The open road calls to you. The roar of an engine piques your interest and as it approaches, you already know what it is. The V-twin engine rumbles the ground around your feet and you watch the two wheel beast cruise on by. The feeling of freedom that motorcycle riding offers people is unmatched in today’s world of metal boxes all squeezing down the road just to reach a destination.
A motorcycle ride isn’t about getting somewhere. It’s about the ride; it’s about the experience. Imagine sitting on a machine, cruising down the winding road, feeling the dips and curves, hugging the road as the wind blows past your body, as the sound of thunder roars beneath you, and all of your cares and concerns float away.
That’s the experience of riding a motorcycle. Yet there is so much misinformation about motorcycle riding that is being spread through the media, through frustrated neighbors, and in entertainment that some believe that riding a motorcycle will mean that their life expectancy will be shortened, or that they must fit a certain stereotype in order to even think about it.
The truth is that a motorcycle rider is much more exposed on the motorcycle than a person is in a car. Should a motorcycle be involved in an accident, then the risk of injury and death will certainly increase. But there are precautions that one can take that will greatly reduce these risks.
Also, riding a big Harley or a sports bike doesn’t mean that one has to be a large bearded and tattooed gang member, or a young kid who believes he is invincible. Motorcycle riders come in all shapes and sizes, from every demographic and socioeconomic class. Stock traders and doctors join the ranks of riders everywhere, especially on the weekends. These weekend ‘warriors’ leave behind the troubles of the week, of family, and of bills, whenever the straddle the engine and roll on out of the driveway.
America, the birthplace of the motorcycle, is the home of freedom and that is never more meaningful than when traveling down the road on a motorcycle. Learning to ride can be frightening at first, but it can also be the most rewarding experience one could imagine. Hopping on the bike on the spur of the moment to simply get away for an hour or two offers something that a car, not even a convertible, can.
For those who have never experienced the thrill of motorcycle riding, they simply don’t know what they’re missing. For those who have, then they know quite well.
Types of Motorcycles
There are generally three types of motorcycles to choose from. The first is the street bike. These include cruisers, sports bikes, mopeds, and scooters. While mopeds and scooters are often not generally categorized as motorcycles, many state and countries have the same license requirements for them as they have for motorcycles.
There are also some significant restrictions placed on mopeds and scooters, such as not being permitted on highways and interstates, for example, due to the size of the engine and their limited mobility and power.
Off-road motorcycles include dirt racing bikes, also known as motocross, and in most states, these bikes are not considered legal for road use. Some states do permit these bikes on the road, however, as long as they have proper lighting and engine size. The latter of these are known as dual-purpose bikes.
Each motorcycle type requires the rider to exhibit and use different sets up skills, hold a different posture, and treat the conditions differently.
How to Learn to Ride a Motorcycle
There are many mistakes that people make when learning how to ride a motorcycle. For anyone who has ever ridden a bicycle, it may seem as though it’s quite simple, actually. The truth is that the fundamentals of riding a motorcycle, such as balance and turning, may be the same as used while riding a bicycle, the two are quite different.
The first thing to keep in mind when learning how to ride a motorcycle is that you will be riding with traffic. In other words, when riding a bicycle, you keep to the right and cars will be expected to pass on the left when it’s safe to do so. Also, as a bicyclist, you would have the right-of-way over a car. However, when riding a motorcycle, you will travel just as a car would and give the right-of-way to pedestrians and bicyclists, as you would if you were in a car.
That makes learning to ride a motorcycle important to be done in a safe location, away from traffic and out of the danger zones of the open road.
As with learning any new activity, there will be some level of discomfort as you take your first steps. It is highly recommended that you attend a motorcycle riding safety course, such as MSF, before getting on a bike for the first time. These courses take beginner riders through the fundamentals of riding from the very beginning –from understanding the controls to operating the clutch and the throttle. These courses are not designed for any specific age group but are ideal for all ages, as well as highly recommended.
