Riding a motorbike is exhilarating fun. Nothing beats the freedom that comes with riding on two wheels or the thrum of the throttle on a Harley-Davidson. There's a sense of being at one with the world around you.
But, like anything thrilling, riding is dangerous. Here are the government figures: motorcyclists make up 1% of road traffic but are far more likely to be involved in a serious accident.
At its heart, riding the roads on an exposed machine that’s prone to falling over may be risky. Yet many motorcyclists can go a whole lifetime without an accident. Their secret is to ride safely.
So we’ve pulled together the top motorcycle safety tips, from the best gear to wear to the techniques you need to know.
First things first: you need a motorcycle helmet. It’s a legal requirement and can save your life in an accident.
Look out for the SHARP system, a government guideline scale from 1 to 5 showing the helmet’s protection level in a crash. And check it fits properly too – if it moves around it’s not right.
Next on your bike gear shopping list is a pair of strong motorcycle gloves. Think about it: if you fall, you hold out your hands straight towards the tarmac. Save your skin with strong leather gloves.
And always wear a pair of sturdy boots with ankle protectors. Motorbikes are heavy, and if they fall on your leg in an accident the damage can be extensive. Other important motorcyclist clothing is a protective jacket and trousers, plus a visor or goggles to protect your eyes.
But remember that your protective clothing should also make you easy for other road users to spot. Stick to bright colours during the day and reflective clothing at night.
Finally, proper motorcycle gear is also
about comfort. It should protect you from cold, wind and rain, and keep you
cool in summer. Check out this
PDF guide from Think!
for more gear buying advice.
The most often-quoted motorcycling safety tip is to ride defensively. It means constantly checking for risks and reacting to stay safe.
Always scan the road ahead, watching for hazards as well as changes in the behaviour of other road users. Plan your approach to juntions and look clearly ahead before manouevring and turning a corner.
Stay extra vigilant for vehicles turning off or emerging onto the road in front of you, especially when you’re overtaking. One in five motorcycle accidents occur during overtaking, and it’s more dangerous in slow traffic.
It sounds like a lot of work, but riding defensively becomes second nature with practice.
Act like car drivers haven’t seen you. Not because they don’t care about motorcyclists or think they own the roads. But because in most accidents involving a car and a bike, the car driver simply didn’t see the motorcyclist.
Motorbikes are narrow vehicles and can be easily obscured by lampposts, car pillars, other vehicles and even bright sunlight. Keep your headlights on, even during the day. Take care not to sit in a car’s blind spot and hold back if you think a driver hasn’t seen you.
Always take extra care in bad weather. Rain impedes your vision and reduces tyre grip on the road, making sharp manouevres dangerous. Watch out for strong sidewinds that nudge you around – ride in the middle of the lane to give yourself a margin.
Another motorcycle safety tip is to keep an eye out for hazards in the road. Potholes that barely register in a car can prove dangerous for motorcyclists. Sand and wet leaves can also cause a skid, so slow down as much as possible along country roads and near building sites.
You should also approach rail and tram tracks at a right angle so you don’t skid on the metal. Keep the bike up straight when you drive over a hazard to keep as much traction as possible.
And check your tyre pressure regularly. Underinflated tyres have a looser grip on the road and stop the bike leaning properly.
Braking in an emergency needs plenty of practice. If you hit the brakes too hard they may jam up, causing you to lose control of the bike. Train yourself to brake steadily from the front while pulling the clutch.
We can’t recommend enough investing in anti-lock brakes. These prevent the brakes locking up, helping you keep steering control of the bike, especially during a skid. They are available as standard on high-end models, and can be fitted relatively inexpensively to cheaper models.
And always keep your foot on the back brake when you stop at traffic lights. Sometimes a car might not see you as it pulls up behind you, and can push you out into the cross traffic.
Advanced motorcycling training is not just for new riders. A significant proportion of accidents involve older bikers over the age of 50. They have returned to motorbiking with slower reactions and worse eyesight, and they are out of practice.
Advanced motorcycling training courses not only teach you valuable skills that could save your life, they will make your insurance cheaper and build your confidence too. Have a look at the Think! list of advanced training courses.
Riding a motorbike safely is a learned skill that takes time to practise and get right. And remember: alcohol and excessive speed are the two biggest risk factors in a motorcycling accident, so eliminate those and you’re already much safer.
Besides, being on a bike is a bigger high than any drink.