American Motorcyclist June 2018

Preparing For The Worst

Get Fit, Gear Up, Know Your Limits

By Jim Witters

No one gets onto their motorcycle, starts it up, pops it into gear and starts riding with the intention of getting into a crash. The vast majority of rides end without incident. However, because of those relatively few rides that result in a mishap on the road—or at a motorcycle shop for repair—instead of safely at home, motorcyclists must give safety extra consideration.

While motorcycling by its nature carries some inherent level of risk, riders can do several things to protect themselves and reduce the chances they are involved in a crash. When a crash does occur, advance preparation can help lessen its severity.

The AMA and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation offer the following information to help ensure your next ride—and all that come after it—are more enjoyable and worry-free.

Know Yourself (And Your Bike)

The best crash protection is taking steps to avoid getting into one. Some crashes are unavoidable, but many—especially single vehicle crashes—can be avoided by learning how to identify and deal with hazardous situations.

The AMA encourages everyone who rides to complete a rider training course and become familiar with motorcycle dynamics, and understand the basics of motorcycle operation, cornering and stopping. Advanced rider courses also can benefit riders by refreshing their skill sets and adding new capabilities.

The AMA position statement on voluntary rider training is available at > Rights > AMA Position Statements.

Riders should know their limits, the limits of the motorcycle and the limits of the riding environment in every situation. Always ride your own pace, regardless of the skill level of fellow riders.

Twisty roads are fun to ride, but the fun quickly disappears when an oil slick or a deer appears around a corner and a rider is riding too aggressively to react in time.

We all know not to ride under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But too often we ignore other signals that may indicate we are impaired.

Whether it’s sunny and 80 degrees or 50 degrees and threatening a downpour, riders must consider how they are feeling that day. Are you up for a ride?

It can be something as obvious as feeling sick, or as subtle as just feeling “off.” If you aren’t feeling 100 percent that day, postpone the ride.

Exhaustion from heat or cold can also impair a rider’s ability to think clearly and react to changing road conditions and hazards. Learn to recognize the signs of hypo- and hyperthermia and if you encounter them while riding, stop and take appropriate action.

Another step riders can take is making sure the bike is in top-notch condition before every ride. This means taking care of regular bike maintenance and giving your bike a once-over before every ride.

The MSF recommends using the T-CLOCS method to assess the mechanical condition of your motorcycle before every ride.

T-CLOCS stands for Tires and wheels, Controls, Lights and electrical, Oil and other fluids, Chassis and Stands. The method involves the rider checking any part of a motorcycle that could create a hazardous situation if that part failed. You don’t want to get caught in a downpour with insufficient tire tread or traffic with spongy brakes or improperly working lights and signals on any ride.

A T-CLOCS checklist is available on the downloads page of the MSF website at

Gear Up

For the crashes that cannot be avoided, protective gear can greatly reduce the severity of crash-related injuries or even save a rider’s life.

The AMA and the MSF consider the minimum complement of riding gear, regardless of style of motorcycle or trip duration, to be a DOT-compliant helmet (full-face style preferred), eye protection (face shield or goggles), motorcycle-specific jacket (leather or abrasion-resistant synthetic material preferred), sturdy pants, over-the-ankle boots and motorcycle-specific gloves.

For long rides, hearing protection (if legal in your state) is recommended.

Some riders choose jackets, pants, and gloves with rigid “body armor” inserts in critical areas for additional protection. Another option is wearing accessory armor underneath regular clothes. (One company that offers such products with an AMA discount is Bohn Body Armor.)

One of the biggest causes of multiple-vehicle motorcycle crashes is motorists not noticing a motorcyclist. Riders can wear reflective, brightly-colored gear to help them stand out in traffic and be more easily noticed by motorists. Combined with the headlight on at all times, visibility can be maximized in daylight and nighttime conditions.

When The Rain Comes

“If it starts raining, the best thing a rider can do is slow down,” said Marie Wuelleh, AMA State Chapters and volunteer coordinator. “Even a light shower can put enough water on the roadway to substantially reduce traction for turning and braking.”

Moreover, the first few minutes of rain are generally the most dangerous as oil and road debris begin to pool on the road’s surface. Most of the oil and debris tend to build up in the middle portion of a lane, so try to ride on the left or right third of the lane when possible.

“In some situations, it’s best to just get off the road,” Wuelleh said. “Street-oriented motorcycle tires can handle light to moderate amounts of rain. When the rain becomes so heavy it reduces visibility, or if lightning is sighted, get off the road, park the bike and take shelter until the storm passes.”

While it is sometimes best to get off the road completely, this is not always possible. When a building or other form of shelter is not available, a highway overpass can offer protection.

“If you must do this, the best practice is to park your bike on the shoulder under the overpass, then get off the bike and get as far away from the roadway as possible,” she said. “Your bike and anything on it are replaceable. You are not.”

