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 Thursday at "Bike Nite" at Quaker Steak and Lube near Polaris Fashion Place.

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 and locations in Henry and Ottawa counties. Bikers "get lost in the sun, or the background." 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.

He often rides with his friend, Krista Dobrzykowski, 21, behind him. She is his second set of eyes, often tapping him on the shoulder if she sees something he might not.

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. Mr. Brooks, 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.

"When I have a passenger, I tell them the best way we are going to have a good time is to make it home safely," Smith said. He'll often take safer, more scenic routes and avoid freeways or rush hour.

His 16-hour safety class costs $275. Others, subsidized by the Ohio Department of Public Safety, cost as little as $50.

Motorcyclist and attorney Justin Flickinger thinks everyone can benefit from a class or refresher course.

"The biggest thing with motorcycles, is if an accident happens, the odds are it's going to be significant."

He advises: "always expect the (car) driver to do the wrong thing — to pull out when they're not supposed to and to not pay attention."

Ken Rigby, 68, of Prairie Township, has lived that rule.

A rider for more than 50 years, the former trainer said, "The instant you throw your leg over that seat you have to assume you're either invisible or you have a bullseye on your back."

dnarciso@dispatch.com

@DeanNarciso