Buying and Riding a Motorcycle Safely

There are more than 6.2 million motorcycles registered in the United States. The popularity of this mode of transportation is attributed to the low initial cost of a motorcycle, its use as a pleasure vehicle and, for some models, the good fuel efficiency.

According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, motorcycle fatalities represent approximately 11 percent of all highway fatalities each year, yet motorcycles represent approximately 3 percent of all registered vehicles in the United States. One of the main reasons motorcyclists are killed in crashes is because the motorcycle itself provides virtually no protection in a crash. For example, approximately 80 percent of reported motorcycle crashes result in injury or death; a comparable figure for automobiles is about 20 percent.

Buying a Motorcycle

  • Buy the power you need, but only as much as you can handle safely. Large motorcycles are heavy, and you must be strong enough to push it, or pick it up if it falls over. But smaller bikes (e.g., a 125cc machine) may not have the speed, performance and ride you’ll need if you plan to travel long distances.
  • Consider the primary use of your bike. Don’t buy a “trail” bike for highway use. Similarly, don’t buy a “highway” bike if most of your riding will be off the road. Some motorcycles are built especially for trail use, with special tires and suspension. Other motorcycles have special characteristics for highway use, such as tires designed to grip pavement, and more powerful braking systems. If you have dual requirements, combination cycles are available that make a compromise between road and trail riding.
  • Select a motorcycle that fits. A motorcyclist should be able to touch the ground with both feet when astride the vehicle. Check the location of the controls. Make sure you can reach and operate them easily and comfortably.

After You Buy, Before You Ride

The safe operation of a motorcycle requires different skill and knowledge than is needed for a passenger car.
  • Never ride without a certified motorcycle helmet and eye protection. Insist on a helmet that has a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) label.
  • Read your owner’s manual thoroughly. Use it to get familiar with your motorcycle.
  • Attend a motorcycle rider-training course. It is the best way to learn how to operate a motorcycle safely and skillfully. Rider-training classes provide unique knowledge and skills that you may not learn if a friend teaches you how to ride.
  • Wear the right shoes, gloves and clothing. Studies show that the head, arms and legs are most often injured in a crash. Protective clothing and equipment serve a three-fold purpose for motorcyclists: comfort and protection from the elements; some measure of injury protection; and through use of color or reflective material, a means for other motorists to see the motorcyclist.
  • Before taking your motorcycle on a public road, become familiar with traffic rules and regulations and any special requirements for motorcycles.
  • Be aware that riding with a passenger requires even more skill than riding alone. Riding with a passenger should be delayed until you have considerable solo riding time and are ready to take on the responsibility of carrying a passenger.
  • Obtain your learner’s permit or motorcycle endorsement on your driver’s license before you venture onto the streets. You will be required to display the knowledge and skill needed to operate a motorcycle safely before being issued a motorcycle operator’s license.
  • Never drink and ride. Alcohol slows reflexes and greatly limits your ability to operate a motorcycle. Even a very small amount of alcohol can reduce your ability to operate a motorcycle safely.

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