The AMA has some great tips for dealing with weather-related dangers such as lightning, fog, tornadoes and extreme temperatures at Just search for “weather-related dangers.”

Aging Riders

While age can provide a rider with wisdom and riding experience, the health effects of aging can affect a rider’s ability to ride safely. For example, generally speaking, night vision is poorer, overall strength decreases, and reaction time increases with age.

Riding a motorcycle places heavy demands on a rider’s senses. The MSF emphasizes the importance of understanding how age can affect a rider’s senses, as well as what steps to take to prolong your riding career.

The effects of aging on the senses is noticeable when a rider has to identify and avoid a road hazard, using the MSF’s Search-Evaluate-Execute (SEE) method.

A rider’s ability to visually perceive their environment declines with age. Between 40 and 50 years old, a rider’s visual acuity begins to decline. The eyes take longer to adjust, are more sensitive to sun glare and oncoming headlights and do not function as well in the dark (including night riding). Peripheral vision and depth perception decline. Street signs tend to be more difficult to read, and hearing diminishes.

Age also affects a rider’s ability to evaluate or analyze hazards. The brain processes information that the senses feed it more slowly, which delays decision-making. It can also be harder for a rider to distinguish and compare multiple perceived hazards, further delaying reaction time.

Weakening senses, often imperceptible at first, also make it more difficult to judge speed and distance. This can delay a rider’s ability to fully understand the environment in which a hazard is perceived, further delaying response time. Some medications can compound these effects and affect cognitive processing.

Aging also erodes a rider’s ability to physically react to hazards once they have been perceived and a course of action has been formed. As a rider ages, muscle tone and strength deteriorate, and endurance and reaction time diminish. Those changes can delay a rider’s inputs to steer, stop, or accelerate away from a hazard.

Further compounding the effects of aging, a rider’s sensitivity to a motorcycle’s controls also diminishes. This includes the ability to perceive feedback from the motorcycle in cornering and braking situations.

Overcoming Aging’s Effects

Many older riders can—and do—take steps to counteract the effects of aging and continue to enjoy motorcycling. The MSF offers these tips.

First, avoid situations that heavily tax diminished riding skills. Some examples include maintaining longer following distances in traffic, avoiding heavily congested riding environments, and allowing larger gaps when passing slower traffic.

Next, aging riders can change how they use their eyes while riding to compensate for weakened vision and eyes muscles. Instead of relying on peripheral vision to see each side of an intersection, and older rider can make a point to look directly at each side and receive better quality visual information. Riders can also look over their shoulders and visually check their blind spots more often.

Pay special attention to the lenses through which the riding environment is viewed. This includes keeping face shields and goggles clean, not using tinted lenses at night, and wearing sunglasses to counteract glare. Be sure prescription lenses are current and scratch free. Riders age 60 and over should have annual eye check-ups for cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and other conditions associated with aging.

Fitness is important at any age. All riders also need to keep up on their medical check-ups. Maintaining good muscle tone and flexibility improve the enjoyment of motorcycling.

Listen to feedback from others. If a riding buddy mentions that he or she noticed delayed reactions, or a family member notices differences in motor skills while doing work around the house or outdoors, it is a signal to exercise caution and take further action to understand the cause.

AMA members love to ride and aging riders can offset some of the challenges described above by changing the motorcycle they ride. Consider a smaller, lighter motorcycle or a large-displacement scooter. If or when the time comes to retire from two-wheeled motorcycling, perhaps a three-wheeled motorcycle such as a trike or sidecar.

Use Technology

Modern technology is available to help riders get out of dangerous situations—regardless of your age or road conditions.

Some products use satellite communication to ensure you can reach help regardless of cell coverage.

AMA Member Benefit Partner SPOT LLC is one such company. The company’s latest product is called SPOT Gen3. It lets select contacts know that you’re OK, or, if a crash occurs, sends emergency responders your GPS location. All you have to do is push a button.

Another service you might want to line up ahead of time, just in case the worst happens, is air ambulance coverage.

AMA Member Benefit Partner Medjet is one company that provides air ambulance service for riders injured while far away from a medical facility.

AMA member Ben Roberts was in trouble along the TransAmerica Trail. Crossing the prairie, Roberts topped a hill and ran into a young bull.

“I thought I had the time and space to get by him,” Roberts said. “But as soon as I got up close to him, he darted out, and he actually hit me.”

His brother-in-law, who was riding behind him, stopped and lifted the bike off Roberts’ foot. The two made it to the local hospital, where doctors determined Roberts needed surgery. Roberts wanted to get closer to home first.

Roberts used Medjet to book a flight from Wichita to the hospital of his choice. At the same time, Medjet was working to get his motorcycle home, as well.

Information about SPOT and Medjet is available on the AMA Member Benefits page at > For Members > Member Discount Codes.

American Motorcyclist June 2018