You’ve thought about it for years. Maybe while cruising a mountain road or watching a movie.
“Man, owning a motorcycle would be so awesome.”
But the years go by and that itch remains. You see men and women, young and old, roaring by you on the highway with windswept hair and the confident look of freedom on their faces.
Despite what you may think, though, you can learn how to ride a motorcycle and look just as natural as all those other guys out there.
As a beginner, you’ve got a lot to learn. But keep reading and let this serve as the push you need to ease your fears and get you out on the open road.
It All Starts With Respect
And what does respect have to do with this? Respect means you need to acknowledge just how dangerous a motorcycle can be. You need to respect your bike as a piece of machinery that can take you 0-60 mph in less time than any car you’ve ever owned.
With a motorcycle, there are no airbags, no seat belts, no lane assists or stop warnings. It’s all you.
And the more you realize that a motorcycle deserves your utmost attention and respect, the safer you’ll be out there. Simply put: a motorcycle is the ultimate vehicle of personal responsibility.
Training is Paramount
As with any new skills or activity, being properly trained lays the foundation for you to grow into your new hobby the right way. Just like with growing a garden, the amount of prep work you do before you even plant a single seed will determine the success or failure of that crop.
When you learned to ride a bike as a kid, your mom or dad most likely walked beside you, affixed the training wheels, and waited until you developed the skills you needed to progress. Then one day, the training wheels came off and you were riding in a way you never had before.
With a motorcycle, the stakes are much higher. That’s why taking a course from an entity like the Motorcycle Safety Foundation is so crucial to your development as a rider.
These beginner classes teach everyone from the ground up so you’ll never feel out-classed or out of place. They even offer advanced courses so that you can continue to refine your skills as a rider well into your future.
The MSF is typically affiliated with your local state government and the completion of the course, in many states, will assign you a “Class M” designation on your driver’s license. This is a great low-risk option to learn your bike from top to bottom.
All the Gear, All the Time
This is one of the mantras vocalized during your MSF beginner’s course and it will forever ring true. The more gear you wear every time you ride, the more you are protected from the consequences of an accident.
Heavy leathers, gloves and, of course, your helmet can mean the difference between a simple scary day to permanent disability or death.
Regardless of whether your state has a helmet law, it is always advised that you wear a helmet every time you get on a bike. Helmets are 67% effective in preventing brain injuries.
There’s never an excuse because it only takes one moment to change your life forever.
Always Check Your Ride
So, now that you’re certified and have been “released into the wild,” it’s important to follow a checklist for motorcycle riding tips. As created by MSF, your “T-CLOCS” inspection will familiarize you with your bike and create a habitual starting point each time you decide to mount up.
- T – Tires and Wheels
- C – Controls – levers, pedals, cables, hoses, and throttle
- L – Lights – battery, headlights, turn signals and mirrors
- O – Oil fluid levels
- C- Chassis – frame, suspension, and chain
- S – Stand – center stand and kickstand
Walking through these facets of your bike each time you ride will help you check for cracks, broken pieces, missing pieces, warning lights and interference so that you’re not blindsided by an issue mid-ride.
Learn the Controls
Your bike should feel like an extension of you. Just like with your car, you need to feel how the vehicle behaves and responds to your actions.
- Throttle – Located on the right handlebar, your throttle is your gas pedal. It offers you seemingly instantaneous power so be cautious when rolling the handle.
- Brakes – Each bike has front and rear brakes. The front brake is a lever located in front of the handle. The rear brake is a lever that rests underneath your right foot.
- Clutch – Even if you don’t know how to drive a manual transmission car you will become very accustomed to the clutch of a bike. The clutch is the lever on the left handlebar and is essentially a speed control. When squeezed, the clutch disengages the gear from the engine to take power away from the bike. You will feel the break in power immediately when you squeeze the clutch.
- Shift Lever – Your left foot will control your shift lever and you “kick” the shifter with the end of your foot. Most bikes have a “1 down, 5 up” shift sequence, meaning you will shift down for 1st gear and shift up for the gears that follow.
- Turn Signals – Turn signals are located on the left handlebar just below the grip and operate as one switch that moves left and right. They’re easy to operate but easy to forget about. Make sure you always use them.
- Kill Switch – This button is below the right side handlebar and should be used every time you turn off the bike.
- Ignition switch – Located just below the killswitch, the ignition is the used every time you start your bike.
- Instrument panel – These can vary by manufacturer but the main things you’re looking for are you Speedometer, Tachometer, and Gear selection lights.
On the Move
When learning your bike it’s vital that you get chummy with your clutch. Feel how it responds when moving from neutral to 1st. When you start to release the clutch you will feel your bike begin to “pull” you forward as more power is allocated to the gear.
Stalling here can be normal so there’s no need to panic. Simply move back into neutral and start over.
Moving on from 1st gear will need to happen soon. 1st gear isn’t designed with much headroom and should only be used for initial motion and low-speed maneuverability.
The gears that follow 1st will become easier and slightly more forgiving. At each speed interval, you simply squeeze the clutch and up-shift into the next gear as indicated on your instrument panel.
Downshifting works the same way. You should aspire to be as smooth and gradual as possible.
In many ways, braking is your lifeline. It allows you to avoid hazards and take the velocity out of potentially dangerous situations.
Slowing the speed of your bike is accomplished in a few different ways.
- Rolling off the throttle
- Squeezing the clutch
- Applying pressure to the front and rear brakes
Your front brake holds more than 2/3 of your braking power. You will feel the strength of this brake as compared to the rear.
You should always get in the habit of using both brakes to steady you in a crash or panic situation. Your left foot should come off the bike first in order to use your rear brake while you attempt to stabilize yourself at a complete stop.
Never Ride Impaired
This might seem like a no-brainer but it’s exponentially more important on a motorcycle. 25% of motorcycle crashes involve a rider who was over the Blood Alcohol Level. Marijuana also affects judgment and response time.
Remember: cars are more forgiving. Bikes require full mental acuity. Don’t ride intoxicated, hungover or emotionally unstable.
The Philosophy on How to Ride a Motorcycle
The main thing to remember whenever you hit the open road is that no one is looking out for you except you. Drivers are increasingly distracted and it should be assumed they’re going to do something reckless or, at the very least, inconsiderate.
Your eyes should always look as far down the road as possible for potentially dangerous situations: bottlenecks, merging traffic, turns lanes, intersections, on and off ramps, construction, etc.
Don’t get confident too quickly. It’s easy to feel like I’ve got this when you start to feel more comfortable on your bike. The truth is, you haven’t encountered every scenario and the learning never stops.
You owe it to yourself and your potential passenger (when the times comes) to be sufficiently skilled on your motorcycle.
Now that you’re armed with the knowledge on how to ride a motorcycle you can confidently mount up and rev your way to freedom. If you’re ready to ride, check out our beginner’s guide to buying a motorcycle.
Once you start riding, you’ll realize what other bikers know. It’s fun and studies suggest there are many benefits, both mental and physical, to riding a motorcycle.