New Motorcycle, New Dangers

Riders on unfamiliar motorcycles turn up too prominently in the accident statistics. Make sure you aren't one of them. By Art Friedman.

One the great moments in a motorcyclist's life is when he gets to ride that gleaming new bike home for the first time. Unfortunately, it's one of the more dangerous moments too. Research, like the Hurt Report, indicates that riders, even experienced ones, on motorcycles that are new (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 as what you are used to. Their controls are positioned and shaped differently. Clutches engage slightly differently that your previous ride, and brakes and tires arrive at lock-up with less or more pressure. You sit on it slightly differently, and you 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 taking some time in a safe setting to learn how the new bike reacts. Taking a rider-training class is a great way to do this.

Prepare for your first ride on that new motorcycle by reading the owner's manual before you ride the bike home. Find how the components work that are different from any previous bike you may have owned. This includes things like 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. Instead of a single switch that initiates and cancels signaling, Harley-Davidsons use two buttons, one on each side. Push that side's button to begin signaling. To stop signaling, you push the button a second time. That is, unless the self-canceling feature has already stopped the signaling, then pushing the button a second time starts the signaling cycle all over again. The work-around is to push the opposite button twice quickly when you want to stop signaling. The first push cancels the original signal if it's still flashing (and starts the one you just pushed); the second push cancels the new one. With this system, you don't distract your attention from the road to look at the instruments to be sure signaling has ceased. 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 fit you instead of the factory's test rider. Get the brake pedal set so you can cover it comfortably. Rotate the handlebar in its mouting clamps to a position where you can get maximum steering leverage and, comfort. Adjust the clutch and brake levers on the handlebar, so you can reach them, and better still, cover them, comfortably while riding. Adjust engagement points to fit your hands or feet or use the lever-position adjusters if the bike has them.Set the mirrors so their fields of view barely overlap behind you and give maximum view of the lanes next to you. Once set, make sure all the mirrors' nuts are tight, since a mirror that suddenly swings loose is a major distraction. See our article on set-up for further tips on tailoring your bike to fit you properly.

Other adjustable components may include windshield, suspension, and headlight. Get a dealer's technician to set these components up to fit you (you should be able to look over the windshield), and while he's at it, ask about any other questions you have from reading the manual—toolkit 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—like 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 find a safe place to learn how far it will lean before it drags and practice swerving and panic braking. Practice quick starts too, since there are situations when a hard launch is your best escape from disaster. This is also an especially good time to wear your most protective helmet and most visible riding gear to help ensure that you don't have to use any corner of the bike's envelope. Keep your headlight on high beam during the day to further increase your visibility.

Of course, there are other, and potentially bigger, reasons that 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 bitchen new bike means you aren't paying attention to Job 1. And don't even think about having a beer when you are going for a ride.

This isn't to say that 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 don't leave a trail of scraped-off parts and asphalt rash. But 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.

_For more information on safe-riding equipment, strategies, techniques and skills, see the _ Street Survival section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

Stepping up to a new bike requires more than a financial commitment.