Learning to ride a motorcycle is easiest with a smaller bike to begin. A ‘250’ size engine, or even a ‘500’ size is ideal for most people. These motorcycles are generally smaller, lower to the ground, and weigh a lot less than their major brothers and sisters of the street bike brand. By starting out on a small bike, it makes balancing and controlling the bike much easier.
A more powerful bike is less forgiving in the throttle and the clutch, which means that an inexperienced rider can find themselves in trouble as soon as they release the brake, give the throttle a slight turn, and release the clutch.
If you don’t have access to a smaller bike, the rider safety courses that are available throughout the country will be a safer start.
Follow the law
Most states, and countries, require a motorcycle rider to have a permit before they can even think about heading out onto the open road. Depending on the location of the rider, the permit may require them to be followed by a licensed, experienced motorcycle rider traveling in a car. The reason for this is that should something go wrong, or should the novice rider find themselves in a difficult situation, the experienced rider can take over.
Most permits require the individual to take a written test. This test will encompass the rules of the road as well as the rules and maneuvering strategies that a motorcyclist should follow while in traffic and real-world situations. By studying the manual that most DMV departments supply for studying for this test, a novice rider will learn a great deal that they can apply when first straddling the bike.
Don’t rush and don’t be pressured
It can be easy to feel rushed when learning to ride a motorcycle, especially when friends are impatiently waiting for you to join them on the open road. However, the most important thing to keep in mind is safety. Do not, for any reason, allow yourself to be pressured into leaving the comfort or the safety of an isolated training ground, such as an empty parking lot.
People who head out onto the road before they feel comfortable are much more likely to become involved in an accident. In those cases, it would be an accident that was avoidable. For some people, it takes months of practice before they are ready to head out into the wild jungle of traffic. However long it takes is what you should require of yourself.
Tips and Tricks
By stating ‘tricks’, this doesn’t mean popping wheelies or jumping over cars. Instead, tricks mean methods that can keep you safe when riding.
When first learning to ride a motorcycle, it’s important to understand its weight. Sit on the bike while it is parked on a level surface, and not running. Have a friend straddle the front wheel and hold the handlebars. Lean the bike to one side, feeling the weight and then bring it back upright. Do the same on the other side.
The friend is only there to ensure that the bike doesn’t tip over onto the ground. This exercise will help you understand how it feels when it begins to lean to far to one side when stopped. Many people lose their balance once they come to a stop because they are gripping the brake too hard and stopping too short. This will help you avoid that fate.
Use your feet
When learning to ride, it’s perfectly acceptable to allow your feet to help balance the bike when starting off from a stopped position. Don’t allow the feet to drag, but rather keep them out to the sides or slightly ahead of your forward position. When you feel the bike rolling and balancing with momentum, then get your feet up.
Do not, for any reason, use this technique when coming to a stop. The foot can get caught and dragged back under the muffler of foot pegs, causing serious injury.
Feather the rear brake
When taking slow, tight turns, you want to make sure that you use the friction zone of the clutch to control your speed. Using the rear brake while using the throttle and clutch control can help maintain balance on the bike. Since the power of the bike comes from the rear wheel, adding the brake at the same will cause two opposing forces to fight against one another and the bike will want to be upright.
Frequently Asked Questions for all motorcycles
What about safety? What kind of equipment should I use?
Safety when riding a motorcycle should always come first. There are many states that don’t require helmets when riding a motorcycle, but this is not recommended, even if the law allows it. Wearing a helmet should be a must for all motorcycle riders. A full-face helmet is also recommended, since 64% of serious head injuries occur to the part of the head and face that half-helmets don’t cover.
A thick leather riding jacket, and chaps, go a long way to protecting a rider in the event of a crash. Gloves are a must as they shield the hands from flying debris on the road.
Where can I learn? Do I need a bike to learn?
Most rider safety courses supply the motorcycle for you. There is likely a rider safety course in your area. It is highly recommended that you take part in one of these course before heading out on the road for the first time on your own motorcycle.
