When you think of health issues, certain things come to mind. You might think about healthy diets, exercise, or quitting smoking. It might not occur to you to think of motorcycle safety. But very few things are as devastating to your health as a serious injury.
In a car, you have a steel cage surrounding you, one that has been designed and redesigned by engineers for decades. Car rider safety has improved by leaps and bounds since the days of the Model T. In all that time, motorcycles have not benefitted from those innovations. They are also less visible and less stable, since they have two wheels instead of four.
If you are going to operate a motorcycle, and will not be talked out of it, you can at least lower your odds of being in an accident. And you can wear the right gear to protect yourself if you are in an accident.
Your first step should be to take a course from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF). Whether you are a new or experienced rider, the course will help you take your riding skills and knowledge to a higher level. In just two weekends, you’ll learn much more than I can summarize here. As an added bonus, most riders will get a break on their motorcycle insurance costs once they are certified.
Here are some basic safety tips:
- Always wear a helmet, preferably a full-face helmet. In order to be street-legal in states that require a helmet, it should have a Department of Transportation (DOT) sticker on the back. For even further protection, look for a helmet that has a Snell sticker. The Snell Foundation certifies helmets after rigorous testing, and has even higher safety standards than the DOT.
- If your helmet does not have a face shield, at least wear eye protection. Goggles are good. When you are going 50 miles an hour, dust, dirt, debris, or even a bug can blind you.
- Wear as much leather as is practical. Some synthetic riding materials (like Kevlar) are very good, and may be cooler on hot, sunny days, but leather is always resistant to scrapes and burns.
- Wear gloves, preferably leather. Riding gloves are made to be “pre-curved” like the shape of your hand. Many have armor to protect the wrists and knuckles.
- Don’t skimp on footwear. Leather boots are good, and it is best if they are taller than your ankle. Wearing skimpy shoes, like flip-flops or low sneakers, is irresponsible.
- Protect your legs. Your legs are vulnerable to scrapes and road rash in even the most minor accidents. It’s also very easy to burn your legs on the engine or exhaust pipes without even having a crash. Riding pants are sometimes armored at the knees or tailbone. Try leather pants, or leather chaps to go over your pants. At the very least, wear jeans or other pants made of natural materials. Polyester pants can melt to the touch. Do not ride while wearing shorts.
- Don’t ride when you can’t concentrate. Operating a motorcycle requires your full attention. Reconsider riding if you are stressed or consumed by your troubles. Ill-fitting or uncomfortable gear is also distracting.
- Don’t drink alcohol and ride. This should go without saying, and is redundant to the point above. But it must be said.
- Ride defensively. I personally take the philosophy of “defensive driving” to another level when I’m on a motorcycle. I pretend that all of the other drivers are trying to kill me, and they are trying to make it look like an accident. That approach serves me well.