The first month of riding a motorcycle is one of the most exciting times for any motorcyclist. As you get used to driving your bike, you should take the opportunity to get in the best habits that'll keep you safe over time. You can set yourself up for a lifetime of safe riding by following some of the easiest tips to learn.
To get you started on the right foot, begin by understanding a few best practices expert bikers use every day to keep themselves safe while they're riding and their bikes in pristine shape. Following expert tips — like driving defensively, adjusting mirrors properly, inspecting your bike correctly and dressing appropriately — are all crucial to a lifetime of safe riding.
Ride More Defensively Than You Would Drive a Car
When you take your motorcycle out on the road, you should have the mindset that all the other drivers on the road could hit you at any moment. While this might seem dramatic, it'll keep you safe. Though hitting another driver is most people's worst nightmare, many of them are distracted and not looking for motorcycles. While it's easy to spot another car, it's harder to notice a bike.
To prevent other drivers from harming you, you'll need to be ultra-defensive in your driving practices. As you ride, do as much as possible to minimize risk and keep yourself prepared for danger. Below, you can find some of the top defensive riding tips.
- Intersections: Bring your complete awareness to every intersection. Besides the main street corners and intersections you'd already pay attention to in a car, you should also be looking at parking lots, gas stations, drive-thrus, alleyways and anywhere else a vehicle could pull into your lane. Defensive driving starts by anticipating what other drivers are going to do and acting on it before they even make the decision.
- Drafting and road positioning: When you hit the highway, don't draft semis or hang out in any vehicle's blind spot. To avoid riding in a blind spot, drive far enough ahead or behind so that when another driver decides to merge, you won't get sideswiped.
- Scan ahead: As you're riding, you should always be looking far down the road, staying alert to any possible dangers. Hazards include pulled-over cops, accidents, merging lanes, construction zones and a variety of other traffic dangers that could lead to a vehicle merging into your lane without noticing you. In these zones, be especially vigilant, planning far ahead about how you'll minimize risk.
Remember to Adjust Your Mirrors
With a car, it's a breeze to adjust your mirrors, either by hand or with electronic controls inside the vehicle. You shouldn't expect the same from your motorcycle. Often, motorcycle mirrors need a wrench to adjust them. For this reason, it's crucial to check your mirrors before you take your bike out on the road.
To properly check your mirrors, get on your bike and put it in a riding position. Once you have done so, look at both mirrors to see if they give you a high level of visibility around you while you ride.
For those with a center stand, this check is more straightforward, since you can conduct it while the bike is on the stand. If you don't have a center stand, aim the bike straight ahead while checking the mirrors, holding down the front brakes if you're on a downhill slope.
Inspect Your Motorcycle Before Setting Off
Get in the habit of inspecting your motorcycle before heading out to make sure that you'll be running in tip-top shape. You'll not only stay on top of any maintenance issues with your bike, but you'll also get to know more about how it works and what you need for it.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation recommends that your inspections should include your tires and wheels, controls, lights and electronics, oil and other fluids, chassis and stands, otherwise abbreviated to T-CLOCS. Learn more about how you can follow the T-CLOCS formula to inspect your bike before you take it for a spin.
1. Tires and Wheels
You probably don't want to blow a tire while you're on the open highway. Decrease the chances of this happening by checking the condition of your tires before each ride. Bulges and embedded objects are a good sign that you need to get your tire replaced. Besides scanning your wheels for evident damage, keep an eye on the wear of your tread. You should also check the tire pressure to ensure you have plenty of air.
Besides the tires, inspect your wheels to make sure they're in working order. If you notice missing, bent or otherwise damaged spoke, it's a sign you need to get a repair. Excessive grease on your wheels might signify that you have cracked seals. You should also take a look at your discs and brake pads to ensure they haven't worn down. Finally, check your brakes before you get going to make sure you can stop safely.
You need to be able to direct your bike when you take it on the road, and your bike controls allow you to do just that. Inspect your handgrips to see if they're secure. Next, check the handlebars to ensure they're straight and can turn without any resistance. When you turn your throttle, it should move easily, and adjusting your handlebars shouldn't cause any revving sounds.
Along with the handlebars and handgrips, examine your pedals and levers. In your inspection, look for cracks and bends, and check to ensure you have adjusted your levers and pedals appropriately. Finally, take a moment to see if your hoses and cables have any visible damage to them.
3. Lights and Electrics
Your motorcycle battery is crucial for turning on your bike and riding it. Examine your battery terminals for cleanliness and examine the electrolyte levels to ensure they're high enough to ride. Besides the battery, check your headlamps, turn signals and brake lights to see if they are all working correctly. To be safe, also look at the condition of your switches and wires.
4. Oil or Other Fluids
One of the most straightforward checks you can do is to see if any fluids or oils are leaking from the bike. You should pay special attention to your front forks, since they have fluid inside them. Sometimes you'll need to replace the forks' seals, especially if you notice fluids seeping out from them. Besides leaks, you can also look at your levels of coolant and hydraulic fluids, engine oil, fuel and transmission fluid.
