Motorcycles can provide quick rides around town, easier navigation on crowded roads and breathtaking adventures. But if you’ve never owned one, the idea might seem a bit daunting. The fact is, while motorcycles are one of the more dangerous forms of transportation, it’s possible to greatly reduce that risk and enjoy the benefits of motorcycle ownership with a little bit of responsible maintenance, precaution and preparation.
Ride or Die?
Getting into the world of motorcycles doesn’t have to be a scary process. The best way to stay safe on a bike is to make safety your highest priority. First off, set yourself up for success by not buying more bike than you need. Instead of that monstrous 2,000-cc cruiser you’ve been dreaming about, prioritize finding something with a low ride height that won’t shoot you into the stratosphere if you release the clutch a little too fast at first.
Once you’ve found the right entry-level ride, invest in a good helmet and riding gear. If you’re going to be riding on the highway, a half-shell helmet won’t cut it — opt for something that’ll protect your jaw if you take a high-speed spill.
Finally, make sure you have the proper licensing and training before heading out onto the open road. Classes are relatively accessible and might even help lower your insurance, so take one! Spend some time riding around a safe, quiet area before jumping into traffic. Always keep a basic tool kit in your trunk or saddlebag, whether it’s generic or one made especially for your ride. Always practice defensive, alert driving.
Size is both an asset and a liability for motorcycles. Parking is a breeze, and bikes are easily portable in the bed of a truck. They can also navigate narrower passages, and some can handily tackle off-roading or trails that cars otherwise can’t.
If you’re considering purchasing a bike, it might please you to remember that they don’t take up much storage space in your garage, either. And if you choose to do your own maintenance, most components are easily accessible and straightforward to work on. More than that, you don’t need a pit or lift to work on them; maintenance stands are easily portable and extremely user-friendly—all you have to do is hoist the wheel up on the stand, and you can get to work.
Along a similar vein, make sure you can lift the bike you’re considering from a tipped-over position to an upright position, should it ever fall on you while you’re learning.
Bike maintenance shouldn’t be intimidating to anyone familiar with working on cars, and it’s a crucial part of staying safe on the road. It’s easy to learn the basic maintenance checks before you ride, as well as other routine procedures.
Always follow manufacturer specifications for oil and oil filter changes, and keep a vigilant eye on tire pressure and tread. Changing old spark plugs is an easy way to improve performance and mileage, as well, and is very similar to the same task on cars. Give your brakes extra-special attention, as brake dust and road grime tend to creep in and gunk things up. Monitor the condition and tension of belts and chains, and always do a quick check of fluids and lights before each ride.
A motorcycle can be an incredibly rewarding purchase, hobby or lifestyle, but it’s important to stay on top of maintenance and always keep safety at the forefront of your riding experience. Luckily, maintenance is relatively simple, and there’s a ton of safety gear and training options available — you just have to take advantage of them, and you’ll be ready to enjoy the ride.
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Photos courtesy of Blair Lampe.
Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.