What Are The Good Ways To Learn To Ride A Motorcycle?
Do you want to learn to ride a motorcycle but are not sure how to begin? Preparing to ride a motorcycle is not as difficult as you may believe and you should not feel intimidated by the challenge of learning to ride a motorcycle.
Motorcycles aren’t massive, sophisticated vehicles that demand specialized expertise from you to ride on them (Note: there, however, are some pretty big motorcycles out there that you definitely want to stay away from learning on as the extra size/weight of large motorcycles that you may have to upright if you get a little out of balance (typically in a parking or slow-moving situation) can be hard to handle even for the strongest of motorcycle riders)).
If you start with a proper beginner motorcycle (generally on the smaller size of the motorcycle size & height scale) you could almost consider them like hefty bicycles that have engines installed. And, just like generally anyone can learn to ride a motorcycle, generally, anybody can learn to ride a motorcycle!
If you are a competent bicycle rider, learning to drive a motorcycle will come very naturally to you. You have already practised how to maintain your balance, so now you just need to understand a few key controls that operate a motorcycle and are different to operate than on a bicycle. One of the biggest differences and biggest challenges will be learning how to switch the gears, and properly engage and disengage the clutch, especially if you are not an experienced operator of manual transmission automobiles. More on the operation of the clutch and shifting of the gears below …
Another thing you’ll need to practice is applying brakes while riding the bike in a straight line and applying the brakes while turning the motorcycle. However, even if you have never ridden a bicycle in the past, learning to keep your balance on the two wheels of a motorcycle is something you should be able to learn with enough practice and by making sure you choose a proper “learner” or beginner motorcycle to practice on.
Here are a few steps you need to take to learn to ride a motorcycle:
1. Invest in appropriate motorcycle-gear
The first risk that comes with learning to ride a motorcycle is the chance of collision or, as most riders say, “laying the bike down” (meaning losing control to the extent that the bike lays to one side and begins to skid). And considering that you don’t have the same level of protective structures around you that you would have in an automobile (e.g., the body of the car, airbags, engine area “crumple zone,” etc.), it would be a really stupid move to ignore the extra safety gear you would need to help you minimize damages in the event of an accident.
To ensure that all your body parts are safely protected, you will need to invest in some quality motorcycle gear. A good quality, DoT approved helmet is item number one on the checklist, followed by a motorcycle-riding jacket with somebody’s armour inserted into the various areas to add extra protection for key body parts/areas (e.g., back, elbows, shoulders, etc.) and then boots and gloves will also add protections that any rider that has a mishap will want to have. Overall, this safety equipment will reduce the severity of injury in case of an unexpected crash.
2. Select an appropriate beginner motorcycle
Unfortunately, too many beginner riders first buy the motorcycle that they dream of riding and think they’ll just learn on that bike. However, many riders choose a bike that is simply too big or fast to be appropriate for a beginner rider. This is particularly true of beginner riders who are enamoured with sportbikes (AKA “Crotch Rockets”).
This is a very bad situation as not only has the rider chosen a motorcycle that is likely to be too tall or too heavy for a beginner but also the bike may be so powerful that it simply will not be as “forgiving” as a smaller, lighter and more tame motorcycle … smaller, lighter, and tame are really what a new rider needs to minimize the chances of a mishap while that rider is learning the ropes of riding.
But, unfortunate, many riders instead fall in love with a bike they dream about owning & riding (and having their friends see them riding on) and buy that bike without thinking about the stresses that will put on their learning to ride phase. So, if you find yourself in this state of mind, you need to make the wise/mature decision and focus on finding an appropriate beginner motorcycle from which to learn on. You should give more priority to the engine power and other features of the vehicle.
As you will be in the learning stage, the motorcycle you ride should not be excessively heavy. A heavy bike will make driving it a challenging task and discourage you from learning further. As a general rule of thumb, (it varies based on your size, strength, and how many related skills/experiences you have) most people recommend staying somewhere around the 500-600 CC range for a beginner motorcycle. However, as time goes by and you build the skills and gain the experience necessary, you can move towards heavier models as you wish.
Another factor you need to keep in mind is to see if you feel comfortable when you sit on your motorcycle?
If not, it could be because the bike is too large, too small, or is an odd configuration that may make riding the beginner bike safely more difficult. So if simply sitting on the motorcycle doesn’t feel comfortable or doesn’t feel natural, you should change the model that will be more natural to manage/operate while driving.
Aside from the comfort factor, when you sit on the motorcycle, try to see if you can comfortably keep both of your feet firmly on the ground. Can you hold the motorcycle in that position for a while? If the bike were to get a little bit out of balance, would you be able to right the bike back to balance easy enough? If not, then you probably should keep searching for a model that doesn’t have that problem.
Choose your motorcycle style/genre appropriately. If you choose an off-road motorcycle (e.g., dirt bike), these bikes are known to provide a very natural and upright sitting posture which is great for learning. If you choose a cruiser style motorcycle, you’ll like to be reclined a bit when you sit on the motorcycle which will not be a problem unless the recline is greater than normal (e.g., think of a “chopper style” motorcycle).
Sportbikes will put you in the opposite position – a leaned forward configuration which again if it is slight, will not be a problem, but if it is extreme, then choosing that motorcycle will result in you adding another challenge to your already challenging phase of learning to ride a motorcycle.
