Tag Archive: safety

The Head-to-Toe Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Gear

(CC0 License – Public Domain)

There’s a lot for new motorcycle riders to be excited about: learning how to ride, choosing a first motorcycle, and finally hitting the road and experiencing one’s surroundings as they can only be experienced from the back of a bike.

But as exciting as all of this is, it’s also serious business, and there’s more to getting started than just getting licensed and buying a new bike. Being properly outfitted in protective motorcycle gear is as crucial to motorcycle safety as proper training.

If you’re a beginning motorcyclist looking for some guidance on getting properly outfitted to ride, the following rundown should give you everything you need to get started finding the gear you need to ride in safety and comfort.

The Helmet

Helmets are undoubtedly the most important piece of safety gear any motorcyclist can wear. Even a minor fall off of a motorcycle can result in a serious head injury if the rider isn’t wearing a helmet, to say nothing of more serious accidents. Here are the basics of what to look for in a motorcycle helmet:

  • DOT Certification: The U.S. Department of Transportation has a specific standard for motorcycle helmets (the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard no. 218), which outlines minimum performance ratings for metrics like impact absorption. Motorcycle helmets that meet this standard will feature a DOT sticker on the back or inside; don’t buy a helmet without this sticker.
  • Fit & Retention: A motorcycle helmet should fit snugly, but without being so tight that it’s uncomfortable. This will prevent the helmet from coming off or under-performing in an accident. Here’s a good basic test when finding a good fit: securely strap on the helmet and, gripping it from the back, try to pull it off over your head. With a helmet that fits properly, you won’t be able to.
  • Comfort: Discomfort is distracting, and no one wants to be distracted while they’re riding.
  • Style: Fashion should probably be the least of anyone’s concerns when shopping for a motorcycle helmet, but there are some choices when it comes to style. Full-face, open face, motocross, and half-helmets are all options. Full-face models offer the best protection, but many riders prefer open-face or half-helmets for comfort reasons.

The Jacket

What helmets do for your head, a good jacket does for your arms, shoulders, and torso. There are a lot of options when it comes to jackets, and it’s important to know what to look for.

  • Leather vs. Textile: A high-quality leather motorcycle jacket is about more than just looking cool. Leather offers excellent abrasion resistance, but might not be the best option for shock absorption. Many modern textile jackets are made from materials like Cordura or Kevlar, which also provide protection against abrasions, and are often a lot cooler than leather in warmer weather.
  • Armor: Armor and textile jackets are both available with built-in body armor to protect against falls. At minimum, look for a jacket with armor in the shoulders, back, and elbows with at least a “CE” safety rating.
  • Fit: A good motorcycle jacket should fit snugly without restricting movement. When trying on a motorcycle jacket, zip it up completely and try to approximate the position you take on your bike. If it’s too snug in the arms and shoulder to hold comfortably in the store, you can be it will be too snug on the road.

The Pants

Motorcycle pants protect your lower extremities from abrasions and impacts – shins, knees, hips, and bottom are all dependent on good motorcycle pants in a fall. Here are some of the most common options for motorcycle pants.

  • Leather: Leather pants, like jackets, offer superior abrasion resistance. However they’re often relatively uncomfortable, especially in warm weather. Most leather pants lack additional armor.
  • Textile: Textile riding pants are made with abrasion-resistant materials like Kevlar, and more often feature built-in-armor in high-impact areas like the knees and hips. As with jackets, these often feature better breathability than leather. Many manufacturers also make Kevlar and armor-reinforced denim jeans that strike a balance between style and safety.
  • Overpants: For commuters and others who don’t want to get to their destination with just armored riding pants, motorcycle over-pants are armored, abrasion-resistant pants designed to be worn over regular street clothes or denim motorcycle jeans.

The Boots

Footwear might not be as important for safety as a helmet or jacket, but it is a concern. Motorcycle boots provide protection to the ankle, shin, toes, and sole in the event of a crash, as well as offering improved grip and comfort on long rides when compared to normal street shoes. Here are some of the most common options for motorcycle boots.

  • Touring Boots: Touring boots are probably the most popular style of motorcycle boot. Generally tall to provide ankle support and shin protection, these boots are designed for commuting and long rides.
  • Short Boots: While not as protective in most cases as touring boots, short boots are often more comfortable, and offer a sneaker-like style and fit without completely sacrificing safety.
  • Cruiser Boots: Cruiser boots are heavy-duty boots designed for long rides on v-twin cruiser-style bikes. Heights vary, but typically cruiser boots offer great grip and superb protection against impacts and abrasions.

