It’s no secret that left hand turning vehicles are a significant hazard. And because we know this, we are presumably on high alert when approaching intersections.
But, don’t get that prudence confused with fear. Riding afraid can cause its own problems and makes riding no fun at all.
You can’t control what the other guy does, but you can utilize specific strategies for minimizing the risk of being hit.
1. Ride at speeds that others around you expect.
2. Give yourself more time and space to respond by approaching intersections at conservative speeds. Speeding into intersections is a bad idea. Avoid trying to “make the light” (guilty).
3. Cover your brakes to reduce reaction time and to put you mind and muscles on “high alert”.
4. Be conspicuous. I’m all for high viz, but even more important is selecting the optimum lane position so others can see you. Always be aware of line of sight! Studies show that high beams on during the day can be helpful. Do not flash your lights…it’s too easily mis-communicated. Avoid “hiding” behind vehicles ahead…don’t tailgate.
5. Move across your lane to become more noticed and visible. This is the SMIDSY concept. You don’t have to weave as some advocate. A move across the driver’s field of view is sufficient so you visually break yourself away from the static background.
6. Know the clues. Drivers often have a “tell” that they are about to go…a turn of the head or a steering wheel movement should have you already going for the brakes (don’t overreact though). Look for wheel movement on cars approaching from the side.
7. Make sure your emergency braking skills are as close to 100% as possible. Most riders don’t come near the stopping potential of their bike and tires. Training and continual practice is key here. My parking lot course and track days are excellent for getting more comfortable with more extreme brake force.
8. Learn and practice “brake, then swerve” techniques.
9. Don’t rely on loud pipes and other passive strategies for your survival.
10. Look at situations like this as a challenge. I equate it to a video game where you encounter hazards that you skillfully manage.
The bottom line is that riding a motorcycle in traffic is risky. People do stupid things and will continue to do so. It’s your job to do the very best you can to minimize the risk by using effective strategies that give you some measure of control.
Before I get into the review of “Get Started Riding Motorcycles – A Definitive Guide for Women”, it’s important to know whether the author of such books has the knowledge and experience to give advice. Not to worry. Alisa Clickenger is a powerhouse in the motorcycling industry with a long history of motorcycle travel, journalism and mentoring.
If your first impression from the title is that this book is for beginners, and particularly new women riders, you’d be correct. But, I know plenty of “experienced” riders, both male and female who will find nuggets of useful information.
The first one-third of the book covers the basics of bike and gear selection, as well as steps for getting your motorcycle license. Alisa does this with the help of guest contributors who share their knowledge of motorcycle options and gear selection, including industry influencer Sarah Schilke and gear expert Joanne Donn from GearChic.
The topic of bike and gear selection is important for women, who often struggle to find women-sized riding gear, particularly jackets and pants. Women’s stature is usually more compact than most men so finding motorcycle selection is rather limited. Poor choices in either of these purchases can hinder a new rider’s progress, safety and enjoyment.
The book talks about how to get a license and what a new rider can do to progress from their Basic Rider Course to riding on the road. This section covers strategies for managing traffic, carrying a passenger, riding in groups, how to manage parking, basic bike maintenance and even the challenges of riding with children.
Alisa also includes Rider Profiles throughout the book where women riders share advice and tell of their experiences in an interview format. This is very helpful for intimidated new riders to understand that they are not alone in their journey to become motorcyclists.
As a tour organizer and avid traveler, Alisa spends a fair amount of time talking about longer distance travel and what to expect on an organized tour. She shares tips for packing, ways to manage mental and physical challenges and discusses logistics that will help make first forays into motorcycle travel less daunting.
Empowerment and Support
Besides offering solid, practical advice for newer riders, Alisa shares her thoughts and experiences as a women in what has traditionally been a man’s world. This includes addressing issues that can erode confidence:
“For the first few months, I recommend sticking to simple, achievable goals like becoming a more confident rider, overcoming some of the initial fears or obstacles while learning the heck out of your riding”.
