Learning how to ride, or even what to ride, or where to ride, or who to ride with can be daunting when you’re starting out. Here’s a quick guide to help you get immersed in the community and get started riding.
Getting Familiar with Motorcycles
The first step, as a total noob beginner, is to see a motorcycle in person. If you don’t have friends who own motorcycles, get yourself to a motorcycle dealership. If you’re interested in cruisers, go to your nearest Harley Davidson or Indian dealership. If you’re interested in street bikes, walk into a Ducati Dealership. If you don’t know the difference between a street, dual sport, cruiser, or supermoto bike, search for a non-manufacture dealership that sells many different makes and models of motorcycles (from Honda to Yamaha to KTM). Go alone or with a group of friends, but don’t feel embarrassed. If you’re serious about getting started, talk to a salesman and have them help you sit on multiple bikes.
If you do have friends who ride, ask if they attend any special Bike Nights. Here in San Jose during the summer, hundreds of bikes gather every Thursday for a bike night ride around the South Bay. Not only will you get to see a variety of different bikes at Bike Nights, but you’ll get to talk to and meet the owners who will more than likely LOVE to tell you about them. You’ll get to see different modifications too, as everyone’s bike is a little different. Some will have different handle bars, different exhausts, different seats, etc. You probably won’t get to sit on any of them, but you’ll get to see real people riding.
Dealerships have events too! Harley Davidson tends to have the most, or widely publicized, events every month, which range from group rides to BBQ lunches. Again, it’s a great way to meet the people behind the bikes and get to know why they chose that specific bike/modification and get advice on riding.
But the most immersive way to get started is to ride pillion. If you have a friend who rides, and is comfortable riding with a passenger, ride on the back of their motorcycle. If you have a good view over the rider’s shoulder, you’ll get to see how the motorcycle is operated, how they shift, and brake. As always, don’t forget to wear the proper gear even when you ride pillion.
Learn How to Drive Stick
Once you start to get familiar with what motorcycles are, it’s important to learn how to drive a manual transmission car. By driving stick, you’ll get familiar with how to use a clutch, shift, downshift, and navigate on hills. It’s essentially the same on a motorcycle, only you shift with your hand instead of your foot.
Again, take advantage of friends or family members who have manual transmission cars. If none are readily available, search for Driving Schools that offer manual transmission vehicles.
Learning How to Ride a Motorcycle
The most important recommendation I can make is taking a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Course to learn how to ride a motorcycle. Search for the nearest Basic Rider Course in your area and sign up for the class. I have a guide detailing the specifics on the course and how I passed, so take a look if you need more detail on it here.
To sum it up, the course is broken down into 3 days. In day 1, you go over all the details of what a motorcycle is (clutch, brakes, etc.) and how to navigate in traffic (what part of the lane to ride in, emergency situations, accidents, etc.) in a classroom setting. Depending on you instructor, they may also go over gear and what to wear for the next 2 days of the course. The first day you will learn how to operate a small cc bike, from starting it and knowing where all the functions are to riding in first gear. The second day will feel more like practice, where you go over technique and emergency skills, as well as take the test to supplement the DMV’s riding test to get your license here in the US.
The MSF course if great because they provide you with a bike and you get one-on-one attention from the instructors. The course teaches you the core of how to ride a motorcycle, with safety as it’s most important lesson.
Similar courses are also offered by Harley Davidson, but instead of small cc bikes, they provide Harley’s own Street 500 bikes.
Another way to learn how to ride is to get involved in dirt bikes. Again, this relies on friends and family who already have experience in the field, but if you know how to operate a dirt bike, you’ll know how to operate a street bike. It’s also more common for people who have experience in dirt bikes to forgo a traditional “starter bike” and go straight to a 500-800cc motorcycle.
Improving Your Skills
While the MSF course does teach you how to ride a motorcycle, you will still need to hone in on your skills. Flick of the Wrist II is a film that teaches you just that.
The uber cheesy and dated film shows how two new riders improve their skills through the use of the “Flick of the Wrist II” book by Kieth Code. The movie gives you clear examples of throttle control, turns, leaning, counter steering, etc. It goes on to show what situations to avoid, what techniques to master, and how to fix beginner mistakes. This film is definitely recommended once you get your license and is useful to refresh every year or so.
In a similar vain to the film, you can also sign up for more advanced courses through the MSF.
One additional resource we have in the Bay Area is Doc Wong’s Riding Clinics. His courses, both in a classroom style and on the field, help riders improve their skills and become more confident riders. You’ll learn important cornering skills, ergonomics for touring, suspension, etc. Search your area for instructors like this who offer classes.
The most practical way to improve your skills is to ride and ride often. You can only learn so much from reading or watching films. You need to get out there and put more miles under your belt, experience different situations, and ride different roads.
“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”
But don’t forget, safety is your number one priority. So make sure to ride your ride.