Preparing For the Ride: A Guide to Road Safety for Motorcyclists
Motorcyclists are at an increased risk of injury or death compared to drivers and passengers in sedans and SUVs. In 2019, motorcyclists were nearly 29 times more likely than car drivers or passengers to die in a crash per vehicle mile and four times as likely to be injured.
Basic safety practices can help you avoid hurting yourself and accidents, as well as having proper motorcycle insurance coverage plans.
How to Stay Safe on the Road as a Motorcyclist
Motorcyclists frequently end up in the blind spots of drivers, while drivers unintentionally hit riders as they make a turn or pull out of a driveway. Good practices can help you avoid accidents and injuries.
Best Practices When Riding
Road conditions, weather, and reckless driving all cause hazards. Taking a moment to prepare with the proper gear, awareness, and equipment can help you avoid a bad situation.
Wear a helmet
The best helmet is a DOT-approved full-face helmet with a polycarbonate or carbon fiber shell. Ventilated helmets also allow air to circulate and keep you cool in hot weather.
Check your tire pressure
A too-soft tire can unseat itself from the wheel bead and blow out. A too-hard tire won't have a proper grip on the road. Even a 2-pound difference can be a problem on some bikes, so check your pressure before every ride.
Check your tire tread
Your tread depth affects your tires' ability to grip the road and drive on wet surfaces. Like car tires, bald bike tires can cause you to slip and skid at the worst possible moment.
Check your chain tension
If your chain gets too loose, your rear wheel could lock up and put you onto the pavement. If it’s too tight, it will stress several components of your bike, make the engine work harder, and potentially even snap.
Wear a leather jacket with pockets for armor
A regular leather jacket won’t do because you need impact protection around the elbows, shoulders and even the ribs and torso. Look for full leather in the winter and perforated leather in summer.
Get good pants
If you make contact with the pavement, you're likely to hit your elbows, hips, and/or knees, plus you're probably going to slide. Regular jeans won't protect you, which is why you need leather pants with the same armor pockets as your leather jacket.
Wear good gloves
There are a number of different glove materials available, although leather is a popular choice. Most gloves have a leather palm. Ventilated gloves can keep you cool in the summer, while Kevlar guards over the knuckles can be good in case you slide on the ground palms-up.
Use rear-view mirrors
Even when you're stopped at an intersection, make sure the people behind you are aware of you. You never know when a driver will not be paying attention.
Don't start riding immediately after an accident
With any crash, shock can overcome your system. If you're on the ground, make sure you're safe, then take a few minutes and assess your body and any pains before you get up. You may not be aware you're actively bleeding, have a broken bone or are badly injured.
Thirty-one states require a motorcycle rider safety course to be made before a rider gets a motorcycle license or an endorsement on their driver's license. Other states only require riders to have a valid driver's license to operate a motorcycle.
Determine the requirements in your state
Depending on where you live, the requirements may vary. The Motorcycle Legal Foundation provides a state-by-state guide on relevant laws.
Enroll in a course
Whether it's the course offered by your state's police department, highway patrol, the Department of Motor Vehicles or even certain colleges and universities in your area, there's an opportunity for everyone to learn motorcycle safety.
Before you hit the roads at high speed, take a spin to practice how to drive defensively and do basic maintenance safety checks.
Below are some resources to help you find motorcycle safety courses:
- Total Control's Beginner Riding Clinic: The Total Control clinic is available in California, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Colorado and Texas. The clinic includes five hours of classroom time and 10 hours of riding time, in addition to intermediate and advanced riding clinics.
- Harley-Davidson's Motorcycles for Beginners: America's motorcycle company will teach you to ride, well, America's motorcycle. You'll take an e-course, some in-class time, and two days on the closed riding course they call The Range.
- Blue Ridge Community College: Many colleges like Blue Ridge have motorcycle rider safety courses. Basic Rider Courses include a day of classroom instruction and two days of closed-course riding. Google community colleges to find a course near you.
- Find a dealer: Motorcycle enthusiasts know the routes, the gear and the best ways to stay safe. Call your local dealer and ask them to recommend their favorite rider education courses.
Purchasing Appropriate Riding Gear
The right motorcycle riding gear can prevent injuries. Look for a good full-face helmet, a leather jacket with pockets for elbow and shoulder guards, leather pants with guards for hips and knees, leather boots and riding gloves.
$250 – $650, or up to $4,000
A full-face helmet covers your entire head and face and has a clear or tinted face shield.
$90 – $400
A ¾ helmet covers your head and ears but leaves your face and chin open. You can get a ¾ helmet with a face shield.
$100 - $400
A good leather jacket has pockets on the shoulders, elbows and torso for impact protection.
$100 - $400
Just like a jacket, riding pants should come with pockets on knees and hips for impact.
$130 – $360
Boots can protect your ankles and toes during skids.
$30 - $100
Gloves can protect your hands during a crash. Make sure you have knuckle guards in case you land or slide palm-up.
Protect Yourself With Insurance: Finding the Right Coverage
Insurance is a requirement for riders who own or operate a motorcycle. The average rate for full coverage motorcycle insurance is $364 per year, but prices can vary. You can find affordable full coverage options. It helps to shop around and compare quotes.
