1. Wear A Helmet
Your mom's a smart lady -- you should listen to her. When she told you to always wear a helmet as a kid, she did so for a reason. Your cranium may have gotten a little thicker in the ensuing years, but no matter how dense it may be, it won't protect you against a solid crack against concrete.
Brain damage is no fun, eating through a straw is hardly pleasant and trying to communicate with a damaged parietal cortex is no walk in the park. Don't be an idiot; wear a helmet. You may never need it, but when you do, you'll be glad you did.
2. Wear Gloves
This one may seem innocuous, but just think about it for a second. Every time you fall, what's the first thing you do? You put your damned hands out. It's human instinct, and when you're flying off your handlebars at 50 miles an hour, all you have is human instinct. If you're wearing a pair of simple leather gloves in the case of a minor spill, you'll likely come away with a few scratches at worst. If you had on a proper set of gauntlets like these, I doubt you'd even break the skin.
3. Wear Proper Boots
You may have grown up tooling around on your cousin's Vespa in nothing but a pair of sandals and swim trunks, but that doesn't mean you should continue doing so. Why wear solid over-the-ankle footwear? That old Vespa likely weighed at most 300 pounds -- take a Heritage Softail for a spin, and you're working with nearly 800 pounds of chromed-out metal. When you accidentally tip that bad boy over and experience that "oh, sh*t" moment and grunt like the Hulk to save your baby, the last thing you want is your foot slipping out or your ankle giving way. Good soles are essential, as is ample ankle support.
A proper jacket and pair of pants are also essential. In the event of a real spill, only proper riding leathers will give you the protection you need. The last thing you want to be is a SQUID (Stupid Quick Underdressed and Imminently Dead).
4. Look Where You Want To Go
You go where you look -- it's just how it works. When you enter a corner, it's imperative that you turn your head and look through the turn to where you want to go. There's nothing like the sensation of entering a corner and all of a sudden realizing that you're not turning, you're just going straight toward the opposite lane of traffic. Then you realize you're staring at a goofy-looking rock on the far side of the road and the light bulb goes off, you turn your head, look out at the exit of the curve, give a little lean and you're in the clear.
5. Never Use The Front Brake First
When a raccoon leaps out at you, a semi decides to change lanes or your exit pops up out of nowhere and it's time to hit the brakes and shed that speed, never hit the front brakes first. NEVER. You must train your instincts to always go for the rear brake first. If you grab the front break with any kind of enthusiasm at speed, you will eat it. This is not a question; it is a fact. Brake first with your foot, not your hand -- you'll be glad you did.
6. Slow In
Turning in, leaning down and powering out -- there's nothing like it. And when you get in the flow and you're cutting apex after apex, you're going to want to kick things up a notch. You need to remember to keep things in line, though, and always brake before you enter a curve. Racing drivers preach the church of smoothness, and that means accelerating and decelerating in a straight line. Grabbing the brakes in the midst of a corner is liable to upset your weight distribution, mess with your traction and generally screw things up.
The faster you're going, the more these effects are magnified. Go in too hot, grab the brakes in a panic and you'll realize that you would have been much much happier if you had just downshifted and chilled a bit. Slow in, fast out -- leave the speed for your way out.
If you want to learn more about Harley-Davidson's 110 years of history, check out my feature on the evolution of Harley-Davidson.
7. Watch Out For Sand And Debris
A motorcycle has much less traction than a car, and when debris like sand and gravel get between you and the road, it can have very detrimental effects. To avoid getting screwed by the sandman, you should always be on the lookout for sand and gravel and avoid driving over it in the first place. This means avoiding the shoulder and being aware of things like construction sites.
When riding in a group, it's important to help each other out and point out roadside hazards as they appear. Point out with your left hand for debris and obstacles when they're on your left and kick out your right foot to let your buddies know when there's a big patch of gravel on the right.
When you do have to go over a patch of sand, the key is to keep it slow and smooth, avoiding abrupt throttle or brake inputs. You also want to try and keep your bike as upright as possible. Lose traction at a 50-degree angle and you're going to go down; lose traction while perpendicular to the ground and you should be able to roll right on.
8. Don't Drink
This should really be a no-brainer, but never ride while intoxicated. Two beers can be as dangerous as six because riding requires making split-second decisions and reacting with precision and confidence. Alcohol not only slows your reaction time but gives you a false sense of confidence, making you more likely to try and squeeze through that disappearing gap or take on a corner way too hot. It's your responsibility to avoid collisions and maintain safe spacing while on the road. Doing so while stone sober is demanding enough as it is. Doing so while seeing double and burping up bubbles of booze -- nigh on impossible.
9. Act Like Nobody Has Mirrors
The average commuter is off in his or her own little world, chatting away with their friends, dreaming of tomorrow's party or scanning the radio 'cause they need to twerk it like Miley. They are doing everything but looking out for motorcyclists, and this means you need to be constantly on your guard. A good rule is to act as if everyone around you has no mirrors and can only see straight ahead. This means you've got to avoid blind spots, maintain proper spacing and assume that everyone and anyone may unexpectedly change lanes at a moment's notice. This may sound like an imposing task, and it is, but with time it will become second nature.
10. Roll Into It
The key to riding safely is keeping things smooth. Just as you never want to slam on the brakes, you never want to tear open the throttle. It's all about keeping the bike and yourself balanced. This applies as much to operating the machine as it does to approaching how and when you drive. Don't expect to drive cross-country a week into your license. Know your limits and be aware of how much and what kind of experience you have.
You never stop learning, and every ride is an opportunity to refine and develop your skills. If you're just getting started, find a friend who rides and follow along. Watching how more experienced riders handle themselves is one of the best ways to learn and improve. If you're an experienced rider, don't be miffed by newbies asking advice -- you were once there, too. Every rider should take pride in ushering in new members to the club that is motorcycling -- just make sure they know these essential tips so they can have the time of their lives and keep on doing so for years to come.
This story was originally published by AskMen.
For New Riders:
Get training from a certified motorcycle school.
Don’t buy more bike than you can handle.
Invest in anti-lock brakes.
Hone your skills.
Use your head.
Wear the right gear.
Avoid bad weather.
Watch for road hazards.
Be ready to roll.