10 Motorcycle Riding Safety Tips
“Ride safe” and “don’t die” are two common things you might hear when you’re heading out for a motorcycle ride. We know the risks and dangers of riding a motorcycle, but we do it anyway because we love it.
With that in mind, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t produce a list or three about motorcycle riding safety tips, including this one. Here are 10 general safety tips to follow for safer motorcycle riding.
Motorcycle Safety Tip #1: Wear a Helmet
Wearing a helmet will top most if not all of the motorcycle safety tips “listicles” you’ll come across. Helmets protect your entire head, and you’re more likely to survive a crash with one than without one. Having a helmet on during a crash reduces the amount of damage to your head and brain. And if you live in a state with lax or no helmet laws, check the stats on fatalities for riders wearing a helmet vs. not wearing one. Don’t let wanting to look cool or badass on a motorcycle keep you from wearing a helmet, because you won’t look either if you’re paralyzed or dead.
It doesn’t matter how short your ride or commute is, you’re safer with a helmet on, period. Always wear a full-face helmet. While an open-face helmet might be more your style and not feel as hot, you leave your face exposed to injury. If you must go with an open-faced or half helmet, at least wear glasses or goggles to protect your eyes.
Motorcycle Safety Tip #2: Gear Up
Beyond helmets, there’s more riding gear you should wear for safety. The reason an acronym like ATGATT exists is because it works. All that gear serves safety over style. Armored or reinforced jackets and shorts, gloves, suits, motorcycle boots, etc. protect you at any speed. And while looking cool in just a t-shirt, jeans and boots might be how you roll, you leave yourself exposed to all kinds of injuries, including but not limited to road rash. Protective safety gear you don’t want to spend money on because it cramps your style costs less than what the ER and future complications from injury will cost you.
At a bare minimum, wear pants and boots that go over the ankle and a long sleeve jacket with pads, plus gloves and a solid helmet. Don’t be the “squid” beach biker who rides in flip-flops and a tank-top. Dress in layers to adjust to any changing weather throughout the day. And while this might not be considered “gear”, keep a basic first-aid kit on your motorcycle that includes disinfecting wipes, bandages, hand sanitizer, gauze and adhesive tape.
Motorcycle Safety Tip #3: Stay Sober
No motorcycle safety tips list is complete without this entry. Alcohol and motorcycle just don’t mix, period. It’s common knowledge that operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol is a major contributor to motorcycle accidents, yet people still keep doing it. Safe riding requires the highest level of sensory awareness, and there’s no room for error, impaired judgement or delayed response times that the influence of alcohol affect. The more alcohol you consume, the higher your chances of a fatal crash. How many fatal accidents could’ve been prevented if alcohol wasn’t involved?
It doesn't matter if you don’t feel drunk, mixing alcohol with motorcycle riding is just poor and potentially fatal judgement. Never ride when you’re intoxicated. However, if you get on the bike because you felt fine but then start feeling impaired while riding, pull over, eat and rest before riding again. Or better yet, call up a friend with a truck or a rideshare service that can transport you and your motorcycle home.
Motorcycle Safety Tip #4: Mind Your Surroundings
Pay attention not just to the road you’re riding on, but everything on and around it. That includes pot holes, puddles and especially cars. Be cognizant of the traffic for the time of day and type of road you’re going to be on. During rush hour, for example, motorists are likely to be tired from work and distracted. And let’s not forget the dummies that text and drive or change their music without watching the road. Not everybody knows how to drive safely around motorcyclists, not to mention the [expletive] tailgaters more concerned with going fast than with your safety. Also, don’t be the [expletive] tailgater yourself. Leave plenty of room between you and the vehicles in front of and behind you.
Use your mirrors, and keep your head and eyes up at all times. Turn and look over your shoulder before you change lanes to make sure you’re clear. Stay far away enough from the vehicle in front of you to allow you to stop quickly, and be aware of zones you can use to maneuver out of harm’s way. Obey traffic laws and use your signals. Watch for road hazards such as speed bumps and oil slicks, and drive defensively. Know your abilities and be familiar with your route. If you’re riding with a group, ride at your own comfort level, not theirs.
