It’s that time of year, when motorcyclists are out and about in large groups. Many new and experienced bikers will be hitting the road heading for the famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (August 8-14, 2016). Motorcycles are a fun and fuel efficient way to get around in the summer. But the fact is that they’re way more dangerous than a car. The cold reality is that motorcyclists are 30 times more likely to die in a crash than people in a car, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). And nearly half of all motorcycle deaths are the result of single-vehicle crashes.
Still, many enthusiasts enjoy a lifetime of riding without injury. The key to optimizing your odds is to be prepared and avoid risks. Below are some tips to help you stay safe on two wheels.
Don’t buy more bike than you can handle.
If you’ve been off of motorcycles for awhile, you may be surprised by the performance of today’s bikes. Even models with small-displacement engines are notably faster and more powerful than they were 10 or 20 years ago.
Invest in antilock brakes.
Now available on a wide array of models, antilock brakes are a proven lifesaver. IIHS data shows that motorcycles equipped with ABS brakes were 37 percent less likely to be involved in a fatal crash than bikes without it.
Use your head.
Yes, helmets are an emotional topic for some riders. But the facts show the risk. Riders without a helmet are 40 percent more likely to suffer a fatal head injury in a crash and are three times more likely to suffer brain injuries, than those with helmets, according to government studies. A full-face helmet that’s approved by the Department of Transportation is the best choice.
Wear the right gear.
Jeans, a T-shirt, and sandals are recipes for a painful disaster on a bike. Instead, you want gear that will protect you from wind chill, flying bugs and debris, and, yes, lots of road rash if you should slide out. For maximum protection, go for a leather or other reinforced jacket, gloves, full pants, and over-the-ankle footwear, even in summer. Specially designed jackets with rugged padding and breathable mesh material provide protection as well as ventilation for riding in warm weather. You’ll also want effective eye protection; don’t rely on eyeglasses or a bike’s windscreen. Use a helmet visor or goggles. And keep in mind that car drivers who have hit a motorcycle rider often say they just didn’t see them, so choose gear in bright colors.
A recent study by the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research found that in collisions involving a motorcycle and a car, car drivers were at fault 60 percent of the time. So, you need to be extra alert, especially in this age of epidemic phone use and texting behind the wheel. Keep an eye out for cars suddenly changing lanes or pulling out from side streets. And don’t tailgate; keeping a safe following distance is critical, both to ensure you have enough stopping distance and so you have time to react to obstacles in the road.
Avoid bad weather.
Slippery conditions reduce your margin for error. Rain not only cuts your visibility but reduces your tires’ grip on the road, which can make cornering tricky. If you need to ride in the rain, remember that the most dangerous time is right after precipitation begins, as the water can cause oil residue to rise to the top. And avoid making sudden maneuvers. Be especially gentle with the brakes, throttle, and steering to avoid sliding.
Watch for road hazards.
A motorcycle has less contact with the pavement than a car. Sand, wet leaves, or pebbles can cause a bike to slide unexpectedly, easily resulting in a spill. Bumps and potholes that you might barely notice in a car can pose serious danger when on a bike. If you can’t avoid them, slow down as much as possible before encountering them, with minimal steering input.
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Information from ConsumerReports.org.