Whether you’re a new or experienced motorcycle rider, you understand the lure of the open road. There’s nothing quite like powering down the blacktop on two wheels to get your heart racing. Unfortunately, too many riders set out on journeys that they or their bikes don’t return from. Part of growing from a new motorcycle enthusiast into a veteran of the road is understanding how to ride safely, wherever your journeys take you.
Reasons for Bike Accidents
Unlike cars and trucks, motorcycles don’t have built-in crumple zones. This means that, while you feel more connected to the road, that connection can come at the price of personal protection. Staying safe on your bike involves knowing about common reasons for motorcycle wrecks, anticipating the conditions that cause them, and working to avoid the conditions. Here are six of the top hazards motorcyclists face and how to prepare for them.
1 – Bikes Can be Hard to See
Motorcycles are smaller than cars, making them harder to see. National, state, and local initiatives encourage motorists to be vigilant about looking for bikers on the road. While it may seem that this problem falls on the shoulders of those driving the larger vehicles, remember that it’s your skin on the line, so it behooves you to do everything in your power to stay out of danger.
While any scenario where other motorists don’t see you riding your bike is dangerous, watch out for these common situations:
- A motorist turns in front of you, as you approach an intersection.
- As you are passing a line of parked vehicles, a car door opens directly ahead of you.
- Another vehicle changes into a lane that you occupy.
While other motorists may be at fault for these occurrences, that doesn’t mend broken bones. You can increase your visibility in all instances by making sure your motorcycle’s lights are on when you ride. Also, consider wearing reflective clothing or riding gear that helps you stand out on a busy street. The attire may not blend well with biker fashion, but it could save your life.
You can also adjust your riding style to make sure you’re more visible. Stay out of blind spots, or move through them as quickly as possible. Also, as you approach an intersection or pass other vehicles, look for the other motorist’s eyes to observe whether the person sees you coming. In addition, when passing parked vehicles, ride near the outside of your lane, and remain aware of vehicle clearance on your left, in case an emergency lane change to escape danger is needed.
Finally, be careful of lane splitting. While popular in some parts of the world, in many American cities and states, it is rarely seen and often illegal. If you do it, you may be putting yourself between vehicles that don’t know to look for a rider there, or shouldn’t expect to look for one. If you aren’t sure about local ordinances governing lane splitting, don’t risk it.
2 – Check Your Speed
Everyone knows the dangers of exceeding the posted speed limit, from a higher risk of crashing to getting a ticket. You don’t have to be speeding, however, to be traveling too fast. The faster you go, the slower your reaction time, and that can be the difference between a fun ride and disastrous one. The biggest threats from not giving yourself enough reaction time are:
- Hitting large road debris that can cause damage or injury
- Loss of traction due to curves or gravel
- Sudden stops while following another vehicle too close
In all of these cases, the solution is to slow down and give yourself a few extra moments to react. Large road debris can easily damage your bike or kick up and hit you. When approaching curves, remember that you only have two wheels of traction, so it may be necessary to go slower due to the tightness of the turn, or due to the possibility of pea gravel sliding your wheels out from under you. Last, always maintain a safe following distance. The best way to pass another vehicle is not “flying over the roof”.
3 – Always Watch The Weather
Before your ride, always know the weather meteorologists are predicting. Despite their questionable reputation for accuracy, they’re usually closer to right than wrong, and the weather can have a larger impact on bikes than other vehicles. Weather conditions to be especially wary of are:
Your bike’s two wheels of traction become even more treacherous when inclimate weather creates a slick roadway. In addition, the limited visibility from a blizzard or heavy fog not only makes it harder for you to see, it makes it harder for you to be seen, which is already a stated hazard. For shorter rides, sometimes it’s safer to wait the weather out. If you’re planning a longer ride, make sure you have several planned stopping points, should the need arise.
4 – Know Who You’re Riding With
Whether you’re heading out with a couple buddies or a local motorcycle club, make sure you understand who you’re sharing the road with. Careless riders can easily jeopardize riders near them. Try to cruise with riders who are experienced and safe when riding in groups. Also, make sure you know local ordinances. Lane sharing, like lane splitting, is illegal in some jurisdictions.
5 – Don’t Ride Above Your Experience
If it’s your first week on a bike, a cross-country trek on Route 66 may not be for you just yet. Make sure you’re familiar with your machine. For example, a locked front brake by an inexperienced rider has destroyed many bikes and the dreams built around them.
Take it slow as you need to, and remember that riding is as much about the journey as the destination. Moreover, befriending a veteran riding buddy can help your growth as a responsible, responsive motorcycle rider.
6 – Don’t Ride Impaired
Just don’t. Whether it’s alcohol, illicit substances, or allergy medicine, if it affects your mind, it can affect your ride, making you a danger to yourself and others who are on and around the roadway. It’s not worth a DUI ticket or your life. Don’t become a statistic by riding impaired.
Make The Trip Last
Riding a motorcycle can be a fun hobby that turns into an exciting lifestyle, but only if you and your bike both live long enough to enjoy it. With some thoughtful planning and care, your years of riding will stretch far down the road, just like your travels. Have fun, but above all, ride safe.
About the Author
Earl Baldwin is a long time car and motorcycle enthusiast with a fledgling collection of classic cars (‘48 Plymouth, ‘49 Pontiac, ‘55 Chrysler). He also has a passion for writing about exotic cars, aftermarket motorcycle upgrades, and improving car and motorcycle performance. When he’s not writing, he’s cruising around town in one of his classics.
Your comment about watching a drivers eyes is O.K. But we all know how they can lie!
I HAVE A POLICY OF ALWAYS BELIEVING WHAT THE WHEELS OF THE VEHICLE ARE TELLING ME…….THEY NEVER LIE!
Reference #3 above, riders need to be aware, that in order to ride a motorcycle successfully one must have a horizon to be able to balance and ride. Twice I have had to leave the Blue Ridge Parkway due to extremely low visibility due to fog/clouds.