The focus on confidence, empowerment and community building will resonate with women who are about to dip their toe into the world of motorcycling. This book is a form of supportive community of like minded women sharing their knowledge to help make the new rider’s journey less taxing.
“Get Started Riding Motorcycles – A Definitive Guide for Women” is a well written and designed book with solid information. Experienced riders will find the book rather fundamental. But, that’s what it is meant to be.
The book is a comprehensive source for the moto-curious woman who is ready to take her first steps into two-wheeled travel. The focus on the female rider is where the book stands out. Alisa and her friends offer support and understanding, as well as practical information for aspiring motorcyclists, female or male.
At the request of the district manager for the Northeast Region, I booked several dates during mid-to-late winter of 2018. One event was held at Wilkins Harley-Davidson, located in South Barre, Vermont. As with each of the talk, around 100 people attended to learn about cornering…or learn more about cornering. Wilkins recorded the seminar in its entirety.
My aim with these talks is to spread the good word about the benefits of life-long learning…safety and MORE FUN and satisfaction. A secondary goal is to encourage participants to join me for one or more of the training opportunities I offer or am involved with.
I always thought pledges were a crock until I learned the potential benefit in encouraging behavior change, risk awareness and a quest for greater proficiency.
The point of signing this pledge is four-fold. First, it is a way to help you reflect on yourself as a rider. Second, it is a commitment that you can share with your family saying you are doing all you can to make it home at the end of a ride. Third, it holds you to following these behaviors. Fourth, it encourages you to continually improve areas where you may be weak.
This pledge is not only for yourself to make riding more fun and safe, but also for the ones who love you. A commitment to safe riding is an expression of respect and love toward your loved ones.
Imagine the emotional and financial pain they would suffer if you die or become injured. Imagine them being forced to care for you by cleaning your wounds, or worse. Sorry to be a bummer, but…
So, here we go.
I will expand my knowledge of motorcycling safety and control through continual reading, and by taking a formal safety/skills course.
I will continue to practice my physical skills to keep them sharp.
I will learn about and develop mental strategies for managing traffic and other hazardous situations.
I will never ride while intoxicated or impaired in any way.
I will choose not to ride if my ability to manage hazards is compromised.
I will choose not to ride with others who do not share my commitment to safety.
I will wear protective gear on every ride.
Feel free to add your own points. Also, feel free to copy this pledge and print it out.* Then sign it, hang it on your garage wall, and give a copy to each of the people who care about you.
*Please distribute this pledge to your riding friends and family. I’d really appreciate it if you include credit and a link to this article. Thanks.
Surf any motorcycle forum or Facebook group and you’ll invariably find a thread asking for advice about the best motorcycles for new riders. Read the comments and you’ll see a very wide range of arguments for and against certain sizes, styles and models. You will also read discussions about whether the newbie will outgrow a 250cc “starter” bike too soon, followed by well-meaning people reassuring the new rider that they will be fine buying a 600cc super-sport machine or 1200cc cruiser.
You’ll even come across suggestions that a 1000+cc superbike or 1800+cc cruiser is just the ticket. These dodo birds can be identified by their native call: “I learned on a 195hp Hayabusa and did just fine, so don’t be a wussy.” Ummmm. okay.
One thing to consider when filtering advice is that people who have been riding a while seem to forget what it is like to be a newbie and view this issue through their own experience. And their advice is further skewed if learning to ride came to them easier than the average person. This leads to inappropriate advice that does not apply to most average beginners.
Here are my thoughts on the topic:
Size and Power Matters
I don’t care what the internet “experts” say, with few exceptions a new rider is better off starting on a physically smaller bike with modest power.
Newer riders use most of their bandwidth just staying upright without whiskey-throttling themselves into a fence. Toss them into the real world and their heads explode trying to juggle the controls while negotiating blind curves, distracted drivers and surface hazards they never had to worry about as car drivers.
