Riding Your First Motorcycle

vulcan-900Many people, men and women alike, believe that motorcycles are easy to handle. After all, most of us mastered a bicycle by the age of eight and like a bicycle, motorcycles have two wheels as well. How difficult can they really be to manage on the road? The average person can get a bicycle up to around 30 mph on a flat surface. A pro cyclist can get to around 50 mph. A motorcycle can go from zero to more than 60 mph in under 4 seconds. That’s a steep increase over a bicycle, and one that should be your first clue that riding a motorcycle is going to take quite a bit of practice to get right.

If you are in the market for your first motorcycle or you know, as many riders do, that your life will be enriched through the travel options that owning a motorcycle will bring, you should take a few things into consideration before making your purchase and before hopping on the seat to take it for a spin. A motorcycle does not come equipped with an airbag or safety features like an automobile, and until you have been through some training, you simply do not want to just “hop on” and try to ride away into the sunset. A simple mistake when driving a car may end with a small scratch or even a slight fender dent. Making a mistake on a motorcycle can end your life. Be aware though that while riding a motorcycle is often thought to be dangerous, so are many other things in life and you can control the danger level by gaining experience and learning to be safe.

Before you ride your first bike, you may want to consider taking a motorcycle safety course with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) as they offer safety courses nationwide for motorcycle owners and those interested in riding. Taking a course is not mandatory, but (more…)

Motorcycle Insurance Factors

How is Motorcycle Insurance Calculated?

Yamaha YZF-R125Those who have previously owned a motorcycle, or any vehicle for that matter, know there is no such thing as standard pricing when it comes to insurance. The issue is that different companies offer varying insurance rates; and with the number of insurance companies out there, it can be a real mission comparing pricing to find the one which will provide the best coverage and the best price. Some of the companies that you should at least take a look at are Geico (USA), Famous Insurance (Australia), TD Insurance (Canada), and Bennetts (UK).

What you need to know, though, is that you’re not the only one doing the research; the insurance company also has its own set of considerations before deciding how much to charge you for motorcycle insurance. Detailed below is the information on what factors insurance companies take into consideration when giving you a quote:

Your Driving History

Ever heard the saying “history has a way of repeating itself”?  Well, insurance companies have, and they believe in this concept. That is why you are asked to detail any accidents you may have previously in where you were at fault; leaving your driving history (and ability!) open to being scrutinized by insurance companies. Needless to say, a cleaner driving record will mean a lower insurance premium.

Your Ride

Are you cruising on a brand new Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R? Or perhaps you still BMW G650GShaven’t let go of your beloved 2004 Yamaha Road Star. For the insurance company, your ride of choice matters. This is because the newer and the more expensive your motorcycle is, the higher your insurance premium will be. This is one good reason not to upgrade, and simply stick with your old bike!


This is one moment in life where it pays to be older. Insurance companies will take into account the age of the primary driver of the motorcycle when determining the cost of your insurance.  Much like your bike model – the younger you are, the higher your premium is going to be. That means, the older generation of drivers get to enjoy lower insurance rates than their younger counterparts.

Driving Skills

The more experience you have behind the wheel, the less you are going to pay for insurance. How do you do this if you’re only a new driver?  You can undergo special motorcycle training or at least a basic driving course; just present the proper certification to the insurance company and this should get you a better deal.

Residence and Workplace

img2Even the area in which you live or work is factored into the cost of your motorcycle insurance premium. Frequenting areas that are prone to accidents or have a high crime rate tend to raise insurance costs. Unfortunately there is no way around this, unless you plan to move or change jobs.

Being a skilled driver with an unblemished driving record; and staying away from areas with a high accident rate should net you an affordable insurance premium. If you don’t fall under this category and think you can’t afford motorcycle insurance, think about the cost of replacing your bike or someone else’s without insurance. You know what they say: it’s better to be safe (and properly insured) than sorry.


SMIDSYThe article “Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You” by Bud Miller was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 5/19/2013.

Over a dozen years of all-season commuting has taught me many ways to handle a wide variety of situations. One of the most dangerous for riders is the left turning driver coming towards them. The 2009 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute report found that more than half of motorcycle-related deaths involved at least one other vehicle and 42 percent of two-vehicle fatal motorcycle crashes involved a vehicle turning left while the motorcycle was going straight, passing, or overtaking the vehicle.

I’ve never quite gotten used to the feeling that the driver waiting to turn left doesn’t see me and, having witnessed a serious crash a while back, I have firsthand knowledge of just how horrific it can be when they don’t. That incident is still burned into my brain. However, I happened across a the video bellow that explains some of the reasons for what they call the “SMIDSY” (an acronym for Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You).