General Motorcycle Conclusion
Riding a motorcycle does something to the spirit. It unleashes stress and rejuvenates the soul. There are inherent risks in riding a motorcycle that are different than riding in a car. However, many of those risks can be controlled through proper training and conscientiousness.
Having the right safety equipment, taking a rider safety course, and not being pressured into heading out into traffic until you are comfortable and ready are some of the steps one can take to increase the odds that they will have a long and healthy riding life.
Motorcycle Touring Introduction
Motorcycle touring is the act of going longer distances on your bike. Travel through the countryside is one a recreation that millions of people around the world enjoy, but most of them do this from the confines of an automobile, or even in an RV (recreational vehicle). Yet seeing the countryside, visiting different towns and historic landmarks, and other sightseeing destinations by motorcycle is one of the most breathtaking and refreshing ways to travel.
This kind of travel is commonly known as motorcycle touring and while it may seem, at first, to be no different than traveling by car, there are a number of considerations that need to be made before setting out on that majestic journey across the state, or across the country.
Along the way, a motorcycle can run into a number of potential hazards that automobile drivers simply won’t have to face. From road conditions that make it tough for a motorcycle to pass to weather than can open up and pour rain down for hours, a motorcyclist on tour must be prepared for the expected, and the unexpected alike.
For some, these conditions are part of the thrill of motorcycle touring, but for others, they can pose potential risks that are better left to the former riders. Motorcycle touring has grown in popularity in the past decade and a large reason for that is the cost of fuel. With gas prices generally on the rise in recent years, motorcycles offer an alternative to fuel guzzling cars and RVs.
Motorcycle touring groups are growing as well, as more people learn about the incredible thrill and excitement of seeing the country from a completely different perspective.
There are a number of considerations that should be made when thinking about touring by motorcycle, from having the right motorcycle to bringing the right clothing along, and having a course planned out. Depending on whether you plan to ride alone or with a group will determine how well organized the map is or how much freedom you will have to alter your route or destination.
Riding with other motorcyclists is generally a safer way to tour, but it isn’t an absolute requirement. Being prepared for the unexpected, from the downpour to the closed road to the flat tire should be planned for ahead of time. Making the trip as safe as possible should always be priority number one.
Motorcycle Touring History
Motorcycle touring has been around since nearly the beginning of the motorcycle itself. In its early days, however, the touring was limited due to the lack of cargo space that a motorcyclist had available to him or her. Today, touring motorcycles are equipped with roomy saddlebags, rear racks, and even tow packages that allow the motorcycle to tow a small luggage bin behind it.
Touring the country has been a major vacation option for people since the advent of the car. Even before that, people viewed the countryside on horseback, camping in the wild wherever they landed, and finding peace among all the dangers of the open world.
Touring by motorcycle allows a person to experience, even if to some small degree, what it was like to head out into the great unknown, if only in snippets and shades of that real world.
Touring bikes have evolved and grown with more options for comfort, such as thicker seats and even heated throttle and grips. Heated seats are also a popular feature of new touring bikes. CD stereos and GPS navigation are increasingly popular with new touring bikes as well.
Microphones in helmets allow passengers to easily communicate with the rider and some of these features are coming standard are certain touring bikes. Touring is growing in popularity, as evidenced by the increased sales of these touring bikes in recent years.
Three wheel bikes are also becoming increasingly popular, though the cost is often prohibitive for many people. These three-wheel touring bikes have all the features of regular touring motorcycles, but with more room, such as a mini-trunk behind the passenger’s seat for storage.
Specific Type of Equipment to Have for Motorcycle Touring
When planning on touring with a motorcycle, having the right equipment will go a long way toward ensuring that the ride is a safe and enjoyable one. Depending on whether you travel in a group, with one passenger, or solo will determine precisely what kind of safety equipment you should have with you, and what kind of peripheral gear as well.
