Learning to Ride Your First Motorcycle

by A Manly Guest Contributor on June 2, 2011 · 130 comments

in Cars, Manly Skills

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Michael Reid.

So you’ve already read up on how to buy your first motorcycle.  What about learning to ride it?

If you’re like most men, you may be thinking, “How hard can it be? I’ve had that two-wheeled thing down since, what, age 6?” But a motorcycle does not suffer fools. Most motorcycles will go from zero to 60 faster than you can read this sentence. There are no seatbelts or airbags on motorcycles. If cars are more and more about being protected in a cocoon, motorcycles are about being out there in the wind. With a motorcycle, you wear your protection. Screw up in a car and you might bend some sheet metal; screw up on a bike and you might die. Riding a motorcycle will always include an element of danger; there’s no way around that. But there are ways to minimize your risk and put the odds more in your favor.

Get some training. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has training programs all over the country. Find out where by going to www.msf-usa.org. Many of these programs are official parts of state programs. Some, like those in Ohio for example, even provide the bike for beginning students. They’ve trained close to 6 million students since 1974. They’ll teach you the techniques of throttle, clutch and brake control and more. And they don’t stop there. As you get better, you can also take their Experienced and Advanced courses.

Ride like you’re invisible and everybody else is drunk. Car drivers, at least the ones who aren’t texting, fighting with their spouse on the phone, applying make-up or messing with their iPods, are looking for moving objects the size of cars and trucks. A motorcycle is a much smaller thing and might not even register with a driver. And since so many cars are wired to have their lights on all the time, even the bike’s headlight doesn’t make it stand out in traffic. Never assume that the car driver sees you. Always assume that the car driver will do something dumb. Be ready for it. Plan accordingly.

Look as far down the road as possible. This is a corollary to the previous paragraph. The best riders don’t want to be surprised, so they anticipate. They see a truck on an entrance ramp and move left long before the truck merges. They see cars waiting at an intersection, so they slow down and put the first two fingers of their right hand on the front brake lever so they can reduce reaction time if they have to get on the brakes. They ride a little faster than average traffic to stay out of blind spots. In short, they anticipate the dumb things a driver might do and position themselves to avoid the consequences if the driver does, indeed, do that dumb thing. The best riders are the smoothest riders, constantly moving their machines to the least risky place.

Head protection: A fedora doesn't count.

Wear a helmet. A helmet won’t protect your head if you hit a tree at 60 mph. Nothing will. A helmet is designed to protect your head in a fall from ride height (4 or 5 feet) to the ground and the ensuing scrapage. You’ve seen riders whose only head protection is a bandana. These people aren’t cool; they’re stupid. Years ago, Bell Helmets had an advertising campaign that said, “If you have a $10 head, buy a $10 helmet.” What does it say about the value of your head if you don’t even wear one?

Always wear your gear. Your skin is your body’s largest organ. Guess what happens to your skin if you fall off your bike. Experienced riders call it road rash. So protect your body’s largest organ with a jacket, pants, and gloves every time you ride. There are jackets on the market that pass air almost as well as a t-shirt, yet protect well in a crash. Jeans aren’t the best in a crash, but they protect better than shorts. Shoes that lace up will stay on your feet; loafers or flip-flops won’t.

Practice, Practice, Practice. Given a good surface, a motorcycle will stop faster than any car. But it won’t if you’re timid about using the brakes. Go find an empty parking lot and practice a series of stops from 25 or so, squeezing the brakes a little harder each time you stop until you get used to maximum braking. Some motorcycles have ABS, most don’t, so practice is valuable when it comes to stopping as quickly as possible. Get used to the fact that the front brake contributes far more to a fast stop than the rear brake.

Learn to maintain your machine. We’re not talking about rebuilding the engine–we’re talking about the really simple stuff. Make sure your tires are properly inflated and have enough tread. Check your oil. Make sure your lights aren’t burned out. Ask your dealer’s service department to teach you how to adjust your chain. Here’s why all of this is important: If your tires are underinflated, or even overinflated, your bike won’t handle properly. If your lights are burned out, it’s harder for cars to see you. If your chain isn’t adjusted properly, well, chains are expensive and you don’t want to replace one if you don’t have to.

Don’t scare your girlfriend. Don’t ride with your significant other on the back until you’re thoroughly comfortable riding by yourself. Adding a passenger drastically changes the riding characteristics of the bike. Do some short distances at lower speeds with a passenger to get used to how the bike handles. And don’t give in to the temptation to show your passenger how quick your bike is. Scaring the crap out of your passenger is not manly, just dumb.

Riding a motorcycle will never be as safe as driving a car. But, as Helen Keller once wrote:

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

Get out there and ride.

Are you a veteran rider? What other tips do you have for guys who are learning to ride their first motorcycle?

{ 130 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jeremy Schneider June 2, 2011 at 7:43 pm

I couldn’t stress more on taking a rider training course. Many Harley dealers have a class aimed at beginners, where they supply the bikes and head gear. Growing up on a farm in Wisconsin there was plenty of power equipment to learn to drive on. Tractors, snowmobiles, ATV’s, and the occasional dirt bike gave me plenty of confidence being a beginning motorcyclist. However, there were many incorrect and bad habits that the instructor of the class helped me break. So the point is this, if you have experience on powersports equipment, there is something to be learned form a trained professional.

2 Wayne June 2, 2011 at 7:46 pm

I started riding when I was 47. Did so just to get over my fear of it. Took a course. Asked the men in my life for help to find a starter bike, 250 Rebel. Lasted a month before I gained my confidence and knew I needed more. Now I love it!

3 Waltman June 2, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Helmets: they can keep your face pret while overweighing your head and breaking your neck. Learn some physics… Specifically cantilevers and pendulums, then decide for yourself whether or not to wear a helmet, if your state allows you to make that decision. If it’s a nanny state trying to protect your face and not your spinal column, then buy the lightest helmet you can legally ride. When the idiot in the minivan rear ends you, you’ll thank me.

4 Jame Kenefick June 2, 2011 at 7:52 pm

I guess I would go with the following
1) don’t learn on a new bike, get one you can afford to drop/replace
2) if you can’t pick it up, it’s too big
3) don’t learn on a sport bike, it’s even less forgiving
4) anticipate the drivers around you, look in their cars (are they on a cell)
5) you’re going to wreck sooner or later, get used to the idea,
6) wear your gear, see 5

5 Meiji_man June 2, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Ride like everyone in a car wants to kill you.
Never ride in a hurry, If you are late going somewhere take the car,
Dress for the crash not for the ride.
Thou art Mortal

6 Josh June 2, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Remember everything other than smooth, clean bitumen has less traction than normal. Oil, water, railway tracks, manhole covers, potholes and lumps in the road, dirt, all of these things are slippery. Slippery can mean you low-side your bike, which means trading in some skin.
Cars leak oil onto the center of the lane, avoid that area, especially at lights and intersections.
Large trucks on the highway, especially older styles and army vehicles, will push you out at the front and suck you in behind, so place yourself in the lane appropriately.
Riding a dirtbike, especially motocross, is a great way to learn how to brake, lean and slide at and above your limits without giving up too much skin.
Before you buy a bike, do you really need a liter class supersports bike or 500lb + Harley first time out? Very few people can ride even a 600cc sportsbike to its limit, and a big heavy touring bike can be a prick to ride in town

7 Bill June 2, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Turn by turning your whole head to where you want to go. Do not just move your eyes. Just watch any MotoGP race to see the experts do this. There is a reason for this. It works. Your bike will go where you are looking (as long as the laws of physics allow it).
You will ride into whatever you are looking at. If you get fixated on that dead skunk on the road, or the rocks on the outside of that tight turn, you WILL hit it. Look (with your head and eyes) at where you want to go, not at what you are going to hit.

This is very important. Practice it.

See: Object Fixation

And it will take practice. The training will pay off in an emergency situation.
Learn it.

8 Allan June 2, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Check your ego at the door and get a good starter bike. Even the 600cc sport bikes are race-machines with lights and mirrors, they are designed for experienced riders and are very unforgiving to bad rider inputs. The kind of inputs an inexperienced rider does during a a panic moment, and those panic moments will happen.

A used naked will be perfect as there is none to little plastic to break when you do drop it that first time. Also a well cared for used bike will resell very close to what you paid for it even after a year or two.

I’m speaking from experience I bout an older standard bike before steeping up to a 600cc sport bike and there was a couple of panic moments that might have had me on my ass had when I grabbed to much throttle or brake.

I did tip it over once turning it around, no plastic so no real damage.

The MSF class is a great resource but it does not make you a proficient rider in a weekend.

Also I’m here typing this today because I wear a helmet. I was in an accident caused by gravel in a curve and running off the road into a guard rail. Three broken bones and a concussion later I woke up in a ditch. The ER doctors said I would not be alive it it was not for the helmet. My leather jacket, pants, gloves, boots saved me from any abrasion. There is a large scrape across the face shield and chin bar where it slid on the pavement and gravel. I wear a full face helmet and that one save my full face. If you only care about half or three quarters of your head/face buy a half or three quarter helmet. Look for the DOT and SNELL ratings in the US.

