AA advice for safe motorbike driving
Often overlooked, these are very important aspects of motorbike safety. Operating a motorbike safely is much more physically and mentally demanding than driving a car. Are you physically able to ride safely? Are you mentally prepared to ride and concentrate on the riding tasks? Many things can impair either or both. Some things are rather obvious, some not.
Consider this list:
- You have had a drink in the past two hours.
- You are just getting over a pretty bad case of the flu.
- You are upset or angry.
It is obvious that item 1 will impair your physical abilities to operate a motorcycle and depending on how much you've had to drink you could be breaking the law. Item 2 is less obvious but potentially just as dangerous. You may feel MUCH better, but after a day or two of extreme weakness and bedrest, you are not back to 100% as quickly as you may think.
Your bike falling from under you when your leg is too weak to hold it up at a stop is not the time to realize it. It would be impossible to list all things that could impair your abilities. The key is to be aware of your physical and mental condition and save the ride for later if there is anything that could substantially impair either. Your life may depend on it.
When most people hear the term "riding gear", they think of things that will lessen injury in case of a fall. While that is a big part of it, riding gear can and should be used to help keep you from falling in the first place. Never thought about it that way? If not, you're certainly not alone. Proper riding gear is used to maintain comfort as well as provide crash protection. Discomfort can actually CAUSE a fall.
So what is proper riding gear? It depends on the conditions, but at minimum it is:
- An approved helmet. The helmet should fit snugly but not be too tight. In other words, it should be comfortable. Besides being the best defense against head injury in case of a fall, it is also the Law.
- A long-sleeved shirt or jacket, snug at the wrists.
- Long pants. If your bike should fall over at a speed greater than, say, 3 mph, one of your legs will likely contact the ground. Bare flesh is no match for the rigid substances that our transportation folks like to make roads from. Long pants also offer adequate protection for your legs from the extremely hot parts that many bikes like to show off.
- Full-fingered gloves. Besides abrasion protection, gloves usually offer a better grip on the controls, especially in condition extremes. In the cold, you will need them to stay warm. In the heat, sweaty hands or fingers may slip off the controls. Gloves offer a buffer against this. They also provide some level of protection against flying objects, such as rocks picked up by traffic or insects, that inevitably will collide with your hands.
- Eye protection. This may be goggles or a visor.
- Sturdy footwear, preferably leather and preferably over the ankle. Besides the obvious abrasion protection, on most motorcycles there are many hot parts that reside near your feet and ankles. You should avoid long or dangling laces. Your quick thinking may be put to the test if you come to a stop and your foot won't go down because you have a lace caught in the shifter or brake pedal.
Tailor your riding gear to the conditions you will encounter!
Making sure your Motorcycle is ready
You being ready to ride is only part of the battle. You need to make sure your motorcycle is ready too. You should perform a quick, overall inspection of your motorcycle before each ride. To do this, use what is referred to as the T-CLOCK inspection, explained below.
T - Tyres and wheels
Check your tyres for proper air pressure, tread depth, cracks, bulges or embedded objects. Check wheels for dents, cracks and roundness. Check spokes for proper tightness or missing spokes. Check bearings and seals for signs of failure.
C - Controls
Check all levers, making sure they are not broken, bent, cracked or loose. Check the condition and routing of control cables, making sure they move freely, are not frayed, and have no sharp angles, and are of sufficient length as to not interfere with steering. Check that all hoses are in good condition and don't interfere with steering. Make sure your throttle moves freely, with no sticking and snaps closed when released.
L - Lights and electrical
Check your battery, making sure the terminals are clean, electrolyte fluid is sufficient, and that it is properly secured. Check your headlight, making sure it works, has no cracks and is aimed properly. Check all other lights and reflectors for operation, cracks and fastening. Check wiring, looking for frays, clean connections and proper routing.
O - Oil and fluids
Check oil and fluid levels, including brake and clutch fluid, coolant and of course petrol. Check all fluid reservoirs, hoses and lines for leaks.
C - Chassis
Check condition of the frame, looking for cracks, dents or bends. Check forks and shocks, making sure they travel freely and are properly adjusted. Check chain or belt, for proper tension, lubrication and wear. Check all fasteners, bolts and cotter pins, making sure they are not missing, broken or loose.
K - Kickstand
Check the sidestand and centrestand. Make sure they are not cracked or bent, and that they spring into place and the tension is sufficient to hold them.
Although this sounds like a lot, this inspection can be performed quite quickly. While it won't guarantee against a failure of some sort, it will increase your odds of finding problems before they become dangerous or fatal.
Carrying a passenger
Carrying a passenger on a motorcycle is not like taking someone with you in a car. A passenger affects the overall handling and dynamics of your motorcycle. Unless you are a fairly skilled rider, you probably should not even consider taking on a passenger. If you do carry a passenger, you should know and do the following:
NEVER carry a passenger unless your motorcycle is designed for one, including seating space and passenger footpegs.
NEVER allow a passenger to sit anywhere except on the area of the seat designated for a passenger.
- Make sure that the weight of yourself, your passenger and all gear does not exceed the maximum recommended weight for your motorcycle according to manufacturer's specifications.
- Make sure your passenger has proper riding gear. It's just as important for your passenger to be protected and comfortable as it is for you.
- Make sure your passenger knows what he/she is supposed to do. Unless the person has ridden with you many times and you know he/she understands the rules, take the time to go over them before you start your ride. The passenger should:
- Keep his/her feet on the footpegs at all times, and avoid contact with hot parts.
- Sit still as much as possible, particularly when slowing or stopped.
- Always lean with the motorcycle. This means the passenger's torso should always be the same angle as the motorcycle. They should not lean in or out.
- When in a turn, look over the shoulder of the operator in the direction of the turn.
- Make sure your suspension is properly adjusted for the extra weight.
Loading Your Motorcyle
When loading your motorcycle, you need to do more than just randomly fill space. Don't forget to
- Check your owner's manual to find out your gross carrying capacity and never exceed it. Whether you have a touring machine with a travel trunk and saddlebags, or a standard motorcycle, the rule is the same - the bulk of the weight should be placed low and as close to the center of the motorcycle as possible.
- Distribute the weight evenly on both sides, and if using manufactured bags, never exceed the weight recommendation for that bag.
- Make sure that any attached load is securely fastened, and that any straps are tight, have no loose ends, and not freely moving.
- Make sure that any attached load does not block any lights or turn signals, or interfere with your steering, braking, gear changing, or other control of the motorcycle.