Motorcycles are probably one of the most fun transportation methods out there, but it’s important to ride with safety (and legality) in mind. If you’re an experienced rider, you can think of this as a refresher. But, if you’ve caught a more recent case of motorcycle madness, give this post a thorough read before you head out on the road.
Getting ready to ride
No matter how eager you are to start riding, you need to make sure you’re road ready first. You may not have heard the biker term “squid,” but you definitely don’t want to be one. A squid is someone who rides without any thought for the safety of others (or their own, for that matter.) They ride in shorts and t-shirts, neglect proper safety gear, and tend to view the yellow center line as more of a suggestion than a hard and fast rule. Drivers don’t like them, and other bikers don’t either.
That said, here are some gear and safety tips to get you started as a responsible rider.
Dress for success
Even a cursory online search will find you plenty of horror stories of riders who owe their lives to their gear. At a minimum, you should wear the following every time you ride:
- While there are open-face and three-quarter coverage helmets out there, experienced, safety-minded riders don’t recommend them. Nearly half of all impacts to motorcycle helmets land on the face or chin, and both areas are left unprotected by three-quarter and open-face helmets. Full-face helmets also have the added benefit of keeping the wind out of your eyes and the bugs out of your mouth.
- In addition to full-face, your helmet should be, at minimum, DOT-rated. Most helmets also need to be retired after five years of use due to material degradation.
- Riding boots should cover your ankles and fit snugly enough not to fly off in a crash. Strong heel and toe boxes, as well as armor over your ankles and shins, all provide valuable added protection.
- Your hands, like your feet, are fragile. Abrasion-resistant riding gloves with armor at the base of the palms will help protect them in the event of a crash.
Jackets and pants
- With these garments, look for sturdy, abrasion-resistant materials with armor included to protect your joints. You also need to keep proper fit in mind. Your jacket shouldn’t flap around in the wind, and your pants shouldn’t dig into your skin while in your riding position.
- It’s worth noting that denim does not hold up well in a motorcycle crash. Opt for leather or abrasion-resistant nylon fabric instead.
Vehicle maintenance is just as, if not more important for your motorcycle as it is for your car. Giving your bike a basic check-up can go a long way towards keeping you safe. Before you ride, be sure to check the following:
- Check your tires for cracked rubber and keep an eye on your wear bars, which will tell you when your tires should be replaced.
- Make sure your bike has enough oil, and, if your bike is used, change the oil when you first bring it home as well. It’s possible that the previous owner was perfectly conscientious, but it’s better to make sure.
- Check the cables on both of your throttle and brake levers to be sure you will be in complete control of your speed.
- Improper tire inflation can result in an unbalanced and unsafe ride. An online search or your owner’s manual can give you the correct PSI (the amount of pressure) for your motorcycle tires.
- Make sure your headlights, brake lights, and turn signals are all working properly so you stay visible to other vehicles.
Safety on the road
The freedom of riding a motorcycle does come with its fair share of risk. Even if you’ve followed the advice above regarding gear and maintenance, there’s plenty more you can and should do to keep yourself safe. Below, we’ll go over general safety tips for motorcyclists.
In a perfect world, distracted driving would be a non-issue. Unfortunately, whether it’s due to impaired driving or more run-of-the-mill carelessness, other drivers often end up putting motorcyclists at risk. Increase your visibility and your safety by:
Wearing bright clothing
- Even if neon isn’t usually your thing, protective gear in bright colors offers the added benefit of higher visibility.
Wearing glow-in-the-dark gear at night
- You might feel like you’re dressed more for a rave than a ride, but glowing gear can help keep you safe when darkness affects visibility.
Using reflective tape
- Reflective tape on your motorcycle makes your bike stand out to other motorists.
Steering clear of blind spots
- Ideally, every driver should check their blind spots before changing lanes, but we know that isn’t always the case. Don’t hover in blind spots, especially those of larger vehicles, and when you pass, do so quickly. Don’t linger.
Using strategic lane positioning
- Motorcycles have much more room to maneuver within lanes than most other vehicles. Paying attention to lane positioning can turn your bike’s smaller size into an advantage. For example, if you are passing a car on your right, ride in the section of your lane farthest to your left to create a space cushion between yourself and the car.
It’s common knowledge that tailgating is unsafe, but that doesn’t mean most people, whether on a bike or in a car, haven’t been guilty of it from time to time. Just because a motorcycle can brake and swerve faster than other vehicles doesn’t mean you should disregard proper following distance while riding. Recommendations vary slightly, but most sources agree that you should leave at least two seconds worth of space between your motorcycle and the car ahead of you. To apply the two second rule, choose a stationary landmark and begin counting when the vehicle ahead of you passes it. If you pass your chosen landmark before you’ve finished counting, you are following too closely. Keep in mind, two seconds is considered a minimum. Feel free to raise the number, especially when roads are wet.
