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There’s nothing quite like slipping on a leather jacket and saddling up your motorcycle for a joyride. With the wind in your hair and the sun on your face, you feel like you could overcome anything. Your bike could take you anywhere, and the sense of freedom is invigorating.
Yet, motorcycles are much more dangerous than even the typical rider might realize. Motorcyclists are nearly 29 times more likely than car occupants to die in a crash and, each year, roughly 5,000 riders meet their fate on the open road.
You don’t have to give up riding or live your life in fear, however. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the ride without sacrificing your health or safety. Use the tips below to protect yourself and others on the road — and have the time of your life.
1. Always Wear a Helmet
Safety tip number one: always wear a helmet. This tip is more of a rule, and most states actually wrote it into law between 1967 and 1995. When Congress dropped the issue, states were left to make their own rules, but it’s still a good idea to protect your noggin, no matter what local laws state.
Choose a brightly-colored helmet that alerts other drivers to your location. It should feature a full face shield to protect your head from rocks, bugs and other debris. Even if you’re just going right around the corner, remember to don your helmet. It might just save your life.
2. Pick the Right Gloves
Of course, it’s smart to pair your helmet with other protective gear like boots, a leather jacket and long pants. However, many riders overlook the importance of simple yet functional riding gloves. You must maintain a firm grip on the handlebars to maintain stability and safety, so non-slip, well-fitting gloves are a must.
Look for a thinner pair that allows more control. In cold weather, horse riding or winter-specific gloves should be your go-to pick. They should be snug, but not so tight as to inhibit your mobility. You have to reach the clutch, too, remember?
3. Ride with People You Trust
Riding solo is one of the most liberating ways to travel. However, if you’d rather travel with friends, make sure their people you can trust. Do your fellow bikers obey the law, ride sober and take all necessary precautions? If they’d rather crack jokes and pull stunts, riding beside them could put you in danger.
Take a few short trips to test the waters with new biking groups and only plan a longer jaunt when you know and trust your biking buddies. Whoever you share a lane with, make sure they have your back — and you have theirs.
4. Make Yourself Visible
Most motorcycle accidents occur when other drivers fail to see bikers, which is why you must consciously make yourself more visible while on the road. Aside from avoiding other drivers’ blind spots and keeping your headlights on, you should make good use of turn signals and hand signals, when appropriate. Defensive driving is key when you’re on a hog.
You might also don bright, reflective clothing to alert surrounding traffic of your presence. LED light upgrades or aftermarket auxiliary lights are effective, too, especially at night.
5. Feather Your Clutch
Slow, tight turns present a challenge for new and experienced riders, alike. Ideally, you’ll want to brake, accelerate and then turn. However, if you’re stuck behind a group of slow riders, you might have to forgo this advice.
Instead, try feathering your clutch. This option allows you to turn and keep the perfect amount of momentum as you do. That way you don’t have to brake or accelerate mid-turn and risk tipping over.
6. Check the Weather
Regardless of how far you’re planning to go, it’s important to check the forecast the night before and the morning of your ride. Storms can crop up and roll in suddenly, and the last thing you want is to be driving around wet, cold and miserable.
Heavy rain, snow, lightning, high winds and other types of inclement weather can also pose potential safety hazards. In these conditions, it’s often difficult to ensure a safe distance from other drivers or make quick maneuvers. If the clouds don’t let up, save your ride for another day. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
7. Inspect Your Ride
Ideally, you’ll conduct vehicle pre-checks before every ride to prevent mishaps and minimize maintenance costs. At the very least, make sure you inspect your bike before long rides. This way you don’t run into trouble in the middle of nowhere.
Check your headlights, tail lights, turn signals, brakes, fluid levels, tire pressure and horn. You might even take your bike to a shop to have a mechanic conduct a full inspection. They can diagnose and repair issues you’re completely unaware of, and save you time, money and major headaches in the long run.
Enjoying the Ride
Once you’ve taken all necessary precautions, you can mount your bike, hit the gas and enjoy the ride. Just don’t get too lax with your driving or too cozy in your seat. Maintain a bit of caution and keep your eyes on where you want to go. That way you get there safe, all in one piece.