Read the whole story on page five from the local magazine of the Air Force Base myself and my Father worked at.

http://www.youngstown.afrc.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-060615-007.pdf

9 Gerald James Hollis June 2, 2011 at 8:26 pm

I bought my first bike three years ago and taught myself how to ride it (with a little help from my dad). The best thing I can suggest about learning to ride is to lose your ego. You will not acquire the necessary skills as easily as you bought your matching riding gear. Don’t expect to know everything you need to know just because you could afford to buy a nice bike unless you feel inclined to wreck that bike and yourself. And, you will drop your bike… so don’t be overly surprised and don’t ride unless you are willing to accept that fact. Also, don’t feel the need to buy an overpowered machine for your first bike as you will neither need nor be able to handle the extra power. Personally, I ride a vintage 550 and find it more than sufficient for my needs and wants (including going very fast).

10 Allan June 2, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Please excuse the typos. I did a piss poor job of proofreading.

11 Pat June 2, 2011 at 8:31 pm

All great tips, especially the MSF courses, I’ve taken the basic and experienced courses. In many states the courses are offered by community colleges at a fraction of the cost if taken at a for-profit company.

Having a forgiving and comfortable used beginner bike is a great way to build confidence. Being able to put both feet on the ground is desired, as well as easily reaching the controls. The Honda Rebel and Suzuki S40 are great starter bikes. If one really has to have a sport bike to begin on, the Ninja 250 is probably the only one I’d suggest.

12 Gary V June 2, 2011 at 8:37 pm

If you live in deer country, don’t ride at night, dusk or dawn. It’s more difficult to see deer with only one center headlight and a low vantage point.

I used to ride to work, and had to ride home at night. One close call on the hwy at 60 mph at 2:30 a.m. and I quit. That deer came out of freeway ditch. There was no way I could have seen it. I thought I was toast, but got lucky. I’ve also had two uncles and my step dad hit deer, and end up being laid up in the hospital for 6 months.

13 Ken June 2, 2011 at 9:23 pm

I took up riding at the tender age of 46. I agree with the commenters who recommend the MSF Basic Rider course, to choose a first bike of reasonable power, and also to wear protection – ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time). Remember when sex was safe and motorcycling was dangerous? A few things I would add:

1. There are two kinds of new riders, those who have dropped their bikes and those who are going to. When your bike goes down, you’re going down with it. Wear boots; your ankles will thank you. Wear gloves; your hands will thank you, especially since you’re going to put them out in front of you to break your fall when you go down.

2. If you drive a car with a manual transmission, you’re ahead of the game. Motorcycle clutches are used slightly differently (normal clutch function + low speed maneuvering) but if you are smooth with an automobile clutch, it will be easy.

3. You don’t have to understand all the equations to understand that traction is a limited resource.

4. Don’t ride under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Even if you like a few beers now and then (and believe me, I do), you will need all your wits about you when you go out on two wheels.

14 JeffC June 2, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Money line from this article: But a motorcycle does not suffer fools.
Poetry, that is.

Paradoxically, the lure of the motorcycle often attracts men with the type of personalities that should never get on a motorcycle.

Did I say men? The hallmark trait of a real man is self-control.

15 The other Jeff C... June 2, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Lots of advice here. I’m going to be a little contrary and say: Ignore it all–EXCEPT for the part about taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course. I skimmed the article and the comments: didn’t see anything you wouldn’t find out during that weekend course. You don’t even need a learner’s to do it, and here in MA you get your license updated upon successful completion.

Want to ride? Or find out if riding is for you? Take the MSF weekend rider couse.

It saved my life, probably a couple of times over.

16 Brock June 2, 2011 at 9:45 pm

DON”T BE A SHOW OFF. Motorcycles are fast and handle well, and many will pop wheelies easily, that doesn’t mean you need to show everyone, especially if you’re not ready. alot of this is affected by the people that you ride with, don’t let them push you past your limits or try to impress them with your ability or lack there of.

17 Adam June 2, 2011 at 9:53 pm

All the gear all the time! Get appropriate gear for the season. Frostbite on your hands once the sun goes down and you’re 100mi from home is not fun. Check out great sites like motorcyclegear.com and compacc.com for great closeouts. Always wear a full face helmet. Half helmets and open face helmets don’t protect the most often injured part of your head in a low speed fall – your jaw/mouth. I don’t even trust modular/flip up front helmets for this. You only get one egg, keep it safe and make sure your helmet fits right!

Ride invisible. Nobody sees you. Always look for a way out, even if there’s nothing immediate that you need a way out of. Learn to look around corners – look for shadows and wheels/tires underneath cars across the intersection. Anticipate stupid moves and make sure you’re ready to bail if you need to.

Learn to be vigilant for road surface contaminants. Gravel, sand, plastic sheeting, items like that will send your rear end to the pavement in a heartbeat. Look for it and learn how to deal with it.

Lube your clutch cables! Clean and lube your chain! Find a good shop and get the suspension set up for your body weight/load/riding style as soon as you get the bike. Check tire pressures every time you ride. Don’t skimp on replacement tires when the time comes.

Have fun, be ready for anything that happens, and be vigilant. Don’t ride stupid and give us a bad name. Never, ever, ever let peer pressure get to you. When you ride with more experienced friends you MUST ride at your own pace. They’ll wait at the next stop sign for you.

18 Brent June 2, 2011 at 10:09 pm

All good stuff above — the MSF beginner class will start to give you the muscle memory needed for most emergencies. One I did after the course that isn’t too smart, but is interesting is put the bike into a rear tire slide for feeling how it goes; it’s really easy to do if you slam on the rear brakes at low (5-15mph) speed. It’s much harder to try for the feel of a front tire slide (and very not recommend).

19 Jake June 2, 2011 at 10:27 pm

I tell all new riders to avoid riding in the rain until they have at least 2000 miles in good weather with ideal road conditions..

20 Amerigo88 June 2, 2011 at 10:34 pm

See the Hurt Report, still a great resource on motorcycle safety. Most accidents involve a left turn and the car driver “never saw” the motorcycle. About 60 pct of accident causes were in the 11 o’clock to 1 o’clock arc right in front of the motorcycle. I’m an armchair fan who won’t ride with four young children counting on me, at least not yet. A man must make his own decisions and live (or not) with the consequences.

21 Amy June 2, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Man oh man are you guys making me want one now.. Sadly there’s no way I can get one while living at home, so a dream for the future. However, I’ll ask questions anyway.

Should I know how to use a manual transmission car before learning this? I get the concept, and probably could do it (and stall a few times) if needed, but I’ve never tried. The only manual car in the family is a Mustang, I’d be afraid of hurting it.

I’m a 5’2, 120lb girl – *are* there actually bikes light enough that I can pick up?

And a newbie question – how can you go about listening to music? Or is that too much of a safety hazard?

Thanks for your time, I love this site; and its commenters are so much more polite and intelligent than most places. Alright, done now.

22 Benjamin Cooper June 2, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Heres some advice that would have saved me a proken leg if someone would have bothered to tell me.

Eventually you will have to replace your tires. They wear much faster then the tires on a car. When you do, be verry verry careful for the first 150 milies or so.

New tires come with a slick polipar substance on them, and you have much much less braking power.
I got my tires changed, and my breaks readjusted, but I was only giving myself enough space as I would normaly would have. So when the car infront of me slamed on their breaks because they hit sudden traffic, I put on my brakes, but they ended up locking up. And I went down.

So. Be super careful with your bike every time you change your tires and get it tuned.
And in general, give yourself lots of space between you and that soccer mom ahead.

PS:
Dont be a pansy. RIde in the rain.

PPS:
Harley people are great. Harley bikes havent improved with the years though. Look up Victory motorcycles.

23 stanly June 2, 2011 at 11:33 pm

I do see alot on safety here but i think people are forgetting about there machine, Once your comfortable learn the limits of your bike, how fast can you change lanes if needed, how fast can you brake, can you control your slides? grab your gear find a parking lot and learn what your bike is capable of,

Amy you can get a really nice aprilia 250 for a couple grand, smaller racebike but turns heads, Music is definately out of the question when your a newbie.

I found starting on a cheap dirtbike was the best, dont care if it falls in the dirt, your out of traffic and you learn the gears.

24 Stephen June 2, 2011 at 11:41 pm

@Waltman: Stop spreading that ignorant bs.

25 Warren June 3, 2011 at 12:24 am

ATGATT – All The Gear All The Time. That means jacket, pants, gloves, boots and a helmet. Helmets are lighter and stronger than ever, and textile riding gear has made things a LOT easier than it used to be with heavy old leather gear. Lightweight, durable, breathable when you need it to be, warm when you need that. Consider it an investment, as a part of the bike…insurance companies do. Also, don’t pay attention to the macho types who only wear a helmet when the law says they have to, and then only the minimum they can get away with. EMTs have a name for them…organ donors.
AMY: Believe it or not, anyone can pick up any bike using the proper technique: http://youtu.be/k4MPyX0QCYw
I would recommend that anyone start with a smaller bike, and something that won’t matter much *when* you drop it (believe me, you will). I like dual-sport bikes in the 250cc range, though there are other types out there. Something with an upright, neutral riding position is good, but whatever you choose, make sure it fits you and you are comfortable on it. Once you get the basics down, then you can upgrade.
I also second the MSF courses. Lots of good information to be had, even if you’ve been riding for years.

