Being a new rider can be an intimidating experience.
Compared to driving a car, there are arguably higher stakes, plus a whole host of different things to look out for. In other words, if you’ve never previously ridden, there’s lots of stuff you “don’t know you don’t know.”
Fortunately, there are many resources available to help you ride a motorcycle better, and ways to quickly build up your skills. So if you do your homework and apply a little common sense, you can better stay safe as your abilities improve and confidence grows.
Take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Course
Arguably one of the smartest things a new or prospective new rider can do is take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course. The courses typically take place over a weekend and combine extensive classroom exercises with riding drills performed on smaller bikes (provided) in a controlled environment (typically a large parking lot). Riding skills exercises will include hard braking, swerving, and bike handling via a variety of cone courses. The classroom section will focus on topics like scanning the road for danger and anticipating potential hazards (like a wet railroad track, uneven pavement, or a dog that might run out into the street). For eliminating the things you don’t know you don’t know, the MSF courses are hard to beat. They are also a great way to try motorcycling before making an investment in a bike.
Read Motorcycle Safety Books
Another way to quickly learn about the potential pitfalls of riding is to put your bike in the garage and curl up with a good book. One of the longtime best sellers is Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well by David L. Hough. It takes a lot of the concepts discussed in the MSF course and dives a little deeper by addressing (as the book description reads) “…every imaginable topic—from the mechanics of the bike, selection of the right-sized bike, and basic riding skills to night riding, group outings, and advanced survival tactics.”
Ride on the dirt
If you talk to some of the best riders (like professional racers), there’s a good chance that either (a.) they started out on dirt bikes when they were a kid and/or (b.) they continue to ride dirt bikes as a way to keep their skills sharp. Why? Because riding on dirt (as well as gravel and b roads) trains you to control a bike on a wide variety of uneven surfaces and with low and often unpredictable traction. In other words, if you don’t train yourself how to deal with a front tire that is sliding in a relatively safe and controlled environment at slower speeds on a smaller bike, you’re less likely to know how to reel in your 800 pound Harley when you hit a slick spot on the road.
Practice in a parking lot
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to set up a practice course in an empty office park on a Sunday, where you can arrange some cones and run yourself through some drills. Even better, if you go to your local DMV, there is a chance that their motorcycle riding test is painted on the pavement. Motorcycle police officers have been using these sorts of exercises to better handle big bikes for years, and as this video shows, when ridden properly a very big bike can be move quite quickly through some very tight spaces.
Wear proper gear
Whereas in a car, a stone kicked up by a truck might nick your windshield, on a bike it could cause a wreck. Wearing proper eye protection (or even better, a full-face helmet) is a must, as is a protective jacket, gloves, boots, and riding-specific jeans that help guard you against debris and rain, so you can maintain your focus on the road and keep your bike upright. These items will also better protect you in the event you do go down, so that you can ride another day.
Got any other tips for uncertain riders, new or old? Let us know in the comments!