Riding a motorcycle is one of the most accessible ways to have fun going from A to B, given that bikes are usually not too expensive to purchase when compared with cars. However, motorcycles can also be pretty dangerous. For a lot of people, riding a motorcycle doesn’t seem worth the risk.
Riding a motorcycle is worth the risk. While there are certainly some dangers to riding a motorcycle, the benefits far outweigh the risks. The freedom you feel when riding a motorcycle is an incredible thing, but they’re also just very practical methods of transport.
With that said, there are different factors you should consider when thinking about riding a motorcycle, as well as various ways to minimize risks. Below, we’ll go into more detail about evaluating the risk of riding, as well as some ways to be safer on a motorcycle.
Riding a motorcycle can be perilous. In 2019, more than 5,000 people died in fatal motorcycle crashes in the US alone. While this number isn’t that much in comparison to the total number killed in car crashes, if you compare these numbers to the amount of vehicles registered, you’re almost 30 times more likely to die riding a motorcycle than driving a car.
These numbers shouldn’t necessarily be used by themselves to make a decision, as they don’t take into account a number of other factors such as driving style and personal choices, like helmet use. With that said, they do illustrate a crucial point that should not be overlooked. Riding a motorcycle is simply a dangerous thing to do.
Modern automotive safety has progressed immensely since cars were popularized. A modern car has 3-point seat belts, usually more than 6 airbags, and a tremendous amount of research & development done with the intent of improving crash safety. Modern safety regulations have also increased their strictness, so across the board, safety has improved by a large margin.
Motorcycles will afford you none of these benefits. A brand new motorcycle and a 100 year old motorcycle have roughly the same safety features: next to none. There are no airbags, no seatbelts, and nothing between you and the world. You are completely exposed.
So, if a crash happens, you don’t have any real safety features to save you from injury, besides your riding gear. While gear is a life-saving invention, it isn’t always going to be enough.
Especially as cars have gotten bigger and heavier, in the event of a two vehicle collision between a motorcyclist and a passenger car, the car will always win. If you were to collide with a bigger vehicle, such as a large truck or a bus, the results only worsen.
Driver negligence is the most common factor in motorcycle accidents. In some cases, it’s negligence on the part of the rider, however in many cases it is negligence on the part of another driver on the road. Let’s first discuss rider negligence.
Riding a motorcycle is not an easy thing to do. A car will not fall over if its driver is not paying attention, unlike a motorcycle. Most modern cars have traction control and anti-lock brakes, and a variety of other assisting features that make it easier for someone with little experience to operate them with relative ease.
It takes a tremendous amount of focus, training, and coordination to operate a motorcycle correctly. There are many controls that the rider needs to master. These controls are operated by every limb, often simultaneously, and require precision and confidence to be used correctly.
Despite this, many people attempt to ride motorcycles with little to no experience, often to fatal or at least damaging results. Even people with more practice can still make mistakes, as controlling a motorcycle is a complicated thing to do, even for those who are experienced.
Many crashes are caused simply because a rider rides beyond their skill level, and ends up in a situation they no longer have control over. This type of crash is often avoidable, but ends up happening quite a lot, in some cases even with skilled riders.
There will always be external factors that are out of your control as a rider as well. Building deliberate habits in order to avoid these potential dangers is key to riding safely. This doesn’t always work though, as sometimes things are just up to chance.It’s important to be aware of that chance whenever you ride.
The other type of negligence is negligence on the part of other drivers. Being a motorcyclist, in comparison to cars, visually you are very small. If you haven’t ridden a motorcycle on the roads before, you may be surprised at how often people don’t notice you. This can be especially true in places where motorcycles are less common, but to some degree, it is true everywhere.
While there are certainly intelligent habits you can use to avoid many crashes, you still have to share the road with other drivers, and they won’t always make the right decision. The lives of motorcyclists are claimed every year due to other drivers not paying enough attention. This is just a part of the risk of riding that you have to accept, as it won’t go away.
Some of the other risks of motorcycles come from basic physics. Having 2 wheels instead of 4 can lead to more risk. If a car encounters a slippery surface, most of the time it will slide, but stay upright, as it would require more force for it to roll over than to slide.
This is not the case for motorcycles, and when a rider encounters a loss of grip, their motorcycle is more likely to end up in a variety of compromising situations, none of which are safe. Road motorcycles require grip in both wheels to be used as designed, so a lack of grip in either wheel can be very dangerous.
