Top 10 Overlooked Safety Tips

Troy Siahaan
by Troy Siahaan

May is National Motorcycle Awareness Month, and while we should do whatever we can to make sure other motorists don’t run us over, ultimately it’s our responsibility as motorcyclists to make sure we do everything we can to stay safe. With that, we present 10 safety tips that we often overlook or take for granted.

10. Helmet Age

Congratulations. You’ve managed to hang on to the same helmet for five years without it ever touching the ground (at least with your head inside). This is an admirable feat, no doubt, but no matter how well you take care of your lid, if it’s five years old or older you should consider replacing it. That’s not just us talking, either – this is coming from the folks at the Snell Memorial Foundation. Over time the glues, polymers, resins and other materials that make up the inside of your helmet will start to degrade. Sweat and oils our bodies produce also take their toll on helmet material over time, too. Why take that chance? Retire the old lid and get yourself a new one.

9. Tire Condition

Sure you know riding on bald tires is a recipe for disaster, and yet it’s still a common sight to see. Monitor your tires regularly, including the wear bars on the side if you’re a heavy canyon carver, and be prepared to replace your rubber when needed instead of suddenly opening your garage to find a bald tire waiting for you. Also, be honest with yourself about the kind of riding you do. Most tire manufacturers now offer rubber with various compounds to suit almost every riding style, whether you mainly go in a straight line or like to drag a knee.

8. Check Your Fluids

Most people know that changing the oil is an important part of motorcycle maintenance, but replacing brake fluid isn’t given nearly as much thought. Brake fluid absorbs moisture in the air over time. Neglect to change it out regularly and it could result in spongy feel at the lever and less stopping power. You don’t need me to tell you being able to stop a motorcycle is important. Before going on to change brake pads or lines, try changing the fluid first and bleeding the lines properly. It might deliver a dramatic change.

7. Tears in Gear

Proper motorcycle gear isn’t cheap, we know. However, generally speaking, motorcycle safety apparel are one-and-done items. Take one good fall and that jacket or pant will suffer the brunt of the trauma instead of you – which is what they’re supposed to do. With some exceptions, it’s not a good idea to wear crashed gear over and over again. But even if your gear hasn’t had an up close and personal engagement with the pavement, it’s always wise to check the condition of your gear regularly. We’ve had gloves come apart at the seams just from normal use, leaving bare skin exposed. A loose thread or a broken zipper will be the first to fail in a crash, compromising your safety in the process. If your gear has a warranty, check to see if the manufacturer will still honor it – many would rather do right than get negative reviews online or through word-of-mouth.

6. Covering Levers

When it comes to safety on the road, being prepared for emergency maneuvers is important. If a car changes lanes in front of you, or if you otherwise find yourself suddenly needing to react, your reaction times could make the difference between avoiding an accident or getting tangled in one. When you find yourself in a precarious situation – say, while splitting lanes or approaching an intersection – it’s a good idea to cover the brake and clutch levers with at least one finger, and have the right foot at the ready in case some rear brake is needed, too. This may seem insignificant, but when an emergency strikes, the time you save not having to lift your fingers from the bar to the levers could be enough to save your life.

5. Bring the Right Faceshield

From the Department of Obvious Statements comes this nugget: being able to see while riding a motorcycle is important. Do you ever ride at night with a dark faceshield? Sure it’s possible, but it definitely isn’t ideal. Bring the right faceshield and you won’t have to worry about (literally) being left in the dark. Better yet, invest in a Transitions shield and you never have to worry about bringing more than one shield again.

4. Check Chain Slack

We take our chains for granted most the time, but every 500-700 miles or so (check your owner’s manual for specific intervals) we should give our chains a little love. Neither a tight or loose chain is any good, nor are stuck or worn out links. At the very least, clean and lube your chain (use products like the SnapJack if you don’t have a way of getting the rear tire in the air), and if your chain does need adjustment, be sure to follow the factory recommendations for proper chain tension. While you’re at it, inspect the condition of your sprockets as well. Dull sprocket teeth can cause the chain to jump under acceleration, which is annoying at best and downright dangerous at worse. It’s always a good idea to change chains and sprockets at the same time.

If your bike has a belt drive, it’s a good idea to look those over, too. Even belts need to be replaced eventually. Look for fraying edges or loose strands as a sign that a replacement is imminent.

3. Use Your Mirrors

At the track, they say to never look in your mirrors because what’s behind you doesn’t matter. Most trackday organizations even require mirrors to be taped over or removed entirely. On the street, however, it’s an entirely different ballgame. Situational awareness is key when you’re riding, and being aware of your surroundings – in front, behind, and on both sides – will help you ride at an appropriate pace for the conditions. You do this by looking at your mirrors. Being aware of escape paths on either side can help avoid an accident, and spotting a speeding motorist behind you, for example, will alert you to stay well out of his or her way as they come roaring past. Conveniently, being aware of your surroundings makes you a better car driver, too.

2. Tire Pressure

The second entry on this list was checking the condition of your tires, but monitoring tire pressures is important enough to warrant its own spot on the list. Both over and underinflated tires can compromise a motorcycle’s handling, and the thing is, maintaining proper tire pressure is such an easy task there’s really no reason not to do it. Check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure, and use a gauge and adjust as needed. You don’t need a fancy electric pump to add air, either. Even a simple bicycle pump will do the trick.

1. Stay Focused

Maybe the most overlooked safety tip of them all is staying focused. We’re all guilty of wandering off, especially if we’re cruising along the interstate without another soul in sight, but maintaining focus is key in the event an emergency arises. That doesn’t mean riding wide-eyed and with a death grip on the bars, but stay alert, be aware of what’s around you, listen to your motorcycle, and most of all, have fun.

Here’s Editor Duke’s take on staying focused and avoiding the perils of over-confidence.

Troy Siahaan
Troy Siahaan

Troy's been riding motorcycles and writing about them since 2006, getting his start at Rider Magazine. From there, he moved to Sport Rider Magazine before finally landing at in 2011. A lifelong gearhead who didn't fully immerse himself in motorcycles until his teenage years, Troy's interests have always been in technology, performance, and going fast. Naturally, racing was the perfect avenue to combine all three. Troy has been racing nearly as long as he's been riding and has competed at the AMA national level. He's also won multiple club races throughout the country, culminating in a Utah Sport Bike Association championship in 2011. He has been invited as a guest instructor for the Yamaha Champions Riding School, and when he's not out riding, he's either wrenching on bikes or watching MotoGP.

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3 of 12 comments
  • EdinMiami EdinMiami on Jun 25, 2015

    The helmet "five year rule" is totally ridiculous. Completely without scientific basis. The EPS liner used in all helmets does not deteriorate over centuries, even if it is thrown in a landfill.

    • Paul Hart Paul Hart on Jun 30, 2015

      just curious as to how you came to this conclusion on the life span of the liner and the helmet itself?

  • Jim Jaudon Jim Jaudon on Jul 03, 2016

    Even unasked, I am going to add an eleventh safety tip.
    Be extra careful on (or avoid) group rides. You never know if the moron next to you has five minutes or 50 years riding experience.