BELLAIRE - Deciding to purchase a motorcyle is an exciting time.
But for the unitiated, it can be a potentially dangerous decision.
With cash in hand, it's hard for the novice not to rush out and purchase the biggest, baddest, loudest chopper on the showroom floor or that 1,000 cc crotch rocket and set off screaming down the highway.
SAFETY IS paramount for motorcyclists, both for the experienced rider and the novice climbing atop a bike for the first time. These members of the Warthogs and Sentinels Motorcyle Clubs know that better than most. From left, are: Dick Flanagan, Dan Farmer, Chris Farmer, Sharon Creamer and Tim Starkey, all members of the Warthogs Motorcycle Club and Adam Vitali from the Sentinels Motorcycle Club.
But novices beware. Buy a bike you can handle.
"Buy a bike that fits you; one you can handle," explains Dick Flanagan, President of the Bellaire Chapter of the Warthogs Motorcyle Club. "I can't stress that enough.
"Don't go by looks or engine size. Get something you will be able to handle and respect that machine because it can and will bite you in the rear if you don't."
Ideally, riders should have grown up around bikes, learning the ropes on smaller-engine machines with less power with 50 and 75 cc engines and eventually moving up to 125cc dirt bikes. Then, will all that past experience, riders can move up to one of the big boy bikes, either a cruiser or a sportbike, depending on their preference.
Unfortunately, that's not always the case.
So while choosing the proper fitting bike for the rider is essential, taking safety and instructional courses is equally paramount.
Such courses are offered at many motorcycle dealers throughout the Ohio Valley.
"The first thing you need to do is take a safety course," Flanagan stressed. "
In those courses riders will learn about breaking, cornering, lane placement, avoiding obstacles, riding in warious weather conditions along with steering and riding at slower speeds.
Make not mistakes, this is a vastly different experience from driver a car.
An errant bottle is sitting in the middle of the roadway ... if you're in a car, you can usually drive right over it and, at worst, may puncture a tire.
Attempting the same move on a motorcycle is a recipe for disaster.
A driver in a car breaks for a red light and notices in his rearview mirror that the car trailing him is not slowing down fast enough. No one wants to be rear-ended, but at slower speeds, minor injuries, at worst, are the result.
Take the same scenario with a car barreling down on a motorcyle at a stoplight and the potential for serious injury, or worse, increases exponentially.
Riders have to be ever congniscant of their surroundings, not only the terrain and objects in the road, but also the other driver's on it. It takes defensive driving to an entirely new level.
Even the passenger has to be taken into consideration.
"If you're making a right and lean into the turn and the person on the back of your back looks back to the left to point out or take a look at something, it can cause a major problem," said Adam Vitali from the Sentinels Motorcycle Club.
Both Flanagan and Vitali stress the importance of wearing safety equipment.
Some, like Vitali, opt for the full line of safety gear, from helmet and specially designed jacket and pants to padding for their gear.
Others may go helmet only and some even brave the roads without that.
West Virginia requires all riders wear a helmet while Ohio does not.
Vitali noted that those that don't wear the safety gear usually do so after they get that first taste of pavement.
"There are a lot of conversions after an accident," Vitali said. "They do one of two things. They either convert and start wearing the gear, or they quit riding all together."
Flanagan noted that riding on the open road is one of the last bastions of the feeling of freedom a person can experience.
But along with that freedom comes ample amounts of responsiblity.
Take a poker run or even a long-distance club run, for example.
A lot of pre-planning is invovled.
The designated club road captain will plot out the route the group will take and call ahead to local and regional highway detachments to inquire about any road closings or construction in effort to avoid complication.
The captain also has to plan stops along the route for rest and gas
Riders in the back of the pack must also anticipate and be watchful for the actions of the road captain. When changing lanes, the group needs to do so in a pack in such a manner that vehicles in the opposite lane aren't cutting into the group mid-pack.
It takes a lot of coordination to pull off a long-distance run.
Safety, always at the forefront of any cyclist's mind, is taken on greater importance in the digital age
Drivers have enough on hand to distract them. Now, with cell phones and text messaging taking an increasing amout of the driver's attention away from the road, riders have an even greater need to be aware of just who is around them and what they are, or in the case of the distracted driver, aren't doing.
Riding a motorcycle can be a great experience, but one that must be undertaken with the proper amout of respect and safety that riding a bike is due.
Hughes may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org