There are a lot of ways to become a safer rider. There a lot of ways to reduce risk while riding. These may not be the most important, but here are the five I’d be most likely to pontificate on if I was up on my soap box, preaching the safety sermon, as I’m apt to do . . .
5. Check Your Lights!
While you’re riding, it can be hard (or even impossible) to tell whether or not your lights are working. How many times have you seen another rider zoom past you with their headlight out? You try to signal them, but you’re pretty sure they didn’t notice, or didn’t understand.
Conventional wisdom says to do a pre-ride inspection every time you get on your motorcycle, including checking:
- Headlight (high and low beams),
- Brake lights,
- Tire pressure.
This is a great idea, but for a lot of us, every time not all that practical. We’re just too busy (or too lazy.) And so we check these things, well, pretty much never. I found myself guilty of this, so now, I make it a once-per-week ritual for all of my street-legal bikes. Lights, tire pressure, and fluid levels. Every other weekend, I lube my chains, too.
If like me, there is no way you will do a pre-ride inspection every time you ride, make it a weekly ritual!
4. Always Wear a Helmet (And Other Protective Gear)
Personally, I am not a full-blown ATGATT (all the gear, all the time) guy. I wish I was, but I’m not. I have a lot of excuses for this. I ride every day, I’m going to the office, I don’t really want to rock leathers on the street, I don’t have (or like wearing) kevlar jeans, etc., etc., etc.
The truth is, putting on and lugging around protective gear is a bit inconvenient. But it really really does save lives. Some folks say “Helmet laws suck.” I say “brain trauma sucks.” A whole lot worse than wearing a helmet.
You can be the safest rider in the world, but the statistical fact is, if you ride long enough, you will get hit. You just don’t know when. And unfortunately, no one is going to send you a memo the day before it happens. So the question is, how much protection do you want to have when that day comes?
I may not be ATGATT, but I never ride without gloves, boots, and a jacket with pads, including a Level 2 back protector. And of course, most importantly, a quality DOT helmet. (Incidentally, if my brother tells you tales of me riding helmetless throughout those tempting, wide-open western states, he’s obviously lying.)
3. Assume You Are Invisible
Long, long ago, in the days before cellular phones, this was really really good advice. Now that everyone is on their iPhone, it’s gospel. Car drivers are not looking for motorcycles. They are looking for other cars. AT BEST. Often, they are not looking at all, because the driver is too busy texting.
If you assume you are invisible to car drivers, you’ll be right more often than you want to know. Be ready. Be ready for cars to pull out in front of you, cut you off, merge into you, and turn left in front of you. All while instagraming the #hilarious license plate they just saw.
2. Ride With Your High Beam On
Now, this tip may be slightly controversial. It may not be legal in some states. But I don’t care, I’d rather risk a ticket than a collision. So I’m riding with my high beam on all the time during daylight hours. (Not at night, for reasons that should be obvious.) But at all daylight hours, I leave my high beam on.
Tip #3 says assume you are invisible — Tip #4 makes you slightly less so. By far, the most common collision between motorcyclists and automobile drivers involves the motorcyclist is proceeding straight, and the car driver making a left turn in front of them.
After the collision, the car driver will invariably say, “I didn’t see them!”
In these situations, it is almost always the car’s fault. But that fact won’t put you back together after an accident. Avoid the accident by being as visible as possible at all times. Riding with your high beam on makes it far more likely that you will be seen.
1. Take an MSF Course!!!
The most common excuse I hear for refusing to take a Motorcycle Safety Course is that “I’ve been riding too long and I’d find it boring.” Usually, the gentleman who thinks he’s been riding “too long” has been riding for less than two years. Well, I’ve taken the MSF Course four times in the last 25 years. Why? The last three times were to bully my friends into taking it. Yeah, most of my friends have argued that they are too advanced for it, too. But it’s a tough argument to win when you are talking to a guy who’s been riding for more than two decades — and who really does ride almost every day.
Yeah, it’s a little basic, but basics are important! And you know what’s a lot more boring than two weekends riding motorcycles in a parking lot? Three months laid up in bed watching reruns on Netflix because of an avoidable accident. Take an MSF Class. Those classes save lives every single day.
And, as if saving your skin isn’t enough, it can also save you money on insurance premiums, and a lot of motorcycle manufacturers will reimburse your MSF fees when you buy a new bike.