Scooters and motorcycles require different skills to operate than cars, and driving conditions that you might not give a second thought in your car can have serious consequences on a two-wheeler.
That’s why professional instruction is a must, especially for new riders or if you haven’t been on a bike for a while. A motorcycle dealer should be able to steer you in the right direction for local sources of training, and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) lists qualified instructional courses nationwide on its website. More motorcycle safety tips can also be found on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website.
If you’re new to riding, practice at low speeds in safe areas before venturing onto major roads.
Here are some factors to be aware of when making the switch from four to two wheels:
Be as Visible as Possible
Automobile drivers who have hit a scooter or motorcycle rider often say they didn’t see the person. Wear brightly colored clothing and helmet, always have your lights on, and use your directional signals. When choosing a bike, consider a colorful one.
Watch for Debris
A two-wheel vehicle has less contact with the pavement than a four-wheeler. In a turn, sand, wet leaves, or pebbles can cause the bike to slide quickly and unexpectedly with potentially tragic results.
Watch the Road Surface
Pavement irregularities that might be only an uncomfortable bump in a car can upset the balance of an unprepared bike rider. Railroad tracks, for example, should be approached at as close to a right angle as possible, especially when they’re wet, so that the rails don’t cause the bike’s wheels to slide sideways. Stay away from any shiny surface. Try to maneuver smoothly around broken pavement and potholes.
Avoid Riding in bad Weather
But if you can’t do that, be especially gentle with the brakes, throttle, and steering to avoid losing control on a slippery surface.
Without the benefit of a car’s steel cage around you, you’ll have to rely on your riding gear as your only source of accident protection. Your comfort and even your survival can depend on having the right gear.
Wear a Helmet
Government studies show that riders without a helmet are 40 percent more likely to suffer a fatal head injury in a crash than helmeted riders and are three times more likely to suffer brain injuries. The helmet should be a full-face design that’s approved by the Department of Transportation. The Snell Memorial Foundation, an independent helmet testing and standards-setting organization, recommends replacing a helmet every five years, or sooner if it’s been damaged or has been in a crash. Beyond potential deterioration due to aging and exposure to hair oils and chemicals, Snell points out that there is often a notable improvement over that time in helmet design and materials. Make sure it fits snugly. Do not count on a “novelty” helmet to provide life-saving protection.
Even low-speed spills can cause painful “road rash.” It’s critical to wear a leather or other reinforced jacket, gloves, full pants, and secure over-the-ankle footwear, even in summer. Specially designed jackets with meshed material provide protection without causing you to overheat. Absolutely avoid shorts, sandals, and shoe laces.
Protect Your Eyes
Flying insects and road debris kicked up by other vehicles can cause a lot of distraction and possible eye injury. Use a full-face helmet with a visor. If you wear eye glasses, try them with a helmet before buying.
Be Prepared for Wind Chill
It can be a big factor on exposed skin. As the temperature drops, cover your body completely, especially your face and neck. Specialty clothing is available; a pair of jeans won’t suffice.
Like cars, motorcycles and scooters require regular maintenance to keep them performing reliably. The good news is, you can do some of the work yourself if you choose, and some two-wheelers make gaining access to spark plugs and filters easier than it is on many cars. You’ll find a maintenance schedule in the owner’s manual, and some manuals may even show you how to do basic service. If you live in a colder climate, keep in mind that winter storage may have its own requirements, such as putting the battery on a trickle charger and adding fuel stabilizer to the tank.
Proper maintenance may even be more important for a cycle than a car. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation advises riders to check tire pressure and condition before each ride, as part of a safety inspection that also includes controls, cables, hoses, wheels, brakes, lights, drive chain, suspension and even the frame.