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Kevin McCrea walked away unscathed from motorcycle crashes at death defying speeds of up to 150 miles per hour during his days of racing professionally.

And he has seen bikers killed or seriously injured in crashes at just 30 miles per hour, relatively slow motion to the veteran racer turned accident investigator.

The difference between living to ride again and becoming yet another motorcycle-fatality statistic can often can boil down to a few hundred dollars worth of safety gear, ranging from the right helmet to the right boots. Riding a motorcycle can be one of the most thrilling ways to get around, yet it can also be one of the most dangerous. That’s why finding good motorcycle insurance is part of the preparation process.

In a telling statistic, organ donations stemming from motor vehicle accidents have risen 10 percent in states that have repealed helmet laws, according to a 2009 Michigan State University study. But here’s the good news: Observing a few basic safety rules might just mean that you walk away from a crash instead of being wheeled off to the morgue.

“If you have a 5-cent head, get as 5-cent helmet,” warns McCrea, who lives in Boston, where he once ran for mayor. “I have a $500 helmet.”

Here are five rules of the road for newbie bikers:

  • Take a basic road safety course: The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers courses across the country aimed at both beginners and veteran riders in need of a brush up. Over the course of the weekend, you’ll learn how to take corners and swerve to avoid everything from slow-moving cars to children chasing balls. The beginners’ course features 10 hours of riding at a training course and five hours of classroom instruction. The cost is in the $200 to $250 range and helmets are provided. Completion of the course may qualify you for a discount from major car insurance companies, notes Robert Gladden, the safety foundation’s vice president. And in many states, graduates of the course are not required to pass the mandatory skills test needed to get their motorcycle operator’s license, he said.
  • Buy the right equipment: You’ll need the right helmet (one approved by the Department of Transportation), a biker’s leather jacket or some other riding coat, padded motorcycle pants that come to your ankles, and boots. And don’t forget the gloves. The total ensemble may cost you around $500, McCrea says. Your local dealership is the place to shop. This is an outfit riders should get, even if they are buying a lower-speed bike, such as a scooter, Gladden says. “You are going to spend a few hundred bucks, but it is cheaper and less painful than a trip to the emergency room.”
  • Curb your enthusiasm: If you are new to motorcycles, don’t let your enthusiasm get the best of you. Pick the right bike. A big, bad, loud motorcycle may look cool, but it’s also much harder to ride and control. Start off with something smaller. The gas mileage, up to 70 miles per gallon for smaller bikes, will blow you away, Gladden says. “It’s a good idea to get a motorcycle whose size, weight and power are compatible with your skill level,” the MSF’s Gladden advises. “Don’t buy more bike than your skills can handle.”
  • Get the right coverage: You’ll need motorcycle insurance coverage before you hit the road. While less than car insurance rates, the cost of motorcycle insurance is not negligible.  You will need to cover the cost of repairing your bike and you may also want to buy a death benefit and disability insurance as well. Allstate offers a motorcycle insurance package that includes all three for about $24 a month. The death benefit provides $10,000 in coverage, while the disability policy pays $100 a week, says Kerri Nguyen, a spokesperson for Allstate. Because the industry is competitive, be sure to compare auto insurance quotes.
  • Even if you are a veteran motorcyclist, don’t be afraid to polish your skills: The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers a “returning rider” course. McCrea tells the story of a buddy of his who wanted to get back into biking after 20 years off the road. After some cajoling, his friend, a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, relented. “He was very macho and very mechanical and he called me after the class was over. He could not thank me enough, saying, ‘I learned so much. I had no idea what I was doing.'”