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How are your motorcycle riding skills?

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Being a motorcycle rider for many years - first on a sport bike and now a cruiser - I have been asked many times, "How long have you been riding?" And my answer has been, "It's not the years that count but the miles you have ridden that gains experience."

Motorcycles are fun to ride, but that's not news to anyone who's ridden one. The cold fact is that motorcyclists are 30 times more likely to die in a crash than people in a car. Usually speed is the primary culprit for most crashes, especially with younger sport bike riders.

I certainly have witnessed my share of traffic accidents and I even dodged a few. It's scary the first time you have to lay your motorcycle down to avoid being hit by another vehicle. The most important thing to remember is know your motorcycle riding skills and the capabilities of the bike you are riding.

Simple M/C Riding Tips to Remember:

Don't buy more bike than you can handle. If you've been off of motorcycles for a while or even a beginner, you may be surprised by the performance of today's bikes. Don't purchase a bike you cannot handle.
Invest in antilock brakes. Antilock brakes are a proven lifesaver. No matter what kind of rider you are, ABS can brake better than you can. Locking up the brakes in a panic robs the rider of any steering control, which can easily lead to a crash and serious injury.

Hone your skills. There is nothing more I could say than enroll in a motorcycle safety course, which is critical. Absolutely critical. In order to enhance your riding skills you need to practice, practice, practice.

Use your head. Yes, helmets are an emotional topic for some riders. But the facts show the dangers. Riders without a helmet are 40 percent more likely to suffer a fatal head injury in a crash.

Wear the right gear. The wrong choices for riding protection are recipes for disaster on a bike. You want riding gear that will protect you from the wind, bugs and debris, and especially the road surface. Keep in mind that car drivers who have hit a motorcycle rider often say they just didn't see them, so choose brightly colored riding gear.

Be defensive. You need to be extra alert, especially in this age of epidemic phone use and texting behind the wheel. Keep an eye out for cars suddenly changing lanes or pulling out from side streets. Don't tailgate; keep a safe following distance.

Avoid bad weather. Slippery conditions reduce your margin for error. Rain not only cuts your visibility but reduces your tires' grip on the road. If you need to ride in the rain, remember that the most dangerous time is right after the rain begins, as the water can cause oil residue to rise to the top of the road surface. Be especially gentle with your brakes, throttle and steering.

Be ready to roll. Before each ride, do a quick inspection to ensure your lights, horn and directional signals are working properly. Check the chain, belt and brakes and inspect your tires for wear and correct tire pressure. When tires are under-inflated, handling gets really difficult and the bike doesn't want to lean properly. Remember, common sense goes a long way when riding a motorcycle, so ride safely.