Although any accident has the potential to end in a serious injury, in our experience motorcyclists are particularly prone to being involved in collisions that have catastrophic consequences for the rider. Notably, our anecdotal experience is backed up by hard data. The US non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) indicates motorcyclists are 30 times more likely to die in a crash than people that are riding in a car while the UK Department of Transport has indicated that motorcyclists have 16 times the rate of serious injuries.
With this in mind, and given that May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, we decided to take the opportunity to outline some safety tips for motorcyclists. Hopefully, it will provide some additional insight for newer riders and serve as a helpful reminder for seasoned veterans.
Take a Motorcycle Safety Course or Refresher Course
If you are still in the process of pursuing your license, a motorcycle safety course will prove indispensable in allowing you to get your license. However, even if you’ve passed your licensing exam and have been given the go-ahead to hit the open road, it’s still a good idea to keep your riding skills sharp by signing up for a refresher or advanced skills course.
There are a number of qualified motorcycle instructors available to individuals in the lower mainland including:
If you are based in the Okanagan you can look into lessons at one of the following:
Find a Bike that Fits You
It’s important to pick a motorcycle that fits. This means that the bike should fit both your experience level and your physique. In regard to your experience, the weight or horsepower of the bike shouldn’t be more than you can reasonably handle. Although they might look amazing, a 1,000 CC Ducati or 2,000 pound Harley is probably not the best bike for a beginner.
In regard to the bike’s shape and height, it’s important to purchase a bike that you can straddle comfortably. When seated, you should easily be able to rest both feet flat on the ground. Although some riders might feel comfortable having only one foot touching the ground at a time, this situation should be avoided whenever possible. It’s also important that your handlebars and controls are easy to reach. If you feel like you’re straining to grip the brakes, the bike is probably not for you.
According to the IHHS, approximately 50 percent of motorcycle fatalities involve some form of speeding. If these statistics aren’t enough to keep you driving reasonably, keep in mind that consistent speeding will eventually lead to you losing your bike. In British Columbia, excessive speeding can result in the immediate impoundment of your vehicle for up to 60 days.
Here in BC, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure makes the point that besides speed and inattentive driving, the “main factor contributing to motorcycle incidents in British Columbia is a failure by other drivers to yield the right-of-way.” In the interest of promoting safety consciousness the Ministry has provided a useful list of tips for bikers and car/truck drivers here: 10 Motorcycle Safety Tips
Don’t Drink and Drive
Although it’s tempting to have a drink before driving home from a pub or bar to celebrate a great day of riding, this can prove fatal for motorcyclists. As seasoned riders know, the slightest deprivation of sensory awareness can lead to a serious accident. Although it might sound draconian, Ken Glazer, Director of Special Projects for the Motorcycle Safety Federation, advises that motorcyclists should aim for a blood alcohol content of “zero”. This is not surprising when you consider that the MSF estimates that even the least amount of alcohol increases a rider’s chance of crashing by a multiple of five.
Wear a Helmet and other Protective Gear
Every statistic available shows that the risk of brain injury from a motorcycle accident or bicycle accident increases exponentially when the injured rider was struck or wipes out while not wearing a helmet. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that motorcycle helmets tend to weaken overtime and their integrity can become suspect if you have an accident. If you’ve had a crash with a helmet or you’ve had the same helmet for five years or so, it might be time to purchase a new one. It’s also important to sport a helmet visor or goggles whenever you’re on your bike.
As for the rest of your body, it’s no coincidence that experienced motorcyclists are almost always seen wearing leathers or some other reinforced jacket and similarly durable pants and proper riding boots. These riders know that road rash is something that should be avoided, that small rocks and bugs can feel painful on uncovered arms and legs when encountered at 90 km/h, and that the searing heat of an engine isn’t something that you want to feel against your bare legs.
Upgrade your Brakes and Respect Mother Nature!
It’s a reality of physics that a motorcycle will always have much less traction than a car. When road conditions are less than ideal due to rain, it’s important to take extra care. Most experts actually recommend leaving the bike at home on days with less than ideal weather. It’s ok to be a fair weather rider.
It’s also important to recognize that many bikes, particularly classic bikes, do not come equipped with ABS brakes. Although it might be a little on the expensive side, you may want to consider upgrading to an ABS braking system whenever possible. IIHS data shows that people with ABS brakes are 37 percent less likely to be involved in a fatal crash than bikes without it. This isn’t surprising when you consider that locking up the brakes during a sudden stop can easily lead to a skid and crash.
Note: This blog post was originally published May 2015 but has since been updated with relevant information