There were 84,000 reported motorcycle injuries in the US in 2019. That’s an average of more than 230 per day, and this doesn’t include any unreported accidents. The actual number is probably significantly higher.
While fatal motorcycle accidents do happen, it’s much more common to see minor injuries, and if you ride, you’ll probably encounter a few yourself. It’s good to know what some of the most common types of injuries are, so you can take steps to avoid them.
“Road rash” is one of the most common terms used in describing motorcycle accidents. It’s a comparatively harmless sounding term that describes something much more unpleasant than it seems. In motorcycle accidents, a rider will often end up sliding for some time before coming to a stop.
In many cases, the tough and bumpy road surface will eat through clothing and start removing layers of skin and whatever is beneath that skin. This can often be mitigated by investing in quality motorcycle-specific clothing, as this is designed to be tough enough to stand up to these dangers.
Head and neck injuries are among the most common motorcycle injuries, such as skull fractures or concussions. The brain may be the most important organ in your body, but it is also the heaviest. When an accident occurs, your ability to protect your head from damage is often limited, which is why helmets are so important.
Leg and foot injuries are also very common. Given that motorcycles are prone to sliding on their sides when a loss of traction occurs, legs and feet are often subjected to excess trauma in crashes.
Your feet are also the closest part of your body to the road when riding, which puts them at greater risk for accidentally striking obstacles or other such minor mistakes. It’s not uncommon to sprain an ankle or two (or worse) in a life of motorcycling.
The other body parts often affected by crashes are the arms and hands. When exposed to danger, our instinct is usually to use our arms to shield ourselves from impact and protect our head. This is a good instinct, but it also often results in damage to the arms and hands.
While protective gear can help minimize this danger, it cannot fully nullify hard impacts, and there’s still a lot of damage that can be done to these important appendages. Lot of riders may end up with sprained wrists or even broken bones within the hands and arms after a crash.
While there are a lot of other potential injuries, these are some of the most common types, and very useful to know when attempting to avoid peril as a motorcyclist. If you know what the most common injuries are, it’s easier to try and take steps to avoid them. But before we talk more about staying safe on a motorcycle, let’s discuss why riding is still worth the risk.
First and foremost, riding motorcycles is really fun. Especially on the road, it’s just about the most fun you can have getting from one place to another, in a reasonable amount of time. A lot of riders don’t even use their motorcycles to go anywhere specific, they just ride for the enjoyment of riding itself.
Most motorcycles are very light and usually quite powerful for their weight in comparison to cars. They’re immensely fun to ride, especially when the road has a lot of corners or elevation changes. If you’ve ever ridden a roller coaster at an amusement park, that’s probably the closest comparison I could draw (although bikes are maybe not quite as fast).
Whether you’re carving through canyons, cruising up and down the coastlines, or zipping through downtown traffic, at their core, motorcycles are about fun and agility. They’re designed to be light on their proverbial feet, and they achieve that goal very well.
Freedom can be a hard thing to define. It’s a very powerful word, but it often represents different feelings to different people. Riding a motorcycle is one of my favorite representations of the idea of freedom. You are free from distractions, free from the worries and stressors of society.
The freedom of motorcycles partially comes from their simplicity. Motorcycles don’t have heating vents or air conditioning. Most don’t have stereo systems or even particularly comfortable seats. They’re overall not that complicated when it comes to functionality, even though some designs may be more complicated than others.
At its core, the motorcycle is an engine strapped to a couple of wheels, nothing more. It’s the most efficient way to move on the road, using the smallest number of materials and lowest weight possible. The result of this freedom from extravagance is a sort of unintentional mental freedom.
Freedom & Adventure
By removing yourself from the comfort and luxuries that a modern car or home often contains, you are accepting less control over your environment. You are choosing to be more uncomfortable, for the sake of fun, for the sake of freedom and adventure.
Motorcycles are dangerous. By choosing to ride one, you accept a certain amount of risk that in most cases is completely unnecessary. But, to quote Niki Lauda, one of my favorite racing drivers, “What would life be like if we only did what is necessary?”
To choose a motorcycle is to choose freedom over fear. Despite the risks, some would say despite sense, we ride. We ride because we love it, we love it enough to refuse to be quelled by the fear of dangers it may bring. We ride because we have the freedom to consciously accept risks and enjoy the benefits of that acceptance.
