Advice For Would-be Motorcyclists

Not everyone is cut out to ride a motorcycle.

Not everyone is cut out to ride a motorcycle.

Welcome to the first in a series of articles specifically designed for New Riders, starting with this article that talks about considerations for would-be riders. Check out the whole list of articles in the New Rider Zone and subscribe to learn when new articles become available.

Not Everyone Belongs on a Motorcycle

Riding a motorcycle is wicked cool, but before you head down to the dealership with cash (or pen) in hand it’s important that you take a close look at what you’re getting yourself into.

Motorcycling is a fun and exciting thing to do and I recommend it highly; but ONLY to those who are willing to do the work to minimize the risk! That’s one reason why motorcycles aren’t for everyone.

You may be tempted to click away from this article, not wanting to hear the truth. I don’t mean to kill your “biker buzz”, but it’s super important that you get the inside scoop on certain decisions and attitudes that can negatively affect your experience. I promise not to be too much of a bummer, but I won’t hold any punches either.

Why should you listen to me? Because I’m a motorcycle rider who has made motorcycling and motorcycling instruction my profession. I know what you need to know and I am happy to share it with you through these articles.

The complete list of New Rider article topics can be found on the Main New Rider Zone Page. Be sure to SUBSCRIBE to the mailing list to receive notifications about when new articles are completed.

This crash could have been deadly, but thankfully not.

This is what can happen if you’re not up to the task.

The Hard Truth!

You don’t need me or anyone else telling you the rather obvious fact that riding a motorcycle is risky. You’ve probably listened politely as concerned friends and loved ones attempted to discourage you from riding. They may have shared harrowing tales of people they know (or read about) who were hurt while riding a motorcycle.

It’s unfortunate, but there is truth in their concerns. About 5,000 people are killed and 80,000 injured on motorcycles every year, making a motorcyclist about 35 times more likely to be hurt compared to a car driver. Which begs the question, “why the heck do we do it?”

At least part of the answer lies in our perception that the risk is worth the reward. Is the feeling of freedom and being fully alive or savoring the satisfaction of mastering the unique challenges of riding a motorcycle really worth the risk? Motorcyclists aren’t the type to shy away from a reasonable amount of risk, but we don’t have a death wish either.

Are you ready?

Safe riding is mentally demanding.

Motorcycling is Demanding

Besides the risk factor, you’ve also got to consider the high level of coordination and mental focus that is required when riding a motorcycle. You’ve got to be able to balance a motorcycle (can you balance a bicycle?) while maneuvering at slow speeds and lean into corners at fast speeds. You also need to move the machine around when it’s in your garage.

Then there is the mental aspects of riding. You can’t daydream and allow distractions the way you might in a car. You also need to have eyes in the back of your head and be ever diligent about making sure other drivers see you. Not to mention the myriad of road surface hazards that most car drivers are oblivious to, because they do not have to worry about traction and stability the way a motorcyclist does. One slip up and you could be sliding on the pavement.

Apexing early requires a late increase in lean angle.

Motorcycling is challenging. Are you up to it?

There is also a convenience factor. Common sense says to always wear a helmet and protective gear, but putting this stuff on and taking it off is a pain. And then you have to stow it once you get to your destination. Are you willing to do this, even on a hot day?

Motorcycling is Manageable

Physical Ability

Before you write this whole thing off, let me tell you that it’s not all that hard to learn to operate a motorcycle. By “operate” I mean use the brakes, throttle and clutch in a parking lot. But, even basic operation takes coordination and a certain amount of strength. Advanced operation takes even more coordination. Are you up to it?

Mental Acuity and Judgment

Do you let your mind wander? Are you lazy about using your turn signals or do you forget to turn on your lights when visibility drops? Do you regularly drive faster than you should? Be truthful. If you answered yes then perhaps you’re not cut out for riding. But, if you’re willing to change your behavior, then perhaps there is hope for you yet.

Crashing can be avoided with good risk management skills.

Crashing can be avoided with good risk management skills.

Risk Management

Yes, riding is risky, however it is possible to reduce the risks to an acceptable level. But, it takes a commitment on your part. Motorcycling does not tolerate poor judgment or rookie skills. So, the first thing you must ask yourself is “Do I have the time/money/commitment to do this right?” If not, then take up golf, or some other safe activity; there is just too much at stake.

Inconveniences

If you select the right riding gear and get into a routine, dealing with this inconvenience just becomes part of the process. It means getting yourself ready earlier before work and having to put up with gawking bystanders as you walk into a grocery store carrying your helmet and riding jacket (even on a hot day). But, it’s worth it. Get creative and it becomes part of the challenge.

