On any given day in the city of Apache Junction there are literally hundreds of motorcycles on the road. If it’s a weekend, there are even more. Thanks to the twists and turns of scenic State Route 88, which takes you right alongside beautiful Canyon Lake and leads to the famous Tortilla Flat, Apache Junction sees more than its fair share of bikers riding through town.
Unfortunately over the past few months we have had an increase in motorcycle involved collisions. Some of them have been the fault of the drivers of cars involved and some of them have been the fault of the motorcyclist. Sadly, more than a few of the collisions have been fatal.
Cars and motorcycles can successfully share the road if everyone takes a few simple, cautious steps for safety.
Drivers of cars and trucks should be aware of the following:
- According to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, over half of all fatal motorcycle accidents involve another vehicle — usually a car or truck. The majority of the time the driver of the car or truck is at fault. Since Apache Junction is a main thoroughfare for bikers headed to the lake, people operating a vehicle on four wheels or more need to be extra vigilant.
- Motorcycles are relatively small vehicles and have very narrow profiles which means they can be difficult to see. They are easily hidden in your car’s blind spot or objects outside of your vehicle. Whether you’re changing lanes or turning at an intersection, always assume there is a motorcycle nearby and take an extra moment to look again for one that you may not have seen the first time.
- Because motorcycles are so small, sometimes they seem farther away than they actually are. Judging a motorcycle’s speed as it’s approaching can be difficult. When you’re getting ready to turn or pull out of a driveway onto the road, always assume that the approaching motorcycle is closer than it appears.
- The turn signals on most motorcycles are not self-canceling. Sometimes riders, particularly beginners, forget to switch their turn signal off after making a turn or changing lanes. Just because a motorcycle’s turn signal is on doesn’t mean the rider actually intends on turning. Be patient and give the riders some extra grace and space just in case.
- Drivers of cars and trucks must remain vigilant and keep a look out, but motorcyclists have to take responsibility for the own safety as well.
The first rule of riding is obvious, yet too frequently ignored: ATGATT — All The Gear, All The Time. There’s a saying that most riders are familiar with: “It’s not if you go down, it’s when.” Riding is inherently dangerous, so wearing the proper safety equipment is a necessity.
- A full-faced helmet is an absolute must. The most common head impact is to the face, so half helmets, even though they look cool, simply don’t provide enough protection.
- Be sure to wear an abrasion resistant jacket, moto boots, and gloves. It’s also not a bad idea to wear motorcycle pants with armor. Yes, I do know it’s 110 degrees out there, but that makes protective gear even more important. If for some reason you lay your bike down, you don’t want to add third-degree burns from lying on the hot asphalt to your list of injuries. Investing in a vented helmet, a vented jacket and lighter colored gear can go a long way toward battling the heat.
- Ride like you’re invisible. Motorcycles are small and get lost in people’s blind spots or can be hidden by other objects on or alongside the road. Pretend that other drivers can’t see you, because quite often they can’t. Always ride defensively and be ready for someone to change lanes or pull out in front of you. Just because you can see them doesn’t mean they can see you. As previously mentioned, cars have a difficult time judging your speed, so make it easy on them; do the speed limit so they don’t have to guess.
- Poorly maintained bikes are often the cause of fatal motorcycle crashes. Make sure you stay up to date on your bike’s routine maintenance. It will help you avoid costly repairs and could save your life. New riders should be aware that there are some bikes that just shouldn’t be on the road — those with bald tires, taped-on exhaust, broken or non-working lights, no front brakes… Stay off those bikes. Those bikes are readily available and they are super cheap. Buying and maintaining a motorcycle can be costly and though it may be tempting, don’t take shortcuts. Make the repairs or save up and buy a decent motorcycle. Don’t let your desire to get a bike and ride override your common sense. It may take you a little longer to get up on two wheels, but you’ll be better off in the long run.
- Not to keep picking on new riders, but make sure you ride a bike appropriate for your level of skill and experience. Of course everyone wants to own and ride a fast machine, but you’re setting yourself up for disaster by purchasing a bike designed for more experienced riders. 1000cc sport bikes or hyper nakeds are cool but new riders aren’t going to be able to use even half of the power available — not on a track and definitely not in town. There’s plenty of power in a 400cc or 650cc motorcycle. On top of that, they cost less, so you won’t feel as bad when you drop it at a red light… and you will drop it. Starting on the right bike is just safer, you’ll learn more and have a lot more fun too.
- Being able to operate a clutch and throttle doesn’t mean you know how to ride, it just means you know enough to get yourself into trouble. If you haven’t done it yet, take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation basic rider’s course. It will get you started out the right way and help you avoid making costly mistakes or developing bad habits which will be hard to correct later on. Even if you’ve been riding for years, it is still a good idea to take the MSF class. There are likely some bad habits that you’ve picked up over the years that you need to correct. When you get to the point where you think there’s nothing more for you to learn, look out — disaster is not far off. If you need further encouragement, most insurance companies offer discounts to riders who have successfully completed an MSF course.
- Last but not least, and I shouldn’t even have to mention this but I guess I do — if you’re going to drink, don’t ride. There’s a lot going on when you’re on two wheels; balancing, leaning, shifting, braking and watching for hazards — just to name a few. Riding a motorcycle isn’t easy; it takes skill. Alcohol affects your balance, inhibits your ability to multi-task and it slows down your reaction time. Riding a motorcycle is difficult enough so adding alcohol to the mix puts you and everyone around you on the road at risk.
Riding a motorcycle can be fun and exhilarating, but it’s inherently more dangerous than driving a car so it’s important that everyone work together to lower the risks. Drive and ride safe. Keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down.
Editor’s note: Cpl. Marshall Harshman is Apache Junction Police Department’s community and media liaison officer.