Motorcycle Manual: Preparing to Ride

Preparing To Ride

What you do before you start a trip determines if you will get where you want to go safely. Before any trip, a safe rider makes a point to:

  1. Wear the right gear.
  2. Become familiar with the motorcycle.
  3. Check the motorcycle equipment.
  4. Be a responsible rider.


Wear the Right Gear

When you ride, your gear is "right" if it protects you.  In any crash, you have a better chance to avoid serious injury if you wear:

  • An approved helmet.
  • Face or eye protection.
  • Protective clothing.


Helmet Use

Crashes are not rare events — particularly among beginning riders.  And one out of every five motorcycle crashes results in head or neck injuries. Head injuries are just as severe as neck injuries — and far more common. Crash analysis shows that head and neck injuries account for a majority of serious and fatal injuries to motorcyclists. Research also shows that, with few exceptions, head and neck injuries are reduced by the proper wearing of an approved helmet.

Some riders do not wear helmets because they think helmets will limit their view to the sides. Others wear helmets only on long trips or when riding at high speeds. Here are some facts to consider:

  • An approved helmet lets you see as far to the sides as necessary.  A study of more than 900 motorcycle crashes, where 40% of the riders wore helmets, did not find even one case in which a helmet kept a rider from spotting danger.
  • Most crashes happen on short trips (less than five miles long), just a few minutes after starting out.
  • Most riders are riding slower than 30 mph when a crash occurs. At these speeds, helmets can cut both the number and the severity of head injuries by half.

No matter what the speed, helmeted riders are three times more likely to survive head injuries than those not wearing helmets at the time of the crash.


Helmet Selection

There are two primary types of helmets that provide two different levels of coverage: three-quarter and full face. Whichever style you choose, you can get the most protection by making sure that the helmet:

  • Meets U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and state standards.  (Helmets with a label from the Snell Memorial Foundation gives you an added assurance of quality.)
  • Fits snugly, all the way around.
  • Has no obvious defects such as cracks, loose pads or frayed straps.  Whatever helmet you decide on, keep it securely fastened on your head when you ride. Otherwise, if you are involved in a crash, it is likely to fly off your head before it gets a chance to protect you.



Eye and Face Protection

A plastic shatter-resistant face shield can help protect your whole face in a crash. It also protects you from wind, dust, dirt, rain, insects and pebbles thrown from cars ahead. These problems can distract you and can be painful. If you have to deal with them, you cannot devote your full attention to the road. Goggles protect your eyes, though they will not protect the rest of your face like a face shield does. A windshield is not a substitute for a face shield or goggles. Most windshields will not protect your eyes from the wind.  Neither will glasses or sunglasses.  Glasses will not keep your eyes from watering, and they might blow off when you turn your head. To be effective, eye or face shield protection must:

  • Be free of scratches.
  • Be resistant to penetration.
  • Give a clear view to either side.
  • Fasten securely, so it does not blow off.
  • Permit air to pass through to reduce fog.
  • Permit enough room for glasses or sunglasses, if needed. Tinted eye protection should not be worn at night or any other time when little light is available.



The right clothing protects you in a collision.  It also provides comfort, as well as protection from heat, cold, debris and hot parts of the motorcycle.

  • Jacket and pants should cover arms and legs completely. They should fit snugly enough to keep from flapping in the wind, yet loosely enough to move freely. Leather offers the most protection. Sturdy synthetic material provides a lot of protection as well.  Wear a jacket even in warm weather to prevent dehydration. Many jackets are designed to protect without getting you overheated, even on summer days.
  • Boots or shoes should be high and sturdy enough to cover your ankles and give them support. Soles should be made of hard, durable slip- resistant material. Keep heels short so they do not catch on rough surfaces.  Tuck laces in so they will not catch on your motorcycle.
  • Gloves allow a better grip and help protect your hands in a crash. Your gloves should be made of leather or similar durable material. In cold or wet weather, your clothes should keep you warm and dry, as well as protect you from injury. You cannot control a motorcycle well if you are numb. Riding for long periods in cold weather can cause severe chill and fatigue. A winter jacket should resist wind and fit snugly at the neck, wrists, and waist. Quality rain suits designed for motorcycle use resist tearing or ballooning at high speeds.


Know Your Motorcycle

There are plenty of things on the highway that can cause you trouble. Your motorcycle should not be one of them. To make sure that your motorcycle will not let you down:

  • Read the owner manual first.
  • Start with the right motorcycle for you.
  • Be familiar with the motorcycle controls.
  • Check the motorcycle before every ride.
  • Keep it in safe condition between rides.
  • Avoid modifications that make your motorcycle more difficult to handle.


