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Preparing to Ride

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Preparing to Ride

A motorcycle operator in Virginia is required to wear a protective helmet. The operator must also wear a face shield or safety glasses/goggles or have the motorcycle equipped with safety glass or windshield of a type approved by the Department of State Police. Passengers are also required to wear an approved helmet.

As a rider, what you do before you start a trip goes a long way toward determining whether you'll get to your destination safely. Before taking off on any trip, a safe rider makes a point of:

  • Wearing the right gear
  • Checking the motorcycle
  • Getting familiar with the motorcycle

Wear the Right Gear

When you ride, your gear is "right" if it protects you. In any crash, you have a far better chance of avoiding serious injury if you are wearing:

  • An approved helmet
  • Face or eye protection
  • Protective clothing
Illustration of Helmets
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The Helmet

Crashes are not rare events-particularly among beginning riders. And one of every five motorcycle crashes reported results in head or neck injuries-the worst kind of injuries you can get. Head injuries are your greatest threat. They are just as severe as neck injuries-and far more common. Wearing a helmet neither raises nor reduces your risk of neck injury. But head injuries are another matter. Wearing a securely fastened helmet is the single most important thing you can do to improve your chances of surviving a crash.

Helmet Use

Some riders don't wear helmets because they think helmets will limit their view to the sides. Others wear helmets only on long trips or when riding at high speeds. Here are some facts to consider:

  • An approved helmet lets you see as far to the sides as necessary. A study of more than 900 motorcycle crashes, where 40% of the riders wore helmets, failed to find even one case in which a helmet kept a rider from spotting danger.
  • Most crashes happen on short trips (less than five miles long), just a few minutes after starting out.
  • Even low-speed crashes can be fatal. Most riders are going slower than 30 mph when they get hurt. At these speeds, helmets can cut both the number and the severity of head injuries by half.

No matter what the speed, unhelmeted riders are three times more likely to die from head injuries than are riders who are wearing helmets at the time of the crash.

Helmet Selection

There are two primary types of helmets, providing two different levels of coverage, three-quarter, and full face.

Illustration of Full Face and Three-Quarter Face Helmets

Whichever style you choose, you can get the most protection out of that type helmet by making sure it:

  • Meets U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and state standards. Helmets with labels from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), or the Snell Memorial Foundation give you added assurance of quality.
  • Fits snugly, all the way around.
  • Has no obvious defects such as cracks, loose padding, or frayed straps.

Not all helmet damage is obvious. If you're thinking of buying a used helmet, first make sure it's made by a company that will check it for damage. Then have the manufacturer check it before you pay for it.

Whatever helmet you decide on, make sure to keep it securely fastened on your head when you ride. Otherwise, if you have a crash, it's likely to fly off your head before it gets a chance to protect you.
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Eye and Face Protection

A plastic faceshield can help protect your whole face in a crash. It also protects you from wind, dust, dirt, rain, insects, and stones thrown up from cars ahead. These things are distracting and can be painful. If you have to deal with these problems, you can't devote your full attention to the road.

Goggles can protect your eyes from all these things, though they won't protect the rest of your face like a faceshield does. A windshield is no substitute for a faceshield or goggles. Most windshields will not protect your eyes from wind. Neither will eyeglasses or sunglasses. Glasses won't keep your eyes from watering, and they might blow off when you turn your head while riding.

To be effective, eye or face protection must:

  • Be free of scratches
  • Be made of material that does not shatter
  • Give a clear view to either side
  • Fasten securely, so it cannot be blown off
  • Allow air to pass through, to reduce fogging
  • Allow enough room for eyeglasses or sunglasses, if needed

Tinted eye protection should not be worn at night or any other time when little light is available.
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Clothing can help protect you in an accident.

Jacket and pants should cover your arms and legs completely. Make sure they fit snugly enough to keep from flapping in the wind, yet loosely enough to let you move freely. Leather offers the most protection, but heavy denim does an adequate job in most cases and at a reasonable price. Sturdy synthetic material can give you a lot of protection as well.

Wear a jacket even in warm weather. Many jackets are designed to protect you without getting you overheated, even on summer days.

Boots and shoes should be high enough to cover your ankles and sturdy enough to give them support. Soles should be made of hard, durable material. Heels should be short, so they do not catch on rough surfaces. If your boots or shoes have laces, be sure they're tucked in so that they won't catch on your motorcycle.

Gloves are also important. They give you a better grip and help protect your hands in a crash. Your gloves should be made of leather or heavy cloth.

In cold or wet weather, your clothes should keep you warm and dry, as well as protect you from injury. You cannot control a motorcycle well if you are numb. Riding for long periods in cold weather can cause severe chill and fatigue. A winter jacket should resist wind and fit snugly at the neck, wrists, and waist. Rain suits should be of good quality and designed for riding; otherwise, they may tear apart or balloon up at high speeds. Some gloves are made to keep wind or rain from going up your sleeves.

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