The main thing to have is a helmet for the rider and the passenger. While it is highly recommended that a helmet be worn at all times, many states do not require their use. This is unfortunate, considering the statistics mentioned in the safety section. However, when traveling from state to state, it is imperative that the rider know what the helmet laws are in each state and secure the helmet to their head before entering that state.
Having a road flare or flashlight is important, especially when planning to travel at night. Some motorcycle touring riders always plan to stop for the night long before the sun sets, but there could be unforeseen circumstances that arise that require them to ride in the dark. Should something mechanical go wrong with the bike or it runs out of fuel (some locations throughout the country do not have twenty-four hour gas stations every few miles), then having a road flare and/or flashlight can help ensure the safety of the rider and any passenger he or she may have accompany them.
Road maps. The tour may be one of free-formed madness, just letting the road take you where it will lead, but that still doesn’t excuse not having a road map with you on the ride. There are dozens of reasons that a person should have a road map of the area they plan to ride, but it’s the reasons that can’t be thought of that make it an essential for any motorcycle tour.
Extra gloves, jeans, and rain-proof jacket. Even if you check the Weather Channel every night and every morning before you ride, showers and storms can pop up unexpectedly. It’s imperative that you are prepared because if you aren’t then you can end up with a chill that could lead to pneumonia, and possibly even death. Touring motorcycles will limit the amount of clothing that can be taken with the rider, which makes it essential to bring at least the most basic items.
Jeans are important for riding as they protect the legs from road debris and possible mishaps caused by an accident or slip. Having more than one pair will ensure that you always ride in a safe condition.
Some people prefer to tour by motorcycle with no real destination in mind, which is fine, but it’s crucial that you at least have an understanding of the basic motorcycle and traffic laws of the states that you plan to visit. There is no excuse if you are pulled over and didn’t know the law. It is incumbent upon the rider to be responsible for obeying all traffic laws in the states in which they ride.
Planning the tour is recommended. Knowing distances, traveling times, and rest areas go a long way toward ensuring the safety of the rider, the passenger, and others who are joining the tour. When you devise your route, make sure that you calculate in potential traffic delays, especially around major cities during rush hour.
Book hotels or motels in advance. When touring, riding is much more exhausting than driving a car, and when you reach your limit for the day, you don’t want to be running from one motel to the next finding only no vacancy signs. There is no shelter on a motorcycle like there is in a car and it is virtually impossible to sleep sitting on a parked motorcycle. Have a plan in place and make sure that you have a place to stay.
Tips for the Road when Motorcycle Touring
When riding alone, plan on making several comfort stops. The body needs to stretch more frequently when riding a motorcycle than when driving in a car. The mind also can use some refreshment and a break once in a while. When a rider pushes too long on the bike, he or she can find their thoughts begin to wander. When this happens, they focus less on the road and the traffic around them than they should and this lack of focus can lead to accidents.
Carry extra water. Even though the temperature may not be all that hot, a rider can become dehydrated without even realizing it. Drink plenty of water and make sure that those comfort stops have refreshments available.
Check road conditions. In California, for example, a rider can leave from a valley where it is eighty degree Fahrenheit and end up in the mountains two hours away where the temperature is below forty. Some roads may be closed due to snow or icy conditions, or perhaps even a wash-out from heavy rains. Check the Internet or call the state department of transportation to find out if any of the roads you’re planning to travel are closed. Some roads could be fifty miles long with no outlet before you realize it’s closed.
Have communication signals worked out if riding with others. Whether you have a passenger or you are riding with a group of motorcyclists, it’s important to understand a set of hand signals to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Turn signals, changing lanes, slowing down, speeding up are all important when riding with a group. In traffic, things can happen fast, so it’s important to be able to communicate road hazards or changes in condition from the front to the back, and vice versa.