26 Mike June 3, 2011 at 12:26 am

Quick point about braking: a front brake will contribute 100% of the braking power in a panic stop. Its weight transfer: as you slow down, weight moves on to the front tire. In an absolute panic stop, you can and will lift the rear tire, or bring it to the point of essentially zero traction. So learn to lean on and use the front brake accordingly.

27 Erik J June 3, 2011 at 12:44 am

All of the above is good advice. +1 on the MSF beginning rider course. I would add that, just like anything worth doing, you can never learn too much when it comes to riding. Take intermediate/ advanced courses; go to track days when you’re ready, learn to ride on the dirt, read books on technique. It all makes you a better, and safer, rider.

When it comes to riding I will add this – ALWAYS ride *your* ride. You will eventually meet up with other riders (We’re a pretty social bunch) who will want you to join them. Riding in a group can be a blast, as long as you don’t let yourself feel pressured in to riding beyond your skill level. There is no shame in hanging back in those twisties and catching up at the next stop. You may get some good-natured ribbing from faster riders but you will actually enjoy the ride more and (bonus) you’ll finish in one piece. Besides, those “fast” guys are usually the ones with the expensive legal/insurance tabs.

P.S. I’m with Stephen. @Waltman is spouting the same ignorance all “anti-helmet” people spew. The facts (http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/new-fact-sheet03/motorcyclehelmet.pdf) speak for themselves. Wear your gear – especially a helmet.

28 woolfe June 3, 2011 at 1:03 am

Before you ride tell yourself you are doing something dangerous and you want to see your loved ones again.
Look where you want to go. Look at the tree…you will hit the tree.
No ipod
Use your attention wisely, you only have so much (Read Keith Code).
Look up
Stay visible and avoid blind spots
See the car drone on a phone? Keep clear.
Don’t ride in the middle of the road, its where most oil leaks are.
Do track days, learn your limits and how to brake.
Keep your attention close to home, it is where most accidents happen.
Wear your gear.

29 Scott June 3, 2011 at 3:13 am

A few random tips:

1. Don’t ride in the first ~20 minutes after it has begun to rain. In this initial time period all the oil and other slippery grime from the road will become more slick. Allow enough time for this crap to get washed to the side of the road.

2. Mentally divide your lane into thirds. Try to avoid ‘camping out’ in the middle third of the lane. Vehicles with 2 sets of wheels tend to leak oil and push other debris into that middle third, making it more slippery. It’s not critical, just something to think about.

3. Do your braking before you enter a curve. It’s quite frightening to hammer on the brakes while you’re at a 45 degree angle lean and facing oncoming traffic.

4. If the conditions aren’t right for riding, don’t ride. Don’t force it. If it’s too windy, too rainy, too busy (holiday weekend), just wait for a better opportunity and congratulate yourself for having self-control and discipline.

5. Never under any circumstance ride under the effects of alcohol, drugs, or FATIGUE.

6. Avoid riding at dusk and dawn. This is when many animals, especially deer, will be moving around.

7. Don’t ride in a group unless you feel absolutely comfortable doing so.

8. Constantly assess your surroundings and imagine what you would do in an emergency situation. ex: “What will I do if the car in front of me slams on its brakes?”

9. Turning is so much easier, smoother, and more fun if you do this: if you want to turn left, lean your body to the left, slightly turn your wheel to the RIGHT, and push your left handgrip down and forward. To the non-rider, this might sound strange, but once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll get the hang of it and you’ll be much less rigid when you go in for a turn.

10. Preserve your senses – wear eye and ear protection. I’m always baffled by riders who don’t wear any type of glasses while they ride.

11. Each time you saddle up, recognize that you’re participating in a dangerous activity that could have dire consequences. Consider the multitude of riders who have died on their bikes and let this thought give you the alertness and clarity of mind to make good decisions and be safe out on the road.

That’s all I can think of for now.

30 Matt Tomljenovich June 3, 2011 at 4:53 am

All of the above is excellent advise. definitely take a MSF course!

but the one main thing i suggest is NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES BRAKE IN A TURN.

31 Chris Homan June 3, 2011 at 4:56 am

@Waltman:

“When the idiot in the minivan rear ends you, you’ll thank me.”

And when I die of massive head trauma from following your advice and wearing no helmet, I’ll haunt you.

32 Len June 3, 2011 at 5:45 am

Take the courses.

Always wear protection.

Join a club. Good clubs recognise that newbies have to learn and they’ll encourage you. They’ll also help you get used to riding in a group.

Learn how much room you and your bike need to be parked (leaning over on its side stand or getting it up on its centre stand). Give other parked bikes room to straighten up and ride away.

If you wear sunglasses as eye protection, think about night riding. Make sure you can still see when it’s dark: use day/night lenses, interchangeable lenses, or carry a separate pair with night lenses.

Go to an empty parking lot and practice some slow moves and slow tight turns – the kind you’ll need when maneuvering through a full parking lot, with cars, bikes, and people – and kids & dogs running around.

When choosing a bike, remember that how you and the bike ride together is ~93% rider and ~7% bike. In other words, a good rider will be able to ride well whatever they’re on. A bad rider will ride badly on everything. Take the time to learn and practice to be a good rider.

Ride safe and have fun :-)

And to Matt: I agree that braking in a turn should be avoided if possible (ie, be at the right speed before you go in). But if you must brake in turn, then remember what happens: more front brake – you go wider, more rear brake – you go tighter into the turn.

33 Andrew June 3, 2011 at 5:52 am

One important thing about helmets, treat them with care. If you drop your helmet onto the pavement a couple times it will compress the shock absorbing material inside and lose its ability to do so in the event of a crash. The point of the helmet is to be disposable. Once you crash with it, it’s time for a new one since it already absorbed the shock of the crash. Also, the rider courses are excellent. Colorado’s rider courses include your state exam at the end so once you complete the course you can get your motorcycle endorsement on you license the next day if you wich to do so.

34 Yates June 3, 2011 at 7:36 am

The only thing i would add to the advice on assuming everyone is drunk…. is to also assume that they are bent on killing you.

someone is going to change into your lane. always.

35 Manuel from Portugal June 3, 2011 at 7:56 am

Hello!
Sorry for my english, but i will
I love Motorcycles since i was born, and ride almost at same time.. i’m jucking, but some similar.
Now i have a Ducati Hypermotard, but my first, it was a Vespa 50s, i think it is one of the best motorcycle to learn ride! It is complete instable, you never ride with precision, the front brake “don’t” exist, you can learn the basics of mecanics, and it is cheap, and most important is cool!

Please see my advices:

You can park close at any entrance;)
Never take off right hand!
Look at face of the other drives, try to understand their reactions!
thanks always!
Waste time to see others as they drive
The “motorcycle”has to impose respect on the road, and “Cars” has to respect
When you ride, do not think of anything more than drivin!!Forget your girlfriend/work/family problems, NOT AVENGE when driving!!

My most importante advise: It is very easy accelerate, but is very difficult BRAKE..
Learn to brake!
In straight focuses on the line and keeps you safe and strong in this line!
The bow is much more difficult, there many kinds of curves.
In general try to catch well ahead of the curve, if you do not obtain, attempt to combine the balance of your body with the body of the bike and combine with the brake pedal, never lose the gas..
Of corse, you can get this, with Training, training….years!
If you want ride like Rossi go to close circuit!
Learn Physics!

Live, ride Bikes and Smile!
I hope I have been helpful!
My best regards!

36 Mike June 3, 2011 at 8:28 am

All great tips. Added benefits of the MSF course is that in many states you get your license through them as well. The test ends up being way easier since you’re often times taking it on a loaned 250cc bike.

The only thing I didn’t see that is VERY important is to check your mirrors and leave enough get-out room between you and the car in front of you at stop signs and stop lights. Something like a rear-ending is serious business on a bike and happens way too often.

37 Westicles June 3, 2011 at 8:31 am

I love this series of bike posts! Please keep them going. It would be great to see a post on what to look for in a first bike or perfect models. I would love to hear stories (and spread my own) about my 1st bike.

Everyone is right on with the advice! Helmets, gear, MSF, and SAFETY!!!!!!!!!!!!

38 Jesse June 3, 2011 at 8:32 am

Great article! I’ve ridden once and looking for my first bike. Great tips here and in the comments as well. Thanks to all!

39 canoelover June 3, 2011 at 8:49 am

I love motorcycling.

Three things:

1) I sold my bike when my kids were 8 and 12, mostly because I almost turned into road pizza when two little old ladies with blue hair turned left in front of me. Locked it up (I hate ABS), low-sided it and gunned it around her car. She never noticed me. I was wearing an Aerostich suit in hi-viz yellow, a traffic vest, conspicuity lights and a flashing headlight. I did everything I could to be safe.

