9 motorcycle safety tips for new riders
6 September 2019
Anyone who’s ever ridden on a motorcycle knows that it’s not just a lot more fun than driving, it’s also far more fuel-efficient. That means you get to save money while helping to keep the environment safer.
Unfortunately, it also comes at a price. Riding a motorcycle is far more dangerous than driving a car. Two wheels are less stable than four, and a car provides a lot of physical protection from any impact in the event of an accident. Motorcycles, on the other hand, largely leave riders exposed, meaning that any kind of accident is much more likely to cause injury.
To minimise the risks that come with riding your new motorcycle, it’s important for riders to take their own safety very seriously, and to take appropriate precautions.
Here are 9 important safety tips to ensure that you only experience the upsides of riding your bike.
1. Wear appropriate safety gear
In warm weather, it’s particularly common for younger or less experienced drivers to leave off important safety gear for the sake of comfort, convenience, or aesthetics.
While riders are legally required to wear helmets in New Zealand, which largely keeps people from making themselves vulnerable to head injuries, other protective gear is also critically important to prevent serious injury in the event of even minor accidents.
Any accident that can unseat a rider can also cause serious abrasions, bruising, lacerations, and broken bones. While a helmet can protect you from suffering brain damage, it’s also important to wear proper eye protection, and durable, protective clothing that covers any exposed skin. Hands, feet, and joints such as ankles, knees, and elbows are particularly vulnerable.
2. Ride more defensively than when driving a car
It’s common for new riders to not be used to the fact that they’re not driving a car. It’s important to understand that motorcyclists need to interact with traffic differently than drivers. Drivers often fail to notice motorcyclists or don’t know how to safely drive in the immediate vicinity of a motorcyclist.
To stay safe, a motorcyclist needs to ride very defensively, developing good awareness of what’s around them, and adapting quickly to changing conditions. Sometimes that means simply paying attention to your surroundings, and other times it might mean surrendering the right of way to an aggressive driver, or braking to avoid a car that’s merging into your lane because the driver didn’t see you.
3. Always ride sober
Driving and riding under the influence of drugs or alcohol is illegal and dangerous under any circumstances. On a motorcycle, that danger is even more serious. Many drivers get behind the wheel or on their bike thinking that a little buzz won’t impair them too much. That’s untrue even in a car, but it’s especially wrong on a motorcycle.
Motorcycles require more awareness and motor control, faster reaction times, and better balance than cars do. Because of this, it’s a good idea to stick to a taxi or an unimpaired friend for a ride on a night out, rather than to risk it on your bike.
4. Maintain awareness of the state of your motorcycle
Motorcycles have a lot of moving parts and require quite a bit of maintenance to keep them in top shape. Travelling at 100 km/h down the highway is the wrong place and time to discover that your brakes are dodgy.
Motorcycles can get damaged through normal use, but also while parked, particularly during cold weather. Because of this, riders need to always know what state of repair their bike is in.
Motorcyclists should make a habit of testing brakes, and making sure that the clutch and throttle are working normally whenever they get underway.
Any irregularity should be looked at more closely immediately. This ensures that your motorcycle’s most critical systems are always working when you need them and that you almost never have to face breakdowns or worse while you’re riding.
5. Keep your motorcycle covered
The winter months are tough on motorcycles that are exposed to the elements. Direct sun exposure and temperature changes can damage seats, and salts from de-icing can cause and accelerate rust.
If parked near the road, dust and grit can work their way into the bike, and accelerate wear if it isn’t cleaned properly first. This, in turn, can lead to a range of safety issues. Wheel spokes, in particular, are vulnerable to rust damage, which can weaken the structural integrity of the wheels themselves.
Because of this, it’s best to store your motorcycle indoors in a dry place or to cover it if that isn’t an option. Even a covered motorcycle might rust in humid environments, so riders should still carefully check for any damage when getting ready to ride in spring.
6. Stand out as much as possible
Black and brown motorcycles and safety gear are very popular among riders, but they aren’t a good safety option. Motorcyclists often aren’t noticed by drivers on the road, despite reflective strips and lights.
To increase visibility, it’s important to emphasise your presence and draw attention as much as possible. A good way to do that is to choose bright colours when it comes to helmets, your motorcycle, and riding leathers.
7. Maintain plenty of space between riders
Groups of motorcyclists in the movies always ride in a tight pack. In the real world, it’s critical to maintain a safe distance between bikes.
The 2-second rule we all learned when driving a car also applies between motorcycles. This allows everyone the room they need to manoeuvre and respond to traffic safely. Most importantly, it means that if one rider is involved in an accident, the others will have time to respond.
8. Always have an escape route
Even when they’re doing everything they can to be noticed, motorcyclists will still seem invisible to some drivers who can’t see them, or simply aren’t paying attention. Motorcyclists need to be prepared for this at all times and identify possible escape routes for any given situations.
Train yourself to be aware of any other lanes or wide shoulders you could pull onto, and whether the terrain off-road is accessible and even enough for an emergency manoeuvre.
9. Avoid riding at night
Riding at night greatly increases your risk of getting into an accident because of several compounding factors. People who ride at night often do so when travelling long-distance, leading them to ride tired at a time when they would typically be in bed anyway.
Additionally, animal activity is greatest at night, and at dawn and dusk, which greatly increases the risk of a collision. Combined with the low nighttime visibility, this is a recipe for disaster.
Riding shorter distances at night in a well-lit city is, of course, a different experience altogether. For those of us travelling longer distances, though, it’s best to simply avoid getting on a motorcycle after sundown.
Few things are as exciting as getting on your bike and opening up the throttle on an open highway. By following these tips, and getting educated about proper motorcycle safety, you can have all the fun that comes with riding, without putting yourself at any undue risk.