Present at a recent blessing of the bikes at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Chelmsford, Mansfield minister Jack Hurley, who owns and rides a Harley-Davidson Street Glide and Mary Kemp of Easton, who owns and rides a Harley-Davidson Fat Boy.
Kemp’s motorcycle weighs about 850 pounds.
“You have to be in good physical condition and you have to be alert,” Kemp said.
Motorcyclists tout the health benefits of riding, including building friendships and community, and cite the many motorcycle rides organized to benefit health causes.
However, riding involves risks. Safety instructors and organizations and veteran riders urge protection from the elements, rider fatigue, dehydration and the risk of road accidents.
Sun, wind, weather
Hurley said, “Hydration is an important thing. If you don’t drink enough water, you’re going to get dehydrated.” As a friend walked past, Hurley called, “Water. Not beer.”
Riding means exposing yourself to the elements. “Sunscreen. Lots of sunscreen,” Hurley said.
Face shields can protect against pollen and discomfort such as gales, debris or insects hitting a rider’s face.
Hurley and Kemp said safety gear is essential. In addition to helmets, they said proper arm and leg protection, gloves and shoes were also important. “You see a lot of runners with sandals and flip flops,” Kemp said.
Regg Thibeault, former motorcycle instructor and co-administrator of the New England Riding Group on Facebook said, “When you don’t wear sleeves, the sun zaps you with that moisturizing effect.”
“Always wear head-to-toe safety gear,” said Andria Yu, spokesperson for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.
“A lot of times people don’t think about it,” Yu said. “They think, ‘Oh, it’s really hot. I don’t think I want to wear a jacket.’ Jackets can protect from the sun. “It’s actually cooler than riding with your arms exposed,” Yu said.
Proper gear can also protect against stones, insects, wind and rain. “Even in the rain, the rain can look like sand,” Yu said.
Yu said proper gear includes:
- a helmet that meets the standards of the Federal Ministry of Transport
- eye protection
- a riding jacket, preferably with armor
- full finger gloves
- long and sturdy riding pants
- on the boots.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation, a nonprofit organization sponsored by several motorcycle manufacturers, offers a motorcycle training and education program used in 46 states, including Massachusetts.
In Massachusetts, state law requires all motorcyclists under the age of 18 to complete the Massachusetts Biker Education Program to obtain a motorcycle license or an endorsement.
Hurley and Thibeault said all motorcyclists should pick one up.
“What we’ve seen is that a lot more women are riding motorcycles than ever before. They tend to sign up for classes before hitting the streets,” Thibeault said. “People have an advantage when they take a riding lesson. They learn good habits, stuff like that.”
However, attitudes towards helmets vary widely.
Thibeault said: “It’s probably a good idea to wear your gear. We live in New Hampshire, and [a helmet] is the choice.”
New Hampshire is one of the few states that does not require approved motorcycle helmets.
The Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention reports that more than 5,500 motorcyclists died in the United States in 2020, including more than 180,000 treated in emergency rooms for crash-related injuries.
The CDC cites a report from the National Highway Safety Administration:
- Helmets saved an estimated 1,872 lives in 2017
- 749 additional lives could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn a helmet in 2017.
- The United States could save $1.5 billion in economic costs if all motorcyclists wore helmets.
- Motorcycle helmets are 37% (for drivers) and 41% (for passengers) effective in preventing deaths.
- Helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69%.
Helmets can be equipped with communication devices, which Thibeault says allow riders to stay in touch. The devices don’t block out ambient sounds, Thibeault said.
A long ride means the importance of breaks “Just the sound of your engine tires you out…it’s more wind noise than anything, even with the helmet on,” Thibeault said. “People don’t think about that.”
“Also, if you’re carrying a passenger, make sure they stay hydrated,” Yu said. “Always make time for rest, bathroom breaks, and snacks.”