I decided that no matter how skilled I was, I wanted to see my kids graduate from college, get married and have grandkids. So I sold it. A sweet BMW. You could set a glass of water on the tank and it wouldn’t even ripple. Smooth as a German sewing machine.

I don’t mean to say people with kids who ride are not smart. I had many happy rides with my kids on my back, squeezing me periodically. It was part of the risk I was unwilling to take (coming from a whitewater kayaker and a guy who likes hang gliding).

Some day I’ll get another bike, probably a Beemer again. But I need to wait until my death would have little or no impact except for my wife, who is gorgeous and could find another guy in a few weeks. :-)

I’m just saying I’d add that into the mix for consideration.

2) The stats show that the most accidents happen between six months and a year of experience. In the beginning, people are cautious. At six months you probably still don’t know how to handle emergencies, though you feel confident in normal riding conditions. Take classes, stay off squid bikes until you’ve been riding a while (we call them donorcycles for a reason), and enjoy.

3) Ride some dirt. It’ll teach you how to avoid accidents (see 1) and will keep you from freaking out when you hit sand on a highway. That’s a sphincter-puckering experience if you’re not used to it. So borrow or buy a cheap 250 and crash it a bunch of times on a football field. :-)

Ride safe.

40 Bruce Williamson June 3, 2011 at 8:51 am

Good Article. Just received my class M endorsement on my license last year. Took the MSP which was a frightening experience because there were so many “experienced” riders that were 1) not paying attention and bumping the cycle in front of them, 2) Dropping the motorcycle in the turns. Other than these few numb skulls the MSP course is worth the while to learn how not to get killed during your first year and you get your license at the end of the class.

One thing the article didn’t mention is BOOTS. You need the ankle support when handling heavier motorcycles. There’s a popular brand of motorcycle gear that does have extra thick reenforced jeans for those that prefer jeans.

41 canoelover June 3, 2011 at 8:59 am

For the ultimate safety gear: http://www.aerostich.com/roadcrafter-lightweight-one-piece-suit.html

No commercial affiliation, but their stuff is bomber. That’s what I rode with forever. They also have footwear, Bruce. Good stuff.

Plus you can always see what’s going on:

http://www.aerostich.com/webcam-op

42 Chris June 3, 2011 at 9:45 am

If you ride motorcycles long enough you will know someone who has died, lost a limb, or become paraplegic/quadriplegic while reading. Don’t be that person. I have friends who have ended up in each of these conditions on routes that they rode every day.

Never become complacent. Never ride when you’re angry, tired, or impaired. Leave your ego at home, especially when you’re buying your bike. Be careful riding in groups; there is less safety in numbers due to competition and distraction.

43 Andrew June 3, 2011 at 10:13 am

Choose a good time to ride as well as the best route. At 7:30 a.m., the amount of drivers on the road and the quality of their driving is more dangerous than at 8:30 a.m., when there are fewer late drivers on the road. (My job allows me to spend my first hour at home sending emails and answering voicemail before I drive in to the office.)

This was an agreement I made with my wife, in consideration of her very real concerns about the risks of riding my bike to work daily. As a result of hearing and responding to her concerns, she actually encourages me to ride.

44 Luke June 3, 2011 at 10:21 am

Hey all,

While I recently exited the riding arena (the bike wasn’t getting enough use, and someone else is now enjoying it more), I can offer a few small bits of advice.

1) I would highly recommend a full face helmet. While you can get helmets that do not cover your chin/jaw/ears, in the event of sliding, a skull cap-style helmet won’t prevent you from losing an ear.

2) Your next purchase, if you’re going to ignore the “all gear all the time” axiom, should be a pair of gloves. You can grind off a finger if you happen to be in an accident at freeway speeds.

2) For a first bike, I would highly, HIGHLY recommend getting a smaller displacement bike with a V-twin engine configuration. Without getting too far into it, a V-twin bike has a very linear torque curve. What this means to the average person is that when you grab the throttle, the amount of power delivered is very consistent as the bike revs up. Conversely, smaller inline-4 engine configurations (specifically those found in smaller 600CC sport bikes), have a torque curve that increases drastically as engine RPMs increase. What this means to the average person is that if you grab the throttle, it will rev up to a certain point, and then take off like a shot. For a first-time rider, this is very unforgiving.

The only other thing I can say is that, while people can say various things here and there about helmets, no helmets, gear, no gear, the granddaddy study on motorcycle accidents is the Hurt report. Look it over at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurt_Report and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_findings_in_the_Hurt_Report.

Luke

45 Bryan June 3, 2011 at 10:23 am

Few people know that Helen Keller was a motorcycle enthusiast.

46 K. Liske June 3, 2011 at 10:42 am

When you ride with friends or other bikers, we say “Ride your own ride”.
That means if you ride with people who are better, faster, more experienced riders
than you, DON’T try to keep up. Know your comfort level and if you take longer
to get there, that’s fine. Good biker friends will be aware that you ride slower and will wait for you if there is a turn to make or an abrupt change of plan. If you get a lot of flak about your riding, then you don’t need to ride with dickheads who try to put you at risk.

47 Andy M June 3, 2011 at 10:50 am

What a great post. Also, excellent comments from the audience. The only thing I could add would be read Proficient Motorcycling by David L. Hough. I read it before my MSF class, after my class, and periodically after rides.

My first bike was the same bike I rode in the MSF class, a Suzuki TU250. It looks cool, gets 80mpg, is forgiving, and gets lots of compliments. I love the Fuel Injection and low maintenance. I know it doesn’t go fast but that’s not really important to me. I’ve learned that most accidents happen after rides gain a little confidence and over extend themselves. Happy riding!

48 Tuck June 3, 2011 at 11:06 am

How appropriate!

I just bought my first bike about 2.5 weeks ago. I did my research before buying, and I think I did just about everything wrong. I had planned to do the local MSF Rider Course (here in OKC they give you a bike to learn on and have a special off-street training course), but seeing the dates booked for 2+ months and seeing these alluring bikes just sitting on craigslist was too much.

So I bought a 1982 Suzuki GS 650. That’s four air-cooled, individually carbureted cylinders, a 5-speed transmission and shaft drive. Even when I bought it, I had intended to get some training first… But let me tell you, if you go the route I did, you probably won’t just sit there looking at your bike, patiently waiting to get trained.

You’ll sit on it… Then turn it on… See what it feels like to pull the throttle… Then see if you can manage letting the clutch out with some throttle. Then you’re moving.

So I did most things wrong. I taught myself in our neighborhood, but I did get some decent gear to protect myself and did a TON of reading about the fundamentals. For me the trickiest parts were stopping without 500 lbs of bike trying to tip over and turning from a stop. Once you’re moving, turning is fairly easy, but before the wheels are spinning and you get that gyroscopic effect keeping the bike up right, the whole thing is just deciding which way it wants to fall. I found the best method is to get 5-10 of straight ahead speed, then look where I want to turn and whaddya know? I’m turning…

Anyhow. I did everything in the wrong order: Buy bike. Learn. Get gear. Get license. However, I haven’t laid it down or had any accidents SO FAR. They keep telling me I will…

So please don’t do it the way I did it… Go get trained, then research bikes, then get a little used one…

Good luck! You’re gonna love it!

49 Ben June 3, 2011 at 11:08 am

I recommend the Proficient Motorcycling books by David Hough. They’re great reads and crammed full of invaluable riding wisdom.

WebBikeWorld.com provides a lot of great motorcycle gear reviews.

There’s a huge amount of peer pressure in motorcycling no matter what choice you make. Too much gear makes you a silly-looking wuss. Not enough gear makes you ignorant. You’ll catch flak for riding cautiously, aggressively, if you you keep to yourself, if you ride with a group, etc. You may even get pressure from your family to not ride. Be ready to deal with it and be mindful of the other riders that you surround yourself with. It’s your life on the line, not theirs.

Here’s one of the better examples of the danger of peer pressure. A beautiful young woman rode a sportbike in a responsible way. She wore all of the gear, including full leathers, a full face helmet, gauntlet-style gloves and proper riding boots. However, one day she went on a ride with a group of cruiser riders as a passenger. No one in the group wore much of anything beyond a minimal half face helmet. Despite her better judgement, she caved in to the pressure and tossed on the helmet. On the ride, she was thrown off the back of the bike and she hit the pavement face down. The majority of the skin on her face was shredded, as well as significant portions of her torso. There are pictures out there that you can look up; it’s a terrible shame.

50 Chris June 3, 2011 at 11:57 am

Sorry for the typo. I meant riding of course.

One friend of mine hit a garbage truck(right hand drive) that pulled out while he was on his way to school. Another hit a dump truck as it backed out of a suburban drive with no warning. Yet another was following a truck too closely when a driver coming the other way pulled out to pass.

As was mentioned before, pretend you are invisible.

