Riding a motorcycle can be seriously hazardous to your health and even to your life. Motorcyclists are 35 times more likely to be killed in a crash than drivers or passenger in a car. Even experienced riders face considerable risk; for newbies who may lack the skills and haven't built up the miles and the years that develop good cycling judgment, riding that machine can turn into a very scary trip. That's no reason not to ride, but it's plenty of reason to learn the five skills that could save your life.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration pays a lot of attention to motorcycle hazards, and they've identified five skills and practices that can make the difference between enjoying your ride and becoming a statistic.
1. Ride the bike that works for you. Especially when it's your first bike, don't be seduced by all that horsepower. Test drive the bike you want: lay it down. Now find out whether you can push it upright. A huge bike might impress your friends, but when it goes over, you're the one who has to shove it back upright. If you can't do that easily, it's not the bike for you. Start with a bike you can handle, and build your skill and strength.
2. Learn your bike. Learn its performance characteristics and its limitations. Settle in with the manual and read it. All the way through. The road and other drives will provide enough surprises; you don't want them from you bike. Take a motorcycle safety course; you'll learn a lot, and what you learn can keep you alive
3. Get expert at cornering and braking. Your ride is much lighter than a car, and much more nimble and responsive. Get to know your bike's cornering and braking characteristics on all kinds of pavement, in all kinds of weather, so you know what you can ask of it, and how it'll deliver. You'll use those skills the most at intersections, and that's where you're at greatest risk for collision with a car.
4. Drive defensively. Stay alert, and monitor your surroundings- road conditions, changes in pavement, the weather, vehicles behind you, beside you and in front of you-constantly. Assume that drivers in cars don't see you; you'll be right more often than you'd wish. Assume that drivers in cars will not give you the right of way, even if it's yours; you'll be... ditto. Look ahead, watch for traffic patterns, slowing, and clumping. Anticipate what could happen up ahead, and have a plan for how you'll handle it.
5. Drive respectfully. Always, and especially in heavy traffic, treat other vehicles and drivers the way you'd want them to treat you. Allow room when you pass, don't cut in too sharply in front of cars, and don't gun it down the shoulder. You need the good will of every driver on the road. Earn it.
Practice these five skills, and even when the road's bad and the weather's worse and the cars act like you're not there, you'll improve your odds of coming home safe and in one piece.