Motorcyclists: Tips for staying safe on the road

Last updated: January 1

Whether you are a seasoned rider or a rookie, it's important to take certain safety precautions when riding a motorcycle. Before you hit the open road, consider brushing up on some motorcycle safety basics.

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Wear a motorcycle helmet

It's important to wear a motorcycle helmet even on short trips, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says. When buying a helmet, look for one with a "DOT" label on the back, which indicates it meets safety standards set by the Department of Transportation. Some helmets also include a face shield to help protect your face and eyes from wind, rain, bugs and road debris. If your helmet doesn't have a shield, it's important to wear goggles to prevent your eyes from watering while you're traveling, the NHTSA says.

Dress in protective gear

It's also a good idea to wear protective gear that helps guard your arms and legs in the event of an accident. The NHTSA suggests wearing either leather or heavy denim pants and jackets, and footwear that covers your ankles. In addition to protecting your hands, gloves can help you keep a better grip on your bike. Gear with reflective qualities can make you more visible to other drivers, the NHTSA says.

It's also important to dress for the weather conditions you'll be riding in to help you stay comfortable on the road.

Practice using the controls

Before hopping on your bike, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the controls, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) says. That includes adjusting levers and pedals so they're with easy reach, trying out the headlight dimmer switch before you need to use it in the dark and finding the location of the horn button.

If your bike has a reserve fuel valve, brush up on how it works so that you're able to quickly and safety turn it on if you find yourself running low on gas during your ride, the MSF says.

Check your bike before riding

Staying on top of basic maintenance may help you avoid unpleasant surprises on the road. The MSF recommends checking six parts of your motorcycle before each ride: the tires and wheels, controls, lights, fluids, chassis and stands. Some issues, like topping off the fluid, you may be able to resolve yourself, while other times you may need to consult a professional for a repair.

Be a defensive rider

When riding, keep your bike in positions that can easily be spotted by other motorists, the MSF advises. Avoid riding in another driver's blind spot, for instance, and don't stay behind a large truck, where others may not see you.

Don't hesitate to use your horn if you think another driver could put you in jeopardy, the MSF adds. A quick beep of the horn can alert others that you're there.

Avoid Road Hazards

A motorcycle can be more prone to skids and bumps in the road because bikes have less contact with the pavement, Consumer Reports says. It's a good idea to try to avoid running over debris, such as wet leaves and pebbles. If you can't avoid hitting a potential hazard, Consumer Reports suggests slowing down as much as you can.

Try to approach bumps such as railroad tracks at a right angle to help prevent your bike from skidding, Consumer Reports adds.

Perform motorcycle maintenance

Routine maintenance plays an important role in motorcycle safety. MSF suggests checking your battery each month and, if the fluid level is low, topping it off with distilled water. Additional maintenance steps are usually listed in the owner's manual. The MSF recommends having service performed at an authorized motorcycle dealership.

Riding a motorcycle comes with responsibility. Doing what you can to make sure you and your bike are prepared for your ride may help you have a safer and more enjoyable trip.