Motorcycle Manual: Being in Shape to Ride

Being In Shape To Ride

Operation of a motorcycle is a complex task. Skilled riders pay attention to the environment and to the operation of the motorcycle. They try to identify potential hazards, make good judgments and execute decisions quickly and skillfully.  Your ability to perform and respond to road and traffic conditions that constantly change is influenced by how fit and alert you are. Alcohol and other drugs, more than any other factors, degrade your ability to think clearly and to ride safely. As little as one drink can have a significant effect on your performance.

This section looks at the risks involved in the operation of a motorcycle after you drink or use drugs. What to do to protect yourself and your fellow riders is also examined.


Why This Information is Important

Alcohol is a major contributor to motorcycle crashes, particularly fatal crashes.  Studies show that 40 percent to 45 percent of all riders killed in motorcycle crashes had used alcohol. Only one-third of those riders had a blood alcohol concentration above legal limits. The rest had only a few drinks in their systems—enough to impair skills. In the past, drug levels have been harder to distinguish or have not been separated from alcohol violations for the traffic records. But operation of a motorcycle “under the influence” of either alcohol or drugs poses physical and legal hazards for every rider.

Alcohol and drug use is as big a problem among motorcyclists as it is among automobile drivers. Motorcyclists, however, are more likely to be killed or severely injured in a crash. Injuries occur in 90 percent of motorcycle crashes and 33 percent of automobile crashes that involve abuse of substances. On a yearly basis, 2,100 motorcyclists are killed and about 50,000 seriously injured in this same type of crash. These statistics are too significant to ignore.

By becoming knowledgeable about the effects of alcohol and other drugs you will see that operation of a motorcycle and substance abuse do not mix.

Take positive steps to protect yourself and prevent others from injuries.


Alcohol and Other Drugs in Motorcycle Operation

No one is immune to the effects of alcohol or drugs. Friends may brag about their ability to hold their liquor or perform better on drugs, but alcohol or drugs make them less able to think clearly and perform physical tasks skillfully.  Judgment and the decision-making processes needed for vehicle operation are affected long before legal limitations are reached.

Many over-the-counter, prescription, and illegal drugs have side effects that increase the risk of motorcycle operation. It is difficult to accurately measure the involvement of particular drugs in motorcycle crashes. But we do know what effects various drugs have on the process involved in riding a motorcycle. We also know that the combined effects of alcohol and other drugs are more dangerous than either is alone.


Alcohol in the Body

Alcohol enters the bloodstream quickly.  Unlike most foods and beverages, it does not need to be digested. Within minutes after being consumed, it reaches the brain and begins to affect the drinker. The major effect alcohol has is to slow down and impair bodily functions— both mental and physical. Whatever you do, you do less well after consuming alcohol.


Blood Alcohol Concentration

Blood Alcohol Concentration or BAC is the amount of alcohol in relation to blood in the body. Generally, alcohol can be eliminated in the body at the rate of almost one drink per hour. But a variety of other factors may also influence the level of alcohol retained. The more alcohol in your blood, the greater the degree of impairment.

Three factors play a major part to determine BAC:

  • The amount of alcohol you consume.
  • How quickly you drink.
  • Your body weight. Other factors also contribute to the way alcohol affects your system. Your sex, physical condition and food intake are just a few that may cause your BAC level to be even higher. But the full effects of these are not completely known.

Alcohol may still accumulate in your body even if you are drinking at a rate of one drink per hour. Abilities and judgment can be affected by that one drink.

A 12-ounce can of beer, a mixed drink with one shot of liquor, a 5-ounce glass of wine and a 12-ounce bottle of wine cooler all contain the same amount of alcohol.

The quicker you drink, the more alcohol accumulates in your body. If you drink two drinks in an hour, at the end of that hour, at least one drink will remain in your bloodstream.

Without taking into account any of the other factors, the formula below illustrates the LEAST amount of drinks remaining in the bloodstream:

Total drinks consumed - # of hours since last drink - Drinks left in body

A person drinking:

  • 7 drinks in 3 hours would have at least 4 drinks remaining in their system.
  • 4 drinks in 2 hours would have at least 2 drinks remaining in their system.

There are times when a larger person may not accumulate as high a concentration of alcohol for each drink consumed.  They have more blood and other bodily fluids.  But because of individual differences it is better not to take the chance that abilities and judgment have not been affected.  Whether or not you are legally intoxicated is not the real issue.  Impairment of judgment and skills begins well below the legal limit.

alcohol concentration


Alcohol and the Law

In New York State, a driver with a BAC of .08 percent or above is legally intoxicated.  In other states, the legal limit may be .10 percent .08 percent or .05 percent.  It does not matter how sober you may look or act. The breath or urine test usually determines whether the operation of your motorcycle is legal illegal.

The chances are greater than ever that you could be stopped when you operate under the influence of alcohol.  Throughout the nation, law enforcement response to the senseless deaths and injuries caused by operators and drivers consuming alcohol is on the increase.

