- Helmet: You can choose from a variety of helmets to suit your riding style—from off-road to street or track. A full-face motorcycle helmet is your best option for safety. Learn about tips to determine how much longer your current helmet will likely last.
- Eye protection: Riding glasses or goggles help protect your vulnerable eyes from insects, road debris, and even birds. Some states require you to have eye protection to ride your bike.
- Jacket: A motorcycle jacket that fits you while you’re riding helps regulate your core body temperature, and protects you from sun and windburn. One with built-in body armor can help protect your spine, shoulders, and elbows in a fall.
- Pants: Motorcycle jeans with armor and Kevlar for abrasion resistance can help protect your legs better than regular jeans. You can also purchase leather riding pants with armor, which can be as effective as professional motorcycle racing gear.
- Gloves: Riding gloves can help protect your hands from wind chill and fatigue, which can slow your reaction time and reduce your control of your motorcycle.
- Boots: Boots with oil-resistant soles and good treads help give you solid footing. You’ll be able to better hold your motorcycle up while stopped on roadways that might have a thin layer of oil or antifreeze. You should select waterproof boots that fit higher on your leg to provide ankle protection.
Ride a properly sized motorcycle
Riding a bike that’s too big or too small can cause your body to cramp or become numb, and can create fatigue that affects your ability to ride your motorcycle safely. Keep these factors in mind when selecting your ride:
- Bike height and size: Proper saddle height allows you to place both feet solidly on the ground—not on your toes. You should be able to easily reach your foot controls without having to stretch or feel cramped. Sit with your back straight above your hips, with your hands on the grips and your feet on your motorcycle’s pegs or floorboards. If you have to bend your back in the normal seating position, it’s not a good fit and will cause you discomfort and reduced control.
- Control arms: Handlebars and grips should not force your wrists into an uncomfortable angle, and should allow you to reach and operate the brake and clutch levers. Your switchgear should be easy to reach from a hand position that gives you full control of your levers.
- Seat: A soft saddle may feel good to you, but soft seat foam quickly compresses, and you’ll lose support. A firm saddle with a profile that prevents pressure points on your thighs at the edges will likely be more comfortable in the long run. You may have to buy an aftermarket seat to get one.
- Feet: Foot pegs should put your feet in a position that allows you to operate the brake pedal or shifter without having to change your footing. Bikes with a floorboard do require you to make some foot movement to work your brakes and shifter.
Adjust the clutch for a good friction zone
You get better control while riding when you can smoothly use the clutch and throttle to deliver the right amount of power to your motorcycle's rear wheel. You “feather” the power delivery with the clutch through a range of engagement called the friction zone, which is set up on the clutch lever. Here’s what to look for:
- When you pull the lever fully to the grip, your clutch should be disengaged. There should be some free play as you loosen the pull before it starts to engage.
- You should feel a gradual transition from disengaged to fully engaged.
- You can adjust the friction zone, to some degree, as you prefer. Have a mechanic do the job for you unless you have experience doing so.
Ride to reduce accident risks
Practice defensive riding to help you stay on your guard and proactively avoid incidents. You should be aware of common areas where you may face higher accident risks:
- Intersections: Use your visual scanning and your rear-view mirrors when approaching intersections. Other drivers can ignore your right-of-way and turn into your path, so be ready to use evasive maneuvers.
- Proximity: Keep your distance between your motorcycle and other vehicles on the road—both in front of you and behind. Don’t ride alongside another vehicle, or ride in other drivers’ blind spots. Before you change lanes, make sure other vehicles aren’t in your blind spots. Don't just trust your mirrors—physically turn your head to look.
- Speed: Monitor your speed when turning to help prevent an accident. You should approach curves with a technique called slow, look, lean, and roll—reduce your speed before the turn, look through the turn, lean into the turn, and roll on the throttle as you exit the turn.
Be alert and defensive on the road
Riding your motorcycle is both a mental and a physical activity. You need to be well-rested, unimpaired, and fully alert when riding your bike. Never ride tired. You’ll be better able to scan the road ahead, check your rear-view mirrors, and notice traffic patterns to help avoid any hazards around you. Also, ride with people you trust and who know how to ride.
Practice operating your motorcycle from start to stop, while navigating through curves and traffic situations. You can ride in an empty parking lot to help you enhance these skills:
- Leaning: Your motorcycle lean angle is directly related to how fast you’re going and the curvature of the turn. In most cases, you simply lean with the bike. Other times, you’ll need to shift your body into the turn to keep the bike more upright and the tire more firmly planted.
- Steering: Steering your motorcycle is different when you ride at slow speed or highway speed. Riding at highway speed, you counter-steer, push right to go right, push left to go left, and lean with the motorcycle. Slow-speed maneuvers require you to turn the handlebars and front wheel, and you may need to lean to the outside of your turn to help balance your bike.
- Braking: Practice your braking so you can adjust your speed to keep the motorcycle in the best gear for road conditions. You also need to learn the braking limits of your motorcycle in case you have to make an emergency stop.
- Signaling: Use your turn signal to communicate your intention—and remember to turn the signal off after completing your turn. Hand signals are also important—make sure you know the appropriate hand signals to use.
You should keep at least a two-second following distance from the vehicle in front of you, so you can react to changing traffic circumstances. Also, watch the flow of traffic in front of that vehicle. This helps you:
- Increase awareness of other vehicles: Watching the traffic in front of you helps you anticipate and respond to the actions of other drivers—including vehicles entering or exiting the road.
- Avoid road hazards: When you find yourself in dense or congested traffic, your ability to see surface hazards may be reduced. When you watch the actions of the traffic in front of you, you can get an indication of potential road hazards the other drivers avoid.
Leave an escape route
When you ride in traffic—on a highway or a city street—prepare yourself to take evasive action. Traffic can slow or stop, and other vehicles can make sudden lane changes without the use of a turn signal. When you have an escape route planned while you ride, you’ll help reduce your accident risk.
Make yourself visible
Motorcycles are small, making you hard to see by other drivers—especially when they view you from the front or back. Here are some dangerous situations where you need to increase your visibility:
- Riding in others’ blind spots: Don’t ride in another vehicle’s blind spots. You should look to see if you can spot the driver’s face in their side view mirror.
- Riding in the dark: Ensure all the running lights on your motorcycle are in working order before you ride. Don’t remove the reflectors, and make sure that any gear you add doesn’t cover them. Wearing a reflective vest is also very helpful.
- Riding during a storm: Select your rain suit or gear made with a bright color or reflective material. If weather conditions significantly reduce visibility, you should find a well-lit, covered place away from the road to park and let the storm pass. Parking your bike under a bridge can leave you vulnerable to being struck by other drivers who want to do the same. If you have no other option, leave your flashers on or a turn signal lit, and move away from your motorcycle.
Prepare for highway riding
From time to time, you'll probably have to ride on the interstate—especially if you commute. Multi-lane highways include unique hazards, including:
- Semis: When you ride behind a tractor-trailer, you’ll experience turbulent air that can push your motorcycle around. Extend your following distance to avoid the rough air. Additionally, while riding next to the semi, understand there’s a danger if the truck’s tire blows out.
- Lane splitting: You may be tempted to ride down the middle of the interstate lanes if traffic slows or stops. This is legal in only a few states—and splitting lanes in fast-moving traffic is illegal in all states, and could lead to a ticket and fine.