51 David | Almost Bohemian June 3, 2011 at 11:59 am

In two years I’ve gone from never even sitting on a motorcycle to completely rebuilding them. It just takes a lot of passion, a chunk of time, and lots of patience and willingness.

http://almostbohemian.com/1969cb350/

http://almostbohemian.com/1969cb350/

Life is good with motorcycles :)

52 David | Almost Bohemian June 3, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Ooops! I meant to share this link as well:

http://almostbohemian.com/1947cz/

Sorry about that!

53 TomH June 3, 2011 at 12:56 pm

All of these comments are well thought and wise. it is easy to tell that most of the posters are experienced riders. I only have one thought to add.

Learn to read minds. If someone to your right front is texting or talking on the phone, and traffic in front of him/her is starting to slow even a little, anticipate that they will change lanes in front of you. If you see someone starting to look in their rear or side view mirror, know that they are thinking of a move, and may not consider or see you. It comes with experience, but if you always ask yourself – what is that person getting ready to do? – you will be a lot safer. 40,000 miles on the same bike and have not dropped it yet – but I have avoided a number of accidents because I let my imagination go wild.

54 chris June 3, 2011 at 2:03 pm

hope you don’t mind a woman posting some comments here, but I’m a long time fan of AOF and of motorcycle riding.

1. buy the best helmet you can afford and treat it like a piece of expensive equipment (always place it on the ground, not on something it can fall off of).

2. If you’re a beginner, buy an older bike for $1000 or less. (spend that extra money you saved on good quality riding gear). After you’ve got a year of riding experience you’ll have a clearer idea of your personal riding style and what you want in a more expensive bike. Also, after you’ve had to make a few roadside adjustments, you’ll have a healthier respect for the maintenance of your bike.

3. Never mount the bike without helmet and gloves already on.

4. You should be enough aware of what’s ahead to engine brake to slow down. If you have to brake in an emergency, shift down and use the rear brake. The front brake can occasionally come in handy at stop lights

5. remember that when cornering, you need to slow down before you hit the corner, then speed up while in the corner for stability. It’s counter-intuitive if you overthink it. Practice. Cornering advice will differ depending upon the style of bike you have.

6. Some folks really like to showboat and others just like to ride. It’s ok that riding a bike is a fashion show for some, but don’t let natural competitiveness dictate your ride. I’ve seen people spend $20k on a big Hog when they would have been much happier with a little 650 that takes corners really well. It’s your riding style that counts, not whether you’ve got more chrome on your bike.

55 Ironhand Cycles June 3, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Lots of good advice here-assume the drivers are going to do the dumbest possible thing and plan accordingly. That way you’ll be ready the one time someone runs a stop sign or merges into your lane without signaling or looking. Also, get an old bike and learn to fix it yourself. You’ll almost certainly break it at some point in the process (I dumped mine riding over a garden hose in the backyard), and it’s cheaper and more fun if you can repair it on your own. Plus you’ll get to know your bike better, and an old bike is likely to be slower and won’t bite as hard if you make a mistake.
Ride safe, and have fun-it’s a blast!

56 Steven June 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Amen. Look as many vehicles ahead for brake lights etc. Make eye contact with opposing drivers at intersections. If you’re in multiple lanes of traffic, try to ride so you have an emergency exit – ie keep a spot on one side of you clear.

And if you’re in Canada – watch out for gravel!

57 Jet June 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Great article, but simple. I would have liked to have seen more proper gear references. Helmets are a no-brainer and many understand the importance of a good riding jacket. Full-faced helmets protect better than turtle-shell helmets and most head impacts are on that lower portion of the face.

One thing missed in the article were gloves. Proper gloves can protect your hands from becoming grated to the bone. The first reaction in any fall is to brace for the impact by sticking your hands out. Flesh vs 60-mph pavement will scrape bones. Same goes for good boots (over the ankle, construction boots at the very least, for me).

Check out the Hunter S. Thompson piece: “Song of the Sausage Creature”
http://www.latexnet.org/~csmith/sausage.html

58 Chris E. June 3, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Great article.

One thing i HIGHLY recommend is finding a intro-motorcycle class that you can attend. When my wife to be wanted to buy her own Harley last year I told her we would as long as she took the local motorcycle class taught by Southern Illinois University. She told me she would take the class if I took the class with her. I already had my license (never took the class) and decided I would take the class with her. After going through the class (it was terrible weather, rained all weekend) I can honestly say that I am a better rider. I was the only student in the class of 12 that had their motorcycle license. The experience was invaluable to my fiancée and myself. Even for guys that have been riding forever they have experienced level classes were you use your own bike (but that eats up half the fun of ratting on a little 250cc). :)

All in all I enjoyed the class and helping others, I learned a lot and in the end they actually asked me to be an instructor. I start teaching classes next year.

Ride loud and ride safe.
-Chris

59 Red June 3, 2011 at 4:18 pm

I’m probably in the minority but I just have never seen what the big deal is about riding a motorcycle. I’m a pretty manly man, into trucks, cars, fishing, guns, you name it, but for some reason can someone just explain to me the thing about cycles? I have driven them in the past and they aren’t as fun or cracked up as I had imagined …

60 TJ June 3, 2011 at 4:20 pm

As someone who works in the industry and an expert rider, I agree that the post is spot-on. A whole essay could be written just on lane-splitting strategy, but what most all of it boils down to is summed up above.

One thing I have to point out in regards to Chris’ comment (2:03pm), in case a newbie reads it, is that point #4 regarding brake usage is absolutely WRONG. I’m sure she just mixed up “front” and “rear” brake – 90-99% of the time, and ESPECIALLY in an emergency, you need to be relying on the front brake. The rear is the much weaker one that comes into play at stoplights, on steep downhills, and only a few other rare occasions (settling the chassis on the track, for instance).

61 TJ June 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Sorry, just a few more points on the actual mechanics of taking turns (the best part of riding!):

* Handlebars – push left to go left, push right to go right

* Keep your arms loose and elbows bent, support your upper body weight with your legs and trunk not your wrists, especially on downhill turns

* Force yourself to look where you want to go, NOT at trouble spots should they arise

* Use your legs to shift yourself on the bike, lean to the inside of turns and point the way with your head

* Smoothly roll on the throttle through a turn

* Don’t hit the brakes when you’re leaned over, especially the front. This rule changes a bit when you get really good.

* Your braking should be firm, smooth, and progressive, don’t jab the lever back

* It’s much better to enter a turn slowly and rocket out once you can see through it, than it is to come in hot, panic on the brakes, and park it mid-turn

Keep it shiny side up everybody!!!!

62 Tom June 3, 2011 at 4:40 pm

I’d swear by an Arai or Shoei helmet, find insulated hard knuckle gloves and as mentioned over-the-ankle boots to reduce horrific ankle injury. I’d reccomend armour with a good leather jacket over top and armoured leather pants. Leather can be hot but it’s also waterproof and windproof, it can also slide 50 or so meters on one spot at around 100kph. A spine protector is a great idea, especially if you find yourself paralyzed from the waist down because you cheaped out on an 80 dollar piece of equipment.

Spend the money on gear, where you could get gloves, boots and so on second hand in good condition, never buy second hand helmets. If by some chance it does fit it may have been dropped at some point and therefor lost its ability to protect. Helmets are good for one impact.

A heated vest is a good idea, but I haven’t been able to justify the cost so I don’t have much to say. Your eyes are your best protection, gear is there in case things go south.

63 Tom June 3, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Just to mention regarding tj’s post,
The rear brake has little stopping power but it’s encrdibly important.

The rear brake functions like feathers on an arrow. For example, riding the friction point on the clutch while applying reasonable throttle Is a good method of going slow, adding drag with the rear brake will keep you upright while traveling a slow walking pace or use it to gently slow down while downshifting to maintain authority over gravity.

Front brake holds all the hard stopping power, always apply rear brake during an emergency but remember to stop with the front and steady with the rear.

So much can be said about this and everyone has a different opinion it seems. Motorcycles are entirly purpose built. Extra stuff is for cars, you wouldn’t have a rear brake if it had no purpose.

64 TJ June 3, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Yes, the rear brake does have its purposes. But for a new rider, who is often overwhelmed with the complex set of actions required to skillfully corner a motorcycle, it can be ignored. Especially in a panic stop, in which case if one is using the front brake at its limit the rear wheel on a modern motorcycle will be slightly off the ground.

Many racetrack instructors recommend staying completely away from the rear brake.
I’d say that Kevin Schwantz is a pretty good authority on the subject of motorcycle control. This is from an article by Barry Winfield on Schwantz’ Suzuki School:

“Some of his preferences come into play in the course syllabus. Like his personal dislike of the rear brake, the use of which he discourages despite the fact that several of the world’s top motorcycle racers currently use rear braking to rotate the bike in corners. ‘I tried using the rear brake twice in my racing career’, he explains. ‘And both times I found myself on the ground.’

I would add that one of the most common crashes in motorcycling is from new riders relying on the rear brake for a panic stop, locking the rear wheel, and sliding into the object in their path. Thus, finding themselves on the ground.