Your insurance company may refuse to pay the injury or medical costs caused by a traffic crash in which you were in operation of a motorcycle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.


Consequences of Conviction

The laws of most states impose stiff penalties on operators who use alcohol.  And those penalties are mandatory, meaning that judges must impose them. If you are convicted of the operation of a motorcycle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you may receive any of the following penalties:

  • Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) or .08% Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) – minimum 6 month license revocation; Driving While Ability Impaired by a Drug (DWAI-Drug) – 6-month suspension. Minimum 1-year revocation for conviction of these offenses committed within 10 years of any previous alcohol or drug violation.
  • DWAI or .05% BAC – 90-day suspension. Minimum 6-month revocation for conviction of these offenses committed within 5 years of any previous alcohol or drug violation.
  • First alcohol or drug-related violation, except Zero Tolerance, by a driver under age 21 – minimum 1-year revocation. Second violation by a driver under age 21 – minimum
  • 1-year revocation or until 21, whichever is longer.
  • Chemical test refusal – minimum 1 year revocation for most drivers; minimum 1-year revocation for a driver under 21. Chemical test refusal revocations are separate from, and in addition to, those for alcohol or drug-related violations.
  • Zero Tolerance Law for drivers under 21, (BAC .02% to .07%) – First violation, 6-month suspension. Second violation, minimum 1-year revocation or until 21, whichever is longer.
  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI) conviction outside New York State – For drivers over 21 years old: 90-day revocation for alcohol; 6-month suspension for drug. For drivers under 21: 1-year revocation for alcohol or drug.
  • The court must levy a mandatory fine in addition to a license revocation or suspension for an alcohol or drug conviction. It depends on the conviction, but the fine will be from $300 to $10,000. A Zero Tolerance Law violation will result in a civil penalty of at least $125.
  • Community Service – such as the pickup of litter along the highway, keeping cars washed in the motor vehicle pool, or work at an emergency ward.
  • Other costs – this can include lawyer’s fees, time lost from work due to court appearances or attendance in alcohol/drug-education programs, public transportation while your license is revoked or suspended, higher insurances rates for years, and being known as a "drunk driver" in your family and community.  The law and consequences of conviction for driving while intoxicated or ability impaired in New York State are summarized in the "ALCOHOL AND OTHER DRUGS" section of the NYS Driver’s Manual.


Minimize the Risks

Your ability to judge how well you ride is affected first. Although you may ride more and more poorly, you think you are doing better and better. The result is that you ride confidently, taking greater and greater risks. Minimize the risks of alcohol and riding by taking steps before you drink. Control how much you drink or control the operation of your motorcycle.

Do Not Drink

Don't Drink — Once you start, your resistance becomes weaker.

A set limit or pace are poor alternatives at best. Your ability to exercise good judgment is one of the first things affected by alcohol. Even if you have tried to drink in moderation, you may not realize to what extent your skills have suffered from the effects of alcohol.  If you haven’t controlled your intake of alcohol, you must control your operation of a motorcycle.

  • Leave the motorcycle home—so you won’t be tempted to operate it.  Arrange another way to get home. 
  • Wait—If you exceed your limit, wait until your system eliminates the alcohol and its effects.



14.  If you wait an hour for each drink before riding:

A.  You cannot be arrested for drinking and riding.
B.  Your skills will not be affected.
C.  Side effects may still remain.
D.  You will be okay as long as you ride slowly.




Step in to Protect Friends

People who have had too much to drink are unable to make a responsible decision. It is up to others to step in and keep them from taking too great a risk. No one wants to do this—it is uncomfortable and thankless. You are rarely thanked for your efforts at the time. But the alternatives are often worse. There are several ways to keep friends from possible injury to themselves:

  • Arrange a safe ride—Provide alternative ways for them to get home.
  • Slow the pace of alcohol intake—Involve them in other activities. *
  • Keep them there—Use any excuse to keep them from their motorcycle.  Serve them food and coffee to pass the time. Explain your concerns for their risks of possible arrest or injury to themselves or someone else.
  • Get friends involved—Use peer pressure from a group of friends to intervene. It helps to enlist support from others when you decide to step in.

The more people on your side, the easier it is to be firm and the harder it is for the rider to resist. While you may not be thanked at the time, you will never have to say, “If only I had...”



Operation of a motorcycle is more tiring than the operation of a car. On a long trip, you’ll tire sooner than you would in a car. Avoid operation of a cycle when tired. Fatigue can affect your control of the motorcycle.

  • Protect yourself from the elements —Wind, cold, and rain make you tire quickly. Dress warmly. A windshield is worth its cost if you plan to ride long distances.
  • Limit your distance—Experienced operators seldom try to ride more than about six hours a day.
  • Take frequent rest breaks—Stop, and get off the motorcycle at least every two hours.
  • Don’t drink or use drugs—Artificial stimulants often result in extreme fatigue or depression when they start to wear off. Drivers and riders are unable to concentrate on the task at hand.