The Right Motorcycle for You

First, make sure your motorcycle is right for you. It should “fit” you. Your feet should reach the ground while you are seated on the motorcycle. At minimum, your street-legal motorcycle should have:

  • Headlight, taillight and brake light.
  • Front and rear brakes.
  • Turn signals.
  • Horn.
  • State law requires only one mirror, though two mirrors are recommended.




1.  A plastic shatter-resistant face shield:

A.  Is not necessary if you have a windshield.
B.  Only protects your eyes.
C.  Helps protect your whole face.
D.  Does not protect your face as well as goggles.



Unfamiliar Vehicle

Those who borrow and lend motorcycles, beware. Crashes are fairly common among novice riders—especially in the first months. When you ride an unfamiliar motorcycle it adds to the problem. If you borrow a motorcycle, make sure you have its insurance identification card or that it is properly insured. No matter how experienced you may be, ride extra carefully on any motorcycle that is new or unfamiliar to you. More than half of all crashes occur on motorcycles ridden by the operator for less than six months.

Know your Motorcycle Controls

Make sure you are completely familiar with the motorcycle before you take it out on the street. Be sure to review the owner’s manual. This is particularly important if you are riding a borrowed motorcycle.

If you are going to use an unfamiliar motorcycle:

  • Make all the checks you would on your own motorcycle.
  • Find out where everything is, particularly the turn signals, horn, headlight switch, fuel-control valve and engine cut-off switch. Find and operate these items without having to look for them.
  • Know the gear pattern. Work the throttle, clutch, and brakes a few times before you start riding. All controls react a little differently.

Ride very cautiously and be aware of surroundings. Accelerate gently, take turns more slowly and leave extra room for stopping.

 motorcycle controls


Check Your Motorcycle

A motorcycle needs more frequent attention than a car.

A minor technical failure in a car seldom leads to anything more than an inconvenience for the driver.

If something is wrong with the motorcycle, you’ll want to find out about it before you get in traffic. Make a complete check of your motorcycle before every ride.

Before mounting the motorcycle make these checks:

  • Tires—Check the air pressure, general wear and tread.
  • Fluids—Oil and fluid levels. At a minimum, check hydraulic fluids and coolants weekly. Look under the motorcycle for signs of an oil or gas leak.
  • Headlights and Taillight—Check them both. Test your switch to make sure both high and low beams work.
  • Turn Signals—Turn on both right and left turn signals. Make sure all lights work properly.
  • Brake Light—Try both brake controls, and make sure each one turns on the brake light. Once you have mounted the motorcycle, complete these checks before you begin to ride:
  • Clutch and Throttle—Make sure they work smoothly. The throttle should snap back when you let go. The clutch should feel tight and smooth.
  • Mirrors—Clean and adjust both mirrors before you start. It is difficult to ride with one hand while you try to adjust a mirror. Adjust each mirror so you can see the lane behind and as much as possible of the lane next to you. When properly adjusted, a mirror may show the edge of your arm or shoulder—but it is the road behind and to the side that is most important.
  • Brakes—Try the front and rear brake levers one at a time. Make sure each one feels firm and holds the motorcycle when the brake is fully applied.
  • Horn—Try the horn. Make sure it works. In addition to the checks you should make before every trip, check these items at least once a week:  Wheels, cables, fasteners and fluids. Follow your owner manual to get recommendations.





2.  More than half of all crashes:

A.  Occur at speeds greater than 35 mph.
B.  Happen at night.
C.  Are caused by worn tires.
D.  Involve riders who have ridden their motorcycles less than six months.




Know Your Responsibilities

“Accident” implies an unforeseen event that occurs without fault or negligence.  Most often in traffic, that is not the case. In fact, most drivers involved in a crash can usually claim some responsibility for what takes place. Consider a situation where someone decides to try to squeeze through an intersection on a yellow light about to turn red. Your light turns green. You pull into the intersection without checking for vehicles that may come late into the intersection. That is all it takes for the two of you to tangle. It was the driver of the vehicle who is responsible to stop. And it was your responsibility to look before you pulled out. Neither of you held up your end of the deal. Just because someone else is the first to start the chain of events that lead to a crash, you are not free of responsibility. As a rider you cannot be sure that other operators will see you or yield the right of way. To lessen your chances of a crash:

  • Be visible—wear proper clothes, use your headlight, ride in the best lane position to see and be seen.
  • Communicate your intentions—use the proper signals, brake light and lane position.
  • Maintain an adequate space cushion— when you follow, when you are followed, when you share a lane, when you pass and are passed.
  • Scan your path of travel 12 seconds ahead.
  • Identify and separate multiple hazards.
  • Be prepared to act—remain alert and know how to carry out proper crash-avoidance skills.

Blame does not matter when someone is injured in a crash. There is rarely a single cause of any crash. The ability to ride aware, make critical decisions, and carry them out separates responsible riders from all the rest. Remember, it is up to you not to be the cause of or an unprepared participant in, any crash.