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Section Three - ​Before You Ride

A responsible rider makes a point to:
  1. Wear protective riding gear.
  2. Be familiar with the motorcycle.
  3. Inspect the motorcycle.
  4. Be free of impairments (alcohol and drugs).

Selecting and Wearing Protective Gear

Anytime you ride a motorcycle:
  • You must wear a helmet compliant with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) standards.
  • You should wear face and eye protection.
  • You should wear motorcycle protective riding gear (gloves, long pants, jacket and sturdy footwear).

Helmet Use

Oregon requires you to wear a motorcycle helmet whenever you ride a motorcycle, moped or unenclosed autocycle as either an operator or passenger.

Here are some facts to consider:
  • Helmets protect you from the elements (wind, bugs, debris, etc.).
  • A DOT-compliant helmet does not restrict vision or mask important sounds.
  • Crashes are unpredictable and may happen at any time, even on short rides or within minutes of starting the ride.
  • Regardless of speed, a helmet will reduce the chances of severe or fatal head injuries.
image of three different motorcycle helmets 

Helmet Selection

Protection should be the first consideration when buying your motorcycle helmet. 

There are three primary types of helmets: full-face, three-quarter, and half. A full-face helmet gives the most head protection since it covers all of the head and face. This design has a flip-up face shield that protects the eyes. A three-quarter helmet affords riders good head protection and is constructed with the same basic components, but doesn’t offer the face and chin protection of full-face helmets. If you wear a three-quarter helmet, you should use an approved snap-on face shield or goggles. Half helmets provide the least amount of protection.

image of the back and inside of a half helmet
Whichever style you choose, make sure that the helmet:
  • Is DOT compliant. You can tell if a helmet is DOT compliant if it has a label attached to the helmet that states the manufacturer’s name and/or brand, model, and says DOT, FMVSS No.218, CERTIFIED.
  • Has no obvious defects such as cracks, loose padding or frayed straps.
  • Fastens securely.

Helmet Fit

A helmet should fit comfortably, but snug all the way around. A helmet that is too loose can lift in the wind or come off your head in a fall. One that is too tight can create sores or cause headaches. When choosing a helmet, try on several brands and sizes to get an idea of fit and comfort.

Here are a few tips for the best fit:
  • Cheek pads should touch your cheeks without pressing uncomfortably.
  • There should be no gaps between your temples and brow pads.
  • If the helmet has a neck roll, it should not push the helmet away from the back of your neck.
  • On full face helmets, press on the chin piece. The helmet or face shield should not touch your nose or chin.

Face and Eye Protection

Without face protection, an object could hit you in the eye, face or mouth. A full-face helmet provides the maximum face and eye protection while riding and in the event of a crash. A plastic shatter-resistant face shield can help protect your eyes and face from wind, dust, dirt, rain, insects and pebbles thrown up from vehicles ahead. These distractions can be painful and can take your full attention from the road. Whatever happens, keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the handlebars.

Windshields will not protect your eyes from wind and debris; neither will eyeglasses or sunglasses. A windshield is not a substitute for a face shield. Glasses will not keep your eyes from watering, and they might blow off when you turn your head while riding. Goggles protect your eyes but won’t protect the rest of your face like a face shield does. Goggles can also reduce peripheral vision. Tinted eye protection or shields should not be worn at night or any other time when little light is available.

Hearing Protection

Long-term exposure to wind noise can cause irreversible hearing damage. Properly worn hearing protection can reduce wind noise and make your ride more enjoyable while still allowing you to hear important sounds like car horns and sirens. You can choose from a variety of styles from disposable foam plugs to reusable custom-molded devices.

Protective Riding Gear

Riding gear designed for motorcycle riders provides protection in the event of a crash as well as from heat, cold, rain, debris and hot or moving parts of the motorcycle. Sturdy synthetic or leather materials provide the best protection. Wearing brightly colored clothing with retro-reflective material will make you more visible to other roadway users.

Sturdy synthetic or leather materials provide the best protection.

  • Jackets and Pants should cover arms and legs completely and be made of durable material. Jeans do not provide adequate protection. Wear a jacket even in warm weather to prevent dehydration. Many motorcycle riding jackets are designed to protect without getting you overheated, even on summer days.
  • Protective Footwear provides protection for the feet, ankles and lower parts of the legs. They should be high and sturdy enough to cover your ankles and give them support. Leather boots are best. Soles should be made of hard, durable slip-resistant material. Keep heels short so they do not catch on rough surfaces. Tuck laces in so they won’t catch on your motorcycle.
  • Gloves allow a better grip and help protect your hands. Your gloves should be full-fingered and made of leather or similar durable material.
  • Rain Suits designed for motorcycle riding resist tearing apart or ballooning up at high speeds. You will be much more comfortable and alert than a rider who is wet and cold. One- or two-piece styles are available. A rain suit with retro- reflective strips or high visibility orange or yellow colors are good choices.
Whatever the weather conditions, always wear protective gear that will keep you comfortable, enabling you to concentrate on your riding.

Know Your Motorcycle

image of parts of a motorcycle
You should get to know your motorcycle. Learning how things work and what parts need the most attention could reduce your chances of being in a crash and extend the life of your motorcycle. You should allow extra room for stopping if you are not familiar with the motorcycle.

