Motorcycle Handbook

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Section 4 of 7

Preparing to Ride

Wear the Right Gear

When you ride, you have a far better chance of avoiding serious injury when you wearing protective gear and apparel.

By law, you must wear:

  • A U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) compliant motorcycle safety helmet.

It is highly suggested you wear:

  • Face and/or eye protection.
  • Protective apparel, such as a leather or long sleeve jacket with reflective material, long heavy pants, over the ankle closed-toe boots, and full-fingered leather gloves.

More information on wearing the right gear and protective apparel is covered in the following pages.

Helmet Use

All riders and passengers are required per CVC §27803 to wear a U.S. DOT compliant motorcycle safety helmet when riding a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle. The motorcycle safety helmet must be certified by the manufacturer stating the helmet complies with U.S. DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218. Head injuries account for the majority of serious and fatal motorcyclist injuries and, with few exceptions, head injuries are reduced by properly wearing a motorcycle safety helmet. Here are some facts to consider:

  • Most collisions happen on short trips (less than five miles long).
  • Most riders are riding slower than 30 mph when a collision occurs. At these speeds, a U.S. DOT compliant motorcycle safety helmet can cut both the number and the severity of head injuries by 50 percent.
  • A non-U.S. DOT compliant helmet generally has very thin liners and protective padding. These types of helmets lack the strength, size, and ability to protect the rider during a collision.
  • A non-U.S. DOT compliant helmet may look like U.S. DOT compliant helmets and may be sold alongside U.S. DOT compliant helmets. Make sure the U.S. DOT certification is on the helmet you wish to purchase. Non-U.S. DOT compliant helmets may be referred to as novelty helmets, rain bonnets, lids, loophole lids, beanies, or brain buckets.

A U. S. DOT compliant helmet may be decorated by the owner with stick-on items such as decals, Mohawks, Viking horns, etc. and will not affect the safety properties of the helmet. In a collision, regardless of speed, if you are wearing a U.S. DOT compliant motorcycle safety helmet you are three times more likely to survive a head injury than if you are not wearing a U.S. DOT compliant motorcycle safety helmet.

Helmet Selection

There are three types of helmets to consider: A half shell, three quarters or full-face helmet. The full-face helmet with a lock-in visor, offers the best coverage and protection to the back sides of your head.

Whichever style you choose, you get the most protection by making sure the helmet:

  • Meets U.S. DOT safety standards and has the manufactuer-applied DOT lettering on the back of the helmet.
    The DOT lettering should not be a stick-on label or easily removed.
  • Fits snugly, all the way around.
  • Has no obvious defects such as cracks, loose padding or frayed straps.
  • Is securely fastened on your head when you ride. Otherwise, if you are involved in a collision, it may come off your head before it gets a chance to protect you.

Face, Eye, and Ear Protection

A plastic shatter-resistant face shield can help protect your whole face in a collision. Face shields, when lowered and locked-in, offer protection from wind, dust, dirt, rain, insects, pebbles, and other debris.

Face shields, when lowered and locked-in, protect your face. Goggles only protect your eyes. A windshield is not a substitute for a face shield or goggles. Most windshields will not protect your eyes from wind, nor will eyeglasses or sunglasses. Glasses will not keep your eyes from watering, and they might blow off when you turn your head.

To be effective, eye or face shield protection must:

  • Be free of scratches.
  • Be resistant to punctures.
  • Give a clear view to either side.
  • Fasten securely, so it does not blow off or up.
  • Permit air to pass through, to reduce fogging.
  • Permit enough room for eyeglasses or sunglasses, if needed.

Tinted eye protection or tinted face shields should not be worn at night or when little light is available.

To protect against the elements of nature, such as wind, which can cause hearing loss, you may want to use ear protection. The CVC §27400 states a person may not wear a headset covering, earplugs, or earphones in both ears, unless the protectors (earplugs or molds) are specifically designed to reduce harmful (injurious) noise levels. The headset coverings, earplugs, or earphones must not inhibit the wearer’s ability to hear a siren or horn from an emergency vehicle or another motor vehicle.


The right clothing is an integral part of your protective apparel and will help protect you in a collision. It provides comfort, and protection from heat, cold, and debris, along with the hot, moving parts of the motorcycle. Recommended clothing and protective apparel:

  • A jacket that covers your arms and fits snugly enough to keep from flapping in the wind, yet allows you to move freely. Leather or sturdy synthetic materials with integrated body armor offers, the most protection. You should consider a jacket that is brightly colored or reflective. Either of these will aid in your visibility so other motorists can see you.
  • Long pants offer greater protection than short pants. Denim jeans provide the best protection. Chaps (leather pants without a seat) worn over long pants offer an extra layer of protection for your legs.
  • Over-the-ankle boots or closed-toe shoes should be high and sturdy enough to cover and support your ankles. Soles should be made of a hard, durable, slip-resistant material. The heels should be short so they do not catch on rough surfaces. Tuck in the laces so they will not catch on your motorcycle. Shoes, such as flip flops or sandals, are not recommended protective apparel.
  • Gloves allow a better grip and help protect your hands. Gloves should be made of leather or similar durable material offering maximum hand and finger protection.
  • Wearing a jacket, long pants, sturdy shoes or boots, and gloves (even in warm weather) can prevent dehydration, and sun/wind burn. Many of these items are designed to protect without making you overheat, even on summer days.
  • Riding for long periods in cold weather can cause severe chill, dehydration, and fatigue. Numbness can make it difficult to control a motorcycle. In cold or wet weather, layer your clothes to keep yourself warm and dry, as well as protect you from injury. A winter jacket should resist wind and fit snugly at the neck, wrists, and waist. Good quality rain suits designed for motorcycle riding resist tearing apart or ballooning up at high speeds.

