Safety Topics FAQ

Compiled by Winter #1935
Please read the Disclaimer before attempting any work in this FAQ.
Last Updated: 12 Feb 2007, by Winter #1935

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This FAQ contains comments by various people on the topic of safety. Keep in mind some comments are based on opinion, and may not be backed up by factual information. The FAQ also contains images and stories from first-hand experiences in accidents. Hopefully these will remind you of the importance of ATGATT (All the Gear, All The Time).

Training and Skills Practice
Words in a book or on the Internet are all well and good. However nothing beats a qualified motorcycle training course, and practice of the skills you learn in a controlled environment. In some places, it is not compulsory to undertake a training course - however it is still recommended you undertake a training course. Practice the skills you learn on a weekly or at least monthly basis. Because when you need those skills you will not have time to think about it.
In the forums you will often hear people talk about ATGATT, or All The Gear, All The Time. You are strongly encouraged to wear a protective helmet, jacket, pants, boots and gloves all the time. Even if it is just a quick trip around the block to test some maintenance you have just done. Remember, wearing ATGATT is not about preventing you from doing something stupid - it is about reducing the damage that could be done to you by someone elses stupidity.

New Riders Approach to Safe Riding

Soon after I decided to get a motorcycle endorsement, I started researching the risks. Between my surfing and the MSF class, I got introduced to a long list of risks involved in riding a motorcycle. I had also realized that many of the risks could be mitigated or avoided by carefully thinking through them and using an abundance of caution, preparation, and common sense.

My plan outlined in the rest of the article is for the novice rider. While the experienced rider may find a bit or two of useful tidbits, the plan will largely appear to be onerous. If you are an experienced rider reading this, read it from the perspective of a novice rider and add your wisdom to what has already been accrued here.

The article identifies the various risks and lays out a plan to mitigate or avoid the risk. Some of the information presented here, not surprisingly, is endlessly debated on motorcycling sites and every experienced rider has his/her own opinion. This article errs on the side of caution and safety. The last thing you want in a plan is a source of confusion.

A catalog of risks

In no specific order, here are the risk factors contributing to accidents:

Tackling the risks

Some of the risks are very well discussed and publicized. Some aren't. There is no point in discussing the well known risks in great detail. In such cases, such as the risk of riding while intoxicated, I will write very little.

Lack of training

Most states in the US have a MSF BRC (Basic Riding Course) program. The program does a great job of introducing a newbie to motorcycles. This is a starting point for training, not the end. When you leave the class after the second day, you will have a lot of information to work with and you are well prepared to train on your own. I strongly urge riders to be prepared to commence riding their motorcycle as soon as practical after the end of the MSF class. Strike the iron while it is hot. The longer you wait between the successful completion of the course and getting to know your first motorcycle, the less you benefit from all the intensity and knowledge gained in the class. If you can't start right away and have to wait more than a couple of weeks before owning your first bike, consider the MSF ARC (Additional Riding Course). The local MSF training institutes offered these half day riding courses for those who successfully completed the BRC. This is a good way to work on skills already covered in the BRC that you think you need extra practice on. I took the ARC two weeks after the BRC and focused on cornering and full effort stops. The ARC was very helpful. If you already own a bike and are comfortable riding it to the ARC, you can receive that additional training on your own bike.

Inability to control the motorcycle

There is a wide range of opinion on what class of motorcycle is appropriate for a novice rider. An absolute beginner ought to be very comfortable with his/her motorcycle. They should be able to handle it easily. Handling means moving it around in/out of a garage/parking spot, picking up a fallen motorcycle without help (you can keep your embarrassments to yourself Smile ), being able to come to a stop securely and confidently (helps to have both feet touch the ground at the same time), and being comfortable with the controls, particularly throttle response (you don't want to give it a little gas and have it take off faster than expected). Generally speaking, the idea is to have full control over as much of the riding experience as you can. The motorcycle is an important part of the riding experience. You will probably look cool riding that 1000 cc, 150 BHP behemoth, but let it be the goal you are working up to rather than start an uncertain, accident prone relationship with your ultimate dream machine.

A common objection to starting small is that a novice rider would soon outgrow a low powered motorcycle. Given the choice between mastering a less powerful machine enroute to mastering a more powerful one and struggling with a fear inducing, unforgiving machine, the novice is likely to find a smoother transition into the hobby when he starts small.

Another common objection is that less powerful motorcycles don't have enough juice to help the rider run away from a dangerous situation. While that may be true for an experienced rider, I contend that a novice rider is unlikely to know how to use the power of her motorcycle at the right moment to scoot to safety. A better option for the novice rider is to avoid such situations altogether. Just say NO to busy traffic and high speed traffic (highways) until you are comfortable enough. Avoid getting into situations where you will have to rely on the power of a motorcycle to save your skin. Focus on learning how to swerve and or brake to avoid a potential accident.

There is a few worthy choices in the 250 cc range. I got started on the K*w*saki Ninja 250 because it was light enough to handle, had a friendly throttle response so I wouldn't get myself into trouble with unexpected bursts of acceleration, and had enough power to effortlessly handle highway speeds so I could have a motorcycle versatile enough to help me explore highway speeds. A first motorcycle is most likely going to lack many of the comforts and amenities of a more powerful machine. As you get familiar with the motorcycle and riding, pay attention to what you don't like on this motorcycle and what you wish you had and use that feedback to drool over your next motorcycle.

