Motorcycle Touring Safety

The motorcycle has always been an exciting and efficient way to move. Since its establishment in 1867, two wheels have taken many people where they need to go. It has been used by some for daily travel and others as a weekly entertainment activity.

Motorcycle development:

Motorcycles have been around far longer than most people suspect – somewhere around 150 years. In 1867, Sylvester Howard Roper, built a coal-fired steam powered motorcycle.

1867 Roper Motorcycle

In 1885, Gottlieb Daimler (yes, the same Daimler that started the Mercedes car company) built this gas-powered motorcycle.

1885 Daimler Motorcycle

In 1903, William Harley, Arthur Davidson, Walter Davidson and William Davidson founded the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company and rolled out their first motorcycle.

1903 Harley Davidson Motorcycle

Obviously, technology and engineering have made motorcycles infinitely safer and more reliable. But, until we all have more personal protection,

Safety Suit

riding will always be a calculated risk. It’s a known fact that the onus is on motorcyclists to have a safe and pleasant ride. Drivers who have never ridden a motorcycle in traffic are generally less aware of bikers. I have been involved in several instances where the driver of an oncoming car looked straight at me then made a left turn as if I wasn’t there. This kind of incident happens all the time to riders; people in cars just don’t register a motorcycle as an object in the road to be avoided.

Motorcycle safety:

First things first. Wear protective gear, especially a helmet (even if the state you live in does not require one). Oh, and if you have an open face helmet, wear eye protection, too – even if your sled has a windscreen. The top of most windscreens is usually at the rider’s eye-level. This allows for smooth air flow over the rider’s helmet, but will not stop heavier objects like rain, pebbles, big bugs & small birds from invading your helmet-space.

Boots ain’t just for show, pilgrim – they help protect your lower legs from burns and scrapes if you should go down. Heavy-duty denim pants help that, too. Riding gloves can save your hands in the event of a fall and can also keep your hands from slipping on the controls. Jackets that have armor plating built in are often made of tear-resistant Nylon and can greatly reduce the risk of injury by cushioning your elbows, shoulders and back so you avoid painful “road rash”. Good leather jackets have elbow & shoulder padding as extra layers of leather instead of plastic armor plates. Having both a “flow-through” nylon jacket for summer use and a heavy leather jacket for winter use will allow you to be comfortable in any season.

I’m not an advocate of noise pollution, but Harley and Harley’s aftermarket vendors make loud pipes for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s brand recognition, but more importantly to riders, it lets other folks know you’re around. The saying “Loud pipes save lives” isn’t just a marketing slogan for the aftermarket pipe-making crowd; personal experience tells me that’s so. Taking the noise thing one step further and applying the old cooking adage “If a little’s good, a lot’s a lot better.” – ride in a group if you can. One bike may be noisy, but 10-20 bikes will definitely get people’s attention.

Unfortunately, stock Harley horns aren’t super loud. They may sound like that in the garage, but out on the road with lots of traffic noise around – not so much. If you can, slap something like these on the bike: 120 decibel train horns made to work on a bike…

The horns in this picture (made by Wolo: Airsplitter MC air horns at wolo-mfg.com) are easy to install. They will fit on the bike using the Harley factory mounting bracket. The air compressor can be attached anywhere convenient. In this picture, the compressor on this bike is attached to a frame cross-brace and is the chrome cylinder in the upper left corner of the image.

Lights, lights, lights! Most modern Harleys have super-bright LED headlights and running lights, but it is often the case that the brake lights and turn signals aren’t as bright. If you have or are considering buying an older bike, one of the best things a rider can do for safety purposes is to get the brightest lights possible and buy an aftermarket kit that makes the brake light(s) flash before going solid on. A flashing brake light will get folks attention.

Let’s talk about road conditions. Check the weather before leaving. Bring a rainsuit and a full-face, shielded helmet if you are expecting that things will get wet. Don’t leave if your tires have worn-down treads. Rain-slick bald tires make for a ride that may be a bit more exciting than you were bargaining for. Always check your tires for proper inflation and tread wear before starting out and every time you get off the bike (like at rest/gas stops) during your trip. You never can tell what junk your tires may have picked up. To save wear & tear on the engine/transmission, try to choose a route that involves the least traffic. Air-cooled Harleys are not real fun to be on when they get stuck-in-traffic hot. If you are unfamiliar with the roads you will be taking, don’t be the road racer of the month out there. Take it a little slower than usual so as not to be surprised by sand/gravel patches, surprise corners, potholes, railroad tracks, road construction and metal-grate bridges. By the way, if you’ve never been over a metal grate bridge on a bike, you’ve got a real fun experience coming.

Lastly, don’t ride to the point of exhaustion. You need to be more alert and have better reflexes when riding than when driving. Remember, bikes have no seat belts, airbags, lane-keeping assists, crumple zones, automatic braking or collision warnings. A sleepy biker is almost always a recipe for disaster.

Be safe & happy riding!

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