Stages of Becoming a Motorcyclist

To get an idea of where you stand and what is involved, I’ve listed the 6 stages of motorcyclist development. Each stage brings you closer to becoming a fully proficient rider who is least likely to become a statistic (provided you use good judgment, of course). This sequence of stages often goes unnoticed, but they are always present.

You may be asking whether all this effort is necessary. It’s true that a lot of riders survive with mediocre skills, but they are chancing an unfortunate future by not fully developing their proficiency. Will they survive? Maybe. But, isn’t it smart to spend a bit more of your resources to minimize the risk of pain and misery?

  1. Contemplation- You’ve fantasized about riding and have become “moto-curious”. You read articles like this to see whether it’s something you want to pursue. You learn that riding is a commitment and not just a fun pastime. You can easily back out if you think it’s not for you.
  2. Preparation/Determination- You decide you want to go to the next step, which is to find out how one goes about becoming a rider. You can still back out.
  3. Action- You contact a rider training facility and schedule your beginner rider course. Backing out becomes a bit harder, but you can decide not to continue even after completing the course.
  4. Learning to Survive- You apply the lessons from the beginner course to real-world riding. This can be a precarious time because there is a big gap between parking lot training and surviving on the roads. This is stressful and can be discouraging and scary, but riding eventually becomes less stressful and more fun as you continue to learn and purposefully practice.
  5. Advanced Training- You seek additional training because you understand that there is more to riding than being able to get around without falling down. Blog articles, advanced parking lot courses, on-street training, and track days are all available to help. Riding takes on a high level of satisfaction during this stage.
  6. Skills Maintenance- You continue reading about how to reduce risks and how to ride better and find more opportunities to become the best rider you can be. Remember that you don’t know what you don’t know. This never-ending stage keeps skills sharp and involvement high.
This guy was a student of mine some years back. His attitude for learning to be the best rider he could be was contagious.

Riding is a blast, but you’ve got to be ready to learn.

With these stages in mind, consider how much you’re willing to commit to this endeavor. It takes time, money and desire to do it right.

Are you willing and able to commit? If the answer is no, then I suggest you move on. I may not know you, but I still don’t want you to get hurt. There’s enough of that going around already.

There’s still time to back out. If this article didn’t scare you too bad and you still want to continue, click on the next article in the topic list and carry on. If, on the other hand, you don’t think you have the wherewithal to commit to going all the way, then it’s best if you walk away and save yourself and your loved ones a lot of grief.

BACK TO THE NEW RIDER ZONE MAIN PAGE

Credit must be given to the National Motorcycle Institute for the training philosophy that not all people should ride motorcycles. You can’t become a motorcycle fatality if you don’t ride a motorcycle.


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Ken is author of "Motorcycling the Right Way” and "Riding in the Zone" (book and blog). He is also the "Street Savvy" columnist for Motorcyclist Magazine, and former longtime author of the Proficient Motorcycling and Street Strategies columns for Motorcycle Consumer News. Ken is Lead Instructor for Tony's Track Days, a 20 year Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor, and owner of Riding in the Zone Motorcyclist Training.

Posted in Motorcycle Safety, New Rider Zone, Rider Education, Riding Technique & Tips Tagged with: , , , ,
3 comments on “Advice For Would-be Motorcyclists
  1. John Zebarth says:

    I am in “stage 2” of wanting to become a motorcyclist, and in the throes of serious contemplation. One of your Mental Acuity and Judgment questions confused me a bit though. You say that the answer should be “no” to taking pride in your driving, but no matter how I approach the question, I come up with a resounding “yes”. I am proud of my attention to the road, anticipation of hazards and car handling abilities, and count these things as “driving”. Is there something in the question that I am missing?
    If I may be so bold, I would like to propose another question. “Do you know what the temperature is outside right now?” This one slammed me in the face a few days ago while trying to figure out what jacket to buy. It was 46 degrees when I left for work and 93 with cloudless sunlight on the way home.
    Most drivers go from a climate controlled house to a climate controlled car to drive to a climate controlled office, never feeling the full effect of the weather. Are you the kind of person who complains about the rain?

    Thank you for your excellent website. Your advice is exactly what I need at this stage of my decision making.

    • Ken Condon says:

      John,
      You are correct about the wording under that paragraph. I have since fixed the wording. Thanks for the feedback and for sharing your experience about learning the reality of riding when the temperatures vary widely like they do in New England in the late summer.

  2. I agree to what you said. It is really important to make people aware about the road safety. As you said everyone cannot do bike riding,for this they should have good knowledge about the biking and the safety measures to be taken will riding the bike. They should be aware of taking proper care of their bike. The biker riders should regular check the maintenance of their bikes. Staying vigilant and wearing the right kind of gear is also very important while motorcycling.

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