A bigger cruiser is a heavier machine, which was mentioned. But I'll tell you that my HD sure don't turn quick either, and it's a way different world than the Dakar with its nimble handling and manners. Big cruisers aren't usually that much more powerful, but they take a special touch and that comes with experience. Like he said, start shame in trading bikes a few times until you figure out the one that works for you...which should in all cases be the F650

Bad weather and road conditions

These encompass a wide range of conditions and situations. I will split these into two categories. First category is what you need to absolutely avoid. The second category is what you may tackle, but tackle with a healthy dose of precaution. It is hard to make a comprehensive list, so I'll focus on enough examples. At the end of these examples, the general approach should be clear and may be applied to your specific situation with relative ease.

Here are some conditions to avoid altogether. Not forever, of course, but as a novice rider.

Here are some conditions that need some extra caution and preparation.

I've got 21 years riding experience (since I was 10!) and one time I really try to avoid is riding at that weird, mid twilight time. First, animals are EVERYWHERE. Adding to this is the fact that there's not enough light to see by, but too much light to get much out of your headlights. Oncoming car lights blind you even further. I commonly take a rest at this point, until it's closer to dark, even though I don't really like riding in the pitch black. I frankly think twilight time is worse than true night.

Road hazards and traffic conditions Plus Intersections

Some of these have already been addressed above. By road hazards, I am referring to unfriendly conditions such as the presence of wild life or obstacles.

The inconspicuous, innocuous little intersection in the middle of nowhere can be EVIL! Usually, especially in the midwest, these peaceful places usually hide a nice, thick spray of gravel and if you hit them too quick (especially on a turn) it won't be good news. Compounding matters is the fact that you won't see it until you're on it. I think what makes these even more dangerous than "obvious" curves is the fact that they aren't, well, obvious.

Riding under the influence of drugs/alcohol

Enough has been written about this. My rule of thumb is to stay away from alcohol for at least half a day before getting on a bike. As a novice rider you need all the attention you can bring to the ride.

...and one more thing. Besides the usual "don't ride if you're drunk/stoned/on any other drug" i'd like to stress the "don't ride if you're in any way upset". That is if your girlfriend dropped you or moved again your tools from their place, your cat peed on your favorite t-shirt, your boss gave his good-looking secretary the raise that you deserved or you found an unexplaianble scratch on your bike, don't ride until you have reached your zen point.

I have done my share of stupid things, and rode in conditions i shouldn't have, but the times i lost control were when i thought i had it, but my mind was somewhere else and p***ed off somehow. Evil or Very Mad. It's increadibly easy to use the machine as an exhaust for anger when you haven't let it out, and that's a very bad spot to be in.

Tight Corners

As a novice rider, it helps to avoid tricky corners such as hairpin bends on mountain highways. With these tricky twisties out of the picture, a novice rider is likely to encounter the trickiest corners on highway on/off ramps. The advantage with highway ramps is that you can examine them up close using an online map service and plan your corner well before you get on that curve. All I had to do was do my part right - slow down to the indicated speed, look, lean, and roll. That eliminated much of the risk posed by corners. When the roads were wet or when I suspected or actually noticed gravel, I slowed down to a comfortable speed and negotiated the curve.

Once I got a little more comfortable with riding, I poured over the map of the local area in search of twisty local roads. Roads that looked winding on the map often turned out to require little or no cornering skills as the curves were rarely sharp enough to demand extreme cornering skills.

Insufficient or inappropriate riding gear

Much has been written about the need to wear the right gear (ATGATT - all the gear all the time) when riding. There are way too many choices out there for each and every part of the riding gear. It is easy for a novice to be lost in all the choices, so here is some big picture advice:

Rider not visible enough among cars/trucks

We already touched on this several times earlier in the article. It is unfair that car and truck drivers don't pay as much attention to their surroundings as they ought to. Do whatever you can be to stay visible. A hi-viz vest, preferably with tiny blinking lights for extra dark conditions (rain + dark; fog), is strongly recommended. You may catch unnecessary attention with a hi-viz vest. Wait, there is no such thing as "unnecessary attention" when you are novice biker. Grab all the attention you can; just do it legally.

There are also techniques to stay visible while riding in traffic. Constantly change position within your lane. Stay out of blind spots. Use legal, aftermarket lights to increase visibility of your headlights and brake lights. Whatever it takes.

Inexperienced rider (first six months)

For obvious reason, the first few weeks and months are challenging to a novice rider. A lot of the discussion above talks about various ways of staying safe. A novice rider doesn't automatically become an experienced rider by safely parking his bike in his garage for six months after the MSF course. In my book, six months means six months of regular practice and use. Practice is what turns a novice into an experienced rider. Carefully think about circumstances and control whatever you can to minimize the element of surprise and to elevate your level of comfort and safety as you gain more experience. Think of the first few months as investment in a long term relationship. Fully immerse yourself in the hobby. Read all you can. Practice whenever you can. Talk to other bikers. This takes time and resource commitment. That is the only way to set yourself up for success. As they say, you are starting with a bucket full of luck and an empty bucket of experience. Your mission is to fill your empty bucket of experience before your bucket of luck runs out.

ATGATT - Protecting Yourself

Warning: Some pictures may be disturbing

Please note some pictures in this section are not for the faint-at-heart. There are images of injuries sustained in accidents, or of what was required to fix those injuries. All images of injuries have been included as links, so you can choose to look at the image or not.

Remember: Riding a motorcycle is loads of fun - getting injured is not. Wearing ATGATT can reduce your injuries significantly.

Without Gear - SScratch

Helmets - NB and Winter

Slip Sliding Away - Damalden

The people I ride with and I have some basic rules...
First and most important is ride your own ride. If you are not in "the zone," then ride at a slower pace at which you ARE comfortable.
There is no shame in being the last to arrive. Crashing sucks and can screw up more folks day than your own.

NEVER turn off the road we are on without catching everyone back up.
- Flash #412