You could argue that these challenges are present no matter what bike the beginner is riding. This is true, but a smaller, less powerful bike is easier to control and is much less likely to intimidate. The odds of a newer rider sticking with riding are greater if the bike they ride is fun…and fun to a newbie means easy to ride…and that means less weight and power.
Alright, there are times when a larger , more powerful bike makes sense like when it has to haul around a large human. In this case, I suggest a mid-sized bike with just enough power to comfortably maintain 70mph with adequate legroom and reach the handlebars.
The type of bike chosen needs to match physical limits. A person with a bad back should choose a bike with more upright ergonomics. Despite common belief, cruisers aren’t good for most people who have back issues, as the riding position rounds the spine, causing discs to bulge. People with neck or shoulder problems may need to stay away from race-replica sport bikes. I choose to ride a Triumph Street Triple as my track day bike, because it has most of the capability of a pure super sport bike, but with higher handlebars.
Reader Bruce A.pointed me to this cool site that can help you visualize how a person your size might fit on certain bikes. Click on the Options tab to see if your inseam will allow you to stand flat footed.
A big concern of most new riders (and a lot of experience riders, as well) is seat height, or more precisely, “can I touch flat-footed?”. This is understandable if the person is anxious about balancing a heavy motorcycle. The lighter the bike, the less concerning it is to have only the balls of your feet on the ground.
Most smaller riders choose cruisers because they typically have low seat heights. If you’re “inseam challenged” but want a bike that is more versatile than a cruiser, like a sporty standard or perhaps a small sportbike to carve curves to do track days you’ll have a few good options. Harley, Triumph and BMW offer low versions of certain models and many manufacturers have low seats and other components to help smaller riders feel more secure.
It may be possible to lower the chassis of some bikes using aftermarket suspension links and by slipping the forks higher in the triple clamps. You can also have seats cut down or find a lower aftermarket seat.
Here’s one thing to consider…after some time learning how to balance the bike while stopping and starting, then not being able to touch flat-footed becomes much less of an issue. Once you become familiar with the balance of your bike and learn the slow speed techniques, you will be surprised how easy it is to keep a bike upright.
This means that eventually, you will be able to consider almost any bike on the market. Just don’t go crazy…you may drool over a big cruiser, tourer or adventure bike, but be realistic that the bike is a good fit.
Case in point, any capable dirtbike has around a 34-inch seat height. Few people I know have an inseam that long, meaning that all dirt riders must manage while only touching tippy-toe. Dirt riders quickly learn how to balance, and their dirtbikes are very light. Sure, a dirtbike can still weight over 300 pounds, but that is manageable by most reasonably fit individuals. Another example of light makes right!
It’s tempting to throw down your money on a shiny new motorcycle. This option eliminates the stress of buying a used machine from some potential Craigslist scammer and you get the benefit of modern amenities and safety features, like ABS and traction control. Not to mention the pride of owning the newest model on the road.
However, dropping $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000 on a bike that will likely get dropped puts a lot more stress on the new rider. Too much attention will be put on avoiding that first scratch on those shiny chrome or plastic parts. And stress does not create the best condition for fun or open learning. That’s why it’s almost always better to buy a cared-for used motorcycle that isn’t as precious.
Buying used means you need to do your research about whether an older model bike is appropriate, which includes being patient in your search for the right motorcycle. Unlike cars and trucks, most motorcycles do not rack up very high miles.
You will also likely need to do some maintenance tasks before the bike is fully up to snuff. Depending on whether or not you live in an area with long riding season, it’s not unusual to find a five year old bike with only 5,000 miles. That means that not too much will need to be done to make it roadworthy. However, a frequently ridden motorcycle five or more years old will have more 10,000 or more miles. Here are a list of components that often need replacement:
Keep in mind that whatever bike you buy (new or used), you want easy access to service and parts. Exotic bikes are cool, but it sucks if you have to drive hours to get it serviced and even worse if you have to wait too long for parts.
