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Riding safely

Caution, skill important to use while motorcycling

April 29, 2012
By RODNEY MINOR , The Leader Herald

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month and according to recent studies, it may be a good idea for new motorcyclists to think about being careful on the road.

The most dangerous time for motorcyclists by far is their first year, peaking in the first month, safety studies show.

For motorcycle riders, their first 30 days are about four times more risky than their entire second year, said Matthew Moore, vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute. "It's most likely inexperience. Operating a motorcycle is a fairly complex task."

Article Photos

Charles Mull, left of Ballston Spa and Chris Briner of Broadalbin ride Harley Davidsons on Bellen Road in Broadalbin on Wednesday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

For example, he said, pulling out on a hill requires a half-dozen actions: balancing on one foot, braking to keep the bike from rolling back, shifting gear, feathering the throttle, watching for traffic and releasing the clutch.

An institute study showed 22 percent of nearly 57,000 collision claims from 2003 to 2007 occurred in the first 30 days after an insurance policy took effect. The claim rate dropped one-third in the second month and almost two-thirds after six months.

More than half the insurance claims on so-called supersport bikes occurred in the first three months. Often favored by younger riders, they have high power-to-weight ratios and can approach 200 mph.

Mike Scott, president of the New York chapter of Blue Iron Motorcycle Club, which allows law-enforcement members from Fulton and Montgomery counties, said new motorcyclists tend to be unaware that other drivers can have trouble seeing them. Many are used to driving cars or trucks, so they are used to being well seen by other drivers.

"A lot of younger riders take it for granted people can see them," Scott said.

According to information from the Department of Transportation, motorcyclists can try to make sure they are seen by:

The DOT also said motorcyclists should be especially alert at intersections because approximately 50 percent of motor-vehicle collisions occur there.

Motorcyclists also need to do a good job of watching the road surface and traffic ahead.

"Road hazards that are a minor irritation to an automobile can be a major hazard for a rider, including potholes, oil slicks, puddles, debris, ruts, uneven pavement and railroad tracks," the DOT said.

Scott said his advice to any new motorcyclist is to take their time to get where they are going, try and ride with more experienced motorcyclists to see what they do and take a motorcycle safety course.

The nonprofit Motorcycle Safety Foundation's basic rider course, offered in 48 states, has trained more than 6 million riders, about 400,000 last year, said Sherry Williams, director of quality assurance and research. It includes turning, braking, using the controls and emergency responses. It costs $275 in New York.

"We say we improve knowledge, skill sets and increase awareness," said Ray Oakes, director of foundation training systems. "We can fix the ignorance part. We can't fix stupid."

One survey indicated 45 percent of U.S. riders have taken the course, though some learn during the course that motorcycles aren't for them, Williams said. It has opened motorcycling to people who don't know a rider who will teach them. Women in some states represent 20 to 30 percent of the students, and the survey showed they account for 10 percent of riders.

After taking the training course, however, the DOT also recommends people practice riding their motorcycle before going out on the street.

"Depending on what type of bike you have, find an off-highway area or vacant parking lot and practice until use of all controls becomes automatic and you become thoroughly accustomed too requirements for balance, making turns, shopping and shifting," the DOT said.

Making sure a motorcycle is in proper working order also is important.

Mike Emmerson, a service consultant at Adirondack Harley-Davidson in?Broadalbin, said the business' service department can take care of mechanical issues year round.

Emmerson said making sure the motorcycle is sound mechanically is important for simple reason: A mechanical issue with a car may lead to it coming to a stop or pulling over to the side of the road. With a motorcycle, that could send the bike down to the ground.

"Obviously, that's the last thing you want to have happen," he said.

However, before worrying about maintenance, it is important for motorcyclist to make sure they have the right motorcycle for them.

Joe Palmerino, a salesman with Adirondack Harley-Davidson, said when customers come in, they get to sit on the motorcycles they are interested in.

"We make sure they can reach the controls, that they have enough ground clearance," he said. "An we also take into account if they plan on having passengers."

Palmerino said they get many customers who have children, and it is required that the child's feet touch the pegs.

Of course, while motorcyclists have to be careful, other drivers should keep an eye out for them and also practice defensive driving.

Scott said other drivers should be aware that motorcyclists may be on the roads at this time of year, even on a rainy day.

"For some people, [a motorcycle] is their transportation to work," he said.

For more information, visit the Motorcycle Safety?Foundation website at



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