Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Are You Ready to Ride?

Are You Ready to Ride?

Before you throw a leg over a motorcycle, ask yourself three key questions:

• Is my judgment impaired in any way?
• Am I alert and ready for anything?
• Will my riding gear protect me?

Riding a motorcycle is more mentally and physically demanding than driving a car, and the consequences of making a mistake are much more severe.

Before you saddle up for a weekend cruise through the countryside, an afternoon carving corners with your friends, a routine commute to work, or even a quick ride up to the hardware store, ask yourself: “Am I ready to ride?”

Is Your Brain Ready to Ride? 

Riding is primarily a skill of the eyes and mind, rather than the hands and feet. Beginners, still learning the controls, are concerned with balance, shifting, turning, and braking properly. Experts are concerned with observation, positioning, and traffic flow. Both need the full use of their brains to ride safely. Am I Impaired in Any Way?

Impairment doesn’t just mean drinking and riding. A rider’s judgment can be impaired by mental, physical, or emotional distractions. At best, being distracted interferes with your ability to concentrate, scan effectively, and spot potential hazards. At worst, it can leave you completely unprepared to deal with even the simplest problems.

Mental Distractions
• Am I riding with a group of people I don’t know?
• Did I just spend an hour on the phone with an angry customer?
• Am I preoccupied with getting projects done at home?
• Am I running late and concerned with getting somewhere on time?

Physical Distractions

• Am I physically worn out after a long week of work?
• Do I have an injury that’s causing me physical pain?
• Am I stuffed and sleepy after a heavy meal?
• Am I cold or wet? Thirsty? Am I suffering in the heat?

Emotional Distractions
• Am I in a hurry –– putting the destination before the journey?
• Did I just have a heated argument with my spouse?
• Did I recently have a crash on my bike, and am afraid of falling down?
• Did I just have a near-miss with an aggressive driver? Is my adrenaline flowing?

Coming up short in any one of these categories doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t ride. It does mean you need to reevaluate your decision to ride –– and adjust your attitude, speed and/or road positioning to minimize the effects of being distracted.

Chemical Distractions
Alcohol or drug impairment is the worst kind, but also the easiest for a rider to control. Decide beforehand: if you’re going to be riding, don’t drink. If you’re going to be drinking, don’t ride. Even one drink impairs your judgment and affects your ability to make decisions.

Prescription drugs or over-the-counter remedies like allergy and cold medicines can also interfere with your brain’s ability to process information. Make sure you understand clearly how a medication affects your judgment before riding. Many of these products bear labels that read, “Do Not Operate Heavy Machinery.” Is a motorcycle a heavy machine?

Am I Ready to Focus on Riding?

Safe riding requires a commitment to focus 100 percent on the task at hand: managing the bike and the roadway. To be focused, you need to be well rested and alert.
If you know you are going to be riding the next day, make sure you get plenty of sleep. Allow yourself extra time in the morning to wake up and get ready. Take a few minutes while the bike warms up to visualize the route ahead of you. Briefly run through all the roads, turns, stops, and potential hazards you’ll encounter on your ride

Is Your Body Ready to Ride? 

Being ready also means being physically healthy and dressed properly. If you are feeling ill, or nursing a shoulder or back injury that restricts your movement, think hard about whether or not you should ride. Protective riding gear makes you more comfortable and visible, and it reduces injuries if you fall.

Protective Riding Gear
Being ready to ride means being dressed for anything. Your riding gear should cover you head to toe and include:
• DOT-approved helmet
• Eye protection
• Boots
• Gloves
• Long pants
• Motorcycle jacket

The most important function of riding gear is comfort. Weather and temperature can create critical distractions and affect your ability to concentrate, scan effectively, and spot potential hazards. Before you hop on your bike wearing only sunglasses, jeans, and a T-shirt, consider:

Rain –– Operating a motorcycle while soaking wet is difficult at best, miserable at worst. Waterproof gear or a rain suit can make the experience more manageable.

