No one can dispute the romance of riding a motorcycle. The open air, the growling throttle, and the ballet of leaning from side to side to bank around curves all make it a mode of transportation in a class of its own. But these thrills are connected to another aspect of driving a bike: the danger. Motorcycle drivers are utterly unprotected from the whims of weather, the distractions of drivers, and the punishments of pavement. Fortunately, you can reduce the risks of injury with three simple steps. Here are the ABCs of motorcycle safety.
A – Air, Always
A motorcycle is essentially a seat, a steering column, a motor, and two wheels. When you realize this, you cannot escape the conclusion that caring properly for your tires is essential. Each and every time you go to get on your bike, you should ensure that the tires are properly inflated. The classic approach is to give a stiff kick to each tire before you mount, listening for a satisfying rubber drum sound.
A better practice is to kneel down – c’mon, work those joints before settling in for a long sit! – and thump the tires with your hand while your ear leans in toward the wheel. Do you hear the hiss of escaping air? Can you see any obvious risks of puncture, such as a nail or screw stuck partway into the tire or debris caught up in the wheel well? If so, it’s better to address it now than a few miles down the highway when that impaled object works its way out, or causes a catastrophic rupture.
Even if your tire is losing pressure due to a slow leak, it’s better to top it off with more air before you set out. An under-inflated tire makes it harder to steer nimbly, reducing handling that is precious in an emergency. (It also degrades your gas mileage, if that’s important to you.) Also, the tire will flatten out more when you drive, exposing more of the surface to the road and to risk of puncture. In extreme cases, riding on a low tire can damage the side walls of the tire, making repair harder and increasing the risk of a catastrophic failure.
The letter A in the ABCs of motorcycle safety is Air, Always.
B – Bike Breakdown
One of the reasons we love motorcycles is that they are so spare and utilitarian. There are no seat warmers or cup holders or fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror. Every part of the bike has a purpose, like the sailors on a battleship or the players on a football field. Before big trips, and at least once every month, give your bike’s hardware a good once-over.
Are both turn signals working? Do the brake lights work? Are the mirrors and headlights clean? Is the drive chain or belt properly lubricated? With the engine off and the brakes engaged, can you get the tires to rotate at all just by pushing? And give those tires a good look, for the reasons discussed above. This whole end-to-end inspection might take ten minutes once a month, and it will be easier the more often you do it. It’s a small investment to keep your favorite machine humming safely.
The letter B in the ABCs of motorcycle safety is Bike Breakdown.
C – Clothes Consciousness
Motorcycle fashion is a big part of the culture. From the iconic leather chaps and bandana to the “If you can read this…” T-shirt, there’s plenty to celebrate about the colorful tastes of riders. But don’t get so swept up in managing your image that you forget about your wellness. Maybe helmets are “not cool”…until you don’t have yours on during a serious crash. Don’t rely on a pair of aviators to fight off sun glare and keep debris from your face – a full-shell helmet with visor is best. Casual dress may signal “I’m a free spirit,” but it also says, “I’m eager for injury.” A Las Vegas man was killed in a recent motorcycle accident after his sweater (or some other article of clothing) became wrapped up in his wheel, locking it and ejecting him from the bike. Dressing in full leathers may seem like a burden or a fashion statement that doesn’t work for you, but it’s your best protection against the incalculable pain of road rash. (There are breathable products for summer riding, if you’re worried about over-heating under twenty pounds of leather.)
But this doesn’t mean that you have to be dressed in black from your shiny helmet to your ankle protectors. Vests, helmet wraps, and a variety of riding-specific accessories can distinguish your “look’ from the rest of the crowd and increase your visibility to those car drivers who seem perpetually blind to motorcyclists. One of the strongest pieces of evidence in car versus motorcycle injury lawsuits is proof that the biker was wearing appropriate, visible safety gear.
The C in the ABCs of motorcycle safety is Clothing Consciousness.
Follow these three simple steps and in a short time they will become automatic, protecting you for a long and joyous riding career.