In a group ride, changing lanes should take place from the back to the front. The rear rider in a group should be experienced and comfortable bringing up the rear. When the group needs to change lanes, the leader of the group up front will signal and then wait for the last rider to move over. Then the group will change lanes from back to front. Any cars that are in the path will be allowed to pass the front rider and the group can stay together. Changing lanes in a group requires more time and the larger the group, the more time is necessary.
Motorcycle Touring : Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I find touring groups to join?
There are many local riding groups in almost every region of the country. The brand of motorcycle you have can determine how accessible the groups are. Harley Davidson owners, for example, can join the HOG membership (Harley Owners Group) which puts them in touch with local chapters that generally ride on weekends. Other manufactures will have similar groups for their riders.
What happens if it rains?
While a motorcycle can certainly handle rain, it’s best advisable to seek shelter, whether at a rest stop, store, or the shoulder –if it’s safe- under an overpass until the rain subsides. The heavier the rain, the more imperative it is to pull over and be safe.
Motorcycle Touring : Conclusion
Motorcycle touring can offer the rider and a passenger something that a car can’t. It offers freedom of the road, a sense of wonder and a feeling of sharing nature as it was meant to be. Many motorcycle touring enthusiasts claim that they see much more of the world around them when riding on a motorcycle than they do when driving in a car.
The sense of freedom, wonder, and awe is unmatched by any other mode of transportation. Motorcycle touring simply inspires us all.
Motorcycle Touring Safety
The first and foremost consideration of motorcycle touring enthusiasts should be safety. Having the right equipment and taking the proper precautions will go a long way toward a safe and prosperous trip through the countryside or across the country. Far too often, however, safety of touring is neglected as riders consider these motorcycle tours to be no different than any other type of riding.
Weather, road conditions, and fatigue are common causes of accidents while touring, and most of these accidents are avoidable, as long as the proper precautions are taken and the individual understands safety first.
Motorcycle safety concerns many aspects of vehicle and equipment design as well as operator skill and training that are unique to motorcycle riding.
Motorcycles have a higher fatality rate per unit of distance travelled when compared with automobiles. According to the NHTSA, in 2006 18.06 cars out of 100,000 ended up in fatal crashes. The rate for motorcycles is 55.82 per 100,000. In 2004, figures from the UK Department for Transport indicated that motorcycles have 16 times the rate of serious injuries per 100 million vehicle kilometers compared to cars, and double the rate of bicycles.
A national study by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATS) found that:
• Motorcycle rider death rates increased among all rider age groups between 1998 and 2000
• Motorcycle rider deaths were nearly 30 times more than drivers of other vehicles
• Motorcycle riders aged below 40 are 36 times more likely to be killed than other vehicle operators of the same age.
• Motorcycle riders aged 40 years and over are around 20 times more likely to be killed than other drivers of that same age.
According to 2005 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NHTSA, 4,008 motorcycle occupants were killed on United States roads in 2004, an 8% increase from 2003.
During that same period, drivers of automobiles showed a 10% increase in fatalities, and cyclists showed an 8% increase in fatalities. Pedestrians also showed a 10% increase in fatalities. A total of 37,304 automobile occupants were killed on U.S. roads in 2004.
Additional data from the United States reveals that there are over four million motorcycles registered in the United States. Motorcycle fatalities represent approximately five percent of all highway fatalities each year, yet motorcycles represent just two 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.
Two major scientific research studies into the causes of motorcycle accidents have been conducted in North America and Europe: the Hurt Report and the MAIDS report.
The only major work done on this subject in the USA is the Hurt Report, published in 1981 with data collected in Los Angeles and the surrounding rural areas. There have been longstanding calls for a new safety study in the US, and Congress has provided the seed money for such a project, but as yet the remainder of the funding has not all been pledged.
The Hurt Report concluded with a list of 55 findings, as well as several major recommendations for law enforcement and legislation. Among these, 75% of motorcycle accidents involved collision with another vehicle, usually a car. In the MAIDS report, the figure is 60%.
Other notable findings in the Hurt report (quoted below) were:
75% of accidents were found to involve a motorcycle and a passenger vehicle, while the remaining 25% of accidents were single motorcycle accidents.
