If recent sports history has taught us anything, it's that even the world's best athletes aren't safe from accidents. This past June, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who earlier in the year at the ripe old age of 23 became the youngest starting quarterback to guide his team to a Super Bowl victory, was badly injured in a motorcycle accident. The 6-foot-5-inch signal caller, who had been riding motorcycles for years, wasn't wearing a helmet.
Roethlisberger's accident was one of many motorcycle mishaps involving professional athletes. Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow lost an entire season to a motorcycle accident, while former Chicago Bulls guard Jay Williams might have lost his entire career to one. (Note: At press time, Williams was attempting a comeback.)
What these accidents should illustrate to motorcycle riders across the globe is the necessity for safety each and every time you get on your bike. Though often associated with a rebellious, carefree lifestyle, motorcycle riding can and often has proven fatal to those who don't follow the necessary precautions.
Drive defensively. Motorcycle drivers need to drive defensively, perhaps more so than auto drivers. Many motorists don't feel comfortable sharing the highway with motorcycle riders. Nerves often set in and drivers of cars or trucks tend to drive more offensively than they normally would, hoping to pass motorcyclists as quickly as possible. This makes things extra difficult for bikers, who don't have nearly as much protection from an accident as someone driving a two-ton pickup truck. Always pay attention to what the drivers around you are doing and always keep your eyes on the road. Expect the drivers around you to be wary and uncomfortable and drive accordingly.
A good rule of thumb is to imagine you're invisible to other motorists. When driving down the highway, position yourself to be seen by your fellow motorists and never sneak up on them. That is why many other bikers have loud pipes on their bikes -- to make sure they're heard if not seen. Do your best to stay out of blind spots as well.
Know the road conditions. While a pothole won't do much damage to a car, it can be very dangerous when driving a motorcycle. Even puddles can be danger pits for bikers. Some bikers also ride off center in a lane to avoid the slippery zone caused by leaking fluid, etc. from cars who frequent major roads.
When driving on wet roads, realize that even the painted lines and directionals on the roads are substantially more dangerous when wet than when they're dry, so always slow down when crossing such spots. Also exercise significant caution, such as slowing down a lot more than you normally might, when coming up on obstacles on wet roads.
Wear protective gear. Part of what scared football fans so much when word leaked about Roethlisberger's accident was the knowledge he wasn't wearing a helmet at the time he collided with another vehicle. This can be dangerous and many who later commented on the Roethlisberger incident admitted he was lucky to escape the accident, which required hours of surgery on his face, without major head injuries. While helmet laws vary from state to state, riding without a helmet is a foolish and unnecessary risk, one that new riders especially should never take.
In addition to a helmet, wear the right clothing as well. Proper gloves (non-slip durable gloves), pants (protective leathers), jackets (again, leather and always long sleeved) and shoes (leather boots) could be your sole line of defense if you get in an accident. Any motorcycle shop will be able to recommend, if not sell, you the proper attire. Remember, safety comes before looks, so get the safest clothing possible. If you'll be driving at night, bright uppers are recommended, as you'll be far more visible to other motorists.
Buy the right bike. Motorcycles aren't like cars, where one size essentially fits all. You should be able to reach the ground with both feet when sitting on your motorcycle. In addition, you should be able to reach the controls easily. If you're planning on having passengers, make sure you have a passenger seat and accompanying footrests for your passenger.
First-time buyers are often overwhelmed by how much power a bike has as well. While everyone envisions hitting the road and tearing off at high speeds, it's important to note that the more powerful a bike is, the heavier it is. This is essential knowledge because you'll need a bike you can push or lift in the event of an accident.
Also consider the use of the bike. Dirt bikes, for instance, should never be taken on the highway and street bikes should not be used to go off-roading.
Don't rush into things. This is an area that causes lots of accidents. The Bulls' Williams, for instance, admitted after his accident he barely knew how to drive his motorcycle at the time of his crash. Similar to a teenager going to driving school, prospective bikers should take lessons -- many states mandate courses prior to licensing. Driving a car and riding a motorcycle are two different things. Just because you can drive a car does not qualify you to ride a bike. Read your bike's manual thoroughly and take it slow at first. Do not let passengers ride with you until you feel entirely comfortable driving alone. Driving with passengers can be extremely difficult, so learn to walk before you can run.
- Courtesy Metro Creative Services