Know Your Motorcycle

There are many things on the highway that can cause you trouble. Your motorcycle should not be one of them. To make sure your motorcycle will not let you down:

  • Start with the right motorcycle for you.
  • Read the owner’s manual first.
  • Be familiar with the motorcycle controls.
  • Check the motorcycle before every ride.
  • Keep it in safe riding condition.
  • Avoid add-ons and modifications that make your motorcycle harder to handle.

The Right Motorcycle

First, make sure your motorcycle “fits” you. Your feet should comfortably reach the ground while you are seated on the motorcycle. At a minimum, your street-legal motorcycle must have:

  • Tires with sufficient tread and air pressure for safe operation.
  • Operable headlights, taillight, brake light, and turn signals.
  • Front and rear brakes.
  • A horn and mirror(s).

Get Familiar With the Motorcycle Controls

Be completely familiar with the motorcycle before you take it out on the street. Get familiar with any motorcycle new to you, preferably in a controlled area. (No matter how experienced you may be, ride extra carefully on any motorcycle new or unfamiliar to you.) Remember more than half of all collisions occur by motorcycle riders with less than six months experience.

If you use an unfamiliar motorcycle:

  • Make all the safety and maintenance checks you would on your own motorcycle.
  • Find out where everything is located, particularly the turn signals, horn, headlight dimmer switch, fuel-supply valve, and engine cut-off switch. You should be able to find them without having to look for them.
  • Know the gear pattern. Work the throttle, clutch, and brakes a few times before you start riding. All controls react a little differently.
  • Ride very cautiously and be aware of your surroundings. Accelerate gently, take turns more slowly, and leave extra room for stopping.

Check Your Motorcycle

A motorcycle needs more frequent attention than a car. If something is wrong with the motorcycle, you’ll want to find out about it before you get in traffic or operate the motorcycle at freeway speeds. Make the following checks before every ride:

  • Tires—Check the air pressure, general wear, and tread.
  • Fluids—Oil and fluid levels. At a minimum, check hydraulic fluids and coolants weekly. Look under the motorcycle for signs of fluid leaks.
  • Headlights and Taillight—Check them both for proper operation and burned out bulbs.
  • Turn Signals—Turn on both right and left turn signals. Make sure all front and rear signal lights work.
  • Battery—Check the battery condition and electrolyte level; that the terminals are clean and tight, and ensure the battery is fastened securely.
  • Brake Light—Try both brake controls and make sure each one turns on the brake light.
  • Chain or Belt—Check the tension, lubrication and sprockets.
  • Kick-Stand—Check the kick-stand for cracks, bent springs, and tension to hold position.

Once you are on the motorcycle, complete the following checks before starting out:

  • Clutch and Throttle—Make sure they work smoothly. The throttle should snap back when you let go. The clutch should feel tight and smooth.
  • Mirrors—Clean and adjust the mirror(s) before starting. Adjust the mirror(s) so you can see the lane behind you and as much as possible of the lane next to you. When properly adjusted, a mirror may show the edge of your arm or shoulder-but it’s the road behind and to the side of you that is most important.
  • Brakes—Try the front and rear brake levers one at a time. Make sure each one feels firm and holds the motorcycle when the brake is fully applied.
  • Horn—Make sure the horn works.

In addition to the checks before every trip, check the following items at least once a week: Wheels, cables, fasteners, and fluid levels. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Collisions are fairly common among new riders. Riding an unfamiliar motorcycle adds to the problem. Get familiar with any motorcycle new to you, preferably in a controlled area. (No matter how experienced you may be, ride extra carefully on any motorcycle new or unfamiliar to you.) Remember more than half of all collisions occur by motorcycle riders with less than six months experience.

Know Your Responsibilities

“Accident” implies an unforeseen event that occurs without anyone’s fault or negligence. Most often in traffic, this is not the case. In fact, most people involved in a collision can usually claim some responsibility for what takes place.

Blame does not matter when someone is injured in a collision. There is rarely a single cause of any collision. The ability to be aware, make critical decisions, and carry them out separates responsible riders from all the rest. It is up to you to keep from being the cause of, or an unprepared participant in, any collision.

As a motorcycle rider, you cannot be sure that others will see you or yield the right of way. To reduce the chances of a collision:

  • Be visible. Wear bright or reflective clothing, use your headlight and running lights, if equipped, and ride in the best lane position to see and be seen.
  • Communicate your intentions. Use the proper signals, brake light, and lane position.
  • Maintain an adequate space cushion. Allow yourself enough space when following, being followed, lane splitting, passing, and being passed.
  • Be aware. Monitor vehicle traffic in front and approaching traffic from behind while maintaining an escape route.
  • Scan your path of travel. Look at least 10 to 15 seconds ahead.
  • Identify and separate multiple hazards.
  • Be prepared to act. Remain alert. Know how to carry out proper collision-avoidance techniques.