Another reason to buy used is so you have enough money left over in your budget to buy good protective gear. It is said that if you can’t afford a good helmet, jacket, pants, gloves and boots, then you can’t afford to be a motorcyclist. While that may sound draconian, it is a smart rule to follow.
You will also have money left to pay for advanced rider training. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that once you know how to operate the bike that you know how to “ride”, which involves much more than simply being able to control the machine.
Ride a Slow Bike Fast (safely)
I want to emphasize that the bikes I am listing below are not only “beginner bikes”! These bikes are appropriate for new riders, but are also entertaining enough to captivate experienced riders who know how much fun it is to ride lightweight machines. Unfortunately, most people think that moving up to the large displacement as soon as possible is the way to go. It’s not.
Take me for example. I have ridden almost every large and small motorcycle on the market and still choose to stick with my middleweight Triumph Tiger 800 (streetbike) and Street Triple (track bike).
Speaking of track day bikes, I constantly caution track day riders from buying larger and more powerful bikes, and instead, stick with the smaller bike they started on and learn to ride it really well before considering a move.
Even riders at the top of their game don’t often find benefit in owning a bike with more power. Believe me, it is quite possible to ride faster on board a 600cc sportbike, or even a well-setup SV650 than someone struggling to manage the power of a liter-sized superbike. Lower-powered bikes push the rider to ride more efficiently and corner with greater precision. Big power tends to be a crutch that slows down skill development. As the saying goes, “it’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast, rather than ride a fast bike slow”.
The video shows the Intermediate (Yellow group) session with Tony’s Track Days. Before anyone asks; the suspension and every other component on the 250R is stock. Thanks Younia, for the ride!
One last thing to consider are the benefits to riding off-road for new and experienced riders to learn traction management, body positioning and throttle control where there are no texting teens to punt you off the road.
Best Bikes for Newer Riders and Open-Minded Veterans
So, here is my list of street bikes appropriate for new or newer riders, by size and category:
Dual-sports are used on pavement and dirt. They have tall seat heights, but are very light compared to other street-legal bikes.
Honda CRF250L– A great choice if you can manage the seat height. $$
Yamaha XT225/250- Very low seat height and great as a commuter or for off-road adventures. $$ – Older 225s are just as good and with more comfort. $
Yamaha WR250r – More hardcore than other choices in this category. $$$
This is a list I came up with, but I know I’m missing some options, like older bikes. Please include your thoughts in the comments below and I’ll consider adding it to the list.
What You Won’t See On My List
A lot of beginners eye bikes in the 600cc class of sport bikes, thinking the engine size makes it manageable for a newb. But, 600s are shar edged tools that can cut a rider whose skills aren’t developed enough. Yes, beginners survive starting on a 600, but why put the beginner through the stress of having to manage a machine designed for experienced riders?
You may wonder why there are several 650cc and 800cc bikes on my list. Well, those bikes are designed to be easy to ride by average riders wanting a bike that is comfortable and practical for all types of riding. The engine displacement may be greater, but the power delivery is more mellow and user-friendly.
Cruisers are sized with big displacement engines, but they are tuned to lug around town and produce less power per cc than standard or sporty models. That’s why it’s not unheard of to find a newb riding a 1000 or 1200cc cruiser as their first bike. But, these bikes are still not great starter bikes becasue they are heavy with forward controls and a long wheelbase, making them unwieldy at slow speeds.
Get a used Ninja 250/300 if you’re small and like performance machines. Get a Honda Rebel 300 or 500 if you like cruisers and have a really short inseam. Score a Honda CRF250L or a Kawi KLX250s if you lean more toward off-roading and have long legs or get a XT225/250 if you have shorter legs. Get a Kawi 300 Versys if you like adventure-bike styling and capability. For a sportier bike, consider a Honda CBR250, Kawasaki 300 or 400 Ninja or a BMW 310R.
A step up in size may be just fine for a lot of beginners. In this case, the Honda CB500 series makes a lot of sense. I like the Vulcan S for a mid-sized cruiser and a cheap, used DRz400s for a bigger dual-sport. KLR650 is another (heavier) off road worthy option.
