Motorcycle safety

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Experienced motorcyclists will tell you that riding a two-wheeled beast safely means having the best skills on the road.

Safe motorcycling in the city

There are special challenges in the city. The streets are busy with motorists, buses, pedestrians, road works and more. Surfaces can change quickly.

You can't rely on other people on the road to look out for you. When car drivers hit motorcyclists they often say they just didn't see the rider.

The message is: You're on your own and you've got to be the master of all the things you can control.

Here are some quick tips for tackling the streets safely.

Be prepared

The condition of your machine is one factor you can control, so take some time to do this.

  • Tyres

    Make sure they're inflated to the right pressure and aren't bald or damaged.

  • Brakes and controls

    Check they're working before hitting the road. Check clutch, throttle and brake cables for kinks or broken strands.

    Some motorcycles now come with an Anti-locking Braking System (ABS). Having ABS on your motorcycle may prevent the risk of crashing if you are ever put in a position where you need to brake suddenly.

    Find out more about ABS on motorcycles.

  • Lights

    Keep them clean and make sure they're working.

  • Horn

    Make sure it's working.

  • Chain

    It needs to be oiled and adjusted properly. Your owner's manual will tell you how to do this.

  • Mirrors: Adjust them and clean them if necessary before you begin your ride.

  • Petrol and oil

    Check the oil and top up when necessary. Running low on oil can cause serious damage to the engine. Ensure you have enough petrol for each trip. Running out can cause a loss of engine power at a critical moment, like when you need it for balance or to stay clear of other vehicles.

    Once your bike's ready, make sure you’re mentally prepared for the road. Like a Zen master trying to smash a concrete block with his head, you’ve got to put all thoughts of anger, frustration and worry out of your mind. When you're riding, all your thoughts have to be focused on riding.

Be seen

The brighter your clothes, the easier it will be for other people to see you. Use reflective stripes or tape, particularly at night or in poor weather.

Be protected

In Australia, every year more than 200 motorcycle riders and passengers are killed and many more are injured in road crashes. Some of these injuries could be prevented if motorcyclists chose the safest helmet and wore the right helmet for their head size.

Wearing a well-fitting Australian standards helmet is a legal requirement that could save your life. Thanks to The Consumer Rating and Assessment of Safety Helmets (CRASH), this should be an easy task. CRASH is funded by Transport for New South Wales, NRMA Motoring & Services, and the Transport Accident Commission (TAC).

CRASH provides independent and consistent information about comfort as well as the level of protection the helmet offers. Find out more about CRASH.

It is also important to wear protective clothing for every journey. You’ll need riding gloves, riding boots and purpose-made motorcycle jacket and pants.

Be alert

The best riders see trouble and react before it can hurt them.

In the city, try to look a block or more ahead. This gives you plenty of time to plan your reaction to situations that may arise. Think, scan and plan.

When scanning, look as far ahead as possible then move your vision back towards you. Check continually - don't let your eyes rest for too long on any one thing.

Check your mirrors and look over your shoulders to be sure there is nothing in your blind spots before changing position on the road.

Things to look out for include slippery surfaces, bad bumps, pot holes, loose gravel, wet leaves or other stuff on the road. Remember to keep an eye out for animals, pedestrians (particularly elderly people and children), and, of course, other motorists.

Position, position, position

Always assume that other motorists haven't seen you. Think about your position on the road and ask yourself questions like:

  • Is this the safest position I can be in?
  • Can I see far enough around me for the speed I'm going?
  • Can other motorists see me?

Turning on your headlight can increase your visibility and, as a motorcyclist, you can adjust your position in the lane to maximise your visibility.

When riding behind another vehicle, try to make eye contact with the driver in the rear vision mirror.

If you think a driver is about to turn in front of you, slow down and, if safe, move across your lane away from the turning car. This will increase your chances of being seen.

If you're approaching an intersection with a restricted view of a side street, move away from the potential danger area. For example, if the side street is on the left, move to the right side of your lane.

The best way to avoid a crash is to keep a safe distance between you and others. The safe following distance in normal conditions is three seconds. You should increase this to six seconds in wet weather or other poor conditions.

For heaps more safe riding tips, check the Motorcycle Riders' Handbook.

Difficult surfaces

City streets throw up all sorts of challenges for riders. Any surface that affects your grip will also affect your control.

Watch out for:

  • Wet bitumen, particularly just after it starts to rain.
  • Gravel roads or where gravel, sand or mud have gathered on a sealed road (near a building site, for example).
  • Painted lane markings and steel surfaces such as manhole covers. These can be surprisingly slippery in the wet.

In these conditions slow down, reduce the amount of lean you use on curves and use progressive braking (see the Motorcycle Riders' Handbook for the full rundown on progressive braking).