Motorcycle Safety Tip #5: Check the Weather
We can’t stress this enough: check the weather before you ride. There are countless apps and websites you can do this with. Whether it’s rain, fog, wind, ice or snow, bad weather can compromise your riding safety. Driving in these types of conditions is especially dangerous for bikers due to less traction and lower visibility. Bad weather? Live to ride another day by staying off the roads.
Weather can be unpredictable and prone to sudden change, so re-plan and reroute if needed. Check the forecast frequently and proceed accordingly. If you can anticipate bad weather, you can make safe decisions. Cancel a date or a camping trip if you need to. It’s worth it for your safety and your life. Lack of visibility due to something like fog or rain is a rider’s worst nightmare, so make sure your motorcycle’s lights all work before you ride. Speaking of lack of visibility …
Motorcycle Safety Tip #6: Be Visible
Never assume you’re visible to other drivers. Countless motorcycle accidents happen because other drivers didn’t see the rider. “I didn’t even see him/her” is the most common phrase a driver says after a collision with a motorcyclist. Because of a motorcyclist’s narrow presence, it’s easy to end up in a car’s blind spot.
Aside from avoiding blind spots, keep your bike’s headlights on even during the day. Also, wear bright, reflective gear and always use turn signals and hand signals. As mentioned earlier, always be aware of your surroundings and ride defensively. Assume at all times that nobody can see you, and do your best to predict other drivers’ behavior. Think fast, check your mirrors and again, use your lights!
Motorcycle Safety Tip #7: Do a Pre-Ride Inspection
Yeah, we get it, you’re anxious to get on your bike and ride, but don’t forget to inspect your motorcycle first. Do a pre-ride check, which only takes a handful of minutes, and the short time it takes to do it is more than worth it for your safety. Check to make sure all lights and signals work. Inspect the brakes, and check the fuel, oil, tire pressure, mirrors, handlebars and horn. Doing so greatly reduces the chances of running into unexpected problems. Give the bike a good once-over by walking around it and checking for stuff like leaks, loose parts and other potential hazards.
Sit on the bike and make sure it feels comfortable, and that something as simple as the chain slack or bike sag is correct. If something feels off, make adjustments. Check the clutch and brake levers to make sure they have the right amount of resistance, and don’t ride until they do. If the brakes feel worn, fix them before you ride.
Motorcycle Safety Tip #8: Get Some Rest
As already mentioned, motorcycle riding requires heightened awareness and concentration. How can you do that if you’re tired? Before you ride, make sure you’ve had a good night’s sleep. Falling asleep at the wheel is no joke, especially on a motorcycle, and you’re putting yourself and potentially others in danger if you’re drowsy and unfocused. Even when you’re well rested, you may get tired during a motorcycle ride, so take breaks, stay hydrated, take a nap if you need one and of course, don’t drink and drive.
Motorcycle Safety Tip #9: Ensure Passenger Safety
Having a friend or significant other riding with you is great, but you need to make sure you’re comfortable riding with a passenger. Also, make sure your passenger knows how to do their part to ensure a safe ride and is wearing the proper gear mentioned above. Your passenger also needs to know hand signals and what to do when you turn corners or need to stop. Before taking on a passenger, take a test run together in a safe, open area like an empty parking lot.
Motorcycle Safety Tip #10: Get Rider Education Training
Rider education should be ongoing, not just one-and-done. Motorcycle safety courses teach you things like the riding rules, collision prevention maneuvers, advanced turning, and control and braking techniques. A motorcycle rider education course also helps you practice good judgment, and covers most if not all of what we covered on this list.
A lack of education, especially from newbie riders, is a recipe for disaster. But even motorcyclists who consider themselves seasoned pros should still continue their education. Rider education courses such as the one given by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation are worth the price of admission in exchange for becoming a safe and responsible rider.