Working on my motorcycle rebuild project, I’ve been thinking a lot about tools.
I’ve always taken them for granted — wrenches, pliers, mallets, screwdrivers. It’s so strange to think that some of the basic tools in my garage today descended from concepts older than the written word, while others are highly specialized for motorcycles — and even my specific model.
My newfound obsession with tools has gotten me thinking about the tools we use for other purposes. Such as, of course, motorcycle safety.
We use several tools and technologies to reduce the risks we face while riding, but we don’t use motorcycle safety tools in the quite same way as garage tools.
In the garage, we use specific tools to achieve specific tasks, and those tasks add up to the desired end goal. Use a wrench to tighten this bolt, an impact driver to loosen that one. Before long, you’ve rebuilt a motorcycle. It’s that simple, right? 😉
In the garage, our hammers and Dremels are individual acts in a show. Each performer gets their time in the spotlight.
On the road, though, safety “tools” collaborate constantly and simultaneously to achieve the same task: staying safe. If you’re missing one at a crucial moment, your whole goal could fall flat.
In other words, motorcycle safety tools aren’t soloists, they’re an ensemble performance.
What’s in your motorcycle safety toolkit?
There are five basic “tools” safe riders should pay attention to, and each needs occasional sharpening and honing to keep it at its finest.
If your goal is to keep riding for as long as you can, it’s a good idea to do a periodic “audit” of your safety toolkit. What tools are in your toolkit now, and which ones could use some sharpening?
The safety tool you probably thought of first is motorcycle gear. And for good reason: if you’re in a crash, gear is your last and best line of defense against injury.
But quality motorcycle gear serves other important functions, too. Good gear can prevent fatigue by managing extreme temperatures, comfort, and wind, which is important because fatigue wears on our judgement and response time.
Every few months, or at the end of each season, think about the gear you own and ask, how could my gear be better? Do you have a good jacket for winter, but not summer? Are there items of gear you never wear because they’re uncomfortable?
And don’t forget to check your gear for wear and longevity. Check your armor for cracks or breaking, especially if it’s been exposed to extreme temperatures. And because of the way materials break down over time, the Snell foundation recommends replacing your helmet every five years.
Wearing the appropriate motorcycle gear can go a long way to improving your odds of surviving a crash, but visibility can help you prevent one.
To be more visible, an easy thing to do is choose gear with high-viz or reflective material — you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice style to do this, either. I love how Knox incorporated a reflective panel into their Olivia jacket, and Aether added reflective piping to the Navigator. For an inexpensive option, add some reflective stickers and patches to your gear.
Visibility is also about how you behave while on the road. Stay out of blind spots, and when approaching intersections choose your lane positions so you can seen by oncoming traffic. I also like to use hand signals, because the extra movement might catch drivers’ attention.
When talking about motorcycle safety, the motorcycle itself often gets overlooked, but it can be a major factor in both accident prevention and successful accident avoidance.
If you have worn brakes, you might not be able to stop in time to avoid an accident. A worn tire could blow out at highway speeds, forcing you into an emergency situation.
Keep up with scheduled maintenance, and do pre-ride checks. Tires, brake lights, brakes, chains and cables are all areas you should be particularly concerned with for safety.
As I wrote recently, learning to ride is a lifelong pursuit. No matter how long you’ve been riding, there is always room to improve your riding skills, and it’s important to practice emergency skills like braking to keep them sharp.
We riders don’t like to think about it, but a lack of riding skills can be fatal. According to the NHTSA, in 2016, nearly one in four fatal motorcycle crashes involved a motorcycle colliding with a fixed object.
Don’t be a rider who gets by with what they learned in the basic motorcycle class. Be a rider who takes control of their learning.
Quality motorcycle gear is excellent, visibility is great, and having epic riding skills is awesome. But the number one tool in your motorcycle safety toolkit is good judgement.
Good judgement is difficult, because it begins by being honest with yourself. If you can’t be honest about your own limitations, you’re your own biggest threat on the road.
One good way to improve your own judgement is to get educated. The more motorcycle classes you take with trained professionals, the better your judgement will become.
But also, you have to pay attention to yourself. We all have times when our personal pride would rather ignore an issue than address it. Remember, learning to ride is a lifelong journey. Nobody expects you to be perfect, all you can do is keep learning.
The only behavior you can control is your own
When you choose to ride a motorcycle, the person most responsible for your safety is you — full stop.
Yes, drivers should get off their phones and pay attention to the road. They should look both ways before pulling into an intersection. They should stop running red lights.
But you can’t control their behavior.
You can’t control whether the driver next to you checks their blind spot before changing lanes. You can, however, choose your lane position.
You can’t stop someone from pulling out in front of you. But you can make sure you’re able to brake in the shortest distance possible.
Motorcycle safety is not a one-and-done project. It’s a mindset, a state of being.
One tool can make or break your safety in one situation, and make no difference in another. To manage your risk on a motorcycle, you have to use all your tools.
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