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Motorcycle Safety

Motorcycles are enjoyable and efficient. Ridden properly, they're safe, too. Follow these simple safety tips, and you and your bike will have years of fun—with your loved ones' blessing!

Photo by Getty Images/Shalom Ormsby

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

It's really just common sense

Few things in life are more exhilarating than mounting your bike and hitting the road. And more motorcyclists are hitting the road than ever before. Whether you're a lifelong rider or a first-timer, you need the most up-to-date safe-riding information. So we consulted a motorcycle safety expert at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. He presented us with the six most important tips to ensure you reach your destination safely.

Take a motorcycle safety training course

If you've been riding for a long time, we know you're groaning right about now. You think you already know how to ride safely. After all, you're alive—doesn't that prove you're a good rider? Well, think again.

We talked to several longtime bike riders who never gave a thought to taking a safety course until they realized they could qualify for an insurance discount (usually about 10 percent savings). Without exception, the riders told us they were shocked at how much they learned, and they swear the course made them better, safer riders. In fact, some even signed up for the advanced courses.

The Basic Rider Course includes about five hours of classroom and 10 hours of on-the-bike training. The course instructors are certified Motorcycle Safety Foundation RiderCoaches who have undergone extensive training to teach crash-avoidance techniques to riders of all levels.

Still reluctant to sign up? Consider this: Statistics show that course graduates are involved in fewer crashes, and more often walk away from crashes, than riders who have never taken a course. That's why insurance companies offer a discount, which usually offsets most of the cost of the course. But don't take the classes just for the discount—take them to keep you and your passengers safe.

Good riding gear gives you<br/> comfortable confidence.

Good riding gear gives you
comfortable confidence.

A good helmet is one you want to wear.

A good helmet is one you want to wear.

Ride with the Right Gear

Let's get this straight right from the get-go: If you wear tennis shoes, shorts and a T-shirt and get into a crash, you'll be ground up like a piece of balsa wood on a belt sander. That's not opinion: It's fact. The proper safety gear includes gloves, boots, helmet and motorcycle outerwear with body armor (see photo). It's simple. Riders who dress in safety gear survive crashes with fewer injuries than those who don't.

Regardless of helmet laws, all the experts recommend donning a full-face, DOT-certified helmet before you get on a bike. Studies prove that motorcyclists who wear safety-certified helmets are far more likely to survive a crash. Helmet wearers also suffer fewer injuries and are less likely to incur long-term or permanent disabilities from head or neck injuries. You can buy a helmet certified by the Department of Transportation for under a C-note, or spend large for an ultralight carbon fiber unit. Spending more usually gets you a lighter helmet that fits better, is more comfortable and offers more features.

Adjust for wet conditions

Wet roads pose two additional risks—oil slicks and hydroplaning. Oil slicks develop in the early stages of a rainfall. Heavier rain usually washes the oil off the road. But until that happens, always exercise extra caution.

Wet conditions also increase your chances of hydroplaning (skimming over the water surface with no road contact). To increase traction, ride in the drier tire tracks of the vehicle in front of you.

More than 50 percent of all fatalities are single-
vehicle crashes in which the bike leaves
the roadway—hitting a post, guardrail, tree, etc.
Your tires are the only things connecting
you to the road. It's obvious: Don't ride on worn tires.

To avoid uneven tire wear—and maintain maximum
contact with the road—keep your tires properly
inflated.

Maintain Your Tires

Tire pressure and good tread are critical to proper handling, especially during crash avoidance maneuvers. Even a small change in pressure can dramatically affect how the bike handles during braking and turns. So experts recommend checking pressure every time you go out for a ride. Consult the owner's manual or the tire pressure decal on the bike. Also, adjust tire pressure accordingly if you’re riding with a passenger.

Pay attention to the condition of the tires (see photo). Check the wear bar depth and check for age/heat-related cracks.

Adjust the suspension when carrying passengers

Adding a passenger changes how the bike handles. It's important to adjust the bike's suspension accordingly; just follow the procedure in the owner's manual. And remember to check your tire pressure since most manufacturers recommend a slight increase in pressure because of the additional weight.

Use your front and rear brakes every time you brake

Some riders avoid using the front brake for fear of flipping the bike or skidding the front wheel. But your front brake provides the majority of your stopping power. When you apply a vehicle's brakes, its weight shifts forward. If more weight is on the front tire of your bike than the back, it stands to reason that your front brake would be more effective.

If you don't routinely use your front brake, you won't think to use it in an emergency. Studies show that you're much better off generating maximum braking with both brakes, so practice quick stopping with both brakes often, and use them both every time you stop.

Additional Information

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

Tire air-pressure gauge

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

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