65 Texian June 3, 2011 at 6:17 pm

in general support of the above in regards to braking.

You typically are going to brake using front and rear on anticipated stops (stoplights, stop signs, etc.).

The front brake is your lifeline. Just like on a car, most of your braking friction lies in front. For “brake tapping” use the front, as when you need to cut some speed on the freeway. Also, most bikes respond well to rolling off the throttle to cut speed. But you do not want a rear wheel lock at 80 mph on the interstate, which is what happens when folks rely on that rear brake for quick stops.

Thoughts and observations?

Don’t ride in packs (charity runs, poker runs, etc.) unless the folks you are riding with (all of them) know how to ride in a pack. I have run many a road guard with packs of bikes, and people who never have ridden side by side with anyone else, are suddenly surrounded by machines ridden by folks with the same lack of experience. Folks get rear ended, sideswiped, run up on other folks, veer in and out of the pack, try to pass in the pack, etc.

Don’t “ride like you are invisible”. You are invisible. I ride a Harley with the kind of loud ass straight pipes the AMA hates. People still tend to not see me / hear me.

When in traffic, ride in a box with one side open. Always position yourself in such a way that in at least one direction you can move (or slow down into, as in behind), you have an opening with no cars.

Ride in the fast lane when possible. That typically gives you an open shoulder, and only two moving lanes of traffic to deal with.

At night, get behind a car moving at your speed when you can, and follow at a safe distance. Their headlights and movements will help you to see trash in the road, bumps, etc.

Avoid target fixation. Keep most of your focus, on the road, on where you want to go not where you want to avoid. When you see that board in the road, find your route around it and focus on that, not the board (unless the obstacle is moving, too, such as something rolling down the road. Then you got to multi-task.)

You are going to get hit by bugs, bees, rocks, dirt, rain, and the like. If you flat out can’t take getting hit at 70 mph. by a wasp that doesn’t die on impact, but instead lodges in your shirt and stings the shit out of you repeatedly until you can get off the bike and do a stupid dance on the side of the road while your buddies laugh at you and and throw beer cans they found lying on the roadside, you ought not take up motorcycles.

66 Doc June 3, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Good article…however, not wearing a helmet and/or a full face helmet, and/or jacket/leathers, etc. does not mean you are “stupid”. Some of us are quite intelligent however CHOOSE to not wear such articles of clothing as we dictate how we ride. If I wanted rules, entrapment, and protection, I would stay in my cage (AKA car). My freedom to choose and ride as I please are fundamental to my liberty, fun, and lifestyle. If that’s how I go, atleast I went out like I wanted to go rather than how I was told or made to go. To each his own, but judge not lest ye be judged. Ride hard, ride free, and ride til yer bones wither…

67 mikeyyc June 3, 2011 at 7:07 pm

Actually Doc it does mean you’re stupid. You value your personal choice to be a road crayon over the potential damage your selfishness could cause to family, loved ones and anyone who could care about you. Riding with no gear and having that liberty comes with a huge potenial cost. Do you not wear your seatbelt and have the airbags disconnected in your car as well? You wouldn’t want them to impinge on your fun.

68 stanly June 4, 2011 at 12:49 am

Theres no need to jump on doc! His point is valid!, I always wear my helmet but im sure not going to trash a guy and make him feel guilty because he doesnt want to. For some of us riding a bike is about freedom! Why dont we make cowboys wear helmets next , there higher up and on unpredictable animals. If your state allows it its your choice and no one elses business!

69 Ron June 4, 2011 at 12:56 am

Take a MSF course and ignore much of the advice on here. Especially, Chris. Relying on your rear brake, is asking for a rear wheel lock-up and possibly high side disaster. She has probably never piloted a heavy bike. If you can afford a better bike spend more than $1000. An older bike that breaks in the middle of a maneuver can be dangerous. I sold my 2004 Vulcan 750, which was a great first bike, for $2300. It will be a good, solid, safe, ride for it’s new owner. $1,000 bike is going to have issues, and possible critical failures.

70 Big Ed June 4, 2011 at 1:31 am

Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!

Don’t know what else to say, Brett. In my opinion, you hit every key point of bike riding exactly as it should be!

My only criticism is with the comments. A number of comments refer to inexpensive “starter” bikes. I think that what everyone is remembering, are the dirt/dual purpose bikes that we all started riding on. They were cheap, but they were also light-weight and easily maneuvered. They didn’t go 180 mph, 65 mph was often a pipe dream. But it was better to do your first “ground-graze” at 35 mph on a bike weighing 250 lbs than on a crotch rocket or Harley weighing 2 or 3 times as much, and moving at much higher speeds. There are still a number of dual purpose bikes being manufactured. If you are a newbie rider, check these bikes out first.

71 Marc June 4, 2011 at 4:18 am

Communication: The number one tip I give to new riders is to develop the habit of cancelling thier turn signals. In city traffic other drivers are way to anxious to jump in from side streets and if they see a turn signal still on from that right turn you made three minutes ago, they are probably gonna jump out in front of you. I am constantly cancelling my turn signals, often when they are not even on. Some might say this is an added distraction, but I now do it with no thought.

72 Mike h June 4, 2011 at 5:09 am

Always ride assuming that EVERY ONE is trying to kill you – that includes dogs, pedestrians, cyclists, tractors, truckers, cars, coaches, ambulances, police cars.

I am not being paranoid! Over 30 years of riding with not a broken bone, so it seems to work for me.

I agree with most of the above especially training and helmets.

I started riding cheap bikes because I was poor and did learn lot but newer bikes are better.

I would suggest to a newbie to start with a lighter weight bike of the newest you can afford. Having been a new rider once and watched many other new riders the biggest factor for gaining confidence and thus ability is the weight of the bike.

Weather is important to new riders too. Snow, rain and high winds don’t make a good mix for learning to ride.

Have fun, don’t show off – live long and proposer!

73 Colin June 4, 2011 at 9:01 am

A lot of good advice on riding here. I thought I’d throw in something about gear.
The topic of to SNELL or not to SNELL is controversial. Motorcyclist magazine did an interesting test on helmets awhile back: http://www.motorcyclistonline.com/gearbox/motorcycle_helmet_review/index.html. I do have a Shoei and a DOT rated helmet, but I do think I’ll probably go with the softer DOT helmets in the future. I also wear a white helmet. Cops wear them, and if I get someone’s attention even for a second, then I’ll take that second. I’m a fan of Hi-Viz gear, and have both heavier gear when it’s cool and mesh gear for the summer. I’d also recommend making sure protective gear has CE armor in the knees, shoulders, and elbows, with armor in the back. I try and adhere to the ATTGATT rule: All The Gear, All The Time. Boots and gloves are a given for me.
I also try not to ride tired or hungry–both are distractions and can affect your response time.
Finally, I ride as if I’m invisible and put my paranoia on with my helmet.

74 Kirk June 4, 2011 at 12:09 pm

If at all possible, start out riding dirt bike in the woods for a year or more . You will train yourself to resond instinctively and things that come up quckly. If you can’t learn to ride on loose gravel, swerving around trees, stay off the street..

75 Tyrone June 4, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Read the book “Proficient Motorcycling” by David Hough. It has tons of great advice, as well as clear diagrams that explain the mechanics behind leaning into a turn, counter-steering, accelerating for traction etc. You can probably find most, if not all of it for free online, but a gentleman would fork over the $ for a hard copy. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

76 Stephen June 4, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Wearing a white helmet to look like a cop sounds like a good idea. It’s one way to try and get around the invisibility.

77 Guy. June 4, 2011 at 5:19 pm

If it hasn’t been said yet when riding on a 3 lane highway always remember to look at all the lanes before changing your lane. Most people have a tendency to only look at the lane nearest them when lane changing forgetting about the 3rd lane.

If you’re going from the far left lane to the middle lane, check the far right lane also because they may want to get in the gap in the middle lane just like you do.

78 Mark June 4, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Other than a clutch is there any difference in the breaking or turning with a moped or small scooter in comparison to a regular bike? Could a person learn some of the handling techniques described in earlier posts with a moped or would it just be better to use a regular bike? Just curious thanks.

79 Jason June 5, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Don’t skimp on gear! Get a real motorcycle jacket and not just something that looks like a motorcycle jacket. That leather jacket from Wilson’s is going to be shredded in a crash. The also make re-enforced demin now if you don’t like overpants.

80 Adrian A June 5, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Don’t drive with your child on the back while smoking a cigarette and talking on your cell phone. I saw that a few days ago. WTF…

81 G D Milner June 6, 2011 at 12:55 am

Remember, when you ride, always ride as if you are invisible.

For example, you going down the road and approaching the outlet to a mall parking lot. The person wanting to pull out sees you and is, in fact, making direct eye contact with you. EXPECT them to pull out in front of you.

This is the second most important piece of advise. The first is always wear a helmet. Always — no exceptions. There is a word for people who don’t wear helments: Donors.

82 Radio Matty June 6, 2011 at 8:37 am

Most of these points have already been mentioned, but let me re-emphasize a few of them:

-expect everyone else on the road to do the dumbest possible thing at the worst possible time.