Sun –– Exposed skin burns just as quickly on a motorcycle, but because the wind cools your skin, you might not realize it until too late. Riders should be covered head to toe.

Cold –– Wearing a full-faced helmet, insulated riding gear, and dressing in layers takes much of the bite out of cold weather. However, even temperatures as warm as 65 degrees can create dangerous wind chills at highway speeds, which can cool your body temperature and cause hypothermia.

Heat –– Unprotected skin can quickly leave you dehydrated, as the wind wicks moisture off your body and cools your skin. Riding gear helps insulate you from heat and dehydration while you’re moving—including heat coming off the bike itself. And don’t skip the riding gear just because it’s hot outside: if it’s too hot to wear the gear, it’s too hot to ride.

Wind –– Blowing dust, sand, and insects are very distracting and can impair your vision or even cause injury. The best solution is a full-faced helmet with face shield or other eye protection.


Select riding gear that helps you stand out in traffic. Doing so will reduce the number of surprises you face every day and help you avoid getting blindsided by someone else’s last-minute decision.

Helmet –– Choose a solid white or brightly-colored helmet. The helmet is the highest visible feature on a motorcycle and can be seen from any direction. A 2004 study found that riders who wore white helmets were 24 percent less likely to be involved in a collision with another vehicle than riders who wore black helmets.

Jacket –– Wear a fluorescent or brightly-colored jacket, such as red, yellow, orange, or blue. Avoid typical passenger car colors, such as black, tan, navy, dark green, gray, and maroon. Do not wear camouflage army fatigues.

Vest –– Try wearing a safety vest over your riding gear. You’ll notice the difference in other drivers’ awareness of you right away. A 2004 study found that riders who wore fluorescent, reflective vests were 37 percent less likely to be involved in a collision with another vehicle than riders who did not.

Reflectives –– If you ride at night, wear riding gear with retroreflective accents to help you stand out.


As a last resort, riding gear has the ability to reduce or prevent injuries in a fall. A protective layer of leather or ballistic fabric absorbs friction and abrasions (road rash) if you slide or tumble. A helmet and body armor (built into riding gear) absorb impacts and reduce the energy that would otherwise be transmitted to your head, shoulders, elbows, and knees.
While most motorcycle crashes involve injuries to the rider no matter what they wear, good riding gear can help turn a minor mistake into a learning moment, rather than a life-changing moment.
• DOT-approved helmet: the protective shell and EPS liner are very effective in reducing injuries to face, brain, and skull.

• Eye protection: necessary to protect against wind and flying objects, preserves vision.

• Boots: protect ankles, shins, feet, and toes, which are often injured in a crash by the motorcycle itself. Good boots provide excellent grip and support.

• Gloves: leather motorcycle gloves provide superior grip of the controls and protection from asphalt/concrete. In a fall, the rider’s hands are often the first body parts to hit the ground.

• Long pants: heavy-duty leather or synthetic pants should have armor in the hips and knees and guard against temperature, abrasions (road rash), and impacts.

• Motorcycle jacket: a heavy-duty leather or synthetic jacket guards against temperature, abrasions (road rash) and impacts. Jackets should be designed for motorcycle use and incorporate a back protector and armor in the shoulders and elbows.

Is Your Bike Ready to Ride? 

Before you head out on any ride, long or short, there are three key items to check.

What are my tire pressures, front and rear? Your tires are your lifeline, and deserve a quick once-over before every ride. Over or underinflated tires, even by a few pounds (PSI), can cause handling problems, traction problems and increased wear. A severely underinflated tire is at risk for a blowout at high speed. Read your owner’s manual, decide what your tire pressure should be and make sure the actual pressure is correct before heading out.

Are all my lights working? While the motorcycle is warming up, take a quick walk around the bike to make sure your headlight, turn signals and taillight are working. Squeeze the front brake lever, and press the rear brake pedal, to ensure the stop lamp works. Your lights communicate your intentions to other drivers — make sure you don’t send the wrong signal with a broken bulb.

