Motorcycles are fun and fuel efficient. That’s not news to anyone who’s ridden one. But neither is the fact that they’re also way more dangerous than a car.
The cold reality is that motorcyclists are 30 times more likely to die in a crash than people in a car, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The numbers are even scarier for older riders. Because of slower reflexes, weaker eyesight, more brittle bones and other disadvantages, riders over 60 years old are three times more likely to be hospitalized after a crash than younger ones.
The key to optimizing your odds is to be prepared and avoid risks. Forty-eight percent of fatalities in 2010 involved speeding, according to the IIHS, and alcohol was a factor in 42 percent.
Here are nine other tips to help you — or a loved one — stay safe on two wheels:
• Don’t buy more bike than you can handle. If you’ve been off of motorcycles for a while, you may be surprised by the performance of today’s bikes. Even models with small-displacement engines are notably faster and more powerful than they were 10 or 20 years ago.
• Invest in anti-lock brakes. Now available on a wide array of models, anti-lock brakes are a proven lifesaver. IIHS data shows that motorcycles equipped with ABS brakes were 37 percent less likely to be involved in a fatal crash than bikes without it.
• Hone your skills. A Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) riding course or similar class can teach you the basics, as well as advanced techniques, like evasive emergency maneuvers. The cost ranges from free to about $350. An approved safety course may make you eligible for an insurance discount and, in some states, to skip the road test and/or the written test part of the licensing process.
• Use your head. Yes, helmets are an emotional topic for some riders. But the facts show the risk. Riders without a helmet are 40 percent more likely to suffer a fatal head injury in a crash and are three times more likely to suffer brain injuries than those with helmets, according to government studies.
• Wear the right gear. Jeans, a T-shirt and sandals are recipes for a painful disaster on a bike. Instead, you want gear that will protect you from wind chill, flying bugs and debris, and, yes, lots of road rash if you should slide out. For maximum protection, go for a leather or other reinforced jacket, gloves, full pants and over-the-ankle footwear, even in summer. You’ll also want effective eye protection.
• Be defensive. A recent study by the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research found that in collisions involving a motorcycle and a car, car drivers were at fault 60 percent of the time. So you need to be extra alert. Keep an eye out for cars changing lanes suddenly or pulling out from side streets. And don’t tailgate.
• Avoid bad weather. Slippery conditions reduce your margin for error. Rain not only cuts your visibility but reduces the motorcycle tires’ grip on the road, which can make cornering tricky. If you need to ride in the rain, remember that the most dangerous time is right after precipitation begins, as the water can cause oil residue to rise to the top.
• Watch for road hazards. A motorcycle has less contact with the pavement than a car. Sand, wet leaves or pebbles can cause a bike to slide unexpectedly, easily resulting in a spill. Bumps and potholes that you might barely notice in a car can pose serious danger when on a bike.
• Be ready to roll. Before each ride, Consumer Reports recommends doing a quick walk-around to make sure your lights, horn and directional signals are working properly. Check the chain, belt or shaft and the brakes. And inspect the tires for wear and make sure they’re set at the proper pressure.