Motorcycling For Dummies
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If you’re ready to hit the open road on a motorcycle, make sure you wear a properly fitted helmet and jacket and give your bike a thorough pre-ride inspection for maximum safety. Before you decide to buy a used motorcycle, ask some key questions to get reliable information and ride home with the right bike for you.

How to get the right fit for a motorcycle helmet

A motorcycle helmet is a sign of a true motorcyclist. Even if you don’t want to wear one, you need one. It’s the single most important piece of safety equipment you can have. A helmet has to fit well to offer the most protection and comfort, so use these tips to get a great fit:

  • Is the helmet the right size? Measure your head in centimeters at about eyebrow level and find a helmet in that size. Strap the helmet on, and then shake your head left and right and up and down. Push back on the chin bar on a full-face helmet to be sure it won’t slide too much. Try to roll the helmet off your head forward. If you can, it’s too loose.
  • Is it comfortable to wear? Try on a lot of different helmets, because each one will have a different feel.

Also be conscious of pressure points that could become painful while wearing the helmet — especially in the forehead. If possible, wear the helmet in the store for at least 10 to 15 minutes to see if pressure points develop.

  • Is the eye positioning good? Ideally, your eyes should be centered in a full-face helmet’s eyeport.

  • Does the helmet have a federal Department of Transportation (DOT) sticker that shows it passed stringent testing? If it doesn’t, it’s an illegal helmet and can’t be worn while riding on the street in states that require riders to wear DOT-approved helmets.

What to look for in a protective motorcycle jacket

A motorcycling jacket is an important piece of safety equipment for a rider or a motorcycle passenger. To provide the best protection when riding, a jacket should be properly fitted. When you’re looking for a good motorcycle jacket, answer these questions:

  • Does it protect from abrasions? A tag on the jacket should say that it’s abrasion resistant.

  • Is it snug but not too tight? If it’s too tight it will be uncomfortable, and you won’t wear it. It shouldn’t bind at the shoulders when your arms are stretched out reaching for the handlebars.

  • If leather, is it competition-grade (1.1mm to 1.3mm thick) leather? If a tag on the jacket doesn’t give the thickness, just feel various jackets and hold them. Competition-grade leather jackets feel heavy, and the leather feels thick compared to lesser-quality jackets. Avoid thin leather jackets made for fashion and looks rather than protection.

  • Does it zip at the wrists for a snug fit? Zippers keep the sleeve in place and allow gloves to fit over the sleeve easily. If gloves are worn under the sleeve, the zipper keeps air from blowing up the sleeve as you ride.

  • Does it have built-in padding or armor for protection in the elbows and shoulders, at a minimum? Padding or hard-armor protection in the back is also useful.

  • Does it have as many pockets as you want? Some riders like two outside pockets, some like two outside pockets and an inside pocket, and some riders like five pockets. Decide how much stuff you might carry.

Performing a motorcycle pre-ride safety check

To ensure a safe ride, you should examine your motorcycle every time you decide to hit the road. Doing an inspection only takes a few minutes and can point out little problems that can turn into some major ones through neglect.

Get into the routine of looking for the following things during a bike inspection:

  • Do the lights and turn signals operate properly?

  • Are the tires properly inflated and the tread good?

  • Are the wheel rims damaged? Are spokes loose or bent? If either is the case, don’t ride.

  • Do the throttle and clutch cables operate smoothly?

  • Does the bike have plenty of gas and the right amount of oil?

  • Are the sidestand and centerstand firmly held in place and operating smoothly?

  • Are the mirrors adjusted properly?

  • Is your license plate held securely in place?

Inspect a used motorcycle before you buy

When you’re looking for a used motorcycle, do some research and have a few bikes in mind that you’re interested in buying. So you don’t get stuck with a lemon, go through this short checklist and ask the owner questions when checking out the bike:

  • Does the bike have a title? Also make sure the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the bike matches the VIN on the title. On most bikes, the engine and frame numbers should match. If they don’t, have the owner explain why not. It could be that the original motor blew up and the motor was changed. (Or all the parts are stolen except the frame!)

  • Elevate the bike with a centerstand if the bike has one and check a few parts. For instance, tug on the front forks, and try moving the wheels from side to side. This allows you to check for bearings that are worn out. Do the same for the rear wheel to see if there’s any play in the swingarm or wheel, which also would indicate worn-out bearings.

  • Ask how often maintenance work was done and when. To verify, ask to see service records.

  • Check the brake fluid, air filter, and oil to see if they’re clean. If not, the bike hasn’t been routinely maintained.

  • Look for oil leaks. If the head gasket is leaking, it could be an expensive fix.

  • Make sure the lights, turn signals, and horn work. If they don’t, there could be a short in the system that could be time consuming to trace and fix.

  • Check the throttle and clutch cables for binding. Binding can be dangerous but is usually fixable by rerouting the cables or replacing them.

  • If the bike has been repainted, ask whether it was in a crash. Look for gouges, dents, or cracks in the frame and swingarm. A bent frame will cause handling problems. A cracked frame could break.

  • Ask if the bike was raced. A race bike can suffer abuse. If raced, ask when the motor was last rebuilt and what was done to it.

  • Start the bike. Watch for smoke from the exhaust and listen for unusual sounds from the motor.

When you find something wrong with the bike, you should be able to offer less than the asking price. And don’t pay a lot of money for a bike that has been raced unless you want to race, and it has top-shelf parts.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Bill Kresnak is a popular motojournalist with more than 35 years' experience riding all types of motorcycles. He is government affairs editor at American Motorcyclist magazine, a publication of the American Motorcyclist Association.

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