The body of your bike needs to be in top shape for the best ride possible. The accessory mounts shouldn't have any damage, and your gussets shouldn't have any cracks in them. Test your bearings and bushings to confirm that everything is functioning correctly. To do this test, push and pull the forks and swingarms. Inspect the belts or chains to see if there's enough tension. Pay attention to the chain's lubrication and ensure the teeth are properly engaging.
When you're not riding your bike, you should store it appropriately with a high-quality stand that supports it whenever you finish your drive. Your center and side stands shouldn't be bent or cracked. If they are, you'll need to get a repair. Along with the center and side stands, the springs on your stands should have enough tension to keep your bike standing tall.
7. Dress Appropriately
Start your first month of riding by getting in the habit of wearing appropriate clothing while on the motorcycle. Without the correct apparel, you put yourself at an increased risk of injury if you're in an accident. Even the most skilled motorcyclists know that accidents can happen, and they take time to gear up properly when they get on their bikes. Any riding outfit needs to include a full-face helmet, tough boots, riding gloves and a motorcycle jacket.
Below, you can find more details about the clothes and protection you should be wearing when you first hit the road.
1. Motorcycle Helmet
Even if your state's laws don't require you to wear a motorcycle helmet, it's still a must-have if you value your safety and want to avoid ingesting around 30 pounds of bugs while you drive. Most notably, full-face motorcycle helmets protect you from brain damage and a disfigured face. If you get into an accident where your face lands on the pavement and gets dragged across it, you'll be glad you invested in a helmet.
Besides the safety protection, motorcycle helmets help deflect any bugs you run into while driving. Don't think bugs matter? The first time an insect ends up in your eye or mouth, you'll realize the value of a helmet.
2. Over-the-Ankle Boots
Regular street shoes are not an option when you get on a motorcycle, as they can fly off of your feet in an accident and, even if they stay on, fail to protect your ankles. Motorcycle footwear should be a type of boot that covers your ankles and stays securely on your feet in an accident. After all, you probably don't want to only have a thin layer of your socks' cloth being the only barrier between your skin and the pavement.
In addition to secure footwear and ankle protection, your boots should consist of a material that offers superior toughness. Specialty ankle motorcycle boots give users all these benefits. If you're on a budget, a pair of durable work boots can suffice as well.
3. Motorcycle Jackets
Jackets aren't only the most stylish-looking pieces of motorcycle gear, but they also keep your torso and arms protected. Often, motorcycle riders will skid across the pavement in a motorcycle accident. The jacket will protect your skin from the rough asphalt. The right kind of outerwear will also keep you warm or cold, depending on what you need to stay comfortable while riding.
As you choose a motorcycle jacket, you may want to get a couple of different ones for the changing seasons. For example, a full leather jacket is going to leave you uncomfortably hot in the summer, but it will be perfect for keeping you safe and warm in the winter.
In the summer, however, you won't want to sacrifice your safety for comfort. A ballistic mesh can be a good option for safety and keeping you cool on hotter days. For fall and spring, you may want to go with a perforated leather jacket.
4. Motorcycle Gloves
If you're in an accident and get thrown off your bike, it's likely you'll instinctively throw your hands in front of you to protect yourself. Without any cushioning on them, your hands are going to take the brunt of the damage in an accident. The right gloves will safeguard your hands, possibly preventing lost skin and broken bones.
One of the best materials for gloves is leather. It's thick and tough enough to prevent damage to your hands. Along with leather's protective abilities, it looks great. Leather motorcycle gloves often come with knuckle protectors that make you look like you're ready for anything that the road or other drivers throw at you.
5. Motorcycle Pants
Besides the main staples of a proper riding outfit, you should also invest in a pair of riding pants for greater protection. Though you probably understand why you wouldn't want to drive your motorcycle without your helmet, you might think your jeans are enough protection. They aren't. Your jeans will shred after just a second or two of sliding across the pavement.
For a long time, riders had to choose between ballistic nylon or leather pants, which made a distinctive fashion statement once you got off your bike. Nowadays, you can choose riding pants that slip over your jeans, taking them off once you arrive at your destination. Other than riding pants that slip on, you can now find more stylish jeans designed with Kevlar panels in the primary areas most likely to take the brunt of the impact in an accident.
Reach out for Info About Our Learn-to-Ride Program!
Follow all the tips above over your first month, and you'll set yourself up with habits that are sure to help you for the rest of your life riding. Besides heeding the advice in this article, successful driving starts with great teaching. Become more confident on the road and be a safer motorcycle rider with Peterson's Harley-Davidson's Learn-to-Ride program.
Our H-D certified coaches provide new riders with the expert guidance they need to ride like an experienced pro and develop the crucial safety skills any rider needs. On the practice range, coaches will help you learn how to turn and brake appropriately. They'll also teach you more advanced maneuvers like getting around obstacles and maintaining control if you start to skid.