In Motorcycle Touring 101 – Part 1, I discussed building mileage, alone vs. solo, storage equipment and types of motorcycles. This post will contain an emphasis on safety. Although motorcycling is incredibly enjoyable to many, it can be very dangerous.
The best way to protect yourself is to prevent accidents and mishaps in the first place. Motorcycle maintenance is the first half of the equation, but too broad a subject to discuss here. The other half is you, and how you ride. Check out the Motorcycle Safety Foundation for literature and classes to hone your riding skills. Check out some books, particularly “Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well” to help visualize and make concrete proper riding techniques.
There are two kinds of riders. Those who have fallen, and those who will. I am an ATGATT rider. ATGATT means “All the Gear, All the Time”. It is a nuisance – and extra work, but I like to error on the side of caution. When people ask me in the 100 degree Arizona sun, “Aren’t you hot in that leather jacket?” I often respond, “I’d rather sweat than bleed.”
Protect your head. Wear a helmet. According to the HURT Report on motorcycle accidents, 25% of accidents involving an impact to the head occurred at the face. That half helmet may be more comfortable and stylish, but I personally think it is too risky. You can compromise and buy a “flip helmet” in which the face of the helmet flips up so you can get out behind the chin bar every once in a while.
Now for the hands and feet. If you fall you will instinctively try and brace yourself with your hands. A quality leather or textile glove will save them. If you find yourself pinned under your motorcycle, those tennis shoes won’t offer much protection. Get a solid pair of motorcycle boots with strong ankle protection. Solid boots will also help you stabilize your motorcycle should it lurch to the side after an unexpected emergency stop.
The torso and legs. A jacket is a must. It not only helps in the event of a crash but protects you from the cold and heat. You lose more moisture from your body if you are without a jacket as opposed to wearing a thick leather one. Pants are a pain to wear. Walking around like an astronaut when you’re off the bike isn’t always nice, but it will save your backside… literally. It saved mine when I went down at 80MPH and walked away with nothing more than a bruise on my hip.
The eyes and ears. If sunglasses don’t fit inside you’re helmet or are just too uncomfortable, get a tinted visor. Carry the clear one with you in case you get caught in the dark. Ear protection is the most overlooked aspect of motorcycle safety. Ear protection reduces fatigue and prevents permanent hearing loss. Get a pair of those foam plugs, or even some headphones work well. It make take some time to get acquainted with not hearing what’s around you, but your eyes will tell you more than your ears as the wind rushes by at 55 MPH.
Motorcycling is inherently dangerous, but many of the dangers can be mitigated. Proper riding equipment will help avoid most injuries, but I discuss that in further detail in the Protective Equipment section. I always recommend carrying an emergency kit with you. The contents of this kit will vary based on the proximity to civilization and how remote the areas you are riding through. There are ready-made kits available, but don’t be shy to beef them up with some extras. There are many resources online that can guide your decisions. Remember that first aid equipment is useless if you don’t know how to administer first aid. Consider courses or literature on the subject.
A piece of equipment that I never leave home without is a Personal Locator Beacon. This allows friends, family or rescue personal locate your position should you experience an accident and are unable to signal for help. My personal favorite Personal Locator Beacon is one called Spot. It costs about $150 last I checked, and has a service fee of $100 a year. For an extra $50 per year you can add real-time tracking that updates your location every 10 minutes so that friends and family can see where you are and give them peace of mind. There are other options on the market, but Spot seems to be the most popular and cheapest. I’ve been using it for over two years with consistently good results.
You don’t have to go out on every ride with a doomsday scenario in the back of your mind, but with modest preparation you can overcome anything the road might throw at you.