New Rider Zone: Step by Step Guide to Becoming a Motorcyclist

SmileOkay, so you’ve read the previous article in this New Rider series and determined that motorcycling is indeed something you’d like to pursue.

Before we go any further, I’ll ask you once again; are you sure you are willing to make the time and financial commitment to get properly trained and invest in full protective gear? And will you advance your skills beyond the basics taught in a beginner rider course?

If you answered yes, then continue reading. If not, then might I suggest another sport, like tennis or racquetball?

Stages

In the previous post, you’ll recall the 6 stages of becoming a motorcyclist:

  1. Contemplation
  2. Preparation/Determination
  3. Action
  4. Learning to Survive
  5. Advanced Training
  6. Skills Maintenance

This article addresses stages 2 and 3. Stage 2 is where you’re preparing to take action by learning what it takes to learn to ride and get licensed. Stage 3 is the action stage where you make an appointment for your permit test and schedule a rider training course. The order of permit and rider course may differ depending on your state laws.

Below is a step by step list of what you need to do. Note that your state or province may require slightly different procedure, so do some research. Here is a resource to learn about your state’s requirements.


Steps

This a common sequence:

  1. get your permit (depending on your state, this may come after rider training)
  2. take the beginner course (required in some states)
  3. get licensed (some states allow instructors to test, others require DMV testing)
  4. buy a cheap, but reliable used motorcycle (an article on the best bikes for newbies is coming soon-Subscribe)
  5. practice (for the rest of your career)
  6. ride often

Take the Motorcycle Permit Test

The age in which you can apply for a motorcycle permit varies from state to state, but is usually around 16 years of age. Some states do not require a permit at all, while others require the beginner rider course be taken prior to obtaining a permit. As you can see, it varies.

MA-MC-ManualYou’re going to want to study the Driver and Motorcycle Manuals to learn the rules of the road, as well as some rather obscure stuff that the government officials want you to know.

You DO NOT have to own a motorcycle to get a permit or to take a beginner course (they provide the motorcycles). While it’s great if you have a bit of experience behind the handlebars, it’s not necessary. It’s a good idea to wait until you’ve completed the beginner rider course before you buy a bike; that way you won’t feel pressured to ride, or have to sell the bike if you decide that motorcycles aren’t for you.

If you already own a motorcycle before taking the course and choose to take it for a ride, be very careful and stick to parking lots or quiet side roads. Also, know that while a learner’s permit allows you to operate a motorcycle on the public streets, you’ll have restrictions, such as no passengers and riding only during daylight hours.

You may have restrictions even after you receive your license, depending on your state and your age. Make sure to check your state’s DMV website so you are fully aware of the rules.


Take a Beginner Rider Course

Once you have your permit, you should go ahead and sign up for a new rider training course. You probably already know where courses are offered, so now’s the time to get out your calendar and secure your spot. If not, then

MSF_HAndbook

Google “motorcycle training locations” and add your state onto the end of the query.

The cost varies wildly, from under $100.00 in states that subsidize training to over $300.00 for those that don’t. If even $300.00 sounds too steep for you, then you either can’t afford to ride or you’re not serious about being a motorcyclist, so now’s the time to find something cheaper and less risky to do.

Read the training organization’s website carefully to know:

  • The daily schedule
  • Riding gear requirements (many provide loaner helmets)
  • What paperwork to bring

Beginner courses provide the training motorcycle, so don’t go off and buy a bike just yet. It’s better to use the loaner to see if you have the coordination and desire to buy your own machine.

Note that the many states use the Motorcycle Safety Foundation curriculum, but some do not.

A lot of people forgo this important step, thinking that they can learn all they need to learn on their own (or with help from a friend). But, statistically, "self-taught" riders are involved in more crashes than trained riders for the first 6 months or so. If you survive that long, then good for you. If you're like a lot of riders, you will probably develop several bad habits that you won't be aware of.

Buy Quality Riding Gear

Don’t skimp on durable, motorcycle-specific riding gear.

