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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
And adding weight compresses your motorcycle's suspension. The amount of travel your suspension uses simply to support your bike and everything you pile onto it is called “dynamic sag.” The more dynamic sag you have, the less suspension travel you have left to absorb stuff while you're riding.
You can decrease dynamic sag by increasing suspension-component spring preload levels. In other words, if you're going to carry a passenger (and/or anything else, like luggage), bump up the preload on your shock(s) and forks. Check your owner’s manual; it'll give you suggested weight/preload settings. Super-cool bikes let you adjust compression and rebound damping, too.
Getty Images/Shalom Ormsby
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.