To make sure that your motorcycle will not let you down:
  • Read the owner’s manual first and get to know it.
  • Be familiar with the motorcycle controls.
  • Conduct a pre-ride check of the motorcycle before every ride.
  • Check your tire pressure. Low tire pressure can affect steering, stopping and how the motorcycle handles.
  • Keep it serviced and maintained. A motorcycle needs more frequent inspections and maintenance than a car. A breakdown is more likely to cause a crash.
Make sure your motorcycle fits you. Your feet should reach the ground while you are seated on the motorcycle. The clutch and brake levers should be adjusted to fit the reach of your hands. The gear change lever and rear brake pedal may be adjusted to fit your feet and boots for proper operation.

Motorcycle Controls

There are six primary controls needed to make the motorcycle move and stop. You will need both hands and both feet to operate these controls.
  • Handlebars – The handlebars are used to steer and turn. They are also used to initiate and control motorcycle lean.
  • Throttle – Is the right handgrip and is operated by rolling the handgrip toward you to increase speed and away from you to decrease speed. When released, the throttle snaps back to an “idle” position. To use the throttle safely and comfortably, keep four fingers around the throttle/handgrip and the wrist in a flat position.
  • Clutch Lever – Located in front of the left handgrip. To operate, squeeze the clutch lever in toward the left handgrip, disconnecting power from the rear wheel. To reengage power, slowly release the clutch lever while gently applying throttle.
  • Gearshift Lever – Is usually located on the left side of the motorcycle in front of the footrest and is operated by the left foot. To shift to a higher gear (upshift), squeeze the clutch lever and then lift the gearshift lever up. To shift to a lower gear (downshift), squeeze the clutch lever and then press the gearshift lever down. Motorcycle transmissions shift only one gear per each lift or downward press. The shift lever must be released before you can shift again. A typical shift pattern is 1-N-2-3-4-5-(6). Neutral (N) is a half-shift up from first or a half- shift down from second; a full upshift or downshift will bypass neutral. An instrument light indicates when the transmission is in neutral.
  • Front Brake Lever – Located in front of the right handgrip and controls the brakes on the front wheel. To operate, use all four fingers and squeeze the front brake lever smoothly and progressively.
  • Rear Brake Pedal – Located in front of the right footrest and controls braking on the rear wheel. To operate, press down on the rear brake pedal smoothly with your right foot.

Other Controls and Equipment

Along with the six primary controls there are a few other controls on most motorcycles that are important to know and locate. The location and operation of some of these controls vary from model to model. Refer to your motorcycle owner’s manual.
  • Engine Cut-Off Switch – Usually red and located on the right handgrip and operated by the right thumb. It allows you to shut off the engine without removing your hands from the controls.
  • Fuel Supply Valve – Controls fuel supply to the engine. To run, turn from OFF to ON. Also may include RESERVE and PRIME positions. It may not be present on some motorcycles.
  • Ignition Switch – Usually located near the instrument cluster, on the gas tank or under the tank and activated with a key. Positions include ON, OFF, LOCK and PARK. The LOCK position allows the key to be removed and engages a steering-lock mechanism. PARK activates the taillight for increased visibility if you park alongside a roadway at night.
  • Choke (if equipped) – Frequently located near the left handgrip, the instrument cluster or the carburetor. It is important that you consult your owner’s manual for more information. The choke provides an enriched fuel mixture to assist in cold engine starts. Turn to OFF position when engine is warmed.
  • Turn Signal Switch – Usually located on the handgrip(s) and operated by the thumb. Most models do not self-cancel. Check your owner’s manual.
  • High/Low Beam Headlight – Located on the left handgrip. On most motorcycles the headlight activates when the ignition is on.
  • Horn – Located on the left handgrip. Operate by pressing with your thumb.
  • Electric Start Button – Located on the right handgrip. Operate by pressing with your thumb.
  • Speedometer – Indicates motorcycle road speed. An odometer shows miles ridden, and a re-settable trip meter can be used to show trip miles or miles since the last gas stop.
  • Tachometer (if equipped) – Indicates motorcycle engine speed in revolutions per minute (RPM). Never exceed red line RPM.
  • Indicator Lights – Located in the instrument cluster. Includes neutral, turn signals, oil pressure, high beam, side stand down and possibly others.
  • Mirrors – Located on the left and right sides of the motorcycle. Some mirrors are convex. Convex mirrors provide a wider view than flat mirrors but make vehicles look further away than they really are. Adjust them so you can see the road behind you.
  • Side and Center Stands – Supports the motorcycle when parked. Not all models have center stands. Most stands have return springs that snap up and hold them in place. Always raise the stand before riding.

Required Motorcycle Equipment

All motorcycles and mopeds must have:
  • At least one but not more than three white headlights. Modulating headlights are allowed during daylight hours. Oregon law requires that the headlight be on at all times.
  • At least one rear license plate.
  • At least one red taillight.
  • One white license plate light.
  • At least one red brake light (stop lamp).
  • Front turn signal lights (may be white or amber) if the motorcycle was built after 1972.
  • Rear turn signal lights (may be red or amber) if the motorcycle was built after 1972.
  • A red reflector on the rear.
  • At least one rear view mirror.
  • One horn.
  • Fenders on all wheels.
  • At least one brake operated by hand or foot.
  • An exhaust system in good working order, constant operation and meets noise emission standards determined by the Department of Environmental Quality.
  • All lighting must be DOT compliant.

Test Your Knowledge

1. When choosing a helmet, for the best fit, make sure the helmet:
    A. Loosely fits the top of your head.
    B. Tightly fits at the base, loosely at the top.
    C. Fits snugly all the way around your head.
2. What type of riding gear provides the best protection when riding a motorcycle:
    A. Denim jeans.
    B. Synthetic or leather clothing.
    C. Cotton pants.
3. Before every ride, it is important to:
    A. Change the oil.
    B. Conduct a pre-ride check.
    C. Reset the odometer.