Top 10 Motorcycle Safety Tips
We’ve all heard it – “there are only two kinds of riders, those who have crashed and those who are going to.” On an average day, about 222 motorcycle crashes occur in the U.S. About 184 of those cause injury, with 10 of those being fatal – a very scary statistic.
No matter where you ride or what you ride, staying safe is the top priority. Since starting my motorcycling days 40 years ago aboard a brand new 1974 Honda CL200T, I’ve made some observations and learned some things that have helped me stay safe.
There are, of course, literally hundreds of street safety tactics and strategies and many may be unique to the kind of riding you do. There are some that I’ve found very useful and a number of them apply to whatever motorcycle riding you do—competition types excluded, of course.
Here are my Top-10 Street Riding Survival Tips — feel free to add your own in the comment section below!
1. No drugs, no alcohol when riding.
If you take prescription drugs know whether the medication has known side effects such as slowed reaction times, dizziness, drowsiness and so on. This can be particularly important if the dosage of any medication you regularly take is changed or other medications are added or stopped.
Medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, smoking cessation and some other conditions can be particularly prone to having side effects you should know about before you ride. Talk to your doctor about your medications and conditions and how safe riding may be affected.
Protect yourself and any passenger by using All The Gear All The Time. If you ride in a state where helmet use is up to you, choose to wear a helmet. Head injuries can be very serious, even if they occur at low speeds without a helmet. Helmets cannot prevent head injuries in all instances, but there’s little question that they can reduce severity of head injuries or prevent them altogether in a variety of circumstances.
If they weren’t effective, would professional racers of all types use them? Modern riding jackets are tough, can be armored up, made with high visibility fluorescent and/or reflective materials and can be lightweight and ventilated or made of mesh to be cool in warm weather. Riding gloves, purpose-built riding pants, boots and eye protection can combine to offer great protection from head to foot with comfort in most all riding conditions.
3. Situational awareness.
Keep your head on a swivel and use the rear-view mirrors to monitor what’s going on 360° around you. Try to keep space between you and other traffic; don’t be a tailgater and don’t let other drivers tailgate you. The more space you keep between you and the other guy, the less likely it is their mistake will involve you. Situational awareness can help you anticipate problems and avoid them.
4. Speed reduces your options.
Every time your speed doubles, your stopping distance roughly quadruples. So, if you can stop in 50 feet from 30 mph, for example, at 60 mph, your stopping distance goes up to about 200 feet. It’s not just about obeying the speed limit—it’s about giving yourself more options for stopping and evasive action that can be done safely. Think about dropping down below the speed limit in some situations such as wet pavement, poor visibility, ground cover such as brush or crops tall enough to conceal wildlife that comes right up to the pavement as is the case on some back roads. Forget about street racing—if you want to twist the throttle for real, take out to a track for a track day or sanctioned event.
5. Be able to count on your machine.
That means a quick pre-ride check on tires, attachments, oil, coolant (if applicable), brake fluid, chain or drive belt condition and tension, lights, brake light, turn signal and horn function. Anything not working properly, loose, out of adjustment, low fluid levels and so on can cause unexpected problems while under way and some things can affect control of the bike.
6. Think about special hazards that can come up in certain times of the year.
If you ride out in farm country, standing crops like corn can conceal moving hazards such as deer, bear even wild turkey and dogs that are big enough to take a bike down in a collision. Be particularly cautious during late summer and early fall riding when harvesting and hunting seasons are underway.
Farm equipment like corn harvesters can spook deer and other animals that may be feeding or bedded down in the crops. When that happens, the animals may bolt out into the road, creating a very special type of hazard requiring special tactics, especially in areas where crop planting is allowed to crowd close to the roadway. Cut your speed, cover your brake, stay out near the centerline and watch for any sign of movement along the roadside.
7. Heighten your vision.
A lot of riders wear dark wrap-around glasses, which work fine in bright sunlight in areas where deep shadows are infrequent. However, if your route includes a lot of areas of dark shadows at the roadside, such as in forested areas, you may want to consider lightly tinted eyewear. If there is a lot of shadow or the day is going to be overcast, certain types of amber riding glasses or face shield may be helpful in increasing contrast.
8. Know the road and if you don’t, know your limits.
It can be fun to get frisky with the throttle on roads you know well, especially if they have some neat technical curves and have good road surfaces. When you’re traveling in unfamiliar country, take it easy. The next blind corner may be concealing gravel or sand on the road, an off-camber, decreasing radius corner or a one-lane bridge—with a gravel truck taking up all of it.
9. Consider training.
Whether you’re a rider with some experience, a former rider who has been away from the sport for some years and are now returning or are a new motorcycle owner, joining the ranks of riders for the first time, professionally delivered training can make you a better rider.
Major motorcycle manufacturers offer great rider training programs around the country such as Harley-Davidson’s Rider’s Edge Program with programs for new riders and experienced riders alike. Honda has MSF basic and advanced rider training, as well.
Perhaps nothing is more central to safety than the rider’s focus on the task at hand. Avoid allowing anything to intrude on your attention to the road, your speed, changes in road conditions, weather, traffic and roadside hazards and other vehicles. One of the major causes of motorcycle accidents identified in the landmark Hurt report on motorcycle crashes was when other drivers (i.e. automobile drivers) said they didn’t see the motorcyclist.
That means the motorcyclist has two countermeasures—increase your visibility to other drivers (see point #2)—and make sure you see them in case they don’t see you.
These are just a few ideas, no doubt you are aware of many more. Nothing in this article should be construed as legal or medical advice—just some good ideas to help out with safety. Take your time, enjoy the ride and be safe out there!
Reference: “2003 Motor Vehicle Crash Data from FARS and GES,” National Center for Statistics and Analysis, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.