New Bike, New Dangers - Street Survival

One of the great moments in a motorcyclist's life is when he gets to ride his gleaming new bike home for the first time. But you also need to know it's one of the more dangerous moments, too. Research, such as the Hurt Report, indicates that riders, even experienced ones, on new motorcycles (or at least new to them) are more likely to be involved in a crash.

Unfortunately, the research hasn't determined why. Let's speculate a bit. New bikes are unfamiliar. They don't steer quite the same way you are used to. Their controls are positioned and shaped differently. Clutches engage in various ways, and brakes and tires arrive at lock-up with less or more pressure. You sit slightly differently and use different muscles to steer, hold on during acceleration and brace yourself while stopping. In other words, the movements and routines you used while riding that old bike need to be modified. You will need to adjust to the new bike. It takes time and miles, more of both if you don't ride frequently. We have previously written about spending some time in a safe setting to learn how your new bike reacts (see, and taking a rider-training class is a great way to do this.

Unfamiliar aspects of a new bike can distract you from the surrounding situation. Prepare for your first ride by reading the owner's manual before you ride the bike home. Find out how the components that are different work. This includes switches and instrument controls. For example, if you are buying your first Harley or BMW, the turn-signal controls are probably more complicated than what you are used to. Be sure you understand other unique features-Kawasaki's automatic neutral finder is another example-before they can distract or confuse you while riding.

Before you ride your brand-new motorcycle away from the dealer, make sure it is adjusted to you. Get the brake pedal, handlebar angle, clutch and brake levers and engagement points to fit your hands or feet. (See for tips on setting up your bike to fit.) Set the mirrors so their fields of view barely overlap behind you and give maximum view of the lanes next to you. Make sure all the mirrors' nuts are tight, since a mirror that suddenly swings loose is a major distraction. Other adjustable components may include the windshield, suspension and headlight. Get the dealer's technician to set these components up to fit you, and while he's at it, ask about any questions you have after reading the manual-tool-kit access, fusebox location, how to check oil level (on the stand? dipstick screwed in or just dipped?), where the idle-speed control is, etc.

Take it easy during your first weeks with a new motorcycle. Slow down in corners and avoid situations-such as frantic traffic or riding in a group-that add to your workload. You should also deliberately get to know how your new bike works at the edges of the envelope. We have previously written that you should learn how far it will lean before it drags (see and practice swerving and panic braking (see Practice quick starts, too, since there are situations when a hard launch is your best escape from disaster. This is also a good time to wear your most protective and visible riding gear so you don't have to use any corner of the bike's envelope. Keep your headlight on high beam during the day.

Of course, there are potentially bigger reasons riders crash on new bikes. You may be tempted to show off-always a bad idea, but even more so when the bike isn't familiar. Just looking around to see if people are checking out you and your bitchin' new bike means you aren't paying attention to job number one. And don't even think about having a beer before going on a ride.

This isn't to say your new bike is just an accident waiting for a place to impact. We ride new bikes all the time, sometimes several on the same day, and we don't leave a trail of scraped-off parts and asphalt rash. But we have taught ourselves to learn about and adjust to them quickly.

A new bike can also be safer. It's likely to have better tires, brakes and suspension than your old ride, so once you learn about it, set it to fit you, familiarize yourself with how it works, especially near its limits, and adopt a no-nonsense attitude about riding. Your new bike will probably be not only more fun, but safer, too.

Art Friedman gets e-mail at