When you’re in a car, you’re relatively protected, safe inside a locked and temperature-controlled metal box. This safety gives not just physical protection, but also allows a mental shield between you and what lies beyond your windshield.
When you ride a motorcycle however, you’re very exposed, to the elements, to other drivers, to everything. With this exposure comes a sort of humility. You are at the mercy of other people, at the mercy of nature. For me at least, this encourages me to be a more positive person.
When you’re exposed to everyone and everything, the choices you make will affect other people more. Everyone sees you on a motorcycle, there’s no barrier, visual or otherwise, between you and the world. I’m at my most friendly when I ride. I will wave to everyone, other motorcyclists, cars who saw me and made sure to give me room, kids walking home from school.
There’s something about motorcycles that represents wearing your heart on your sleeve. When you leave yourself so open to the world around you, people often respond in the same open way. You’ve removed their potential defensive fear by intentionally putting yourself in a vulnerable position.
This type of vulnerability is a beautiful thing, and I wish I could feel it more of the time, as I find it encourages me to be more positive than I otherwise might feel necessary. Generally, at worst, sometimes people will ignore you. The value this emotional vulnerability gives you, not to mention the world, is unquestionable. It may not be a tangible benefit of riding, but it’s definitely there.
Motorcycles are usually pretty cheap to own in comparison to cars. While there are certainly more expensive motorcycles you can get if you like, if you’re not too picky, you can get great deals on older bikes, especially if they need a little fixing up.
Motorcycles are a great way to learn about fixing engines, as they’re usually pretty simple. Some of the older ones especially are designed to be simple and easy to repair. I think anyone with a mind to do so can pretty easily figure out how to do basic repairs on their motorcycle.
Fairly Fuel Efficient
Motorcycles are generally very fuel-efficient. This comes from the fact that they usually aren’t very heavy, and don’t require that much power to move themselves. Even the less efficient bikes often get 35 or 45 miles per gallon, and some of the smaller more efficient ones get upwards of 80 mpg.
This is a great benefit, especially if you’re in a place where gas is more expensive. In comparison to large trucks, SUVs, and even smaller cars, you’ll be spending next to nothing when filling up your bike at a gas station.
Motorcycle insurance is also generally very cheap. For some smaller bikes and scooters, it can even be less than $100 a year. Not all companies provide good deals though, so it’s worth shopping around a bit until you find the best price. In some cases, having a fully separate motorcycle policy through the right company will be cheaper than adding a motorcycle to your existing insurance policy.
While this isn’t as big of a reason as some of the others, it’s still pretty notable. Motorcyclists are often some of the friendliest people you’ll meet, especially if you’re also on a bike. Many riders will be interested to talk to you about your bike, or about your gear, or even just about the weather. At least in the US, many riders even wave to one another on the road!
While there are always exceptions, in most cases I’ve found it very easy to strike up a conversation with other bikers. I’ve even been able to have fun little conversations at stoplights while riding abroad. In those cases, half of the time neither of us could speak the other’s language. But a smile and a wave will get you pretty far!
There are also a number of motorcycle-based events throughout the world, everything from neighborhood meetups to bigger conventions. These are a great way to meet people and to learn more about motorcycles and motorcycle culture, whether or not you ride already.
While riding a motorcycle is a dangerous thing to do, there are a number of steps you can take to limit the risk you’re exposed to when riding. First off, let’s talk about motorcycle gear.
Gear is the most important physical thing you can do when it comes to motorcycle safety. In the event of an accident, the gear you wear is the only thing between you and whatever you may be colliding with. The importance of gear cannot be overstated.
A good helmet is the most important piece of gear you can own. The brain is the most important organ in our body, and protecting it is paramount to safety. There are a large range of helmets to choose from, and it can be dizzying trying to pick the safest one, but there are a couple of basic things to know when looking at them.
Helmets have a variety of safety certification processes. The most common certifications are DOT and ECE. DOT is used in the US, and ECE in Europe. To be street legal in their respective locations, a helmet must display this rating. If you’re looking for more strict safety testing, some other ratings to look for would be SNELL or SHARP, as these helmets have been tested more thoroughly.
