A New Rider’s Guide to Learning How to Ride Motorcycle
The open road is something that calls to everyone. There is no better way to answer that call than cutting through the wind with a motorcycle. You can ride as free as a bird, flying wild beneath passing clouds and over rolling hills.
That is - IF you know how to actually ride a motorcycle.
Riding can be tricky. If you don’t know what you are doing, you could injure yourself or someone else. On these kinds of rigs, it does not take much to get a serious injury (so make sure to wear a helmet). It is not like getting into a car and taking off willy nilly. When it comes to riding a motorcycle you have to have balance like you would when you are riding a normal bicycle - except everything is flashing by at top speed.
The good thing is that balance is pretty easy to control because the power from the motorbike’s accelerator is going to keep you upright. It’s the moments when you slow down, that balancing becomes a much bigger issue you need to worry about.
If you are used to driving cars, you will also need to get comfortable with accelerating using your hands instead of your feet. Depending on how quickly you can adjust, this can be difficult.
Then there is the actual steering. Unlike a car driving wheeler, you will have to move your arms a bit more and be extra careful not to be aggressive with your turning to prevent spilling off the bike completely.
Before you even hop onto a bike, you need to learn a thing or two about motorbike maintenance. No need for total expertise before you ever take off down the winding road, but you should know enough that when you see your motorbike you know if it’s roadworthy or not.
One of the biggest mistakes new riders make is not knowing how to care for their bike properly. A badly maintained motorcycle isn’t only a bad investment, but can be dangerous.
Some Items to Watch Out for Are:A.) Tire pressure.
Since lower tire pressure will actually make it much harder to steer and handle the bike. This is an easy fix. Use a small pressure gauge to check the tires before you hop onto the bike.
B.) Air Filters.
Check the air filters regularly
C.) Oil and fluid levels.
Make sure the oil levels are good or change out the oil if it’s been awhile. Simple things will make it easier for you to actually learn how to ride the bike.
Once you purchase a bike, it might be worthwhile to also buy a bright yellow “duck pond.” Duck ponds are useful to park your motorbike on top of when you’re storing it in your garage because you can walk into your garage and see any fluid leaks in the bright yellow duck pond immediately (something a dark garage floor might cover up).
I’ve put together an entire step-by-step tutorial below for you on how to ride. By the time you are done reading this, you will be more than confident to hop onto the back of a bike and take on the roaring winds of the open road.
Types of Motorcycles:
There are two important things to consider as you start learning how to ride a motorcycle:
- The type of bike you choose
- The safety of that vehicle.
Here is a brief summary of the common types of motorbikes currently on the market:
- Choppers: Iconic Harley-Davidsons fall into this category. These beasts are more about looks than comfort, so if you’re looking for a comfortable ride, then do not choose this one.
- Sports Bike : This is probably the most common type of motorcycle. A mix between power and comfort, great for 3-4 hours rides on twisty roads or daily commutes.
- Dirt Bikes: An unlikely choice for long roadtrips, but the perfect choice if you’re planning on doing a lot of off-roading. They have minimal designs and sturdier tires with studs on them to help overcome rocky terrain
- Cruisers: Similar to choppers (a la Harley-Davidson bikes), but these are made for a more comfortable ride. This style is very iconic like the chopper, but is the better choice for long road cruises (hence the name).
- Adventure/Touring Dual Sports Bikes: Similar to dirt bikes, these bikes are made for longer distance traveling with a good sized fuel tank to carry you the distance. They work well for rougher roads, as this style focuses on having good suspension.
- Scooters & Power Scooters: These bikes are typified by the Italian Vespas. They’re smaller bikes for commuting rather than super long distances. The engines tend to be smaller on them, though power scooters can still sport large engines.
There are other bike types out there too, but these cover the most common options for a newbie to choose from. Now, let’s dive into exactly HOW you can start driving a motorbike without injuring yourself or others in the process.
Get Trained Up - Here’s What You Need To Know Before Jumping On Your New Bike:
An important note on safety, it would be worthwhile to write down this small checklist from The Motorcycle Safety Foundation that can help ensure your bike is roadworthy.
The Checklist is Called TCLOCS:
- T - Tires and Wheels
- C - Controls, like cables, horse, throttle etc.
- L - Lights, make sure your battery is good to go, check your headlights and turn signals are working etc.
- O - Oil levels
- C - Chassis, how the frame and suspension look, checking for any obvious damage, etc.
- S - Stands. Make sure your kickstand or center stand are in proper working order so your bike won’t fall over when you park it at your destination.
With safety checks out of the way, let’s consider safety gear while riding a bike.
Always, Always Wear Safety Gear!
While it is cool to have your hair whipping through the wind, riding without a helmet is a surefire way to crack your skull open. “Smashed in face” is NOT a look that’s in this season.