At the end of the day, the best motorcycle gear for you is what you’re most comfortable in – provided it offers at least a minimum amount of protection. Those just beginning will need some time to find out just what that is, but that’s all a part of the fun.

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…)

The Evolution of Motorcycle Safety

Did you know that the very first motorcycle was built in 1868? While popularity of the motorcycle didn’t quite catch on until the early 1900’s, it wasn’t until 1967 that the first helmet law was passed. Since 2005, not much has changed to enforce the law throughout the United States. In fact, according to this new info-graphic, it seems that motorcycle laws have become more lenient over the years. More and more states went from a universal helmet law to a partial helmet law by 2005, raising the age limit so that riders 20 and under (up from 17) are required to wear a helmet. This leniency has resulted in 17 states seeing an increase in motorcycle-related mortality rates.

Most states in the southeast and southwest saw higher mortality rates than the rest of the country. The most recent data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has determined that over 4,000 American motorcyclists died in traffic accidents during 2013, which is 13% of all motor vehicle deaths for that year. If the mortality rate for motorcyclists makes up more than ten percent of all accidents, why isn’t the law being adjusted to keep those motorcyclists safe?

The answer might lie in the mortality rates of the rest of the states. Click the graphic below to find out.

Motorcycle-Safety-IG-FINALmini1

On Being Led

On-Being-ledThe article “On Being Led” by Bud Miller was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 7/28/2013.

Last week I wrote about leading rides and its challenges and rewards. This week I thought I’d write about what being led feels like. During the RoadRUNNER Touring Weekend my new friend Ken and I led the leisure group on the northern loop. It was a lot of fun and a long day in the sun; yet when we arrived back at the campground we still had two hours to kill before dinner. Ken had mentioned being ready and willing to show us some more local roads anytime we liked, so as only true lovers of riding can do after eight hours in the saddle I said, “wanna go for a ride?” Ken’s response: “dirt or pavement?” and we were off.

I like leading because I love people and I’m a natural caretaker; but that night, chasing Ken through the mountains surrounding Maggie Valley I learned that following can be a rush too. I can’t remember having had so much fun riding. I had no idea where we were headed or for how long. I had no idea how sharp the turns ahead were or where the obstacles might be, I keyed off of Ken’s speed and counted on him pointing out anything I needed to be aware of. I have a vivid recollection of the smile I couldn’t wipe from my face. We were flying, hard on the throttle, hard on the brakes, dodging gravel and trees, and at one point sliding the rear end as we came upon a utility truck stopped on a blind turn. I remember at one point Ken picking leaves from his helmet as we ducked under low lying branches.

We reached a mountain summit after a long series of steep hairpins and we pulled off to the side of the road. Ken said “ok, shut off your engine”… “huh, why?” I responded. “We’re gonna coast race”, he said. “Oh, ok”. I’d never done it before but for what seemed like 10 minutes we just coasted down the mountain around more hairpin turns racing silently and engine-less. I’ll admit that in the beginning I was a bit timid and unsure, not having the use of the throttle to work against the brakes; but after a few minutes I started loving it and trying to use the weight of my V-Strom to catch Ken on his KLR.

I gave no thought to the 200 miles we’d already ridden or how tired I was. I thought only of the next turn and the one after that and of not letting him get too far ahead. Sometimes adventure is just realizing the moment while it’s happening. Eventually Ken gave me the sign to start ‘em up again and we rode on around a peaceful lake and back home to Maggie Valley as the sun began to set.

That evening, with the ever present threat of a storm and after a long hot, fulfilling day leading, I got to put all the concerns and stress of navigation aside and, for a glorious hour, tear across the countryside with my only concern being to fill myself up with as much joy as I could physically hold. I’m easy to please and honest emotion does it every time. From now on whenever anyone asks if I’d like to see some local roads, my answer will always be an emphatic “yes please.” You never know when an impromptu ride will settle in your soul.

On Leading

Leading-RidesThe article “On Leading” by Bud Miller was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 7/21/2013.

Leading a ride is a funny thing. I can’t speak for everyone who does it; I can only speak for myself. If a group of people agrees to follow you there’s a certain expectation that you will look out for them to the extent that you can. It can be difficult on unfamiliar roads, keeping one eye on the GPS, one on the map on the tankbag, and the other on your mirrors to be sure your group is intact. I know, I know, that’s three eyes…

People sign up for rides with certain expectations and it’s really important that you honor those expectations; but in a large group there’s likely to be a range of skills, experience, and expectations. Some want to go fast and not stop, others like a more relaxed pace and more frequent stops to take photos and take in the scenery. Not all bikes are the same either; some need to go faster for the rider to feel he’s really ridden; others not so much.