Other important pieces of gear would be gloves, boots, a jacket, and pants. While everyone has a different opinion on which are the most important, I usually recommend gloves and boots after a helmet. Regardless, all of these pieces of gear could help to save your life, or at the very least minimize potential injuries.
Beyond gear, the biggest thing that can keep you safe on a motorcycle is to develop responsible riding habits. There are a lot of good habits that are intelligent to learn, but I’ll just go over a few of the most important ones below.
One of the things I always say to people when they ask about motorcycle safety is this: “Ride like you’re invisible, because to some people – you are.” While this isn’t necessarily literally true, uncountable motorcycle accidents have occurred and will occur because another driver on the road didn’t see a motorcycle.
This phrase is mostly designed to reinforce the idea that a lot of drivers don’t pay enough attention. If you expect them to always do the right thing, you’re putting yourself in greater danger. However, if you maintain the assumption that other drivers may do the right thing, but won’t always, it can really help you avoid potential accidents.
Make sure when you’re riding you give yourself adequate following distance, and in some cases, it should be way more than is necessary. If you have a car right behind you, while your motorcycle may be able to stop quickly, the car can’t be counted on to do so. If your rear zone is occupied, your front zone should be even more open, as this allows you to react slowly and avoid sudden stops.
Keeping an eye on what’s behind you as a motorcyclist, in some cases, can be just as important as keeping an eye on what’s in front of you. Checking your rear mirrors often and maintaining a safe following distance can help you avoid a lot of crashes. But you should also ensure you keep a safe following distance to those in front of you as well.
Counter-steering is another important concept to be aware of. Past low speeds, when you turn your motorcycle, you’re more pushing it with your body than turning it with your arms. As you lean in corners, the weight of the motorcycle moves to the side of the tire, and you actually end up pushing the handlebars slightly in the opposite direction in order to keep the bike in balance.
It’s important to understand counter-steering, as crashes sometimes happen because of a rider’s lack of knowledge in this area. Panicking mid-turn and trying to yank the handlebars quickly upsets the bike’s stability. This will almost always result in a crash.
As motorcyclists, we’re affected more by weather conditions than those in cars. Especially in low grip situations, motorcycles can be incredibly dangerous to ride. Before you go to ride, take a minute to evaluate the road, weather, and temperature. Sometimes the safest thing to do is to wait and ride on a different day.
I highly recommend trying to find an official motorcycle safety course. They will go much more in-depth on best practices to avoid dangerous situations, and are a very good way to learn and practice safety precautions, and general riding skills.
The last thing I’ll mention for staying safe on a motorcycle is a bit broad but it’s very important. Don’t ride beyond your ability. Every year, the lives of motorcyclists are claimed in single vehicle crashes. While motorcycles are tremendously fun, and many have the ability to go very fast, that doesn’t mean it’s always safe to do so.
When you’re riding a motorcycle, you have a lot of power at your fingertips that you must control. And with great power, comes great responsibility. It’s important to evaluate the skill level you’re at as best you can, and make sure that you’re always in control of your bike. If it feels dangerous, it probably is.
So, is riding a motorcycle worth it for you, specifically? After all, riding isn’t for everyone. Despite the many enjoyable parts of motorcycle riding, it is still a dangerous thing to do. For some, that risk just doesn’t feel worth it. Some people just don’t have the same desire for speed that others do.
Motorcyclists are often people who enjoy speed and adrenaline. Many motorcyclists have other action sport hobbies such as racing cars, skiing, kayaking, and countless others. If you’re the type of person who enjoys the feeling of speed and adrenaline, I would be surprised if you didn’t enjoy riding a motorcycle.
Some motorcyclists just prefer the openness that a bike provides though, not necessarily the speed. Do you like the feeling of wind on your face? Do you enjoy hiking and being out in nature? Do you like going for car rides and meandering through the countryside? Motorcycling may also be something you enjoy.
Some people also ride bikes for pragmatic reasons. As they are very compact, fuel-efficient, and cheap to run in a few other ways, some people use them to commute to work or get groceries. As long as you don’t mind being a bit exposed, you may enjoy motorcycles in this way as well.
Riding a motorcycle is worth the risk, provided you understand how to ride one safely and wear the proper safety gear. While riding isn’t for everyone, if you enjoy being out in the open, and perhaps the feeling of speed, riding a motorcycle can definitely be worth the inherent risk.