This includes a helmet (preferably one with full-faced coverage), sturdy riding jacket and pants, over the ankle boots, and full-coverage riding gloves (preferable gauntlet-type).

See the line of motorcycle helmets, jackets, pants, boots and gloves available from Twisted Throttle where you can buy while supporting this website.

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Buy a Motorcycle

Since you have a permit, you can legally ride on the street. If you are required to test with the DMV, you’ll need your own bike. So, now’s the time to buy a bike so you can practice.

The best bikes for beginners is the topic of another article that has yet to be written. Stay tuned and Subscribe so you know when it is available. I’ll go into more detail later, but I will tell you now that it should have modest power, and be lightweight, inexpensive and reliable.


Get Your License

Congrats! You passed the beginner course and are now ready for your license. Some states allow the instructors to conduct the licensing exam as part of the rider course. But, some states require you to go to the DMV for the exam even if you take the course.

Since rider training is not mandatory in most states, you may be able to simply take a riding test at the Department of Motor Vehicles without any training at all (not recommended). Not requiring new riders to be trained sounds kinda insane, but that’s the way it is…at least for now. Rhode Island is an example of one state that does require rider education as a prerequisite to getting a license.

If you choose to skip training (DON’T!) and go to the DMV, an officer or some other certified tester will scrutinize your ability to operate the bike. This may be done in a parking lot or on the road. Good luck with that.

Some states have graduated licensing, meaning there are restrictions for the first several months you are licensed. In other parts of the world, new riders are restricted to small displacement, low powered machines until they pass the next level of training, eventually qualifying for a full license to ride any size motorcycle.

Being licensed (or endorsed) by your state to ride a motorcycle does not mean you are a competent or safe rider! It just means you met the basic standards set forth by the state officials. Most people who are self-taught and then pass the license test at the DMV are not ready to handle complex situations.
Even those who complete a basic rider course are not necessarily ready to ride on the street, after all, the course teaches only the basics.
Practice, dammit! You'll thank me someday for insisting that you do.

Practice in a parking lot!

CLICK HERE to learn why the basic rider course is not enough to make you a safe motorcycle rider.


Your First Rides

You passed the course and bought a bike of your very own and now it’s time to ride it.

Stick to parking lots until you feel very comfortable. This may take several visits. If you’re not comfortable riding to and from the parking lot have an experienced riding friend take your bike to the lot and follow him or her in a car.

Practice doing the drills you used in your basic course and consider trying the more advanced drills found in the Riding in the Zone book. Also take a look at the video clips.

After a few visits to the parking lot, you are probably ready to venture onto the roadways, but stick to areas without traffic or complex corners. Keep your speeds at or slightly below the speed limit, but never faster than you feel comfortable. If you find yourself riding slower than most other traffic, then you’re probably not ready to be in traffic just yet.


The First Few Months

Keep riding. Learn your personal comfort zone and ride within your abilities. Ride alone (if legally permitted) or with trusted partners (no passengers!). DO NOT ride with experienced riding friends who might tempt you to ride outside your comfort zone. The same goes with riding in groups that will pressure you to keep up.

DO find a responsible, like-minded rider who is knowledgeable and can mentor you as you ease your way into more and more challenging situations. Keep learning by reading books and trusted sources.

After a few hundred miles under your belt, seek more training. This can mean signing up for the next level of training where you took your basic course or find other training opportunities, such as personal training. Trust me, it’s worth the time and effort.


The Next Steps

Your education and training should be a top priority throughout the time you are a motorcyclist. Read Blog articles, take advanced parking lot courses, sign up for on-street training, and attend track days. Make every ride an opportunity to become a better rider. It’s fun and you’ll be safer at the same time.


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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 All Things Motorcycle, Motorcycle Safety, New Rider Zone, Rider Education, Riding Technique & Tips, Women and Motorcycling
One comment on “New Rider Zone: Step by Step Guide to Becoming a Motorcyclist
  1. The blue parrot headset website post is definately the most effective i have read
    today.

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