Handling dangerous surfaces
It’s much easier to control a motorcycle on surfaces with good traction. Mud, icy roads, gravel, railroad tracks, and manhole covers can all pose a danger even to experienced riders. When riding in the rain, it’s best to slow down, avoid abrupt changes in direction, and apply gradual pressure to both brakes when needed. Squeezing the front brake too quickly can cause your front wheel to lock up and swerving can increase your risk for an accident.
Riding with passengers
If you’re planning to ride with a passenger, go over a few basic safety rules with them first. Emphasize that they should brace themselves for braking and acceleration, not put their feet down when you stop, and not make any abrupt movements that could distract you or unbalance your bike. It’s also worthwhile to come up with simple hand signals for them to tell you to slow down or pull over.
Driving at night
Safety while riding at night largely comes down to visibility. Nighttime riding is when your glow-in-the-dark gear and reflective tape will most come in handy. You could also consider a photochromic visor, which adjusts to light levels throughout the day, or a headlight modulating kit, which allows your headlights to pulse to alert other drivers.
Planning for emergencies
Practicing collision avoidance maneuvers can help keep you safer in the event of an incident. Invest in a motorcycle safety course to familiarize yourself with emergency braking and swerving strategies. When you’ve completed the course, practice these maneuvers in a safe environment to build your muscle memory so you’ll know what to do to avoid a crash.
Rules of the road
Legality, along with safety, should be at the top of your priority list when choosing to ride a motorcycle. Below are the licensing requirements for the states where Elephant can offer you coverage:
- A Class M license or Class MP instructional permit is required to operate a motorcycle.
- Applicants must be 16 or older to receive a Class M license.
- Applicants for a Class M license must complete a rider education course and an eye exam. Illinois
- Anyone under the age of 18 must complete an IDOT-approved motorcycle training course and the Secretary of State’s motorcycle driver’s examination to obtain a motorcycle license.
- A person aged 18 or older may be issued a 12-month motorcycle instruction permit, which allows them to drive on highways, during daylight hours, under the supervision of a licensed motorcycle operator who is 21 or older and has at least one year of driving experience.
- No one younger than 16 years and 180 days of age can receive a motorcycle learner’s permit.
- Anyone over the age of 16 years and 180 days may operate a motorcycle with either a motorcycle learner’s permit, a commercial or regular driver’s license, a chauffeur’s license, or a public passenger chauffeur’s license with a motorcycle endorsement.
- Anyone holding a valid operator, chauffeur, or public passenger chauffeur base license can receive a motorcycle learner’s permit upon passing a vision screening and motorcycle knowledge test.
- A motorcycle learner’s permit is valid for one year and allows the driver to drive during daylight hours, with a helmet, and without passengers.
- Applicants must be at least 16 years and 90 days old to obtain a provisional license.
- Applicants under the age of 18 must complete a driver’s education and motorcycle safety course.
- A Class M license allows the license holder to drive motorcycles.
- The age requirements for motorcycle licenses mirror driver license age of 15 years and 6 months.
- Applicants for a motorcycle license must pass a supervised motorcycle driving test or have passed an approved motorcycle safety and education program within 60 days prior to applying.
- Legal residents of Tennessee over the age of 16 can apply for motorcycle licenses.
- Legal residents of Tennessee who are at least 15 years old may apply for a motorcycle learner’s permit which allows them to ride during daylight hours, within 20 miles of their home, off the interstate, without passengers, and with an engine size equal to or less than 650cc.
- Successful completion of a motorcycle rider training course may be used in place of the licensing skills test and/or the knowledge test.
- A holder of a Class M driver’s license may operate a motorcycle.
- Applicants required to take a road test must provide a vehicle and licensed driver to convey the examiner during said test.
- Applicants must pass a written exam and a road test before receiving a license.
- These tests may be waived for members of the US Armed Services, their spouses, or their dependents who have successfully completed a basic US Armed Services approved rider course.
Along with licensing, each state has its own rules regarding motorcycle insurance as well. Insurance regulations might seem complex, but Elephant and Dairyland Insurance can help. Elephant offers motorcycle insurance through our partnership with Dairyland Insurance. Each policy is customized to give you everything you need and nothing that you don’t.
We offer multiple discounts for rider groups, H.O.G. members, and others. What’s more, even though your motorcycle insurance policy is written by Dairyland Insurance, it’s still housed under Elephant. This means that you can still qualify for our Multi-Policy discount if you have other vehicles registered with us.
Use the advice in this post to keep your riding safe, and work with Elephant to keep it legal. Contact us today to get a quote for motorcycle insurance.