The fact that motorcycles present such a narrow and small profile can make it difficult for drivers to differentiate them from the background and to detect movement. While we can blame the driver to a large degree, there are physiological reasons that may account for their failing to see a motorcyclist. Imagine trying to tell if a person walking some distance ahead of you on foot is moving towards you, away from you, or merely standing still. They can easily blend into the background to the point where you don’t see them unless they move side to side, raise their arms, or do something else to distinguish themselves. For me that reinforces the idea that I have to assume I am not seen, and why I say that you simply can’t ride a motorcycle with the same mindset you use when driving a car, especially near intersections.

A technique I’ve been using, which is discussed in the video, is to gently swerve left and right if I’m approaching an intersection where a driver is waiting to turn across my path. The swerve breaks me from my background, which, from the driver’s perspective, is locked and still. The trick is to keep the movement gentle yet noticeable. You don’t want to give the impression that you are turning or playing around. You just want to be visible as a moving object against a static background.

A motorcyclist’s safety arsenal includes a lot of techniques and, at least for me, the swerving technique described in the SIMDSY video seems to work when coupled with high visibility gear, neutral throttle, and keeping two fingers on the brake lever. It’s another way to be proactive and to stay safe out there.

Tips and Tricks – Part 3

The article “The Road Often Traveled: Tips & Tricks – Part 3” by Bud Miller was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 07/18/2012.

I posted Tips & Tricks Part 1 two weeks ago and Tips & Tricks Part 2 last week. Here is another installment with a few more observations that occurred to me lately on my daily commute.

Be Wary of Gaps
Here in Pennsylvania, it’s still legal to use a cell phone while driving. There is a ban on texting but I’m not sure how enforceable it is since it’s still legal to make and receive a call. I’ve noticed that anyone intent on texting or calling when stopped in traffic will often leave a considerable gap between themselves and the car in front of them. It serves as an alert to me that an inattentive driver using a cell phone may be behind the wheel.

The fastest lane is usually the one you’re in
I see this every morning on my commute; everyone thinks they’re going to get there faster if they swerve from lane to lane whenever a slight gap opens up. Every morning it seems that when I ride in my lane and stay there, I end up right next to the guy who’s been meandering through traffic.

Hand positions
After a few close calls commuting I’ve altered my hand positions slightly. My left hand has two fingers on the clutch lever and thumb on the air horn. That saves me some time in heavy traffic and keeps me from missing the horn in an emergency. It takes a bit of getting used to but works like a charm.

My right hand always has two fingers on the front brake lever, again to save time and give me the instant use of both brake and throttle when necessary.

Yellow Line Crossovers
More and more lately I’ve noticed impatient drivers swerving around other cars who are making turns. Often they swerve into the oncoming lane. It’s something to watch out for and make lane position choices about in traffic. I try to stay visible but in the case of a car approaching you and turning right you have to watch out for the trailing car swerving across into your lane.

Look up ramps for mergers
I always give a look over my shoulder and up ramps checking for mergers before they suddenly appear in my mirror. Some ramp angles are so subtle and gradual that other cars are often driving parallel to motorcycles just before they merge. A quick head check up the ramp can save a rider from an incident.

Sometimes you just have a feeling
The other day I was previewing a route for a group ride I have scheduled and found myself behind two other vehicles. The lead vehicle was driving slowly, maybe 40 in a 55. The second car was obviously impatient, as was I; but we were in a section of double yellow lines. The second car got tired of waiting and passed. I had a split second where I considered following him but I held back. As the passing car began to merge a huge deer ran out from the side of the road. Had I followed I doubt I’d have missed the deer. Sometimes you just have a feeling, I always try to defer to those feelings.

Please see Tips and Tricks Part 1 and Tips and Tricks Part 2

I’ll post more as they occur to me. What are some other tips that we can all use to make us safer on the road?

Tips and Tricks – Part 2

The article “The Road Often Traveled: Tips & Tricks – Part 2” by Bud Miller was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 05/16/2012.

Last Week, I wrote a post called Tips & Tricks Part 1. Here is another installment with a few observations that occurred to me today while commuting 40 miles in the rain.

Wait for it: When pulling out from red lights, I try to wait a heartbeat after the light turns green. Frequently, and especially on the morning commute, people run red lights. Waiting a second or two puts me in better position for a car running a light to pass me by before I pull into an intersection. Also, on four lane roads it allows me to use the car next to me as a block for any car that may approach from that side.

