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Being in Shape to Ride

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Riding a motorcycle is far more demanding than driving a car. You must be in good physical and mental shape to ride safely. Three things that can keep cyclists from being in shape to ride safely are alcohol, drugs, and fatigue.


Drinking and riding is very dangerous. Tests of riders killed in crashes show that 40% had alcohol in their systems.

That figure is high, but not surprising. Riding a motorcycle safely requires a very high degree of skill and a good sense of balance. Most important, however, safe riding requires good judgment.

Alcohol can affect all of the skills you need to ride safely. Too much alcohol can affect your sense of balance, your coordination, and your ability to see accurately. Alcohol can make it impossible for you to concentrate on your riding. However, the first critical ability harmed by alcohol is your judgment. You need to be able to judge many things accurately: other vehicle distance, position, movement and speed, and how well you are riding. Just one drink can harm your ability to make sound judgments, even though you don’t “feel” any effects.

Safety Limits vs. Legal Limits

Long before you drink enough to be legally impaired or intoxicated, your ability to make sound judgments—your ability to ride safely—is greatly reduced. This is one reason that alcohol plays such a large role in fatal motorcycle crashes. Alcohol takes away that fine edge—the sharp judgment you need to stay safe while riding on two wheels.

Of the motorcyclists killed in crashes after drinking, one in four are not legally intoxicated at the time of their crash. People who drink and ride should start worrying about whether or not they’re going to finish the trip alive long before they should worry about whether or not they are “legal.”

Separating Drinking and Riding

If you are going to drink alcohol, make sure to keep your drinking separate from your riding. The only thing that can keep alcohol from affecting your riding ability is time.

It takes your body at least one full hour to get rid of one drink. One beer, one glass of wine, one shot of liquor—each is considered to be one drink. Once you start drinking, be sure to wait at least an hour for each drink you have taken before you get on your cycle.

Coffee, exercise, or cold showers may help you keep awake, but they won’t restore any of the judgment or the physical skills that are dulled by alcohol. The only thing you can do is to wait long enough for your body to burn off the alcohol and get itself back to normal.


Almost any drug can affect the skills you need to ride a motorcycle safely. This includes prescription drugs as well as illegal drugs. It even includes over-the-counter drugs like cold tablets or allergy pills. These everyday drugs can leave you weak, dizzy, or drowsy. Make sure you know the effects of any drug before you ride. If you begin to feel dizzy or weak while riding, stop and wait until you feel normal.

One last word about drugs: They should not be mixed. This holds true for alcohol, over-the-counter medicines, prescription drugs, etc. When two drugs are combined, the effects are unpredictable. The combination can make you sick, confused, or even unconscious. These extra powerful effects are most common when alcohol is one of the drugs in the mixture. If the mixture of drugs hits you while you’re riding, you could be in real trouble.


Riding a motorcycle is much more tiring than driving a car. When you plan a long trip, bear in mind that you’ll tire much sooner than you would in a car. Also remember that fatigue can affect your control of the cycle.

Here are some things you can do to keep from getting too tired:

  • Protect yourself from the elements. Wind, cold, and rain make you tire quickly. Dress warmly. A windshield is worth its cost if you plan to do a lot of long distance riding.
  • Limit your distance. Experienced riders seldom try to ride more than about six hours a day.
  • Take frequent rest breaks. Stop, and get off the cycle.