"In the single vehicle accidents, motorcycle rider error was present as the accident precipitating factor in about two-thirds of the cases, with the typical error being a slide-out and fall due to overbraking or running wide on a curve due to excess speed or under-cornering."
"Almost half of the fatal accidents show alcohol involvement" and "injury severity increases with speed, alcohol involvement and motorcycle size."
In the multiple vehicle accidents, the driver of the other vehicle violated the motorcycle right-of-way and caused the accident in two-thirds of those accidents. The report`s additional findings show that the wearing of appropriate gear, specifically, helmets and durable garment, mitigates crash injuries substantially. "Vehicle failure accounted for less than 3% of these motorcycle accidents, and most of those were single vehicle accidents where control was lost due to a puncture flat" and "Weather is not a factor in 98% of motorcycle accidents."
"The failure of motorists to detect and recognize motorcycles in traffic is the predominating cause of motorcycle accidents... Conspicuity of the motorcycle is a critical factor in the multiple vehicle accidents, and accident involvement is significantly reduced by the use of motorcycle headlamps-on In daylight and the wearing of high visibility yellow, orange or bright red jackets."
The most recent large-scale study of motorcycle accidents is the MAIDS report carried out in five European countries in 1999-2000, using the rigorous OECD standards, including a statistically significant sample size of over 900 crash incidents and over 900 control cases.
The MAIDS report tends to support most of the Hurt Report findings, for example that "69% of the OV [other vehicle] drivers attempted no collision avoidance manoeuvre," suggesting they did not see the motorcycle. And further that, "the largest number of PTW [powered two-wheeler] accidents is due to a perception failure on the part of the OV driver or the PTW rider." And "The data indicates that in 68.7% of all cases, the helmet was capable of preventing or reducing the head injury sustained by the rider (i.e., 33.2% + 35.5%). In 3.6% of all cases, the helmet was found to have no effect upon head injury" and "There were no reported cases in which the helmet was identified as the contact code for a serious or maximum neck injury."
Conflicting findings on conspicuity
A New Zealand study supported the Hurt Report`s call for increased rider conspicuity, claiming fluorescent clothing, white or light colored helmets, and daytime headlights may reduce motorcycle injuries and death. The study found that wearing reflective or fluorescent clothing reduced the risk of a crash injury by 37%, a white helmet by 24%, and riding with headlights on by 27%.
However, the MAIDS report did not back up the claims that helmet color makes any difference in accident frequency, and that in fact motorcycles painted white were actually over-represented in the accident sample compared to the exposure data. While recognizing how much riders need to be seen, the MAIDS report documented that riders` clothing usually fails to do so, saying that "in 65.3% of all cases, the clothing made no contribution to the conspicuity of the rider or the PTW [powered two-wheeler, i.e. motorcycle]. There were very few cases found in which the bright clothing of the PTW rider enhanced the PTW’s overall conspicuity (46 cases).There were more cases in which the use of dark clothing decreased the conspicuity of the rider and the PTW (120 cases)." The MAIDS report was unable to recommend specific items of clothing or colors to make riders better seen.
In 2007, a report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety claimed that "supersport" motorcycles were four times more likely to be involved in highway crashes than other types. When reprinting this press release as a news report, USA Today omitted the word "insurance" from the "Insurance Institute for Highway Safety", giving a false impression the IIHS is a governmental agency, not a private corporation with a conflict of interest.
According to the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), the IIHS report was an attempt to either ban entire categories of motorcycles, or a covert attempt to legislate requirement for speed governors in all vehicles. The IIHS report was not a new study, being an analysis of existing data from the national Fatal Accident Reporting System. The methodology consisted of a comparison of fatalities for different styles of motorcycles based on a rate per 10,000 registrations. The report did not incorporate key factors, such as the number of miles the bike was ridden, the traffic environment in which it was used, along with the age and experience of the rider, among others.