The following question was recently asked on Quora.com and we thought we’d add our 2 cents to some already good answers…
Let’s start with some basics – I don’t believe that motorcycles are any more likely to be involved in a wreck than any other vehicle. Truth be told, I think bikers are less likely to be involved in an accident because we know that any accident can be fatal. Of course, the smartest place for a new rider to start is to know how to ride – either a safety course from a dealership, a mentor who can show you the ropes, or just using common sense and asking questions.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, how do you keep the shiny side up? After two decades on a bike, I’ve got some opinions:
- Wear some armor. For the cruiser set, this invariably means black leather and for the crotch-rocket guys, this means everything from Kevlar and Cordura to brightly hued leather in every color of the rainbow. The end result is the same – if you hit the pavement at any speed, your clothing gets torn up, not you. “Road rash” is not fun to look at, much less experience. This also extends to helmets and gloves, but everybody has an opinion on them. Mine is simply to make sure that you have great ones. Bear in mind that riding boots are meant to do this too – so ditch the wingtips that you wear to the office and get high quality boots. Anybody wearing flip flops on a bike should be locked in the trunk of a Honda.
- Keep your head on a swivel. About a hundred years ago, my high school football coach taught me to constantly be on the lookout for chances to level players on the opposite team. He termed it “head on a swivel” and the idea is that you were always looking around you to see what the other team was doing and to keep you from getting waylaid by them. It’s the same on a bike – you need to constantly be observing traffic on the road – is somebody merging with no blinker? Are they trying to eat lunch and talk on the phone while steering with their legs? Are they going far above or below the posted speed limit? Are you?
- Weather the storm. Don’t try to prove your testicular fortitude by riding in inclement weather. Remember, you only have two tires on the ground, and effectively one brake. Anything that reduces your ability to observe your surroundings (rain, wind, poor lighting, etc…) can be catastrophic. If you have to ride at night, see my next point.
- Pick your route carefully. Most of us as bikers like the idea of being “in” the place we’re riding rather than observing it through the windows of the car. The easy answer to picking your route carefully is to stay off the interstate and stick to the backroads and highways. Not so fast – I can’t count the number of times that I have been bounced around by frost heave or potholes that I didn’t see until the last second – and if I hadn’t really been focused, it could have been disastrous. Being off the beaten path also means you may have to deal with wildlife – and even though it’s funny to me now, pegging a Blue Jay at 55 miles per hour was a truly painful experience for me as a young rider – and damn near knocked me off the bike. I wore a bird-shaped bruise on my chest for three weeks and picked feathers out of my jacket for months afterwards.
- Keep your nose clean. I shouldn’t even have to say this, but if you even think you should have a few beers (or anything else) and then take a ride, you should be in the trunk of that Honda I mentioned earlier. Any sort of distraction can cause issues, even listening to the radio, and if your sense of balance is the only thing keeping you and 800 pounds of bike upright, then you need all the help you can get. I don’t want you looking for the iPod buttons when you should be noticing the teen driver texting in the next lane.
Let’s face it, this isn’t rocket science, but a bike does demand more from a rider than a car. For many “average” riders, they simply don’t have the windshield time to know how to handle any given situation, so they need to be more focused on the task at hand. I could pilot my old Ford Police Interceptor past 110 mph in a pursuit, report on the radio, drink coffee and eat a pastry all at the same time. Motorcycles demand more and we have to give it to them or they can take everything away.