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The Safe Course: 7 Defensive Driving Tactics For New Motorcyclists

Close up of motorcycle


Content and picture provided by Aaron Rote.

Sometimes, the best way to break a bad habit is to avoid forming it in the first place. This can be especially true for new motorcyclists, who require an extra degree of care and vigilance when first heading out on the open road. Whether by choosing the right apparel, inspecting your bike for mechanical issues or closely adhering to driving laws, you need a wide range of know-how to ensure your safety and the safety of the drivers around you. Here are seven tips for motorcyclists looking to develop good defensive driving habits from day one.

1. Maintain Your Ride

When it comes to driver safety, a motorcycle is much less forgiving than a car. Blow a tire in an SUV and you can easily maneuver the car off the road. Blow a tire on your bike and it can quickly become a matter of life or death. That means it’s extra-important to make sure your bike is in perfect working order every time you ride. Before each trip, check your oil and fluids, belts, brakes and tire pressure.

2. Wear The Right Protective Gear

Your protective gear is an extension of your bike’s safety features. Always choose an outfit that fully covers your body. No shorts and no sandals. In the event of an accident, you’ll be surprised how a layer of leather or denim can make the difference between a few scratches and an extended hospital visit. And choose accessories like goggles, boots and gloves that are specially made for motorcyclists, as these will preserve your full field of vision and range of motion. And of course, always wear a helmet. Even if your state doesn’t require it, there’s enough statistical evidence to prove that helmets save lives.

3. Look Around

New motorcyclists tend to focus on a single spot on the road in front of them. Get in the habit of checking your mirrors and looking to your sides and far ahead to anticipate changes in traffic patterns. Defensive driving means giving yourself the time and space to react. You can’t do that if you’re unaware of your surroundings.

4. Know Your Route

On a related note, make sure you know your route ahead of time. If you’re driving in an unfamiliar location, take the time to look at a map and memorize the basic directions. Although you can “feed” audio directions from your GPS into your helmet, a little pre-planning will let you focus on the business of safely driving your motorcycle.

5. Stay Educated

If you’re unsure about certain driving laws, or your travelling to a state or country where the laws may be different, take the time to educate yourself. has several state-specific exams that can help get you up to speed. And it can never hurt for more experienced motorcyclists to have a little refresher.

6. Be Confident

Hesitant, indecisive drivers are unsafe drivers. They make sudden unexpected maneuvers and force other drivers to react suddenly. Motorcyclists need to be assertive, whether by creating a car-free bubble by speeding up or braking in traffic or by staying close to other vehicles as you pass through stoplights to shield you from left-turning traffic in the opposite lane.

7. But Never Aggressive

Avoid aggressive maneuvers like sudden and unsignaled lane changes or impatient acceleration and deceleration through heavy traffic. This only creates an opportunity for accidents. Remember, defensive driving is about sharing the road but also having the skill and patience to control your small part of it.

Aaron Rote is a Chicago-based writer who specializes in entertainment, outdoors and craft beer culture. He is an avid runner and hiker who is currently teaching himself to commute by bike without being hit by a speeding bus.  Having recently relocated from the Pittsburgh area, he is also torn between his loyalty to the Pirates and his new home team, the Cubs. 

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