Knowing What to Purchase
In most states, you will need at least $25,000 in bodily injury protection per person and $50,000 per accident, plus $10,000 in property damage. In states such as Florida, the minimums are $10,000 in bodily injury, $20,000 per accident and $10,000 in property damage.
Due to the hazards of motorcycle riding, it’s strongly suggested to carry more than the minimum motorcycle insurance coverage. If you end up in an accident with a high-priced Mercedes or BMW, for example, a policy that covers $10,000 in property damage will still leave you on the line.
Remember that your automobile insurance policy does not cover your motorcycle. Insurers like Progressive have been found to offer some of the cheapest motorcycle insurance, although you should also look for state-specific quotes.
How to Handle an Accident
Being involved in a motorcycle accident can be scary. When you have spilled onto the pavement, you will most likely feel vulnerable and shaken. If you can pick yourself up and are conscious, take the following steps.
Assuming you're not in any immediate danger, lay down and assess your body. Move the fingers on your hand to see if they hurt. Then move to your wrist, your elbows and your shoulders. Repeat this with your legs, toes, ankles, knees and hips. If you have any injuries, even seemingly minor ones, call for an ambulance.
If you're not obviously injured, you may be inclined to hop up and get back on the bike. Don't do so. You may be in shock or running on high adrenaline after the accident, which can mask the pain. Move your motorcycle to a safe place and sit down for several minutes to calm down.
Even if you are involved in a solo accident, take photos of everything, including the bike, your injuries, the road and the terrain. If another car is involved, take photos of the vehicle, the damage sustained, the other driver and their license plate.
Just as you would if involved in a regular car accident, get the contact information and insurance information of anyone else involved in the accident.
Call the police
You may assume an accident is minor if it causes minimal damage. Play it safe, and call the police so you have a report for your insurer.
Maintaining Your Motorcycle
Properly maintaining your motorcycle can save your life. At the very least, it can affect your enjoyment of the machine and its longevity. For example, tires that are under inflated can run hot, wear out faster and mess with the handling of your bike. A chain that's too tight can shorten the life of your sprockets but also reduce the performance of the engine.
Tips for motorcycle maintenance
Know the basics: It's important to at least have a basic understanding of how your motorcycle works. The more you know, the better you can assess wear and tear on your machine.
Find a mechanic: Look for someone you trust and work with them regularly. Even if you know how to check your tire pressure and chain tightness, it can still be good to get an expert opinion.
Clean your bike: Good upkeep can prolong the life of your bike. Care for your bike using a soft sponge or cloth, and start with the chain.
Check Your Bike Regularly
A motorcycle has many moving parts, but malfunctioning items can affect your bike’s performance — or worse, cause serious damage. Costs may vary depending on where you live, the type of motorcycle you have and even the quality of work that a motorcycle mechanic can provide.
When to Replace
Average Replacement Cost
Check the pressure each time you ride. Look for wear indicators, dryness and cracking.
Based on normal riding or when tread reaches 2/32 of an inch or five years of age/use.
$150–$300 per set
Check for tightness or looseness. Do all links move?
Based on wear — anywhere from 5,000 — 30,000 miles. Change your front and rear sprocket, too.
Does your battery have and take a full charge?
Every 3–5 years
Check pads and cables for wear and rotors for warping
Check at every oil change. Replacement depends on riding style.
$30–$50 for pads, $200–$600 for rotors
Oil and oil filter
Check for low oil and change the filter when needed.
Every 5,000–6,000 miles or once a year. Change filter every 2,000–3,000 miles.
$40–$50 for oil, $20 for filter
Expert Insight on Motorcycle Safety
MoneyGeek reached out to a few motorcycle experts to provide safety advice and insurance tips for both new and old riders as they navigate the road.
- What is the number one safety tip you would recommend for all riders?
- What’s another important piece of gear riders should have besides helmets?
- What kind of insurance do you recommend?
Founder of MyTicketToRide
Sergeant and Public Information Officer of the Indiana State Police Pendleton District
Director of Training at American Road Group
Trial Attorney and Founder of AGH Law in Miami
Additional Resources for Motorcycle Safety
A variety of resources can help you learn more about motorcycle riding, safety and tours.
- The Motorcycle Safety Foundation: As the biggest provider of motorcycle safety courses in the country, most states use MSF content for their basic rider safety courses. Over 32 different courses are available for riders of all skill levels.
- Motorcycles: A not-for-profit organization runs this webpage to further the growth of the smart enjoyment of powersports products. The resource offers articles on rider safety, equipment, machine operation, training and gear.
- National Highway Transit Safety Administration: The administration offers a general overview of motorcycle safety, in addition to helmet basics, including which helmets fit properly and have proper safety ratings.
- Motorcycle Training Academy: The academy offers articles on different aspects of motorcycle safety and awareness, in addition to riding tips and buying motorcycles.
- American Motorcyclist Association: With more than 200,000 members, the association seeks "to promote the motorcycling lifestyle and protect the future of motorcycling." It also offers motorcycle data and discounts, events, and trail information.
- Rider Magazine: The website and print publication feature road tests, travel stories, product reviews, industry news, tech help and stories, in addition to an e-newsletter for women riders.
- RoadRunner Motorcycle Magazine: This magazine offers product reviews, travel stories and tours, and industry news. The magazine is available online and in print.
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