To the untrained eye, the motorcycle community combines the effortless cool of a Fonda, the rugged toughness of the road, and perhaps even a hint of danger. For those of us “in the know,” however, the motorcycle community is so much more. There’s a sense of camaraderie and pride in everything we do, from charity runs to simply working on our bikes with our two-wheeled family.
Motorcycle enthusiasts can attest that the love for the lifestyle runs deep, and know that with that love comes a sense of responsibility: a responsibility to keep yourself safe by keeping your skills sharp and your bike well maintained. There is also a growing sense of urgency to ensure that the rest of the vehicles on the road are on the same page. Motorcyclists already face several challenges on Albuquerque’s roads and highways, and when those outside of the motorcycle community are unaware of how to share the road safely, trouble is only a single moment of distraction or aggression away.
This month, Motorcycle Awareness Month is in full-swing. There are many new riders that choose to join our ranks this month, and the more experienced riders among us are back on the road after a few months off. Drivers have grown accustomed to winter roads without motorcycles, and motorcyclists have grown accustomed to life in four-wheeled vehicles. Motorcycle Awareness Month is not just for the “other” drivers—it is a month to remind everyone about motorcycle safety, even the most seasoned bikers.
First Up: Get Your Bike Ready for a Season of Riding
Albuquerque boasts some of the most beautiful riding in the country. Long, uncrowded roads cross diverse scenery, and from desert scrub to mountain peaks, New Mexico offers sensational rides for those that have discovered its beauty. This varied landscape require motorcycles (and motorcyclists) to be in peak condition, and ready to handle whatever the road throws at them. After a few months laid up in your garage, your bike will need some help getting back up to speed.
Whether you winterized your bike following your service manual instructions to a tee, or you simply parked your bike and didn’t ride for a few months, it is in need of some careful TLC before you hit the streets again. It can be tempting to take it out for a spin before you’ve given it a thorough prep, but it is absolutely crucial that your bike is operating at 100 percent before you take to the road for another season.
What’s behind this road preparation for your bike? Your manual will be able to detail exactly what’s needed, and it is different for every make and model. What is not different, however, is the five key areas that need to be covered in every pre-season prep:
- Vitals. Sitting for a few months can wreak havoc on the lifeblood of your bike—things like fuel, oil, brake fluid, and your battery may need replacing. Check fluid levels and quality to ensure that your bike has what it needs to run safely.
- Tires. Tires are your first and best line of defense on the road, and after some time off, these critical parts may be in desperate need of attention. Check for flat spots, wear, damage, and dry rot, and ensure that tire pressure is back to appropriate levels. Your tires determine how your bike handles on smooth rides and in emergencies—so this is not the place to make compromises on quality.
- Brakes. Checking your front and rear brake pads are another “must” for your safety prep. Uneven wear, poor performance, or strange sounds could point to potential performance problems, and on a motorcycle, good brakes are a necessity.
- Mechanical Components. Despite their smaller size, motorcycles are made up of dozens of moving parts, each with a critical role to play in the bike’s operation. Checking critical belts, chains, cables, and other key components of your steering, throttle, and clutch assemblies can help you ensure that your bike is as ready to ride as you are.
- Lights and Horn. The first thing that any motorist will say after an accident with a motorcycle is almost certain to be a variation of “I never saw him coming.” Make sure this excuse is never used on you by checking your lights and horn, and ensuring that your set-up is appropriate for your style of riding. If you do a lot of busy highway or city riding, look into upgrading your standard brake lights to an attention-getting modulator that automatically flashes your brake lights for you—this allows you to focus on smooth braking without compromising your visibility.
Next Step: Get Your Head in the Game—and in a Helmet
Just like your bike, your own gear may need some tuning up before you get back on the road. While New Mexico only regulates helmet use for riders under the age of 18, and has blocked attempts at mandatory helmet laws, states which have enacted mandatory helmet laws have all seen a dramatic drop in motorcycle accident fatalities. If you don’t wear a helmet already, make this your year to try one out.