Swerving around traffic: This one is a question of vision. As the saying goes, “Never put your bike anyplace your brain hadn’t been two seconds earlier.” Swerving around a turning car means you’re doing just that. I’ve learned its better to slow up, let the car in front make his turn without altering my course, then accelerate when the space is clear and I can see what’s ahead. It also stands to reason that the bigger the vehicle I am following, the more it can obscure. You’ve heard the term “nature abhors a vacuum.” Well, the same can be said of motorists at rush hour.

Tapping the brakes: There’s a point on my commute where an intersecting road is hidden around a sweeping curve. It’s impossible to see if someone may be pulling out into my lane until I am midway through the turn and very close to the intersection. The speed limit is 45 in that section, so as I approach the turn I tap the brake lever to at least try to get the attention of any car behind me. It’s another example of how commuting allows you to learn the route and its hidden dangers, which is an excellent training aid for touring.

Accepting wave outs: I’m always cautious when another motorist gives me the “go ahead” wave. The most important consideration is whether or not you have clear vision ahead and to both sides. I’ll politely decline a wave-out and wait if I can’t see well enough and believe it’s possible I may be surprised. Another consideration is that it may be possible other motorists failed to see someone has waved you on and may try and fill the vacant space at the same time you do.

Watch the rims: I try to watch the rims of cars waiting to pull into traffic to see if they are moving or not. Quite often it’s difficult to tell if a car is beginning to pull out by looking at the car or the driver. Most rims are light colored and have holes in them that create contrast. If I glance at the rims, it’s much easier to detect movement and may give you a bit of extra time to react.

Please see Tips and Tricks Part 1 and Tips and Tricks Part 3

I’ll post more as they occur to me. What are some other tips we can all use to make us safer on the road?

7th Annual RoadRUNNER Magazine Touring Weekend

RoadRUNNER Magazine named Maggie Valley, North Carolina as the location for its 7th Annual Touring Weekend and Memorial Ride. Each year, the team at RoadRUNNER hosts this event in honor of the magazine’s founder, Christian Neuhauser. For the past six years, the Touring Weekend has been based at various locations along the East Coast, most recently landing in Staunton, VA (2011) and Bristol, VA (2010).

On July 11, 2012, the event will kick off with a welcome party and barbeque at this year’s base in the beautiful mountain town of Maggie Valley. To accommodate a growing number of participants, the weekend has been extended to four days—Thursday has been included as a time when attendees can choose to ride on their own, convene on the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds, where RoadRUNNER and a number of vendors will have booths, or take a five-minute walk to the nationally acclaimed motorcycle museum, Wheels Through Time.

On Friday and Saturday, (more…)

Mandatory Safety Classes?

Training course

I’ve been involved in a discussion on LinkedIn regarding licensing and whether or not motorcycle safety courses should be mandatory for obtaining a motorcycle license. Here in Pennsylvania if you have an automobile license all you need to do is pay a small fee for a motorcycle permit. With that permit you can walk out of the building, mount a bike (any bike, any size)  and ride away. Zero instruction of any kind. In my case I bought a bike, rode it on weekends on back country roads until I got proficient enough to venture out in traffic. Anyone who rides knows firsthand the kind of muscle memory that is required to ride proficiently and safely. That only comes from repetition and practice. Practice that, I believe, too many people acquire in the crucible of the open road rather than a safe, closed environment.

It is a bit frightening to imagine young, enthusiastic riders getting their permits and jumping on a GSX750 with a power to weight ratio they have no idea how to control and hurting or killing themselves because they haven’t had anyone tell them about situational awareness or clutch and throttle control, what to be aware of with regard to riding in traffic, safety gear, the importance and effectiveness of the front brake or any other instruction of any kind except from a friend, who most likely is also self taught. In fact, during my safety course my brother and I actually heard someone say “oh, my husband never uses his front brake”. Amazing that a seemingly experienced rider would say something so dangerously incorrect.

The MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) course is a good one but it’s not mandatory. Many riders get their permits, renew them every two years and never take a course. It’s a strange and potentially dangerous system. I’d favor a mandatory instruction course with graduated licensing, say under 500cc for anyone with less than 2 years experience. There are myriad ways to set it up that would be better than our current system. I’ve heard so many stories about riders who hopped on a bike with no experience or instruction, crashed, hurt themselves or their passenger and who consequently never rode again. I was curious as to the licensing methods in place in other states and countries. This blog has been viewed in every U.S. state and in nearly every country. I’d be interested in any feedback or opinions anyone can provide.

Ride safe.