Preparing to Ride

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As a rider, what you do before you start a trip goes a long way toward determining whether or not you’ll get where you want to go safely. Before taking off on any trip, a safe rider makes a point of:

  • Wearing the right gear.
  • Checking the motorcycle.
  • Getting familiar with the motorcycle.


When you ride, your gear is `’right” if it protects you. In a crash, you have a far better chance of avoiding serious injury if you are wearing:

  • An approved helmet.
  • Face or eye protection.
  • Protective clothing.

The Helmet

Crashes are not rare events—particularly among beginning riders. And one of every five motorcycle crashes reported results in head or neck injuries—the worst kind of injuries you can get.

Head injuries are your greatest threat. They are just as severe as neck injuries— and far more common. Wearing a helmet neither raises nor reduces your risk of neck injury. But head injuries are another matter. Wearing a securely fastened helmet is the single most important thing you can do to improve your chances of surviving a crash.

Helmet Use

Some riders don’t wear helmets because they think helmets will limit their view to the sides. Others wear helmets only on long trips or when riding at high speeds. Here are some facts to consider:

  • An approved helmet lets you see as far to the sides as necessary. A study of more than 900 motorcycle crashes failed to find even one case in which a helmet kept a rider from spotting danger.
  • Most crashes happen on short trips (less than five miles long), just a few minutes after starting out.
  • Even low speed crashes can be fatal. Most riders are going slower than 30 mph when they get hurt. At these speeds, helmets can cut both the number and the severity of head injuries by half.

No matter what the speed, unhelmeted riders are three times more likely to die from head injuries than are riders who are wearing helmets at the time of the crash.

Helmet Selection

There are three types of helmets, providing three different levels of coverage— partial, full, and full facial.

Whatever style you choose, you can get the most protection out of that type helmet by making sure it:

  • Meets U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and state standards. Helmets with labels from the Safety Helmet Council of America, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). or the Snell Memorial Foundation give you added assurance of quality.
  • Fits snugly. all the way around.
  • Has no obvious defects such as cracks, loose padding, or frayed straps.

Not all helmet damage is obvious. If you’re thinking of buying a used helmet, first make sure it’s made by a company that will check it for damage. Then have the manufacturer check it before you pay for it.

Whatever helmet you decide on, make sure to keep it securely fastened on your head when you ride. Otherwise, if you have a crash, it’s likely to fly off your head before it has a chance to protect you.

Eye and Face Protection

A plastic faceshield can help protect your whole face in a crash. It also protects you from wind, dust, dirt, rain, insects, and stones thrown up from cars ahead. These things are distracting and can be painful. If you have to deal with these problems, you can’t devote your full attention to the road.

Goggles can protect your eyes from all these things, though they won’t protect the rest of your face like a faceshield does. A windshield is no substitute for a faceshield or goggles. Most windshields will not protect your eyes from wind. Neither will eyeglasses or sunglasses. Glasses won’t keep your eyes from watering, and they might blow off when you turn your head while riding.

To be effective, eye or face protection must:

  • Be free of scratches.
  • Be made of material that does not shatter.
  • Give a clear view to either side.
  • Fasten securely, so it cannot be blown off.
  • Allow air to pass through, to reduce fogging.
  • Allow enough room for eyeglasses or sunglasses if needed.

Tinted eye protection should not be worn at night or any other time when little light is available.


Clothing can help protect you in a crash.

  • Jacket and pants should cover your arms and legs completely. Make sure they fit snugly enough to keep from flapping in the wind, yet loosely enough to let you move freely. Leather or heavy denim clothing is best. However, sturdy synthetic material can give you a lot of protection as well. Wear a jacket even in warm weather. Many jackets are designed to protect you without getting you overheated, even on summer days.
  • Boots or shoes should be high enough to cover your ankles and sturdy enough to give them support. Soles should be made of hard, durable material. Heels

should be short, so they do not catch on rough surfaces. If your boots or shoes

have laces, be sure they’re tucked in so they won’t catch on your motorcycle.

  • Gloves are also important. They give you a better grip and help protect your hands in a crash. Your gloves should be made of leather or heavy cloth.
  • In cold or wet weather, your clothes should keep you warm and dry, as well as protect you from injury. You cannot control a motorcycle well if you are numb. Riding for long periods in cold weather can cause severe chill and fatigue. A winter jacket should resist wind and fit snugly at the neck, wrists, and waist. Rain suits should be of good quality and designed for riding; otherwise they may tear apart or balloon up at high speeds. Some gloves are made to keep wind or rain from going up your sleeves.


If something’s wrong with the motorcycle, you’ll want to find out about it before you get in traffic. Here are the things you should check before every ride.

While Walking to the Cycle

Take a good look at your tires. If one looks low, check the pressure. The motorcycle will not handle properly if the air pressure is too low.

Look under the bike for signs of an oil or gas leak. If there is a puddle, check oil and gas levels and get the leak fixed.

While Sitting on the Cycle

As you sit on your cycle, check the following before you start out:

  • Brakes—Try the front and rear brake levers one at a time. Make sure each one feels firm and holds the motorcycle when it is fully applied.
  • Clutch and Throttle—Make sure they work smoothly. The throttle should snap back when you let go.
  • Turn Signals—Turn on both right and left turn signals. Make sure all four lights flash brightly enough to be seen.
  • Headlight and Taillight—Check them both. In daylight, pass your hand in front of the beam to make sure the head light is on. At night, try your dimmer to make sure both high and low beams are working.
  • Brake Light—Try both brake controls, and make sure each one turns on the brake light.
  • Horn—Try the horn. Make sure it works.
  • Mirrors—Clean and adjust both mirrors before starting out, because it’s difficult to ride with one hand while you try to adjust a mirror. Adjust each mirror to let you see the lane behind and as much as possible of the lane next to you. When properly adjusted, a mirror may show the edge of your arm or shoulder—but it’s the road behind and to the side that’s most important.


Make sure you are completely familiar with the motorcycle before you take it out on the street. This is particularly important if you are riding a borrowed cycle. If you are going to use an unfamiliar motorcycle: Make all the checks you would on your own cycle.

  • Find out where everything is, particularly the turn signals, horn, headlight switch, fuel control valve, and engine cut off switch. Make sure you can find and operate them without having to look for them.
  • Check the controls. Make sure you know the gear pattern. Work the throttle, clutch, and brakes a few times before you start riding. All controls react a little differently.
  • Ride very cautiously until you are used to the way the motorcycle handles. For instance, accelerate gently, take turns more slowly, and leave yourself extra room for stopping.