Road gear is an important part of safety, and the old adage, “All the gear, all the time” holds true. Most accidents happen within the first few minutes of a ride, so even a quick ride to a friend’s place calls for full gear. Fortunately, technology today has made gear lighter and more wearable than ever, so you can be fully suited up without anyone knowing. Take this time to check, update, and improve your gear from head to toe, including your:
- Helmet. Check your lid for damage, wear, and fit. If it impedes your vision or is uncomfortable, you won’t wear it, so do some hands-on research when it comes to choosing a helmet. If it doesn’t come with eye protection, seek out glasses or goggles that will reduce glare, improve visibility, and are shatterproof.
- Gloves. The first thing we instinctively do in a fall is to protect ourselves with our hands. Protect your hands by finding a well-fitted pair of gloves.
- Jacket. Whether you prefer leather or Kevlar, finding a comfortable jacket to protect your arms and torso is key.
- Pants. While leather pants protect you best from road rash, new styles have woven Kevlar through materials like denim to offer bikers lightweight, fashionable jeans and other outerwear that provide significant protection with added comfort.
- Boots. Check your boots for traction, heel, and comfort. Newer styles offer a wide range of options, so explore what’s out there that best fits your needs.
Another key safety feature that is often overlooked is your own knowledge and skill. Whether you ride daily or just occasionally, it pays to sharpen your skills. Reviewing critical skills before you’re back on the road is a must—be sure to stay sharp on:
- Handling corners and slow maneuvers
- Operating in various weather conditions
- Lane placement
Whether you review these skills on your own or in a class, being the best you can be on the road can keep you (and your bike!) free from harm.
Spread the Word: Advocate and Educate
This last step is perhaps the most important step of them all. The motorcycle community is a tight-knit family, and bikers from across the country are proud of their motorcycles, their culture, and their good will. One of the greatest strengths the motorcycle community has is the sense of camaraderie associated with riding, and this very camaraderie can be used to greatly influence how others view bikers as a whole.
Why does this public image matter so much? It helps keep the “biker” image positive, and helps create ties that connect all motorists. Many people remain annoyed or even intimidated by motorcyclists, and it is important—for both public relations and safety—to ensure that every driver on the road is comfortable and knowledgeable about sharing the road with bikers.
Many drivers have no ill will towards bikers, but are simply very nervous to share the road with them—and it’s no wonder why. Motorcycles have a low profile, move and stop quickly, and can be very hard to spot. The solution is two-fold. Motorists must know to:
- Be on the lookout for motorcycles, and then keep looking some more. Whether they’re turning, merging, or approaching an intersection, motorcycles can be tough to spot at first glance. Their size makes it difficult to judge their distance and speed, so taking an extra moment to evaluate their position before changing lanes or making a left turn can make all the difference.
- Back off, in motion and at a stop. Motorcycles can stop on a dime and give you nine cents—and not just to give other drivers a spike in blood pressure. Motorcycles are much smaller than cars, so their braking ability is far superior. Unfortunately, when followed too closely, motorcycles tend to blend into the vehicles in front of them, and it can be challenging to judge just how quickly the motorcyclist is decelerating. Giving motorcycles some breathing room, both on the highway and at stoplights, can protect them from being rear-ended.
- Just drive. For the most part, motorcyclists don’t expect much from drivers. Really, all they truly need is for drivers to be vigilant and predictable. Signaling turns and lane changes, braking normally, ensuring there’s enough room in front of a motorcycle to turn, and following at a safe distance are all things most drivers do already—so keep driving safely and peaceful coexistence on the road can be ours!
The other side of the solution lies with motorcyclists. By making every effort to be visible—including lights, high-visibility gear, and driving predictably—bikers can make it easy for motorists to be aware and alert.
Make the Most of May: Share the Message of Motorcycle Awareness!
It’s not just regular motorists that benefit from motorcycle awareness and safety—other bikers need to live the message, too. By creating a strong, unified front, motorcyclists can be their own best safety advocates. Be your best on the road, and encourage your non-motorcyclist friends to join in on the awareness campaign.
When you get on a motorcycle for the first or thousandth time, you shoulder a huge responsibility—the responsibility to assume that your safety lies only in your hands and to make every effort to spread the word to other motorists about motorcycle awareness. The motorcycle community is strengthened by sharing this burden, and the load is lightened every time the message is spread.
As we enjoy the days leading up to a summer of riding, make it your mission to share the message of Motorcycle Awareness Month with your friends (of any vehicular persuasion!) and join Albuquerque’s Keller & Keller in advocating for motorcycle safety year-round!