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How To Be A Safer Motorcyclist
There are more than 6 million motorcycles registered in the U.S., and probably another million who ride off road bikes, which do not require a license. According to experts, 72.34 per 100,000 registered motorcycles end up in fatal accidents. The need for motorcycle safety has never been greater.
Here are five ways to help stay out of harm’s way while riding a motorcycle:
1. Get the Proper Training
Training is one of the most effective ways to stay safe and minimize the risk of injury. There are many organizations across the U.S. that offer United States Motorcycle Safety Education courses, including state agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporations.
Motorcycle training teaches riders the skills for driving on public roads, much like driver’s education teaches people how to safely drive a car. Many motorcycle-training courses in the U.S. utilize the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course materials — 31 states use the MSF test for motorcycle licensing, and 41 use the MSF motorcycle operator manual.
All but five states waive license testing for motorcyclists who have completed MSF training courses. Completion of a motorcycle safety course often qualifies the rider for lower insurance rates, an additional perk.
2. Wear the Right Clothing and Equipment
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), one of the main reasons that motorcyclists are killed in accidents is that the motorcycle itself provides little or no protection in a crash, and the rider was not wearing the proper protective clothing and equipment. Helmets, eye protection, and protective clothing not only increase riding comfort but also reduce the severity of injury should the rider get into an accident.
Studies show that the head, arms, and legs are the parts of the body most often injured in a motorcycle accident. Protective clothing and equipment serve three purposes: to protect the motorcyclist from the elements; to offer protection from injury; and through the use of colored or reflective materials, to help other motorists see the motorcyclist and avoid collisions.
3. Practice Defensive Driving
Motorcyclists need to practice driving, and ride confidently and assertively, but not timidly or aggressively. An aggressive motorcyclist may lead others or ride alone in the left side of the lane to show dominance, while an assertive rider will follow newer riders to observe their skills and not lead them to ride at a faster pace than they can handle. An assertive rider practices defensive driving by using choosing his position in a lane (left, center, or right third of the lane) to help increase their visibility in traffic, while an aggressive driver often disregards lanes entirely.
Approximately 70% of motorcycle-vehicle accidents happen in and around intersections, so riders should watch for vehicles that may unexpectedly turn or pull out in front of them. When encountering obstructions such as shrubbery, parked vehicles, signs, and buildings, slow down and check rearview mirrors before changing lanes or stopping.
Courteous driving also helps keep motorcyclists safe and free from injury. Weaving in and out of traffic, riding on the shoulder of the road, and lingering in another motorist’s blind spot are all inconsiderate driving practices that can result in accidents.
According to Daniel R. Rosen, a Colorado attorney who’s been handling motorcycle accident cases for decades, “Motorcylists who consistently practice defensive driving protect themselves. They also set a positive example for everyone on the road. But, it’s important to remember that accidents can happen to anyone.”
4. Be Aware of Road Conditions
According to DMV.org, the most adverse weather conditions for a motorcyclist are rain, excessive heat, and extreme cold. If you must ride a motorcycle in these conditions, play it safe by taking a short break every few hours to avoid fatigue, slow down if visibility is poor; and when in the middle of a long trip, consider stopping for the night as opposed to continuing on, as operating a motorcycle at night can be challenging even under normal weather conditions.
When riding in the rain, a motorcyclist should aim for smooth control, be gentle with the brakes and throttle, and always complete a turn before beginning to accelerate. When riding in high heat, a motorcyclist should take care to stay hydrated, taking plenty of water breaks but avoiding soda, which will actually cause dehydration. Even though it may seem too hot for a lot of clothing, keeping your body as covered as possible will lower your risk of dehydration.
Although many people think of motorcycling as a warm-weather activity, many riders take to the roads in cold weather as well. Dressing well is key to cold-weather riding, so take care to keep your hands, feet, and torso warm to keep your blood flowing. Wind-proof your body with a jacket that offers good insulation, such as one made from wool or Thinsulate™. If your bike doesn’t already have one, consider installing a windshield to block the wind as you ride.
5. Make Sure Your Motorcycle Is Well-Maintained
A motorcycle requires a high degree of maintenance, and part of the responsibility of owning one is either performing this maintenance or seeing that it gets done. The simple act of washing and detailing a motorcycle can reveal areas of concern, including loose components or parts that need to be replaced. Changing the oil regularly — every three months or 3,000 miles — will keep a motorcycle running smoothly.
Chain tension and lubrication is very important on a motorcycle. Chain tension is important because if the chain is too tight, undue wear of the chain and sprocket will occur; a chain that is too loose can grab, causing the motorcycle to break down. Many riders lubricate their chain before every ride, a good habit to get into.
And don’t forget your tires. Inspecting them and maintaining proper tire pressure is extremely important on a motorcycle. Always check tires when cold (before a ride) and add air as needed. According to DoItYourself.com, if you buy only one motorcycle-maintenance tool, it should be a good-quality air pressure gauge. The investment might save your life.
Combine all of these measures — proper training, protective clothing, defensive driving, attention to road conditions, and motorcycle maintenance — and you will dramatically increase your level of safety. Remember that safety is important every time you get on your motorcycle. Being proactive is a responsibility all motorcyclists share for safer streets. See you on the road!
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