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Motorcycle Safety

Most people share a common misconception that motorcycles are dangerous.  Although it is definitely a risk, motorcycles can be ridden safely. Now, the mentality with which you go into motorcycling can be absolutely dangerous. A lot of motorcyclists say the same thing: “It’s not if you’ll go down, it’s when.” I hear this from every rider I know that’s gone down. What’s odd is that I also hear this from the few that have never been down, even after 20+ years of riding. Which makes me wonder whether keeping this kind of mental preparation makes one less likely to go down. I think a lot of riders get comfortable cause they’ve been riding a few years and start to believe they’re Valentino Rossi or Marc Marquez. No matter your skill level, it’s important to remember just how humbling motorcycling is and how much respect you need to give your motorcycle. Doesn’t really matter what you ride; it could be a sports bike, a cruiser, touring, dual sport, or even a scooter. The fact is we’re going fast on a heavy piece of metal with minimal protection (or no protection if you enjoy being a squid).

Now don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying that it’s NOT dangerous to ride motorcycles. It is very dangerous. But I think it comes down to two sets of variables. One of those is in your control: how responsibly you ride; how well you maintain your bike; how aware you are of your environment and other people on the road; knowing and not riding outside your skill level. The other is entirely out of your control. That is, in a word, the unknown. It could be a bit of oil, dirt, gravel, or anything on the road that could make you lose traction. It could be a dog jumping out from behind a car, wanting to be your new best friend. Or tragically, it could be a drunk driver or some idiot on their cell phone. There is no guarantee that you won’t run into the unknown on your ride.  The point is to try and minimize the chances of things being out of your control.
With that said, I think it’s a good idea to point out, especially for new riders or people thinking of riding soon, several things you can do to try and stay safe and hopefully on two wheels during your rides.

It’s hard to place one thing at the top of this list. In my opinion, there are two things that are most important and take precedence over everything else. I don’t know who coined the term, but I heard it when I was first looking into motorcycling and it’s always stuck with me. “ATGATT.” This is a biker philosophy that a lot of riders practice. It means “All The Gear, All The Time.” I don’t care if I’m commuting 50 miles to work or riding to the corner for a coffee and a bagel, I am wearing full gear. That includes a riding jacket with back protector (leather or mesh, depending on the weather), riding gloves (no, leather work gloves don’t count), DOT or Snell approved helmet and riding boots. The only difference between commute/day ride or corner bagel run might be making a choice between denim jeans or full-on riding pants.

Of course, all that gear won’t save you if you don’t know how to ride and you go buy yourself a badass supersport because everyone wants a big fast bike. Then you end up high siding on your first cruise because you fell victim to target fixation and slammed on your front brake mid-turn. So please, if you’ve never ridden or have minimal experience, go out and take a motorcycle safety course. Even intermediate riders could benefit from an advanced riding course. There are professional institutions all across the country that specialize in educating new and seasoned riders on how to get better and ride safer. There are even courses that’ll teach you to ride faster and lean harder if you’re a Rossi/ Marquez wannabe. The point is to educate yourself in a safe environment instead of figuring it out while you lay on the pavement waiting for the emergency crew to arrive.

Another very important aspect of riding, which may or may not seem safety related, is choosing the right bike for you. You may dream of riding a sports bike and realize it’s not the optimal riding posture for you. You may be better suited for a standard riding position or a more relaxed cruiser style bike. Or vice versa. I learned on a cruiser and hated it. I couldn’t get comfortable on the bike. The foot pegs were too far forward. The handlebars were too high. It wasn’t till I rode a sports bike that I felt one with the bike. So to me, choosing the right bike is also very much going to contribute to safety because if you’re not comfortable your attention won’t be on the road and your surroundings. Also, get ABS brakes if you can. IIHS data shows that bikes with ABS are 37% less likely to be in a fatal crash than bikes without. Spend the extra $500 and get that extra feature.

Unlike a car, if something breaks down on a motorcycle during a ride it could have catastrophic consequences. There are simple checks I do before every ride, things I check every 2 weeks, and monthly maintenance that should be done for optimal performance. Before every ride, I’ll check and make sure all my equipment works properly. Check your turning signal, brake lights, horn, and controls (throttle springs back and levers work properly). Every 2 weeks I’ll check my oil levels, brakes and brake fluid, tire air pressure, and also check the tires for damage or punctures from foreign objects. Depending on how much I ride and the riding conditions, I’ll usually clean and lube my chain once a month or every 2-3 weeks. Make sure you change your motor oil according to spec, usually every 3500 miles, once again depending on riding style and conditions.

I know I talked about this earlier, but keep an eye out for environmental hazards. Those unknown variables can sometimes be known to us before it’s too late. Look out for sand, dirt, gravel, debris, wet leaves, any glossy looking spills (is that oil or did some kid drop his ice cream out the car window?) Doesn’t really matter. It’s going be slippery). Bumps or potholes might not seem like a big deal while driving your car but hit that same pothole while leaning into a turn and you might end up on your ass. Keep your eyes open and on the road at all times.

I’m sure there are plenty of other things that we could talk about. Being a defensive rider. Riding carefully in extreme weather conditions. Never stop learning as much as you can and honing your skills as a rider. Practice makes perfect. Run emergency stop and swerve techniques till they become muscle memory and become instinct when you need it. So much more, I could write volumes, but I think we’ve covered enough. Just get geared up (ATGATT), get educated, and stay on two wheels.



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