your gloves are too tight or too loose they might make it hard to work the controls on your bike. Wearing insulated gloves when it is cold out makes it easier to move your fingers.
Are you riding in 100-degree temperatures? Then breathable apparel that reflects the sun can help you stay hydrated and cool.
Do you have proper eye protection for bright sunlight? How about clear glasses for after dark? Do you have eyewear with vents and foam for rain?
I have one saddlebag on my motorcycle dedicated to tools and raingear, and the other is dedicated to clothing and glove options for heat and cold.
5) Expect the Unexpected
I don’t ride my motorcycle fearing a crash, but I am always ready to avoid one. If I see a car approaching a stop sign where I have the right of way, I place my hands in a position so I can brake quickly if the person does not stop.
I look at the driver and attempt to make eye contact. Are they looking the opposite direction? Talking on the phone? Are their tires still rolling?
On curvy roads, I know people coming the other direction should not cross the centerline but I can’t be too sure about that. I simply stay away from the center line as I go through a curve.
I also avoid the shoulder since it is often covered with gravel and other hazards. I have more room to maneuver if I stay closer to the center of the lane.
6) Fit Your Bike
We’ve all seen riders on bikes that appear too big for them. It might just be that the motorcycle hasn’t been modified to fit them correctly. Most often the seat is too high or wide and the handlebars create too much reach.
Seats can be adjusted to move you forward and make reaching the handlebars and footrests easier. I would start with proper seating and then decide if there is more on your bike that needs to be adjusted.
The footpegs, rear brake, and shifter should all be comfortable to reach and easy to operate. The toe shifter should be adjusted so it is easy to operate with the toe of a cowboy boot or an engineer boot. Heel-Toe shifters help with that, but you need to be familiar with their operation.
Visit with your motorcycle dealer, mechanic, or someone with experience. Adjustments might be as simple as loosening a few screws and repositioning your handlebars.
7) Don’t Go Faster Than You Can Stop
A friend of mine was in a motorcycle accident and when I asked her if she was now afraid of riding on the highway she replied, “I’m not afraid of riding fast, I’m afraid of stopping fast.” What great wisdom!
In the latest report issued by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, speed was involved in 33% of fatal motorcycle crashes compared to 20% of passenger cars.
In 2008, I purchased a new motorcycle without antilock brakes (ABS,) but I added them after hearing many good reports. ABS will not necessarily help you stop faster, but it will help you to maintain control of your motorcycle in a stop where traction is lost.
If you have ABS, find a place where you can safely brake hard enough to make them engage. It will help to know what it feels like in an emergency situation.
8) Keep Your Eyes on the Road
In today’s world distractions are plentiful—GPS, phones, multimedia devices, cameras, and many other devices compete for a driver’s attention.
Remember that when you are going 65 MPH, you are traveling 96 feet/second. That’s approximately the distance between two wooden telephone poles. In the time it takes you to look down and back up again you can travel nearly a football field (300 feet).
Be aware of your surroundings and the keep your eyes looking forward. Don’t wear anything that impairs your vision, including your peripheral vision.
9) Maintain Your Bike
When I bought my first motorcycle it had been parked for several years and the tires were cracked and in poor condition. I needed to change them immediately, but I didn’t like the cost.
I quickly changed my mind when someone told me, “The only thing between you and the road is your tires.”
Since that time, I’ve become very familiar with my bike. Make sure to look yours over so that nothing has rattled loose, the lights work properly, and the tires are in good repair and not leaking.
Washing your motorcycle routinely will help with a more in depth inspection.
10) Invest in Visibility
In 1978, Marjorie Jennings created the first reflective vest made for motorcyclists. She felt that she risked her life every day as she commuted to work and negotiated traffic.
Things haven’t changed much and distracted driving has become a much bigger issue. Remember, we have a smaller footprint on the road and are easily hidden in blind spots.
Wearing bright colored or reflective clothing helps. The first thing I did when I bought my last black bike was to put reflective graphics on it to increase side visibility, including reflective stickers on the sides.
Brightly colored bikes are a great investment in visibility. Studies have shown that wearing a white helmet increases visibility as well.