Motorcycle safety starts with the rider. A combination of experience, training, sobriety, and sound judgment will provide more protection than the best motorcycle safety technology. Riding skill plays a greater role in motorcycle safety than the kind of bike you own.
Gear is also critical. No matter how safely you ride, you are always at the mercy of other vehicles on the road. A crash-worthy helmet is more likely to save your life than the safety features on the motorcycle you choose. A waterproof full-body suit, gloves, and boots will keep you dry, warm, and alert when it rains, in addition to protecting you from road rash.
Once you have mastered the art of defensive riding and have acquired the gear that will maximize your protection if you slide out, you will be ready to buy the bike that is best for you. Safety technology should play a part in that decision, but you also need to know what kind of bike you can handle.
Choose the motorcycle that is right for you
To a great extent, the safety of a bike depends on the experience of its rider. If you are new to riding, you may find a small, lighter motorcycle easier to handle than a larger, heavier one. On the other hand, if you plan to ride in freeway traffic, you want an engine that will allow you to match the speeds of other vehicles.
Some experts suggest that the safest street bikes combine instant torque with light weight (less than 500 pounds). A sporty chassis may enhance maneuverability, although crotch rockets are a poor choice for new riders who are better able to maintain control from a standard seating position. Control at low speeds and while stopped at traffic lights is also enhanced by selecting a motorcycle that lets you place both feet flat on the ground while seated.
Comparing crash statistics based on the type of motorcycle involved in the crash is difficult because some motorcycle types are more prevalent than others. The largest number of motorcycle fatalities in 2013 involved standard or cruiser motorcycles, but more bikes in those categories are on the road than any other type. It is noteworthy, however that supersport bikes accounted for the second highest death toll, while sport-touring bikes were involved in the fewest fatal accidents.
Engine size comparisons are also difficult to make, since some engine sizes are more popular than others. In 2013, 47% of fatal crashes involved bikes with engines of 1,000 cc or less, while 31% involved bikes with engines larger than 1,400 cc.
Safety technology improves every year. You can save money buying a used motorcycle, but a new one might save your life.
Antilock brakes are increasingly available on new motorcycles. Insurance industry data shows that motorcycles are 37% less likely to be involved in a fatal crash when they are equipped with ABS systems.
Radial tires tend to be safer than bias-ply tires for typical riders, although some touring riders prefer the longevity and load-carrying capacity of bias-ply tires. Whatever choice you make, check your tires for wear and replace them before they become unsafe.
Other safety features to consider include:
- Full disc brakes
- Traction control
- Motorcycle Stability Control
- Extra bright (LED or HID) headlights
- Adaptive headlights that tilt according to the bike's lean angle
The Ducati Multistrada D-Air is wirelessly connected to a special jacket containing an airbag that deploys in the event of a crash. Unfortunately, you'll need to import a model from Europe if you want that feature this year. If you are a Ducati fan and don't want to wait for airbags to arrive in the American market, check out the Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Pikes Peak. It comes with adjustable traction control and ABS while its flickable chassis and active suspension enhance maneuverability.
Honda has its own motorcycle airbag system, although (unlike a jacket that the rider wears) it only provides protection during front-end collisions. The airbag is standard equipment on the Gold Wing GL1800AD.
The Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS is one of the best-selling bikes in its class, in part because riders appreciate the ABS feature. Five-way adjustable front forks and a windshield that is adjustable to three heights also allow riders to configure the bike to their needs, while stability is enhanced by a twin-spar aluminum frame. Other safety features include radial tires, a slip-resistant seat, a road freeze warning indicator, and a link-type rear suspension with rebound damping adjustment.
The Victory Cross Roads 8-Ball also scores high marks for safety. Its 26 inch seat height (the lowest in the 1740cc class), superior balance, and smooth-riding suspension allow riders to maintain control at all speeds and on bumpy roads.
“Rain mode” (sacrificing performance for handling on wet roads) is one of the features that makes the BMW R1200RT stand out in the class of touring bikes. Other safety features include three ABS settings, four Automatic Stability Control settings, ample wind protection, and relaxed ergonomics.
Riders who want safety technology while remaining loyal to Harley-Davidson and its “Made in America” ethic will be pleased with the Road King, which features Reflex Linked Brakes with ABS, dual halogen headlamps, extra bright turn signals and brake lights, fog lights, and more responsive steering.
Traction control and ABS brakes with rear wheel lift-up mitigation are standard on the MV Agusta Brutale 800 RR. The bike is also praised for its powerful Brembo radial brakes and its responsive handling.
Front and rear disc brakes are standard on the Honda Interstate, but spending an extra grand will get you ABS. The Kawasaki Z1000 ABS has front and rear ABS and a “dazzling LED headlight,” although reviewers complain that it requires too much shifting to reach highway speeds.
Other motorcycles that come with ABS as standard equipment include the Aprilia RSV4 Factory APRC, the Triumph Rocket III Roadster, and the Moto Guzzi California 1400. You can find a more complete list of ABS-equipped bikes on the Consumer Reports website.
New riders may appreciate the Yamaha V Star 250. The stopping power provided by front disc brakes, its 27 inch seat height, and its light weight make the V Star 250 a safe training or commuting bike.