For someone who is pretty comfortable on two wheels, a Ninja 650 or SV650 are my most recommended bikes becasue they are capable of touring, commuting and doing track days. You can even ride dirt roads pretty well on these bikes. The Versys 650 is another great option, as is the Yamaha FZ-07.
For bigger dudes with the skill, a BMW 700/800GS or F800R may work (750/850 for 2019). For cruisers, you may get away with a Harley 883 or even a 1000 Sportster, but I’d seriously look at the Indian Scout. For sport bikes, consider a Honda CBR650 Ninja 650, or drum roll…a used SV650.
Signing up for a Beginner (or Basic) Rider Course is a big step and you probably have some questions about what to expect. Below is a generic description of how many programs work. Study the website of the training course you are signing up with to learn more about specifics.
Depending on the training site you signed up with, you may be told to study a Student Workbook or take an online pre-course assignment. Take the time to do this work. Being prepared will put you in the best position for success and relieve a lot of anxiety. Take notes and jot down specific questions you have.
Try to get a good night’s sleep before your first day. Remember that professional training organizations follow stringent procedures to ensure your safety, so try and relax. There will likely be students who have some previous experience, but the course is designed for people who have never ridden a motorcycle before. So, again, relax. Do your homework and have fun with the process.
If you have access to a motorcycle, it may be helpful to sit on it and operate the controls as you learn about them from your Student Handbook. Some people are tempted to actually ride before the course. If you have your learner’s permit, you can legally ride on the road, but it’s usually best to save your first ventures on a motorcycle for the course where the instructors keep a close eye on your progress.
What to Bring
Bring your Student Handbook and any pertinent paperwork, as well as snacks, lunch and beverages.
You’ll need to wear jeans, over the ankle boots, long sleeve shirt or jacket and full-fingered gloves and a DOT-legal helmet (helmets may be available to borrow). You won’t be allowed to ride without this basic level of protection.
You’ll want to wear clothing that is appropriate for the weather. Lightweight layers are your best bet so you can add or subtract layers as needed. It’s also a good idea to bring rain gear, because training is conducted rain or shine. Be sure to bring sunscreen and plenty of water so you stay hydrated.
Class structure will vary widely from state to state and from course providers.
Often, your first day will include classroom time and your first stint on the motorcycle learning the basics of motorcycle operation. Most courses are two days long with the second day consisting of more advanced classroom and riding time.
Day One Classroom
Be sure to arrive ON TIME. There is a lot that needs to get done and stragglers muck up the schedule. You’ll likely have to sign a liability waiver and fill out some paperwork before the class begins. It’s typical for students to introduce themselves and maybe share previous riding experience. Don’t get flustered if you seem to be the only one who has never ridden. The class is designed for absolute newbies, so relax.
The first classroom session will talk about risk and basic operation. Since you already did your pre-course assignment, a lot of this will be review. But, pay attention and ask questions if you need clarification.
A Q&A method of teaching is often used, so be ready to participate.
Day One Riding
With the first classroom complete (and after some lunch), you’ll head out to the riding “range” to get some hands on experience. The first exercise will revisit the controls and give you a chance to mount and dismount the machine you will be riding. Next, you will get a feel for moving the bike around without the motor running, followed by learning how to start and stop the engine.
With the engine running, you’ll get a feel for using the manually-operated clutch and transmission by engaging first gear and then easing the clutch out until the bike begins to move forward when you will immediately squeeze the clutch back in to avoid rolling too far forward.
The subsequent exercises give you the opportunity to ride in a straight line, brake, shift gears and learn basic cornering skills.each exercise builds on the last, so that students can absorb the skills in a manageable manner.
Most beginner exercises begin with a “simulated practice” where the students mount the motorcycles and go through the physical motions needed to perform the skill they are about to attempt without the motor running. Once they get a feel for the skill, the students are set off on the motorcycle to practice.
