What does it mean when a motorcycle rider taps their helmet?

Me tapping my helmet, captured by my friend’s GoPro who happened to be riding in the opposite direction that day

If you’re riding along the road and see your fellow motorcycle riders tapping the top of their helmets as they pass you in the opposite direction, slow down and be cautious. In most of the U.S., this is a warning that the police are nearby.

This of course could be any number of scenarios where the police would typically be present. An accident, a road closure, an officer waiting to catch speeding motorists, or an officer who’s already pulled over a speeding motorist. In any case, be sure to slow down and prepare for anything when you see this warning from other riders.

Stay hydrated when riding motorcyles

Motorcycle fanny pack for holding water to stay hydrated when riding
My Kriega R3 fanny pack easily holds a water bottle so I can take hydration breaks.

Riding a motorcycle safely requires concentration and hydration is a huge help, especially in hot weather. Dehydration contributes to fatigue, impaired judgment, slow reaction times, dizziness, or worse. These are seemingly obvious things to avoid when doing something that requires concentration and balance, so it’s critical to stay hydrated when riding motorcycles.

Here are a few tips to stay hydrated when riding motorcycles, since you can’t exactly grab your Gatorade bottle from the cup holder like you can while driving your car.

  • Drink some water before your ride.
  • Stick a bottle of water or sport drink in your carrying bag of choice. That might be a tank bag, tail bag, motorcyle-specific backpack, or even a motorcycle fanny pack (bum bag for our UK mates). A good place to shop for those things is Revzilla.
  • In hot weather, sweating causes the loss of salt, potassium, and other important nutrients. Grab a Gatorade or similar sport drink to replenish yourself and stay sharp.
  • Schedule strategic stops in your ride to take a few sips.
  • Make more frequent hydration stops when it gets hot.
  • If you feel thirsty during your ride, slow down a little and find a safe place to stop and hydrate.
  • If you feel dehydrated and it’s affecting your riding, slow down, find somewhere safe and shady to stop, and take a long hydration break.

Do not underestimate the danger of dehydration, especially when doing something as demanding as riding a motorcycle. Keep yourself out of trouble and keep yourself well hydrated during every ride.

Motorcycle suspension basics for beginners

Ohlins motorcycle shock absorber
The dirty Ohlins shock absorber on my Aprilia RSV4 Factory

Often overlooked but critically important, the suspension on a motorcycle helps soak up bumps and keep the tires firmly planted. Poorly adjusted suspension makes for nervous riding, but well-adjusted suspension can make every ride better, especially in the turns. This is our summary of motorcycle suspension basics for beginners, namely what you’d see on modern sportbikes or standards.

For excellent beginner bikes like those on our list of best beginner sportbikes for 2021, the suspension is typically not adjustable except for the rear shock absorber’s spring preload. This means you have to live with the suspension as-is, but the setup is generally soft and forgiving. Adjustable suspension components are costlier, so don’t expect to see them until you buy a more expensive motorcycle. But it’s still important to understand what the components do and what type of adjustments are available.

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Check your tire pressure at least weekly

Motorcycle parked

Motorcycle tires have a rounded tread because motorcycles have to lean over in order to negotiate turns, which means the contact patch is quite a bit smaller than that of a flat-treaded car tire. The contact patch for motorcycle tires is famously compared to that of a credit card, meaning there’s very little rubber connecting a motorcycle to the road. This makes it critically important to have good tires in good condition, and part of that condition is the proper tire pressure.

Check your bike’s manual or the tire manufacturer’s website for the recommended tire pressures for your bike, and make sure to check the tire pressures at least once per week. I recommend buying a good quality tire pressure gauge with a hose; the valve stem on motorcycle tires can be a little hard to deal with sometimes, so it’s better to have one with a hose so you’re not trying to jam a big old gauge in between the wheel spokes. Here’s a search for motorcycle tire pressure gauges on revzilla.com.

A couple of extra tips:

  • Many gas stations will let you use the air inflator for free if you go inside and ask the attendant to turn it on.
  • Don’t rely on the pressure gauge attached to the gas station inflator; get your own.
  • Make sure your tires are relatively new and have plenty of tread left; if you buy a used bike and it’s been sitting for year or longer, those tires might be degraded. Buying new tires is a really cheap insurance policy.

If you ride a motorcycle, you need ear plugs

ear plugs and helmet
I buy a lot of ear plugs

If you ride a motorcycle without ear plugs, you are going to damage your hearing. The noise level from winds at highway speeds is sufficient to cause tinnitus and permanent damage over time, and there is no helmet quiet enough to adequately protect your hearing on its own. If you don’t want permanent ringing in your ears or hearing loss, you need to wear ear plugs.