-buy the best gear you can afford and wear it every time, regardless of temperature or trip duration (jacket, helmet, boots, gloves) I also recommend knee and shin protection.

-keep off the (excessive) throttle . There’s a reason you don’t see many sportbikes older than three or four years.

-Don’t do wheelies or stunts on public roads.

-*Take rider training courses* to get your license and practice your emergency stops and slow-speed manuevers.

-Riding motorcycles is repairing motorcycles.

83 OkieRover June 6, 2011 at 8:59 am

There are two things in this world I don’t belong on…
1. Horses
2. Motorcycles
I would dearly love to own a BMW R-series motorcycle. Preferably the older the better. But…alas it will never happen. Mrs. OkieRover does not approve.

84 Robert Black June 6, 2011 at 12:44 pm

@TJ thanks for clearing up the mistake from Chris. I am sure that was a mistype. I can remember a few times when the training I received in regards to proper braking strategies have saved my bacon over the past 9 years of riding.

A tip to all aspiring iron horsemen: practice stopping often using only your front brake. In a safe empty parking lot etc, get going at a good clip and bring the bike to a stand still suing only the front brake. It will become second nature in no time.

The natural mechanics of motorcycle braking force the majority of the rider and bike weight onto the front forks compressing them and causing your front brake to do nearly all the work. Don;t believe it? Take a look at how most sport bikes are designed. There are two massive disks in front and a single smaller one in back.

And remember…… a scooter is not a proper bike for any gentleman. (if your knees are together you’re a girl :)

85 Morten June 6, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Great comments everyone.
I´m a completely new biker myself. I got inspired by the first article (great men and their motorcycles,), so i went and got my license in a 4 weeks.

I just wanted to let you know that i love these motorcycle-articles! It´s great.
And thanks for all the great comments from experienced riders!

Be safe!
Morten.

86 Steve June 7, 2011 at 9:43 pm

I have been riding for 40 years and have owned a number of bikes; some with older technology and some with current. The most important piece of equipment for safe riding is a properly trained rider who has his head in the game during the ride. I have ridden over 100,000 miles since 2002 trouble free. I have taken the Experienced Rider Course 3 times in the last 7 years just to stay current and not let complacency take the place of good judgement and riding skills. It is worth every penny and I learn something new every time. Proper and frequent training is the key to safe riding. Riding often and practicing what you have been taught is the key to being a good rider. Anyone who chooses not to wear proper riding gear may be right that it is their choice. Two things; you can be right…dead right. Second, not wearing proper gear or getting quality training speaks to your lack of risk management skills. Good for you but certainly not impressive. There is fallout and impact to your family, friends, and loved ones. It also makes responsible riders insurance rates go up unnecessarily. Do yourself and all off us riders a favor, put away the “macho declarations” of freedom and do the right thing. Ride smart, ride safe, and ride long.

87 Steve June 7, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Reponse to Mark from June 4

Mark,
Many of the braking (and rolling) dynamics apply to mopeds, scooters, sport bikes, cruisers, etc. because they share the characteristics of vehicles on two wheels. They differ in weight, center of gravity, braking systems, and quality of brakes. Rider skill being the key component of all. Braking fundamentals can apply across the wide range of these examples. Braking is different for different situations, road conditions, vveight, etc. Braking sometimes uses only rear brakes (slow speed turning in a parking lot for example). Both brakes (in a curve at higher speeds. Use of both brakes settles the bike chassis and allows it to track better). Proper entry speed into a curve or corner plays a huge roll in the amount and style of braking if it becomes necessary. Front and rear brake simultaneously (with a progressive squeeeezzzze) for most normal stops and emergency stops. The technique will vary somewhat and will be different for bikes with ABS fully integrated brakes vs. partially integrated brakes vs. independent systems. Always good to know what system your bike has and get proper training on each scenario with a good instructor licensed to teach. There is no one technique that covers every situation you are likely to encounter. In general most braking effectiveness happens with the front brake because as the weight of the bike / rider is shifted foward during the slowing or stop; most of the stopping power comes from the front brake. The rear of the bike gets lighter and though the rear brake becomes less effective it is still a good idea to apply it along with the front brake for more controlled stops. Hope this helps.

88 Carolyn Haywood June 8, 2011 at 6:41 am

Thanks for the article. I’m 57 and getting a 150 cc scooter and, while I know it’s no hogg, I imagine the same rules apply. I am taking the safety class before I get my license and will be practicing slowly throughout my apartment complex at least a month before that. I’ll be riding during rush hour traffic to and from work, probably the worst time possible. After reading your article, I will pay more attention, NOW, to possible dangerous places so I can be prepared.

Helen Keller was right on, bless her heart.

89 Carolyn Haywood June 8, 2011 at 6:53 am

After reading all the comments, I have a question on gear.

I will be riding my 150 cc scooter to work and back (max speed 45). Just how much gear will I need? Do I really need boots, jackets, long pants, etc? I don’t really want to have to change clothes when I get to work.

90 Radio Matty June 8, 2011 at 7:45 am

@Carolyn 6:53-

That depends on how much skin you’re willing to have touch the ground at 45 MPH. Proper gear has saved me from nasty (and potentially disfiguring) road rash and scarring. Better safe than sorry- trust me. Others will back me up on this one I’m sure.

91 Sam June 9, 2011 at 2:01 am

A lot of this has probably been said already, but I’ll throw my support to the existing comments anyway:

On riding in traffic, as mentioned above: Ride like you’re invisible, and everyone else is ACTIVELY TRYING TO KILL YOU.

First, go take the MSF course. In Texas, and many other states, taking that course gets you out of having to do the road test when you get your license, and is well worth the time.

Also, even after the class, expect that you’ll go down at least once. It might be nothing more than you overbalancing the bike as you park, or misjudging or hitting sand/gravel in a slow corner. You’ll probably mangle a turnsignal and maybe the gearshift or foot brake. Don’t sweat it. As the saying goes, there are two kinds of riders: those who have gone down, and those who will.

On braking, your front brake provides at LEAST 70% of your braking capability. Using the rear brake in an emergency situation is tantamount to asking for a crash. Under extreme braking, as noted above, your front brake will actually provide 100% of your total braking capacity, as the rear wheel will be off the ground. As a corollary, if you do use the rear brake, expect a skid, and if and when you skid (rear only), don’t let off. Let the tire continue to skid until you come to a stop; letting off invites a high-side wreck (rear tire regains grip and flops the bike on its side immediately).

Don’t buy a $1000 bike. Period. Anything that cheap is going to be on its last legs, and likely will have many hidden problems. Further, any bike that cheap is likely going to be old, and therefore will have primitive brakes and suspension, which a new rider should not have to contend with. And don’t buy one of the teeny little bikes either unless you know you will have the cash to upgrade soon, because anything under about 500cc is very quickly going to be “outgrown”, and will likely have a hard time keeping up with highway traffic (there are a couple of exceptions, such as the Ninja 250 which actually does make for a great beginner bike that isn’t easily outgrown). A basic recent-model 500-650cc bike (not a sportbike) will be more than adequate, will be fun to ride, and may be all the bike you’ll ever want. Buell used to produce a great bike called the Blast! that will do everything you ask, and still be easy to handle (and cheap to repair). A good beginner bike should cost about $2000-4000.

Helmet: Don’t buy a super-cheap helmet, but don’t buy the most expensive helmet you can find either. Past about $300, you’re pretty much paying for either fancy graphics or exotic super-lightweight materials. Save that for when you get your racing sponsorship or just have to show off. Z1 makes several helmets that cost under $200 and actually provide better protection than some of the top-line Shoei and Arai helmets. A recent study demonstrated that the vast majority of good, brand-name helmets provide more-than-adequate protection, as long as they have the DOT sticker at least. In point of fact that Z1, which has the DOT safety sticker but not the Snell, did better at absorbing impact force than many helmets with the Snell rating. Here’s a second on that great write-up that really digs into the subject, for future reference:
http://www.motorcyclistonline.com/gearbox/motorcycle_helmet_review/index.html
One caveat: unless you *really* know what you’re doing, go TRY ON the helmet you want. Make sure it fits and is comfortable. Make sure it fits snug, squishing your cheeks a little, and when buckled on cannot be pulled off over your head no matter how hard you pull. It shouldn’t slide around on your head, either. Put it on and wander around the showroom for a good 20-30 minutes at least, so you have enough time to see if any pressure points develop. Different helmet manufacturers use different head forms to build their helmets, so some brands will fit better than others. I myself made the mistake of assuming that, since my old AGV Q3 helmet fit so well, a newer one would be the same. I discovered that was not the case, when my new ebay-purchased Valentino Rossi-designed Titech turned out not to have any place for my ears to go (he has collapsible or retractable ears, I guess).