You are not yet a motorcyclist, but you can now “operate” a motorcycle.
Day Two Classroom
The second classroom session builds off of the first day with discussions about survival strategies, motorcycle-specific hazards and more advanced cornering, braking and crash avoidance skills.
The classroom ends with a multiple choice knowledge test. Most people pass, but you must pay attention to do well.
Day Two Riding
The second riding session includes practice with slow speed maneuvers, emergency braking and swerving, as well as exercises designed to increase cornering competence.
At the end of the day you will be evaluated on how well you absorbed the lessons. The riding test consists of maneuvers that were taught and practiced during the day.
The riding test is often the most stressful part of the whole two days. But, if you were able to successfully complete the exercises, you should be able to pass the evaluation. If you don’t pass,you will be able to retest for a fee. If that doesn’t go well, then take this as an opportunity to reevaluate whether motorcycling is a good fit for you.
At the end of the course, the instructors will debrief each person and hand out completion cards.
There’s a saying, “If the wheels aren’t turning, they’re not learning”, which is to say that people learn best by doing, and specifically that riders learn by practicing new skills. While it’s important that students get information necessary to perform a skill, usually through discussion and demonstration, it’s really the act of doing the skill that cements it into the student’s muscle memory and makes it truly learned.
Minor tip overs are common, but thankfully full-on, higher speed crashes are relatively rare. If you tip over, don’t sweat it. If you aren’t sure why it happened, make sure to ask the instructor so you can avoid another mishap.
So, you passed the course? Congrats. Now the real work begins. You can be proud of your accomplishment, but understand that you are still a novice. You learned how to operate a motorcycle in a parking lot. But, you still don’t have the skills to manage other vehicles, potholes, sand and other common hazards while also trying to think about the basics. Take plenty of time to practice, practice, practice in a parking lot on your own motorcycle before venturing out in the world. You’ll be happy you did.
Didn’t pass the course? That’s discouraging, I’m sure. But remember that riding a motorcycle isn’t for everyone….although maybe it is for you. Perhaps you just need more practice before you take your skills test. The training organization may have a retest policy and/or private lessons to help folks like you to get the skills. Everyone learns differently and maybe you’re someone who doesn’t learn well at the pace of a typical group lesson.
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?
In the previous post, you’ll recall the 6 stages of becoming a motorcyclist:
Learning to Survive
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.
get your permit (depending on your state, this may come after rider training)
take the beginner course (required in some states)
get licensed (some states allow instructors to test, others require DMV testing)
buy a cheap, but reliable used motorcycle (an article on the best bikes for newbies is coming soon-Subscribe)
practice (for the rest of your career)
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.
You’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 services website such as the 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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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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This is one in a series of articles specifically designed for New Riders. 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My daughter, Jeannine recently started a conversation about the plight of women riders that inspired me to write this post.
Women riders are a significant part of motorcycling’s future, but the motorcycle industry doesn’t seem to recognize this. With relatively few young males entering the 2 wheel world, bike manufacturers would be wise to wake up to the fact that it is worth offering greater selection, as well as more R&D and marketing resources for women riders.
What Do You Know? You’re Not a Woman
No, I’m not a female motorcyclist, but I am the husband and father of two accomplished female riders and I consider myself as strong an advocate of women riders as they come.
Jeannine has been on two wheels since she could reach the passenger footpegs and was twisting her own throttle at age 8. Jeannine is now a control rider for Tony’s Track Days and has worked in the motorcycle industry.
My wife, Caroline learned to ride after we were married and eventually became a certified MSF instructor and track day rider.
With this background, hopefully you can cut me some slack for penning this post. Sure, it might be best written by a woman but Jeannine is busy with nursing school. So when I asked her to write it she gave me a look that said “Really? Another thing?”
There are a couple of topics that came from this conversation that got me thinking. One was the often-heard complaint of an inadequate selection of riding gear. The other more compelling topic was the plight of being in the constant shadow of male riders.