A large portion of motorcycle fatalities could be avoided by wearing a helmet. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, as much as 37% of motorcycle fatalities could have been avoided by wearing a helmet.
A good safety rated motorcycle helmet is the best piece of gear to wear. It is also required by most states, so you might as well do your brain a favor by wearing it and your wallet a favor for not getting pulled over by the police who would give you a ticket for riding without one.
There are other pieces of gear to consider though, such as “armored” clothing, like a thick leather jacket that can protect your bare skin in case you do fall from the bike. You should also consider riding gloves, a good pair of riding boots, and pants instead of shorts. A good pair of jeans will provide you some protection, preventing some nasty scrapes.
Make sure all of your gear is kept in good condition. If possible, create a checklist like the TCLOCS checklist above for your safety gear. If you ever crash, replace your helmet as even one fall could compromise the safety of that helmet.
The key here is to cover up your skin because bare skin will get torn up something fierce if you take a fall. Since you are learning how to ride, consider a fall that is something that CAN happen to you.
Don’t be a dummy - Protect yourself!
Hello Bike, Nice To Meet You: Mounting Your Bike For the First Time
Now it is time to do what will likely be an awkward maneuver for you… but only at first. Approach the motorbike and throw your right leg over it, putting all the pressure on your left leg, and hop on. You want to make sure you lift your leg high enough or you will get caught by the motorbike, which can be embarrassing. If you’re wearing somewhat loose jeans, give them a good pull up so the jeans don’t force you to get caught on the bike.
Once you are sitting on it, you will be able to get a feel of the weight of the bike. You should be able to hold it straight up between your legs with ease. Here is a good time to check on the mirrors and the lights, making sure your turn signals work and so on.
Get comfortable before you actually start riding off and please, make sure you bring your kickstand up BEFORE you start driving your motorbike!
Every motorbike is a little different. It is important to take a few solid minutes getting used to the rig between your legs. It is far better to do it now than later when you are riding fast down the road. Dealing with a light that doesn’t work while you are moving will likely cause you some anxiety, and riding a speeding metal bullet like a motorcycle is not a place where you want anxiety messing up your ability to control the bike.
Taking Off - Know Your Controls!
Priority #1 - Starting and Stopping
Speaking of keeping control of your bike, there are a few ways to do so you need to be aware of - mainly the throttle and the brake. You won’t get far (or might get too far!) without getting familiar with these two elements.
The throttle is how the bike actually accelerates and speeds up. Unlike a car where you are using your feet, for motorbikes it is all about your hands. In the case of the throttle, it is all about your right hand.
Twist the throttle towards you, which will be a downward wrist movement, to gas the engine. Since you are a beginner, go EXTRA delicate when it comes to twisting the throttle as a little bit can send you moving at high speeds. This will get easier with practice, but be conscious of how little you need to throttle the bike to get it going at decent speeds.
The right hand is also going to control another crucial feature of your motorbike - the front brakes. Just like you want to be gentle with the throttle, you want to slow down smoothly so press down on the front brakes with ease too.
If you push the braking lever mechanism down too fast or too hard, then you run the risk of the bike skidding out of control and the wheels locking up. This could throw you from the bike and cause serious pain, so be careful with this!
Most brakes work with a two finger grab, though there are motorbike models out there that will require your entire hand to wrap around the braking mechanism. Ultimately, it is whatever you are most comfortable with.
For convenience, the two-finger method of clenching down on the brake is going be the most effective so you can smoothly transition from braking and be accelerating with your right hand without any issues.
For back braking, you use your right foot to operate the brake. It is important to note that rear braking is not as effective in stopping a motorbike. Front braking is the best way to create a hard stop. That being said, rear braking is best used in situations where you have reduced traction and have to do low-speed navigation. Like when you encounter heavy traffic and must maneuver through.
Throttle and braking are super important controls to get comfortable with, but aren’t the only controls you need to worry about on your journey to becoming a biking superstar.
Priority #2 - Familiarize Yourself With the Clutch
The clutch is the lever on the left-hand side of the bike and is what controls you moving in and out of switching gears. View the clutch as a kind of knob that helps you enter into neutral gear with your bike rather than an on-off switch. The more you press it, the more the transmission will be cut off from the engine.
Like the bike’s front brakes, you only need to use two fingers to engage or disengage the clutch. When you do this, it should be a smooth gradual motion instead of clamping on the clutch hard all at once.
If you do a hard grab of the clutch lever, your bike might stall out and your front wheel could spin, throwing you from the bike and injuring you. In other words, it pays to learn how to do a smooth clutch transition.
The good news is once you learn how to use a motorbike’s clutch, it opens up the knowledge to be able to drive any motorcycle in the world. As you get better with it, it will also increase your manual dexterity and train your brain to do it without actively thinking about it.
This is great news as the more dexterous you are on the bike, the safer you are going to be whenever a random event occurs on the road i.e a stray dog running across the road merely a few feet away from the roar of your motorbike!
