Motorcycling Safety

Proper Gear

Proper gear should always be worn when motorcycling. In general, boots, gloves, helmet, and a jacket cover most potential issues. Full gear, including motorcycle leather suits and pants are also quite helpful.

Helmets – Required by State law in California. Regardless of the law, I always recommend wearing a helmet. A full face helmet is best for protection. A basic half-helmet will only offer minimal protection of the head, if that. The thing to consider is this – it isn’t so much about crashing, it is about preventing or reducing injury in the event of a crash. Helmets can also help, in a way, to prevent a crash. Bugs and other debris can hurt or even injure even at slower speeds. Should a bug hit your face at 65 mph (usual freeway speed), it could cause you to crash, especially should it hit your eye. You then become a danger to yourself and others around you. A full face helmet, however, will protect against such things. I’ve had many things hit my helmet at speed, certainly shocked me when they did. None, however, caused me injury or a real problem.

Boots – These are essential to protecting the foot and ankle. While motorcycling specific boots aren’t necessary, there are good reasons for them. As you shift using your foot, motorcycle boots are reinforced at those points to help reduce wear. Using “nice boots” will only result in those getting prematurely worn and may not allow for smooth shifting.

Gloves – Your hands are important. Good gloves will protect from bugs, sunburn, rocks, and should allow for easier use of the clutch and brake. Good motorcycle gloves will be armored and be designed to stay on in the event of a crash.

Jacket – In hot weather, a jacket may not seem like a “good idea”, but they always are. A textile jacket (or even mesh with armor) is best for keeping cool. In cold weather, a non-perforated leather jacket will work well. Armor is essential in a jacket. Non-motorcycle specific jacket will be thinner and won’t offer much protection, should the need arise. They may also not be comfortable in the riding position. I prefer jackets with aerodynamic humps as they make riding a little more comfortable for longer distances.

Suits – I tend to ride in a one-piece leather racing suit. It doesn’t mean, however, that I intend to race. They do offer far more protection on the road than any other article of gear. While not comfortable to walk around in, they are quite nice on the motorcycle. Two-piece suits, which are usually designed to zip together, are another good option for protection. They do have the advantage of being worn separately, which makes time off the bike a little easier than a one-piece suit.

Dainese Laguna Seca Leather Suit with gloves, boots, and helmet.
Dainese Laguna Seca Leather Suit with gloves, boots, and helmet.

Pants – Motorcycle pants should be made of a thicker leather and have armor in the proper places. Some pants are also made to zip together with a jacket, creating a two-piece suit. When purchasing pants, I recommend getting a pair that is compatible with a jacket.

Riding Style

This can be a tricky one, something I will only cover with basic tips that I have learned. Everyone rides a different bike in a different way, so use these only as a guideline.

Lane Splitting

This is something that is, in the United States, only legal here in California. While there are no set rules regarding it, there are some basic guidelines that should be followed. These are in no particular order. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) is also working to develop guidelines for lane-splitting/sharing. I highly recommend consulting them as well for additional guidance.

  1. Use caution. You’re already saving time by being able to split, so there is no need to go super fast. The general rule is no more than 10-15 mph faster than traffic and not to split above 40-50 mph. What this basically means is this, if traffic is stopped, don’t be going 50 mph.
  2. Watch for cars. Motorists may or may not be looking for you. In all fairness, it doesn’t matter if they are. Your safety is YOUR responsibility. Keep an eye ahead and watch how cars are moving. Look for turn signals and faces in side mirrors. With enough practice, you can better anticipate moves and plan accordingly. They are also not obligated to move to “let you by”. While it is a nice gesture, you should be able to figure out how to get around without them moving for you. Remember, it is ALWAYS on the person passing to pass in a safe manner. Lane splitting is a form of passing.
  3. Don’t do this while tired. Lane splitting, especially during peak hour traffic, can be very tiring on its own. You’re constantly on the brakes, clutch, throttle, looking ahead two feet and 100 feet, steering, and more. This can drain the body of energy a lot quicker than normal riding. Keep this in mind should you be leaving Downtown Los Angeles at 5 pm on a Thursday. If all else fails, take a break somewhere.
  4. Don’t ride angry. It only distracts you from the fun you should be having, or at least the satisfaction of getting to your destination quicker because of your choice of transportation.
  5. Don’t tailgate other riders. This should be obvious. You’re in a narrow space as it is, don’t make it worse. The rider in front of you may have to come to an abrupt halt and doesn’t need to worry if you’re going to collide with them. They may or may not see you as well. If you need to pass, just give them the room you’d want. Use another lane if need be or wait for them to pull to the side.
  6. Ride properly. While lane splitting is legal in California, there is an emphasis on “lane”. The painted barrier between HOV lanes and general purpose lanes is not to be crossed or ridden in. Aside from the legal issues, it is generally striped with raised pavement markers, which will reduce traction quite substantially. Motorists also won’t expect a motorcycle to be where no one is allowed to be. Bicycle lanes are also not to be “split” or shared. Shoulders are the same. Lane splitting/sharing should only be done between two legitimate lanes going in the same direction. You’re saving time by being able to split, doing so illegally and putting yourself (or others) at risk is not the right thing to do.
  7. Enjoy.
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