TIP’s FOR BEGINNERS PART 1
The very first thing you want to do as a new or prospective new motorcyclist is take a riders education course. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers courses in almost every state and many colleges and universities offer a similar class.
These classes are not just for brand new riders. They have courses for more advanced rides as well as topics that will benefit those who are returning to riding. Even if you’re an experienced dirt bike rider there are huge differences between riding on dirt and riding on the street.
A motorcycle riders course can teach you necessary street riding skills such as emergency braking on pavement as well as navigating road hazards like paint, tar stripes and the occasional washer or dryer that fell out of someone’s truck. Plus, you get the added benefits of insurance discounts and in some states you can skip the DMV test and go directly to get your endorsement.
One of the biggest advantages of taking a riders course is that the course provides a variety of bikes for actual riding practice. This will allow you to try out different styles and sizes of bikes to see how size, weight, shape and style make a difference to the riding experience. Also, while they prefer you don’t drop the bikes, if you do accidentally drop one they are very forgiving.
Once you have a general idea of what you want, it’s time to hit the showroom or browse the classifieds. While there is nothing wrong with buying a used bike from an individual for a first bike it’s helpful to consider buying from a dealership as even used bikes often have the option of a one to three year service plan which can pay for itself if you plan to ride regularly. However, as you will likely drop your first bike a time or two it’s better to consider buying used instead of shiny new.
Another benefit of browsing dealerships for new and used bikes is being able to sit on a variety of bikes and get a sense of how walking them around will feel when you have to maneuver them in and out of a parking space as well as how heavy they are when you lean them side to side.
Spend some time getting a feel for how easy it is to reach all the levers, ask if they can be adjusted, walk the bike forward and back and ask a sales person to put a mat in front of the bike so you can see how easy or difficult it will be to maneuver the bike on an uneven surface.
If you’re short, getting a tall sport bike can be difficult to manage as the height of the bike makes keeping the balls of your feet on the ground difficult especially on a canted road so try to think about where you plan to ride and how long you’re going to be riding in a day. If a clutch lever is really tight ask if that’s normal. If it’s a dry clutch, it likely is, and can cause hand cramps if you get stuck in rush hour traffic. Plus, and I speak from experience, if you get a bike with a really stiff clutch…you will end up with one hand markedly larger and more muscular then the other and it just looks…odd. :p
Take the evaluation seriously as you will be responsible for having to maneuver the bike in a variety of situations and surfaces as well as having to pick the bike up if it’s laid down.
Once you’ve decided you like how a bike feels, look at the tank capacity and ask yourself what kind of riding you think you’ll be doing. Will you be riding only around town? Then a small tank will suffice. However, if you plan to do any long trips you will want to consider a bike with a larger tank.
While you’re shopping for a bike take some time to look at riding gear. You will want to buy the best protection you can regardless of whether that is a helmet, a leather jacket from a surplus store, jeans, reflective vest and over the ankle work boots, or a fancy helmet, one piece leather suit with Kevlar panels and stainless steel armor and racing boots with shin guards, movement limiting and impact resistance.
Cars have a frame, you have your gear.
Don’t ride without insurance, it’s not worth the risk. Contact your insurance company before you buy and ask about discounts, as well as how the age, color and style of your bike could effect rates. If you can save $20 a month by buying a blue bike instead of red it’s worth it.
TIP’s FOR BEGINNERS PART 2 – GETTING READY TO RIDE
Before you even get on your bike take a quick walk around it. Look at the tires to see that they’re fully inflated with no damage, look for any oil leaks or fluid leaks of any kind. Look at the oil indicator window to check the oil level and color.
Always make sure that your helmet is strapped on and coat is zipped up. There’s nothing worse then heading down the freeway only to have the strap of your helmet begin beating you about the head sounding like a very distracting drum or to have your unzipped coat open like a parachute or worse have your shirt blow up in the wind.