A secondary benefit of ear plugs for beginner motorcycle riders is a calming effect. The noise reduction makes riding much less stressful while learning how to ride, which is the other reason I always encourage new riders to make a habit of wearing them. There’s also a huge variety of plug types to choose from, so I’ll cover a few of them here.

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Want to ride sportbikes? Start the right way.

My buddy’s Kawasaki Ninja 400, one of the best beginner sportbikes you can buy

It’s a new year and you’re finally ready to enter the world of motorcycle riding. I’m always happy to see new riders joining the ranks, and I’m twice as happy when I see them making good decisions about their new found obsession. Make sure you get the right safety gear, get the right training, and get the right bike. It’s tempting to go out there and get a hot new sportbike straight away, but a little patience will ensure you’ll be able to enjoy riding for a long time.

  1. Get the right gear. I’ve got some more info here, but you need a helmet, jacket, pants, boots and gloves. And make sure they’re motorcycle-specific! Do not skimp on gear; ask any experienced rider for some horror stories, and you’re going to hear some unpleasant things.
  2. Get the right training. Check with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation to see if there’s a course in your area and take it. If you pass the course, you can skip your state’s riding test when getting your motorcycle license.
  3. Get the right bike. Just like any other sporting equipment, you need a forgiving motorcycle when you’re starting to learn. I’ll be updating the list soon, but not much has changed since we last published our list of best beginner sportbikes. Get one of these or something similar from the used market, become an awesome rider on it, then move up to your next ride. Part of the fun of motorcycles is that since they’re relatively inexpensive, it’s not that hard to buy/sell/trade and try different bikes.

The rider next to me ordered a jack and coke at breakfast

Newcomb's Ranch bar
The bar at Newcomb’s Ranch, a popular rider hangout on Angeles Crest Highway

It never fails. Every time I ride up to Newcomb’s Ranch on Angeles Crest Highway for breakfast, I see fellow motorcycle riders ordering booze with their morning meal. Today while I was sipping my coffee, a gray haired gentleman in full leathers walked up to the counter next to me and ordered a jack and coke.

Riding a motorcycle is inherently more dangerous than driving a car: it takes balance, coordination and skill. Adding alcohol to a ride is ALWAYS a bad idea. If you ride with a group and someone orders a drink at one of your stops, you’re better off riding home alone than putting yourself at risk with a buzzed rider in close proximity.

 

Ride safely on those canyon roads

Rider on road

It’s spring time again and all kinds of motorcycles are coming out of hibernation. I rode the famed Angeles Crest Highway this morning, and it was busy with riders of all kinds eager to soak in the curves. The mile high motorhead hangout, Newcomb’s Ranch, was packed due to a special event.

When it’s this busy, I like to remind new riders of a few things to keep out of trouble:

  1. Ride your ride; don’t let faster riders pressure you into riding beyond your comfort level.
  2. If you pull up to the local hangout but it’s super crowded and you’re uncomfortable maneuvering your bike in such tight quarters, park somewhere else (a safe spot away from traffic) or just avoid the place altogether. Many bad things can happen if you get yourself wedged in with so many other bikes.
  3. Just take it easy and remember you need to get home in one piece.

Learning the hard way

Credit to u/ShedDwarf on Reddit, he took his lumps and shared his lesson. He bought a bike and rode it for a while before getting all of the gear he needed. He’s OK, but ouch. Seriously… helmet, gloves, jacket, pants, boots — you need them all.

PSA: If you think you can ride a streetbike for a few days before you get around to getting gear you should reevaluate that decision. I had a helmet and a hoodie and pants. First day out and I grabbed my front brake too hard and got road rash everywhere and a broken neck bone. Stay safe brothers from motorcycles

The wrong way to start riding a motorcycle

https://www.instagram.com/p/BcVRTkdjNMD

I feel bad for this girl because she got hurt, but she’s lucky it wasn’t worse. I don’t know these people so I don’t know their motivations, but I’d like to point out some troubling things about this.

  • It’s obvious she’s a new rider.
  • She was not ready for this ride in terms of her ability.
  • Her bike is a Yamaha R6, a race bike with some of the worst ergonomics for a beginner. It’s tall and you’re leaned very far forward.
  • She can barely get her toes on the ground when sitting on the bike.
  • She had plenty of road and the bike could have made that turn without breaking a sweat, but she panicked. I can only guess, but this is typically due to target fixation; i.e. she was staring at the guard rail instead of looking ahead through the turn and freaked out when she saw it getting closer.
  • Her Instagram account is full of photos of her wearing inadequate gear. Tennis shoes, tight jeans and an Icon armor vest are not going to do much in a crash. You need a leather jacket with elbow armor. Real riding pants with knee armor. Boots that will actually protect your feet and ankles.

Folks, don’t start out riding this way. Get the real gear, and get a more beginner friendly bike.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bb2KsIKjVM5/