Do I have enough gas in the tank for this trip? Running out of fuel in traffic can create a distracting, awkward and potentially hazardous situation. Think ahead to how much fuel you will need to get to your destination, and decide beforehand if you need to stop to fill up. If you know you need gas, make a plan for when and where you’ll stop — don’t wait until you hit reserve.

Maintenance Items

There are many more components on your bike that cannot reasonably be checked before every ride. However, they should be inspected at least every two to four weeks:
• Tires, wheels and brakes
• Levers, pedals, cables and hoses
• Oil, fluids, chain and sprockets
• Forks, shocks and fasteners

Are You Ready to Ride? 

Assuming you are not impaired and dressed properly for riding, there are a few additional things to consider before hitting the road. These items are not meant to answer the question “Should I ride or not?” They are meant to help you answer the question, “What riding situations can I handle, and what riding situations should I avoid?” Experience Level
How much riding experience do I have? Be realistic, and assess your experience level. Am I a beginner or a novice? Am I an experienced rider, or an expert?

What if you’re riding with others? It’s wise to take your experience level, and that of others, into account before heading out on a group ride. A novice rider should be careful of the situations that might arise when traveling a group of experienced riders. An expert, mixed in with a group of novices, should consider the needs and capabilities of the other riders when selecting destination, pace and following distance.

Knowledge Level
How much do you really know about motorcycle riding? Ask yourself a few questions to assess your knowledge level. If any of the following concepts are unfamiliar to you, there may be critical skills that are beyond your reach without getting some training.
Do I have a riding strategy? Do you use an active system to scan the roadway, identify hazards (and potential hazards) and manage your speed and position?
Do I understand visual directional control? How skilled are you at using your head and eyes to guide your motorcycle –– rather than your hands and feet?
Do I know how to achieve maximum braking? If you avoid using your front brake, whether in routine or emergency situations, you are missing out on a very important technique for safe stopping.
Do I understand countersteering? If you believe you steer the bike by leaning your body, and not by precise “opposite” inputs into the handgrips, you need instruction and practice in this lifesaving technique.
Do I have a plan for every corner? Cornering smoothly is more than just point-and-shoot, steering and throttle. Cornering can be broken down into smaller skill components to increase safety and proficiency.
Do I know how to swerve quickly? And do I understand the concept of traction management –– the relationship between throttle, steering and braking inputs that limit my options in an emergency?
Do I understand counterweighting? If low-speed or tight turns such as U-turns give you trouble, using this technique helps with balance and control in tricky situations.
Comfort Level
Your comfort level plays a role in your ability to handle various riding situations. When you are comfortable with your mental and physical skills, you are able to react correctly and with precision to any hazard you encounter.
If you are uncomfortable in a situation –– for example, if you are stressed and distracted because surrounding traffic is moving much faster than you are –– you are prone to making mistakes and less likely to respond quickly when needed.
If you are not confident using the expressway at 65 mph, choose a route that uses smaller roads instead. If you are not comfortable riding in a large group, avoid organized rides and travel alone or with trusted friends. If you are forced into a riding situation that makes you uncomfortable, adjust your speed, position and following distance to give yourself more time and space to react to surprises.
Skill Level
How good are your physical riding skills? Have you ever taken a training course to improve your riding? Consider all the skills you need to ride safely –– are any of them giving you trouble?
• Coordination of clutch and throttle
• Throttle control and speed management
• Lane position and smooth cornering
• Cornering lines and body position
• Slowing or stopping quickly
• Steering quickly
• Shifting smoothly
If you doubt your ability in any of these areas, the solution is to set aside time to practice and improve. A training course is the best way to do it, but you can also practice riding techniques on your own. Spend an hour or two, at least once a month, on an empty parking lot working on your low-speed turns and braking skills.
You can also work on your skills while riding. Before you head out, ask yourself: “What am I going to practice today?” Pick one skill at a time –– front brake use, keeping your eyes up, looking through turns, shifting –– and focus on improving that technique.
There is an old saying among police motor officers: “Train at 100 percent, ride at 80 percent.” Your skill level should always be greater than your comfort level. Training will help you get there.

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