For gear, at least a good textile motorcycle jacket and gloves, with sturdy shoes. Yes, even on a scooter. You aren’t in a car, with doors and bumpers and windows etc to protect you from the environment, so you have to provide that functionality yourself. Those cutesy half-helmets really don’t work that well. Get a full-face helmet, particularly one with good venting. It won’t be much hotter, and fixing your hair afterwards is a lot easier than getting facial grafts if you go down. On a scooter, for example, a heavy leather jacket or suit might be overkill, but you can still reach near-highway speeds, so sturdy clothing that can help you survive a slide on pavement is still a must. Keep in mind that, on a scooter, you’re going to be exclusively on surface streets (surrounded by more idiots in cars), which means lots more things to bounce off of if you go down, like mailboxes, lampposts, street signs, curbs, your scooter (with all that hard, slippery plastic, your scooter will slide much better than you will, and may run you over if you go down) etc. Padding can really help minimize the bumps and bruises. If you’re really uptight about not wanting to have to change, I suppose you can always get over-pants which unzip down the sides for easy removal.

Also, get some good rain gear, with nice bright (preferably fluorescent) colors. And make sure you try it on over your gear before you buy. You never know when you’ll get caught riding in a rainstorm, and a decent rain suit will make that ride much more bearable.

92 Sam June 10, 2011 at 5:16 am

Whoo, forgot the most important thing about learning to ride a motorcycle: Before *EVERY* ride, do a walk-around preflight check. Look at the chain, the tires, check the oil and the gas level, look for any leaks, generally make sure that the bike is ready to go. If something isn’t right, correct it before you head out.

93 Mike June 11, 2011 at 2:02 am

2 things stand out to me:

1 – WEAR A HELMET!!! Apart from the very valid argument that not wearing one places the emotional burden of a crash on your family, it also places a financial burden on fixing your broken body everyone else that’s covered by your insurance company, and if enough deaths on motorcycles occur, the government will only make stricter rules to govern their use. Want a case in point? Just to ride a motorcycle *onto* an Army base, even if you’re a civilian and the base is open to guests, you have to show your motorcycle endorsement on your license, your MSF card, your proof of motorcycle insurance, wear a helmet, wear gloves, wear a durable upper garment that either incorporates high visibility colors and reflective areas or is supplemented by a reflective and hi-viz vest/band, and wear durable over-the-ankle shoes. There’s even some planning being done to compel sport bike riders to take a separate sport bike safety course in addition to the MSF course. This is not the kind of regulation we want applied to the general public! Besides, have you ever hit a cicada at 65 miles an hour? Want to hit one with your unprotected face?

2 – Don’t be pressured by society and marketing to get a huge bike. Your mount has nothing to do with your manliness. Smaller bikes are easier to ride in traffic, cheaper to insure, easier to pick up when they inevitably tip over, much better on tire and fuel costs, and sometimes A LOT MORE FUN when the road begins to twist. How much money is a ‘better’ bike worth if it’s less fun in daily riding?

94 Matt June 12, 2011 at 1:36 am

Another option for scooter/urban travel and good gear would be a leather “duster” or trench coat. It irks me when I see people out on scooters, much less V-twins and larger in shorts and, flip-flops, and tank tops. They ARE wearing helmets, so who is more stupid? No helmet or no gear?

95 Chris H June 12, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Staying safe is as much about conscious awareness as it is about proper gear and riding technique. I’d say it takes at least 4x as much awareness to stay safe on a motorcycle, as compared to a standard automobile.

Awareness of:
-your bike’s condition before/after riding
-where you are in your constantly shifting gears, compared to your speed of travel
-road and traffic conditions (slick road: be more cautious)
-staying present in your body (rather than the stories/imagination that circulates in your mind)
-the sounds of the bike, to learn what sounds are natural versus which ones can signal the need of maintenance
-noticing who is BEHIND you on the road (glancing at the rear view mirror/ turning around and looking)

96 Tad K June 14, 2011 at 10:54 am

All nice points. Just a few to add:
Ride with your bright light on during the day. You’re competing with the sun.
Always tell your passenger to lean with you and keep their feet on the pegs.
Don’t use old helmets. The foam used to cushion impacts becomes hard with time.
Replace your helmet after ANY impact.
Even if you make eye contact, the other driver may not see you.
Last, there are bike haters out there! They will do stupid stuff DELIBERATELY to you! Pull over and let them go. You will lose if you don’t yeild to the A. hole.

97 mrt_man June 14, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Re: comments from Chris’s point number 4: telling people to use only their rear brake to stop in an emergency is TERRIBLE ADVICE! 70 TO 100 percent of your braking power comes from the front wheel because of the weight transfer when you brake. Using only the rear brake will dramatically increase your stopping distance. It is best to get in the habit of using both brakes all the time except during slow speed maneuvering.
Thought I better comment to keep people from reading the previous comment and crashing into things for no reason.

98 Jenny June 16, 2011 at 1:29 pm

@Carolyn Haywood- Full gear is important even with a smaller machine. Ok, this is going to sound like I have accidents all the time. I’ve been riding for four years, and these are all of my accidents. In truth, I really think that only one counts :-)

1. My first motorcycle spill was the first time I got on a bike. I took a corner too slowly and the bike fell over. I didn’t have gloves on and there was quite a bit of gravel in my palm and fingers from when I fell.

2. My next accident was within a month of getting my license when I was doing about 20 mph and I hit something in the road and lost control of the bike. I had on jeans and gloves and a CD padded jacket. I was sore and the front wheel was bent on the bike, but I half landed on grass so I ended up ok.

3. My worst injury was a week ago. I was in full gear, including a helmet. I was filling my tires before a ride, and the bike was on the kick stand. I tripped over the air hose and landed a foot away. My jeans didn’t even rip, but there was gravel on the outside of my jeans knees, my right knee was swollen and bloody, and I landed on my left wrist and elbow. I’m sure that the padding in my jacket helped keep my elbow safe, and if I had been wearing a skirt, my bloody, swollen knee probably would have been much worse. This was when I tripped and fell about a foot. I cannot imagine what it could have been like if I’d been thrown off my bike into traffic while wearing a skirt. I’ll admit that I did buy very thick Dockers and started wearing those to work when I was commuting to work on my bike, but truthfully, I don’t condone it even though I understand it. You need to change your boots so a quick run into the bathroom to change your pants to dress slacks or a skirt if you need something nicer than that can be done quickly.

I never think of my bike as a “quick fix” solution. It takes longer to get into riding boots, a jacket and a helmet than it does to grab car keys and leave. There’s a reason that a bike doesn’t have a clock on the dashboard. You have to leave sufficient time to get somewhere :-) It took me some time to learn that and adjust my schedule accordingly. It was rough, but I now own only a motorcycle (it’s an economics decision – it’s not because I’m some die hard motorcyclist, I could afford either a clunker car that would break down a lot and require a lot of mechanics service plus higher insurance or a great bike that wouldn’t need as much repair and whose insurance would be significantly lower… it’s simple finances).

The last “accident” was just a banged up, skinned knee, but I’ve seen road rash from bicycle accidents with folks bicycling 20 mph and folks who were on motorcycles without full gear. It’s really gross. Accidents can happen at all speeds – they don’t just happen on highways. The majority of my near-miss accidents happen when I’m in-town at lower speeds when drivers pull out of parking lots or swerve out of their lanes, etc. Sometimes even though I’m being very vigilant on the road and using all of the skills I learned in the MSF class, I’m honestly unsure how I managed to avoid the glass bottle someone tossed out their window without looking to see that I was right behind them or something like that.

99 Jeremy June 17, 2011 at 1:15 am

Use your brakes, engine braking is for saving brakes on long hills not slowing down. You need to be seen when riding and engine braking doesn’t activate your brake light. You don’t want to get ran over by the guy behind you.

Someone also said to use only your rear brake and not to use your front in an emergency. this is so wrong. Your front brake provides 60-70% of your braking power. Which is necessary in an emergency. Practice stopping in the shortest distance possible at many different speeds, using both brakes. If you manage to stop with your rear brake only in an emergency, then it wasn’t an emergency.

If you lock up your rear brake hold it till stopped because you could high side if your rear tire is not parallel to the front when you release it. IF you lock up your front release it immediately or you will go down.

100 Robert Leiby June 17, 2011 at 11:10 pm

I have a 1985 Honda CB650. I’ve had it for two years and would cinsider myself a reletively new biker. I’ve laid it over, as well as locked the rear wheel. My best advice so far is to pay attention… to everything. You need to get in the frame of mind that everyone is trying to kill you, and I mean everyone, including Mother Nature. Rocks, sticks, etc. can really ruin your day.

As far as the use of the rear brake, you can’t underestimate its use in certain situations. I’ll give you an example… A few years ago, I was out riding and noticed… too late, I might add… that the road ahead of me was unpaved, with a drop of at least six inches. I crushed both brakes and the rear brake locked. I skidded to a halt several yards onto the unpaved section of road. Without the rear brake, I probably would have laid the bike over. That being said, the rear brake offers little stopping power, and should only be used for stability purposes.

Don’t make fun of old cheap bikes. I bought my Honda for $700. It has its issues, but I’d much rather lay that over, then a $10000 crotch rocket. For as old as my bike is, I don’t think I’ll be trading up any time soon.

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