Safer Fall Road Trips

North Georgia is known for plenty of scenic motorcycle roads, and fall offers the ideal time for a Sunday ride. For riders from novice to expert, as well as their passengers, motorcycle safety provides the key to enjoyment. That can mean everything from wearing the right gear and brushing up on riding skills to putting a focus on visibility.

When it comes to safety, education is the first step, according to Thomas J. Komjathy, manager of the Georgia Motorcycle Safety Program, which is part of the Georgia Department of Driver Services and oversees all motorcycle rider licensing in the state, and based in Conyers.

“My number one tip for a new rider is to enroll in a class and learn how to ride there,” he says. The Basic Riders Course, a two-day Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) program, teaches basic skills and road strategies to develop ability with a step-by-step process. In fact, students begin by learning how to manipulate the controls before getting on the bike, then move on to operation, stability and riding. There is also a one-day Basic Riders Course 2, which is geared toward students with some riding experience and can be a useful riding skills tune-up for even a practiced rider.

Both courses culminate in the award of a motorcycle license (Class M), something any rider needs to possess to legally hit the road in Georgia. While a learner’s permit (Class MP) can also be had, it comes with a variety of restrictions, such as the prohibition of riding at night, on interstates or with a passenger. As a third option, anyone age 18 or older, or age 17 with a parent’s permission, can pass the Road Skills Test and a written exam to obtain a Class M license.

Despite the various paths to licensing, Komjathy recommends formal motorcycle training for everyone. With 26 years of teaching under his belt, Komjathy says he has never had even an experienced student leave a class without learning something new. Gaining motorcycle skills on a dirt bike course offers another beneficial possibility. Not only are dirt bikes lighter, the “road” is softer.

Once a rider is ready to hit the pavement, the first rule of safety is to get good gear. That means sporting a helmet, a jacket with protective lining, sturdy pants, boots and full finger gloves.

Komjathy urges riders to choose a safe bike by finding one appropriate to their skill level and size. For example, a new rider does not need a turbo-charged 400 horsepower machine. “When something goes wrong, it goes wrong fast,” he says. Riders should also recognize their own limits and graduate to more challenging riding environments as comfort and skills increase.

For many motorcycle enthusiasts, not being noticed by car drivers is a common complaint. To offset the problem of a rider’s “small profile,” Komjathy says riders can take steps to become easier to see, such as wearing bright colors or adding more lights to their bikes. Additionally, he says riders can place themselves in positions on road that will allow them to be seen.

Passengers can follow these suggestions, too, by wearing a DOT-approved helmet and safe riding gear. And they should practice behaviors like looking over the driver’s shoulder in the direction of turns, staying in line with the ride and keeping feet on the pegs.

If riding in a group sounds like it would increase visibility and therefore boost safety, Komjathy says that is not typically the case. A group of motorcycle riders includes people of various skill levels and can actually add risk factors.

“It’s not necessarily any safer than riding by yourself,” he says. When he rides in a group, Komjathy places himself at the back of the pack.

Whether you are a lone wolf or looking for a more social experience, maintaining thoughtful riding practices will keep the winding North Georgia roads safer for travelers on two, three or even four wheels.