Yes, it happened to me, I entertained quite a few cars before I could find an off ramp. To make matters worse the only safe place to pull over and put myself back together was a nearby church parking lot. So embarrassing…. It’s also very difficult to zip a coat while riding. It can be done but should not be done by new riders, so make sure everything is secure before heading out.
Check for fuel. Most bikes don’t have a gas gauge so you will need to keep track of how far you’ve gone and what your bikes mileage is. The easiest way to figure out how far your bike can travel on a tank of gas is to check your owners manual for the tank capacity of the main tank as well as the reserve tank.
Next, fill your tank, set your trip meter to zero and then ride around town until you run out of gas on the main tank. Switch it to reserve and go to a gas station and fill up. The number of miles you went before hitting reserve is a good base to use for when to fill up. Do this test twice, once in town and once riding on a freeway to get a sense of how mileage will vary depending on how you’re riding.
When first learning to ride there will seem to be a thousand things to keep in mind. Take it slow, drop your shoulders and breathe are the most important for beginners. Tense shoulders and stiff arms make cornering very very difficult.
When you’re riding try and keep to one side of the lane or the other as road oil tends to build up in the center. This is especially important during and after rain as all that oil will float to the surface making a wet road even slipperier.
Riding a motorcycle is different than driving a car. A bike is smaller, more maneuverable and harder for other vehicles to see. Because of this, it’s best to always ride as if everyone on the road is actively trying to kill you.
Ride defensively. Constantly scan the road ahead looking for hazards, looking for deer or other animals at the sides of the road that might jump out in front of you. Watch the road surface for gravel, mud, moss, oil, gasoline, man hole covers, large paint stripes, rail road tracks or road kill, all of which can make you lose traction.
TIP’s FOR BEGINNERS PART 3 – THE FIRST RIDE
The best route for a first ride is a neighborhood block with little traffic. Ride to a stop sign, signal and turn. Repeat until you’re comfortable and then find a block with a hill and do it all again.
When you’re first learning to ride, dumping the bike over is pretty much inevitable as you learn to balance the bike and maneuver it slowly around corners. Cornering slowly is a lot harder than going fast as you can feel the bikes weight more at a low speed.
My first bike was a 600 lb Yamaha that was so tall I could hardly get my toes on the ground. I dropped it trying to make slow sharp corners, I dropped it at stop signs where the road slanted and I dropped it when I slipped on gravel. My next bike was much smaller and lighter and I was much happier. Bigger is not better when it comes to bikes.
When the bike falls over don’t panic. Just hit the kill switch to shut off the engine. Also, shut off the gas if the bikes leaking. If you’ve just crashed, adrenaline will be kicking in so you might not feel injured, even if you are, so take a deep breath and do a quick self assessment before you begin picking up your bike. Next, make sure the bike is in gear and not pointed down a hill as it may roll further down the hill if you try to pick it up.
Once you have made sure the bike is in gear and not pointing downhill stand by the seat and turn away from the bike. Crouch down, holding the handle with your hand, pulling it close to the tank use your other hand to grab the bikes frame. Then, push your butt into the seat and using your thigh muscles begin to leverage the bike up. It’s going to be hard at first especially if you have a very heavy bike but as the bike gets closer to being upright it will get dramatically easier. When the bike is almost upright slow down and try to set the kickstand so the bike doesn’t accidentally topple over the other direction.
Let the bike sit for several minutes before trying to start it as the engine is likely flooded. Only continue the ride if the bike and you are undamaged.
Riding a motorcycle is more then a way to save gas or sneak into small parking spaces it’s addictive; it brings solace. The road is always a downhill run even when you’re climbing a mountain. The road pulls you and when you finally hit that corner just right, it sucks you through, pinning you to the seat of your motorcycle, then throws you out of the corner, ready to do it again and again. I hope this article helps you find the joy in riding that I and many others have found.
To quote a rider I knew, “if you ride you are my friend, if you ride with me you are family”(BlackSabbatical)