Priority #3 - Make Sure You Know How to Shift
As you might have already guessed, motorcycles work differently than cars when it comes to shifting gears, although the basic principle remains the same. Some bikes allow you to shift gears without having to use the clutch. However, always use the clutch if it is available. It is a good skill to have and will make you a better, safer rider.
The most common gear pattern for motorbikes is known as “1 Down, 5 Up.” This refers to the 5 to 6 gears (including neutral) that bikes can be shifted into. How you actually shift a motorbike’s gear is by using your left foot to move a lever down and up. This lever is what informs the bike that it is switching gears.
The most difficult part of shifting a motorbike is finding neutral. It will take some time to get used to, and is something you will get better at with your particular bike over time. Drive often and you will have the neutral gear down pat.
To recap, shifting motorcycle gears requires you to disengage the clutch with your left hand, then using your left foot toggle the shifting lever on your bike. Once you find the right gear you want to be in, engage the clutch.
That’s it! Easy, right?
You can also use the throttle (gently!) while using the clutch to make everything go a bit smoother. If that sounds like too much, then don’t worry about it until you get the basic actions down.
Start Her Up!
Alright, you got all the safety gear, you’ve done your safety checks and you are now educated on the different controls motorbikes have. That leaves you with a very important and exciting step: Starting that bad boy up!
Nowadays you don’t need to “kick start” your engine; instead most motorcycles turn on by pressing a red kill switch button. The kill switch button should be in the “On” position. Put your motorcycle keys into the ignition like you would with a normal car and the motorcycle will rev to life.
One thing to note here is not to freak out if you see your speedometer going nuts and all the warning lights flashing at you. Almost every motorcycle has a self-checking system where the bike runs through its own diagnostics to make sure everything is working.
You will likely need to use the clutch in order to start the engine. The reason is to prevent unwanted lurching of the bike during the crucial warm-up phase. While warming up cars has gone the way of the dinosaur, your motorcycle still requires a warm up period.
Typically, this period will last between 45 seconds and a few minutes. It gives your motorcycle time to turn over the engine, get oil throughout it, and helps the engine operate at optimal power.
During warm up, do not rev the engine. Revving the engine can cause issues with oil not moving across all the engine parts. It is a short time to wait. Do so patiently and you will be ready to ride your bike.
Prime Your Bike Before Zooming Off
You’re sitting on the bike and ready to give the motorcycle a spin. At this point, the engine is on and it should have gone through all of the automatic self-checking. You allowed the engine to warm up.
Now is a good time to do a quick double check. Do you have all of your safety gear? Helmet? Gloves? A good jacket and long pants (preferably made out of a tougher material such as jeans)?
Check your lights, turn signals, and adjust your mirrors so you can see behind you. Finally, make sure your kickstand is up! This isn’t as big of a problem as it used to be. Modern motorbikes won’t allow you to start the engine if the kickstand is down.
It doesn’t hurt to look at the kickstand before you take off. Not doing so is going to be a nuisance later. Take the extra few seconds to make sure it is in the proper position.
Make Sure All Systems Are a Go...before you…GO!
Everything is ready for you to start riding. At this point, you have double and even triple checked all of the systems of your motorbike. For your first ride, you should avoid roads where you know there will be heavy traffic or drive during off-peak traffic hours.
While you have checked all your systems, controls, and have all the proper safety gear equipped, you want your first ride to be planned. Choose a route you are familiar with. Remember, you are literally learning to drive a brand new type of vehicle, so cut out excess variables. Focus on learning how to handle the bike instead.
Outside of planning your route, also look at the weather forecast. For your first ride, avoid going through rough weather. Rain can make the roads slippery and make your bike more likely to skid.
These are problems you will overcome, but choose a nice sunny day for your first ride. Allow yourself time to get used to the basics before tackling advanced weather driving. Besides, heavy rain also impedes your vision which won’t be helpful for starters.
Now that all systems are “a go” - you have your safety equipment donned, planned your route, and checked the forecast. Take your bike out and hit the road!
Finally, The Big Take Off...
The time has come!
As you can see, there is A LOT of preparation that goes into riding. Trust me, it is going to be worth it. If you go through all the steps above, you are going to have an easier time.
Now you can put the knowledge you learned to the test.
Over time, you will develop a more intimate understanding of the clutch, braking, and throttling. Shifting gears will become easier. It takes practice to control gears with your hands instead of your feet. Remember to always shift gears with your clutch (even if you have an automatic). Eventually, it will become second nature.
Take your bike off on the winding roads of the world. Lead that beautiful motorized horse with your steering and skills. Put both feet up on the pegs, and embrace the fluid motions of operating one of the most fun vehicles.
Are you ready to ride? Go ahead and answer the call of the open road! Just make sure that your first riding experience doesn't end up like these guys...