It’s important to keep in mind that balancing is more important than engine power at this point. On a lightweight motorcycle, mastering the fundamentals will be a lot simpler because if, or more likely, when you make a mistake and you need to get a motorcycle back into balance, it is simply going to be a lot easier to do that when you have less weight to deal with.
And, you can always start moving up to a bigger, more powerful motorcycle later, once you’ve gained more experience and confidence as a motorcyclist.
3. Learn to apply brakes wherever & whenever needed
Of course, when you start to learn to ride a motorcycle, in addition to the balancing issues we emphasized in the section above, you’re obviously going to also need to learn to apply the brakes and stop wherever and whenever necessary.
Unlike automobiles that synchronize the application of the front and rear brakes, on a motorcycle it is you, the beginner rider, that will be doing the synchronizing as the front-rear brakes are applied by two separate controls. To apply the front brakes, use the hand lever present on the right side of the handlebars and squeeze the lever to apply the brakes (e.g., many bicycles have handlebar-mounted brake levers that operate in a similar manner).
To apply the rear brakes, use the foot pedal on the right side of the motorcycle and press the pedal down. To stop the motorcycle with more resistance, you can apply both the brakes simultaneously and in fact, applying both the brakes at the same time should become the norm as it is the proper way to brake and definitely the way you will need to brake in an emergency situation.
The reason we are mentioning this is that many beginner riders are leery of applying the front brake as it can cause the bike to aggressively slow down and cause the rider to slide forward. The nightmare situation related to this is the notorious fear of “flying over the handlebars” because the rider applied the front brakes too aggressively.
So new riders need to be particularly cautious about how much front brake is applied to avoid this but over time, as long as the rider forces themselves to apply both the front and rear brake (as many riders learn the bad habit of JUST applying the rear brake) they will pick up this skill and it will become natural soon enough.
4. Master clutch and acceleration controls
For some riders, operating operation of the clutch and the need to manually switch gears is a terrifying aspect of riding, but it really is not as bad as many riders imagine. It’s important to start out either learning this in a motorcycle riding class, or simply in a parking lot, away from any car traffic, and hopefully on light and moderately powered motorcycle.
Learning this skill is a bit art and a bit science as the rider needs to have a general idea of the mechanics of what is happening when the clutch lever is pulled in, when gears are selected, and the process of releasing the clutch and applying the throttle.
It is not the intent of this article to teach you the art and science of this but a high-level description is as follows: Riders will want to pull the clutch lever to essentially disengage (separate) the running/turning motor from the gearbox that is, in a very abstract manner, “connected” (not really but we’re not going to go into the mechanics of it all in this article) to the rear tire.
So, as the rider is on the running motorcycle, with the clutch lever pulled in, he/she is essentially separating the source of power (the engine) from the drive tire (rear tire) and therefore the motorcycle is not going to go anywhere. From there the rider will need to select a gear, with 1st gear being the gear to start the bike moving forward.
For most motorcycles, this means pressing the gear shift foot lever down one time (the gear shift foot lever is on the left side of the motorcycle, right in front of the left footpeg. Now that the motorcycle is in first gear, for the rider to start the bike moving forward, they will slowly “let out the clutch lever” (which basically means to un-squeeze or release (SLOWLY!!!) the lever) all while starting to apply the throttle by twisting the grip on the right side handlebar.
This is where the art comes into play and it is important for the rider to apply the proper level of both clutch and accelerator.
5. Learn how to turn the motorcycle while riding
Once you’ve got the fundamentals figured out of how to balance the motorcycle, how to operate the clutch and gears and accelerator, and how to apply the front and rear brakes, you may move on to master the next aspect and that is the process of turning the bike while leaning the appropriate amount.
It may be easy to ride your motorcycle in a straight line, but taking the motorcycle through turns and curves will be a new challenge for you. The basic idea is you simply will have to learn how to lean as you turn. How much lean is really going to be a “feel thing” as there is no mechanical way to describe how much you should be leaning as the speed at which you are travelling, the weight/height of the motorcycle, and the degree of turn will all play a part.
But again, if you know how to ride a bicycle, then you really will have already gotten an idea of the concept and should be able to learn on your beginner motorcycle soon enough. The key will be that you need to start at moderate speeds and in safe areas (empty parking lots, uncrowded roads, etc.) and learn the skill in that type of environment.
6. Practice motorcycle riding as much as possible
Eventually, it will be time to get out of the empty parking lot or quiet neighbourhood streets and start taking on the more busy and challenging roads. Once again, take it slow, ride your motorcycle at times of the day when traffic is light and people are not in a hurry to get home or get to work.
Doing this will make your beginning motorcycle riding experience both less risky and less stressful. And, keep practising, keep gaining skills, experience, and confidence, and keep driving cautiously … point being, keep driving and getting as much practice as possible and soon you’ll start feeling comfortable and competent in all situations.
As we outlined above, make sure you start out with an appropriate motorcycle in terms of size and weight, make sure you take the time and invest in some good safety gear to minimize the risk of injuries in case of a mishap, and practice in less risky environments where you’ll have fewer distractions/obstacles to contend with and you’ll be in a more forgiving and easy to navigate road situations that will help you learn with the least amount of risk.
But, overall, just make sure you take it slow and incrementally build up your skills and soon enough, you’ll be past your beginner motorcycle phase and will be “on the road” (pun intended) to a lifetime of one of the most popular and enjoyable hobbies; riding motorcycles both for commuting purposes and for seeing great scenery and taking on great roads!