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ask joanne

My twentysomething daughter says she wants to get a motorcycle licence. Neither my husband or I are riders and the idea scares us. I know driving a car is different than being on a bike and there are greater risks. What can I tell her? I'd like to convince her to change her mind. – Isabel in Sarnia, Ont.

It's the the time of year when motorcycles are on the minds of riders and aspiring riders. You can discuss your concerns with your daughter, but if she's bent on biking, my best advice is to encourage her to learn to ride safely.

"Being realistic, there is a risk. You're exposed. Traffic in southern Ontario is particularly heavy and, on occasion, reckless. The first advice I can give is to take a training course. There are many available. The one we're involved in as sponsors is the Canada Safety Council Gearing Up course," says Marilynn Bastedo, CEO of the Canadian Motorcycle Association (CMA).

For all motorists, and new riders in particular, defensive driving is key to staying safe. "On a bike, you're not as visible and car drivers really don't see you because they're not looking for you. So you have to drive defensively. That means situational awareness. Be aware of your surroundings, and anticipate the actions and movements of other traffic," says CMA honourary president John Pineo.

Never tailgate and, in multi-lane traffic, try to leave an envelope around yourself, which can buy time to get out of trouble if an adverse situation develops.

An important aspect of rider safety is to wear the proper gear, and be conspicuous. "The days of black motorcycle jackets are passé. People don't see you if you disappear into the road surface. Do what you can to counteract invisibility. Wear bright clothing that makes you stand out. You can also put additional lights on your motorcycle, like driving lights on the front, and additional lights on the back for braking," says Pineo.

A helmet and full face mask is essential, along with a jacket, gloves, pants, and boots over the ankle. "There's some really great high-tech riding gear now. It's not overly expensive, and it's safer because it contains anti-abrasion pads and armour. They're made light and comfortable, with venting. You can get systems with a liner that zips out for summer. It's very comfortable gear and you feel a lot better when you have that on," says Pineo.

The phrase "all the gear, all the time" is something experienced riders know.

"It means if you're going for a ride, even if you're just going for a quick run to the store, put on all your gear. Don't think, 'Oh nothing will happen, I'm not going far, I won't bother wearing a jacket, or I don't need gloves.' The trick is you never know what's going to happen. The acronym is ATGATT, and that's what experienced riders do. You don't see them riding in T-shirts, sneakers and shorts, it's not the way to go. Safety gear is really important," says Pineo.

All riders, and especially novices, must remember not to overdrive their abilities. "If you get into driving with a group, the term is 'ride your own ride,' because others may be taking risks you're not comfortable with. Or driving beyond your feeling of safety. Back off, and drive the way you feel comfortable. Don't get conned into keeping up with everyone else, because you can get into trouble that way," says Pineo.

Weather and road conditions have a key impact on riding safety. Driving for long periods in cold or heat can affect your physical capacity and judgment. Potholes, bumps, manhole covers, grates, loose sand and gravel or oil on the road can be dangerous when you're on two wheels. "Edge traps" is a term for uneven payment, which can be a problem where road construction is being carried out and only one lane has been paved.

Finally, if your daughter decides to pursue this passion, remind her to become familiar with her bike, and do a walk around before each ride to ensure everything is working properly. That way, she'll start out driving something that's safe.

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