Riding 101

Riding Motorcycles 101: Learning to Ride

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This is part II in a series of advice for new riders. Stay tuned for tips on learning to ride, buying the right gear, and other things we wish someone would’ve told us when we were first starting out. (Read Part I here.)

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If you read my piece on why I ride, you know how I started riding. Whatever your reasons for learning are, here are some tips on getting some miles under your belt to see if motorcycling is for you. (Before you start – it’s recommended that you know how to ride a bicycle and operate a manual transmission.)

Get your Permit

It’s not a requirement to have your motorcycle license permit before you take the MSF, but it is helpful. After you take the class you’re going to want to RIDE RIDE RIDE and you can’t do that without a permit! You can check out your state’s requirements for permits, but in California you just need to pass a written exam to get it. One note – you may also need to take a written exam for your automotive/class C license while you’re there so be sure to read both the motorcycle driving handbook, and the automotive one as a refresher. Printed versions of the handbooks should be available at your local DMV for free, or online as digital versions.

Take the MSF

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers beginner and intermediate motorcycling courses throughout the United States. The beginner course consists of a five hour classroom lesson and 10 hours of on-the-bike instruction over two or three days. In California, the 10 hours of instruction counts as your road test at the DMV – so I can’t recommend it enough!

To take the MSF course, you do need to have a few things. They require you to wear long sleeves, pants, and sturdy over-the-ankle shoes. If you don’t own a helmet yet, try to borrow one from a friend, as most MSF courses have a limited number of loaner helmets. You can also bring your own gloves and eye protection (sunglasses work fine).

The MSF will teach you the basics of bike operation, including the clutch, shifting, braking, and low-speed operation. The bikes are generally low-capacity smaller bikes that are already dented and scuffed from a lifetime of teaching people to ride. You should never feel bad about dropping a bike at the MSF course. The instructors will be right there to help you get it upright and give you a safe place to learn what went wrong.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The only way you’re going to get better is to practice! If you haven’t already, now is the time to pick out and buy a beginner bike. Then get out on the road! Start out slow, cruise around your neighborhood and in places without a lot of traffic, like empty parking lots. If you live on a busy road or somewhere without easy roads to practice on, ask a friend if you can keep your bike at their house while you get some learning miles under your belt.

It’s a good idea to stay close to home and to let someone know you’re out practicing just in case you drop the bike and need some help getting it back upright. There are a lot of videos about picking up bikes on YouTube, but when you’re learning, it is nice to know you can call someone to help you if you need it.

Don’t rush yourself out into traffic or on the highway. Wait until you have a firm grasp of operating the motorcycle before you introduce more challenge into your ride. Take it as slow as you need to, and don’t ride with people who make you feel badly about being slow. Your goal should always be to be as safe and comfortable as possible!

As you get more comfortable on the road, you can increase the challenge. Ride everywhere you can think of to get used to the feel of the bike and handling it in different situations. Ride to breakfast, ride to work, practice parking at a curb… do it all! Eventually you’ll be ready to hit the highway or the backroads and move on up to your dream motorcycle.

What if you Don’t Like it?

It’s OK to not like riding motorcycles. Sometimes, people take the class, get a beginner bike, and then they have a scary experience and never want to ride again. There’s nothing wrong with that. Riding isn’t for everyone, and if you (or one of your friends) decide that it’s just not working out, that is totally OK. Sometimes people will ride for years and then just fall out of it like you do with any hobby. Everyone has their own limits for risk and you should always be respectful of that when you’re learning or helping someone learn to ride.

Katie is somewhat obsessed with dogs and motorcycles - she has 3 of each. She rides a 2017 Triumph T-120 most days, and has a 1972 Triumph T-120 and a 1975 Honda CB360 to keep her busy on the weekends. She also has a deep love for vintage vans, mostly her 1967 Dodge A100.

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