First, let’s talk about the riding gear problem.
What Do You Mean I Can’t Get the Same Boots as my Husband?
Even though selection is getting better, serious women motorcyclists must often settle for riding gear that is a compromise between style and protection. And, from what I hear, women riders aren’t wanting to wear gear that says “isn’t she cute in that pink outfit?”.
Because a lot of women-specific gear has become a bit over the top in the styling department, many female riders choose to wear gear designed for men, which often doesn’t fit right and may even lack the best venting or adjustability. I can’t help but think that the gear that manufacturers offer to women are designed by men who are hunting for what women really want. To be fair, it could very well be that women don’t quite know what they want in riding gear, since their identity as motorcyclists is constantly evolving.
Style is one thing, but a more significant issue is protection. Most women-specific riding gear provides inferior protection compared to gear that is routinely offered to men. Riding jackets and pants may not have the best armor or the most rugged materials.
One of many examples is the selection of Sidi race boots. The most advanced women’s boot offered by Sidi is the Vertigo Lei, which in comparison is middle-of-the-road Sidi boot for men. If you want a boot with all the protection and features of the top of the line boot, you’re plum outta luck, girls.
The second point Jeannine made in our conversation was quite intriguing… and that was the fact that women riders cannot often detach from their significant other who also rides. In the beginning of Jeannine’s riding career, she learned from me and rode exclusively with me (and often with her Mom).
Only recently has she realized that being in my shadow has held her back from gaining a deep level of confidence and being fully immersed in motorcycling. Her trip to Alaska with MotoQuest afforded her the opportunity to ride with a group of male riders, none of whom were her Dad.
This made her more dependent on her skills, knowing that I wasn’t there to take care of her (not that she needs me to take care of her anymore… although she will always be my little girl). With this freedom, Jeannine experienced riding at a deeper level of self-competence.
I’m Going Riding with The Boys, Have Dinner Ready, Okay?
It wouldn’t be inconceivable to think of a man saying that to his wife (or girlfirend), but can you imagine a woman saying that to her husband? Since most women riders probably have a male partner that is a motorcyclist himself, it is not bloody likely that the woman would think she could ride with another male rider who wasn’t her boyfriend or husband.
What does this mean? It means that a serious woman rider can’t ride with other male riders, lest she be scrutinized as a sort of loose harlot who would rather ride with someone else rather than her husband. To avoid this situation, she must either ride with other female riders (it’s easy to imagine her saying, “I’m going riding with Sheila”), or be stuck riding with her significant other (S.O.).
Yeah, But My S.O. Sucks at Riding
Imagine the conflict that a female rider would have to deal with who is more accomplished than her S.O? I can tell you that the male ego doesn’t tolerate being told that he is not as good as he thinks he is. This is a problem for anyone in this situation, whether male or female, but it rarely goes well when coming from a woman. Just ask Jeannine who is a track day control rider to mostly male riders.
What to Do?
So, what’s the secret to the harmonious motorcycling relationship? First, if your wife or girlfriend wants to ride without you, ask her why and then listen carefully. If she mentions feeling stifled, encourage her to arrange a ride without you. She shouldn’t need your permission, but she needs your support.
If she says something that suggests that she doesn’t like how you ride, then listen carefully without your hairy ego getting in the way. Be a man of the 21st century and believe that it is possible that a woman can know more and ride better than a male.
The fact is that men weren’t born as proficient riders. If you accept that you don’t know all there is to know, then you’ll be a better S.O.
I can see where this topic could upset some riding couples’ status quo, but I think it’s worth a discussion, with the hope that both partners can reach their full potential as motorcycle riders. There is a lot more to consider around this subject, including the pressure women have from overbearing male partners, the intimidation that goes along with branching out, and the evolution of a self-identity that is more than being the second half of a riding couple. Stay tuned for more. In the meantime, give me your thoughts. And check out this interesting post from Ride Apart about marketing to women.
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