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The Basics of Motorcycle Safety

The best way to maintain safety on the road is by obeying traffic laws, maintaining your vehicle, and protecting your person. The following is a comprehensive guide to motorcycle safety, but be sure to pick up a motorcycle handbook from your state’s department of motor vehicles to determine what legal safety measure your state requires:

Protective Gear

Some states require drivers to wear a helmet. Considering one out of every five motorcycle crashes result in head or neck injuries, according to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, it’s clear why most states have helmet laws. In fact, the amount of head and neck injuries is reduced with the proper wearing of an approved helmet (see this article for more information about safety helmets). Eye and face protection is necessary considering that wind, debris, rain, insects, and pebbles thrown up from cars are common hazards when riding a motorcycle. Clothing should protect from the elements and the motorcycle itself, cover arms and legs completely, and fit snug so as not to flap in the wind but still provide a free range of movement. Gloves are also recommended to help grip the motorcycle. Extensive information on proper motorcycle attire may be found here.

Motorcycle Maintenance

Your motorcycle should allow your feet to touch the ground while you’re seated. Your vehicle should have a working headlight, taillight, brake light, front and rear brakes, turn signals, a horn, and two mirrors. Familiarize yourself with the motorcycle controls and gauges before you take your vehicle or anyone else’s vehicle you may be borrowing out on the street, check the air pressure and general wear of the tires, note the fluid levels, check the clutch and throttle, adjust the mirrors, and test the brakes.

In the event of a mechanical problem while driving, be aware of the conditions around you before pulling off of the road. The vehicle may start to handle differently due to a flat tire: if the front tire loses air the steering will feel more cumbersome. If the rear tire goes flat, the back of the vehicle may jerk or sway. In the case of a flat tire, ease off the throttle while holding the handle grips firmly, gradually apply the brake to the tire that isn’t flat (if you’re aware of which one is), and edge to the side of the road as the motorcycle slows.

If your throttle is stuck, twist the throttle back and forth. If it remains stuck, hit the engine cut-off switch and pull in the clutch at the same time to remove power from the rear wheel, then pull off of the road to check the throttle cable.

Other problems that may occur while riding include the chain slipping or breaking, engine seizure or wobbling while driving. Do not accelerate out of a wobble, and instead close the throttle gradually, don’t apply the brakes, move your weight forward and pull off of the road as soon as you can. An engine will usually lock if it’s low on oil. Disengage the engine from the rear wheel by squeezing the clutch lever and pull off of the road, then check the oil, and replace if needed. Before restarting the vehicle, let the engine cool.


While riding, you want to be as visible to the other drivers on the road. Use your headlight, communicate with your turn signals, and ride in the lane position that offers the most visibility for you to be seen and for you to see others. Be aware of potential hazards and anticipate risky situations by maintaining space between other drivers. How you ride your motorcycle is also important. While seated, your arms should be slightly bent when you hold the handle grips, and the handlebars should be adjusted so your hands are even with or below your elbows. Your knees should be against the gas tank and your feet should be on the foot pegs to maintain balance. Don’t point your feet forward and don’t drag your feet off of the foot pegs as these behaviors may cause serious injury. Use both breaks every time you slow or stop to develop the habit in the case of an emergency. While turning, reduce your speed, look through the turn, press on the hand grip in the direction of the turn and lean in that direction, and roll on the throttle through the turn to stabilize the suspension.

If riding with a passenger, the passenger should get on the motorcycle only after you have started the engine, sitting as far forward as possible without crowding you and holding firmly to your waist, hips or belt. The passenger should keep his or her legs away from the muffler, chains or moving parts and keep both feet on the pegs at all times. The passenger should lean as you lean, and avoid any unnecessary talking or motion. You should ride slower with a passenger, take curves, corners, and bumps with more caution, and anticipate stops by slowing earlier.

Traffic Behavior

When passing, signal and check for oncoming traffic, move into the left lane and accelerate making sure not to crowd the vehicle you’re passing, ride through the blind spot, and signal again to return to the right lane, checking beforehand to make sure the lane is clear. Watch for merging vehicles, give them plenty of room and, if possible, change to an open lane. Be aware of the activity at intersections as they are at increased risk for accidents. Communicate effectively with other drivers and anticipate miscommunication and the need to take evasive action. While riding in groups, plan ahead by putting beginners up front behind the leader and let the last riders set the pace for the group. All riders should know the route ahead of time. Operate in a staggered formation to allow each rider maneuverability, and pass vehicles one at a time. Operate in a single file-formation when riding curves and entering or leaving a highway. See this article for more information about group riding.