FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii -- Riding a motorcycle is always a risky activity.
Many riders have ridden successfully for years without catastrophe, but there are many riders who experience a tragic event on their first ride.
If asked, the successful riders would probably name many of the following key strategies as being essential to their success.
1- They remember they are vulnerable. Riding a motorcycle can be an exhilarating experience. The sensation of power, the openness of the motorcycle to the environment and the feedback from the motorcycle may lull the rider into a false sense of security. Riders must constantly remind themselves that they are just a heartbeat away from injury or death.
2- Be seen by other traffic. There are many ways to increase your visibility, but in most situations, there are some key ingredients: Increase your following distance, maintain at least two seconds from the car ahead, use a lane position that makes you more visible to other traffic, avoid blind spots -- if you can't see the driver's face in his door or center mirror, then he can't see you. Wear bright clothing to make yourself stand out from the background and don't rely on loud pipes. Drivers can hear the noise, but may not be able to locate the source.
3 & 4- Ride at expected speeds and corner at realistic speeds. Road speed limits are designed for 85 percent of the drivers to be moving at similar speeds. If you're driving faster than other traffic, you place yourself at risk.
Corners are involved in nearly 50 percent of motorcycle crashes. The leading cause of trouble is an entry speed too high for conditions or the rider's experience. Be conservative at the corner entry. You can later accelerate through the turn, based upon conditions.
5- Practice hard braking. There may come a time when the rider must make an emergency stop; however, the majority of motorcycles do not have linked or antilock braking systems. The rider must effectively use both the front and rear brake controls and gauge available traction. To do so in an emergency requires practice.
6- Prepare for the worst case. Be ready for heavier traffic, rain instead of sun, rocks around blind corners, and so on. Be pessimistic, not optimistic, so you can be pleasantly surprised with an easy ride. Be mentally ready. Keep your mind agile; don't relax and daydream while you are riding.
7- Cover your brakes. Position your fingers and toes near the brake levers to respond to emergencies more quickly.
8- Prepare to ride. Wear good protective gear on every ride, not just the state or Army minimum requirements. Should you take a spill, what you wear is the only thing between you and the pavement.
9- Incorporate rest. Riding a motorcycle is mentally and physically demanding. To stay on top of your game, you need to take breaks, to take a rest. While you are planning, bring rain or cold weather gear if you anticipate a weather or climatic change (like riding to the top of a mountain).
10- Check over your motorcycle. Don't delay needed repairs. Inspect your motorcycle briefly before every ride and do in-depth inspections. Half of the motorcycles attending training days have critically low tire pressure.
Remember vulnerability, be seen, ride at realistic speeds, prepare for the unexpected, do your pre-ride preparation and ask experienced riders; maybe they've found the secret to keeping their risks manageable on the road.
(Note: Maxwell is the safety manager for the 311th Signal Command (Theater) and a lifelong motorcyclist with over 38 years of road experience. He has been a certified Motorcycle Safety Foundation rider coach for 26 years and a master trainer of rider coaches for eight years.)