So as a leader of a group ride what do you do? You do your best. You try to extend yourself so that the faster riders get the thrill of going fast on new roads, then you slow a bit to allow the lesser experienced among you to catch up in the straight sections. You wait at stop signs watching your mirrors until the group is accounted for before proceeding. You take notes, study maps, meet everyone, and tell them everything you can think of to help them on the ride. You also look at the bikes in the group and predict their relative range and try to calculate gas stops.

Once out on the road you watch your mirrors for traffic that may get between you and your riders and you try to estimate when everyone should merge for an upcoming turn. You constantly assess the skill set of those behind you so you can decide how best to lead the ride. You watch the road for obstructions, gravel, and blind curves, ever mindful that it’s not about you— there are people counting on you. Sometimes you make mistakes, miss turns, or get too far ahead; it happens despite your best efforts. You make your apologies and do whatever it takes to get everyone back on track. This year I was fortunate to lead a few rides during the RoadRUNNER Touring Weekend in Maggie Valley, N.C. and with the help of my buddy Ken managed to get two fairly large groups of riders through 200 miles of spectacular mountain roads (and down the Dragon). It was my first time at the riding weekend and a trip I’ll never forget.

Leading a large group of riders is a challenge in a lot of ways. The payoff is giving each member of your group an experience they’ll never forget. Some remember it for the fast lines through twisty roads; others will remember that you took the time to comfort them after a fall or drop; some that you stopped often enough for it to seem like an experience rather than a race. In the end all that matters is having done your best to get everyone home, safe and happy. The smiles, hugs, and handshakes always let you know that, while it may not have gone perfectly, your efforts were appreciated and you did your job—and that makes all the difference.

SMIDSY

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.

Prescription Motorcycle Sunglasses from ADS Sports Eyewear

ADS

What’s In The Box

I’ve been testing a pair of prescription motorcycle sunglasses from ADS Sports Eyewear for a few weeks now and I have to say I’m quite impressed. I chose the Wiley X Blink model with bronze base lenses which I was told would provide more contrast as opposed to the grey base lens which is recommended for those with sensitive eyes or that live in heavy sun regions like Arizona.

The glasses arrived in an impressive package complete with a crush resistant, zippered case (a must for commuting), 2 lanyards, a bottle of cleaning solution and 2 cleaning cloths. The package also included detachable foam inserts that clip to the inside of the glasses to seal the area around your eyes while riding. I was skeptical about using the inserts, thinking they might limit peripheral vision; but I was pleasantly surprised to find they are quite comfortable and do not inhibit my vision at all. Detaching the inserts makes the glasses perfect for every day use off the bike, something I hadn’t found in motorcycle specific glasses before. Motorcycle sunglasses I’ve used in the past looked out of place off the bike.

ADS glasses are available in a wide variety of styles and colors and lens options and are affordably priced. They are light enough to be comfortable all day and fit securely with no sliding or slipping whatsoever. Your prescription information can be added via the website during the ordering process. As someone who has struggled with a combination of contact lenses, glasses and motorcycle protective glasses over the years I was happy to have come across ADS Sports Eyewear, they are a great value, are very stylish and perform perfectly. Ride safe.

Backpack Wrap

backpackwrap2Frequent visitors know that one of the focuses of this site is safety. When I hear about a new idea that will help keep riders safer out on the road I like to do what I can to get the word out. One such idea is the Backpack Wrap™, a high visibility, reflective backpack cover. Many motorcyclists and bicyclists do not have room to strap down gear for the commute and so wear backpacks. Every rider should be aware of the small profile today’s motorcycles present to vehicle traffic. We simply cannot count on our brake lights and turn signals to make us visible. Every precaution we can take to get ourselves noticed increases our safety immeasurably. Backpack Wrap is another tool to consider in our safety regimen.

Backpack Wrap will be available in neon green and blaze orange and features 3M reflective material that can be seen from a distance of 2500 feet and has a base layer of rigid nylon mesh. Adjustable Velcro straps make Backpack Wrap fit almost any size backpack.

The inventor, a professional graphic designer, has created a Kickstarter campaign to get Backpack Wrap into full production. I encourage you to stop by, read up and support it if you find the idea as useful as I do. Please take a look at the promotional video below. Ride safe.