Published on June 9th, 2017 | by Guest Contributor

How to Stay Safe on Two Wheels (and What to Do When Things Go a Little Sideways).

When I decided to get my motorcycle license four years ago, one of the instructors at the MTO-approved rider training course I took said something that has stuck with me since – riding a motorcycle is all about mitigating risk.

Indeed, riding on two wheels –  instead of four – comes with a lot more perils: oil spills, wet streetcar tracks, inattentive car drivers, flying tires, wildlife, etc. And while you can never totally eliminate risk, there are many things you can do to ensure that the odds are on your side when your good luck seems about to come to an end.

Kellee Irwin

Kellee Irwin

Kellee Irwin is Vice-President of Customer Experience at CAA Club Group, and a lifelong motorcycling enthusiast. She’s done it all, from street riding to enduro (cross-country) racing to long-haul adventure riding across Africa and Asia. As the immediate past Chair of the Motorcyclists Confederation of Canada (MCC), she’s also a passionate advocate for motorcycling safety, both on- and off-road. She kindly agreed to share some of the wisdom she’s picked up along the way.

The most common types of collisions.

“Motorcycle crashes have three main causes: speeding, left-turning vehicles and impaired driving”, said Irwin. The fact that Ontario tolerates up to a 0.05% blood alcohol level doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to have a beer before a ride. “Ride sober”, implored Irwin. “Not just that, but be mentally prepared and rested. Riding a motorcycle is a physically and mentally demanding activity. If you’re feeling fatigued, take a break.”

Speeding can take two forms: you can decide to ride beyond the speed limit, but you can also ride beyond your skill level, voluntarily or not. This is especially easy on modern motorcycles that often surpass the performance of sports cars. Group riding can also lead one to push themselves beyond what they are currently capable of, in an effort to keep up with the group. When in doubt, slow down – your riding buddies should be willing to accommodate slower riders and wait for them when the group gets split up. If they’re not, you’re probably riding with the wrong group.

As for left-turning vehicles, which are a common plight for motorcyclists, the best thing you can do is ride defensively. Never take an intersection for granted and “always ride like you’re invisible”, added Irwin.

Motorcycle mantra.

In motorcycle parlance, “ATGATT” stands for “All The Gear, All The Time”. It’s a mantra repeated by many seasoned motorcyclists who’ve either crashed themselves or have witnessed crashes in which gear (or lack thereof) made a difference. It essentially means that one should always wear head-to-toe, motorcycle-specific equipment including a helmet (“a full-face helmet is definitely recommended”, commented Irwin), gloves, a jacket, pants and boots. And if you hate sweating in heavy leather gear in the summer, Irwin says that man-made materials now offer a good blend of breathability and protection.

What to do when your motorcycle breaks down.

Hang out with motorcyclists long enough and you’ll hear fantastical tales of MacGyver-esque roadside repairs. Guys and gals trekking across the country, breaking down in every province, keeping their temperamental steeds going with nothing but a rusty crescent wrench, duct tape and prayers.

That might have been possible back when motorcycles were carbureted and offered little in the way of technology except for maybe ABS. These days however, motorcycles use complex interconnected systems that require an entirely different kind of toolkit.  To fix them, you’re just as likely to need a laptop as you are a ratchet and socket set. So when the dashboard suddenly lights up and your bike goes into limp-home mode while you’re halfway across the continent, there’s little you can do but pull over and hope to find yourself in an area that has cell phone coverage. “The best thing you can do to prepare for a breakdown is to make sure your cell phone is fully charged in the morning”, said Irwin.

Now, there are things you can bring that might save you from interrupting a big trip. These include:

  • A tire pressure gauge
  • Spare tubes (or a tire plug kit if using tubeless tires)
  • Extra spark plugs
  • A multi-tool (Leatherman type)
  • Tie straps

Irwin also points out that the elements can and will be a problem during any long-haul motorcycle trip. She advises packing suntan lotion, sunglasses, and a rain suit so that you can keep riding no matter what Mother Nature throws at you. “But don’t over-pack and make sure that your tires are properly inflated, taking the weight of your luggage into account.”

As well prepared as you might be though, sometimes your luck does run out and all you can do is take it in stride. Irwin recalled one such time: “We were off-roading in Haliburton and my bike got stuck almost up to the seat in mud. It took us six hours to get out of the trail. In hindsight, I wish I’d brought a mosquito net!”

For more information on how you can help keep the roads safe for all road users, check out

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