Five Basic Rules
Here are 5 basic rules that all riders should make their own once and for all, and never stray away from:
- BE PROTECTED: Always wear appropriate protective gear, including a helmet (even if you ride in a no-helmet law state!), over-the-ankle boots, and gloves. Riding without a helmet is the most certain way to get serious head injuries if you fall. You only have 1 head and 1 brain. Put the helmet on even if it’s hot out there and even if it doesn’t “look cool”. There is nothing that is less cool than being dead or in a wheelchair for life because of a traumatic brain injury.
- BE VISIBLE: Use brightly colored gear to be more visible from traffic. Add reflective tape to your helmet, jacket and overpants to be more visible at dusk and night. Never ride with a broken a taillight or headlight. Avoid changing your OEM taillight to mount a small LED taillight on your bike. These are often not visible enough to tell car drivers you are braking.
- SIGNAL YOUR TURNS: Always use your turn signals when taking turns or changing lanes. Make sure your front and back turn signals are in working order when you start your bike for a ride. The main problem with riding in traffic is visibility: a motorcycle is a small moving object lost among hundreds of other small moving and static objects on the road. It is not very visible. Make yourself more visible by using your turn signals.
- BE AWARE OF BLIND SPOTS: You and your motorcycle can often be hidden in car or truck driver’s blind spot. Avoid riding in this blind spot. Check the rearview mirrors of cars ahead of you on your left and on your right: do you see the face of the drivers? If you don’t, they don’t see you either.
- NO SPLITTING LANES: When blocked in traffic, never split lanes when state law prohibits it. In general, avoid splitting lanes in slow traffic, even if state law allows it. In slow traffic, car drivers tend to change lane abruptly to move forward if they see a gap in the next lane. They don’t always check their rearview mirror before they change lane. If you are splitting lanes and coming closer and faster, they will rarely see you.
The MSF Courses
We strongly advise you to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Courses Level 1 and Level 2. MSF Level 1 is mandatory in most states to get the motorcycle endorsement on your license. But MSF level 2 (Defensive Driving) is usually not mandatory. Yet this course is packed with good advice. In some cities, you can do it at night if you are not free during the weekend. It only takes a few hours to complete, and you will come out with life-saving strategies to ride more safely in traffic. Even if you are a seasoned rider, take the MSF Defensive Driving Course: you will get something out of it that may get you out of a pickle in many occasions.
Your motorcycle insurance carrier will usually give you some discount if you show you completed these courses.
Continuous Rider Education
We also strongly encourage you to continue educating yourself as a rider. We quickly fall back into bad habits. Reading books and watching videos about rider safety and how to better handle yourself in traffic is a great way to remain connected to basic safety rules and riding strategies that work.
There are also many motorcycle riding group classes available across the US that help you take better control of your machine. These classes teach hands-on riding skills and are often led by former motorcycle cops. These officers have honed their riding skills for years and become masters at handling any type of bike in any situation. They will teach you how to better take your turn, how to maneuver in tight spots, how to avoid falling down when braking, how to stop your bike faster in screaming emergency situations, etc. These are not just useful skills to have, but life-saving skills to practice.
Cops have also seen all kinds of traffic accidents. They teach situational awareness at a level that most riders don’t have because they haven’t put as many hours “in the saddle” as motorcycle cops did. There is always something to learn from these classes, and we encourage you to find them in your state. In Florida, Jerry Paladino teaches an excellent maneuvering skills course on close range. Jerry has trained other motorcycle cops to teach his course. So even if you don’t live in Florida, you can still be trained by the guys of RideLikeaPro.com in many states.
If you ride a sports bike, it is a good idea to check what Keith Code and his SuperBike School have in store for you. They also maintain a calendar of training sessions in several states, so you don’t need to go to California to be trained at a high level on cornering and other sports bike riding skills.
These are only 2 examples of continuous rider education courses that you can take to perfect your skills and riding habits. We do not specifically endorse them over other motorcycle classes, but they are well-known teachers and we like to share. We encourage you to find from your local HOG chapter and local motorcycle dealers what other riding classes happen in your city and state.
Depending on their level of approval, your insurance carrier may also give you a discount on your policy when you show you completed such courses.