By Dean Narciso

COLUMBUS: Hana Toledo loves the open-air freedom of motorcycles and the kinship among riders. “In the cage” is how she describes driving a car.

Lured by Ohio’s bike culture, she rode her Suzuki GSXR to Columbus recently from her home in Toronto, Canada.

“I heard the bike lifestyle is amazing here,” she said last week at “Bike Nite” at Quaker Steak and Lube.

The 31-year-old also realizes that two wheels require extra precaution.

Her first impression upon entering the state near Toledo: “I was surprised so few wear helmets. In Canada they require it.”

Ohio has had about 2,800 motorcycle injury crashes a year since 2013. And the state’s 159 fatalities last year were 39 fewer than in 2016, according to State Highway Patrol data.

Many involve distracted drivers behind the wheel, not the handlebars.

“When they [car drivers] look like right at you, they may not see you,” said Vickey Johnson, who teaches bike safety at No Cages Harley Davidson in Plain City. Car drivers are “not looking for you, they’re looking for cars.”

Skilled bikers know this.

“I keep my eyes on the road all the time,” said Bob Hassan, 49, of Commercial Point.

Of the 400 injury accidents last year involving a rider and passenger, known as riding “two-up,” 26 involved fatalities, according to state data.

Last Sunday, Jeremiah Brooks was riding with his wife, Samantha, in Prairie Township. He lost control of the bike, hit a ditch and both riders were thrown. JeremiahBrooks, 41, died at the scene. She is recovering at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center.

Bikers, because of their vulnerability, must be extra vigilant, experts say.

“People get on autopilot because you’ve driven the same drive so often, you’re looking at other things,” said Johnson. “And you just don’t pay attention to other factors.

“If you’re tired, on medications or stressed, if your mind is elsewhere or you’ve just had an argument ... those are not good times to be riding.”

Todd Smith, director of Iron Pony Riding Academy in Northeast Columbus, passed a rider this week with a young passenger.

The man, not wearing a helmet, “appeared to have no thought whatsoever about safety gear or welfare of the child,” Smith said. Children can ride two-up in Ohio, but they must wear helmets.

He advises them to have protective clothing and goggles and for adults to be good role models.