Best Motorcycles for Newer Riders

This 400 pound 2000 MZ Scorpion 660 single makes 48hp and served as my daughter’s first street bike…and my road race bike. It cost $2,200

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.

Fit Matters

This older Honda Rebel is a popular bike for new riders with short inseams.

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.

Seat Height

Suzuki 650 Gladius (a version of the SV650)

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.

Learning Balance

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!

New?

Ninja 250- sporty, comfortable and capable. This generation bike can be found cheap.

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.

Used!

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:

  • New tires (worn to the tread wear indicator, or older than five years)
  • Chain and sprockets (most OEM units last about 12-15,000 miles)
  • Brake pads (anywhere from 6-12,000 miles).

Of course, a oil and filter change and brake fluid replacement, as well as general lubrication needs to be done. Read more about motorcycle maintenance HERE.
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.

Mo Money

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.

Ken racing an old 50hp Kawasaki EX500 Ninja worth less than $2,000. Photo: Jonas Powell Photography

Ride a Slow Bike Fast

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 Beginners

So, here is my list of street bikes appropriate for new or newer riders, by size and category:

250-400cc

Kawasaki KLX250s

Dual-Sport

Dual-sports are used on pavement and dirt. They have tall seat heights, but are very light compared to other street-legal bikes.

Nighthawk 250

Street Sport/Standard

Cruiser/Classic


500-800cc

Dual-Sport

  • Kawasaki KLR650- The Swiss Army knife of motorcycles. Big and heavy but a workhorse with good balance and power for all riders.$$
  • Suzuki DRz400s/sm – A larger dual sport for long-legged riders. The SM is a supermoto street version.$$
  • BMW F700/800GS- The slightly lower, street-leaning version of the more off-road 800GS. $$$

Street Sport/Standard

A mid-sized cruiser

Cruiser/Classic

Other bikes to consider:

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.

Suzuki SV650

Bottom Line

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.
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 are other more 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, A BMW 700/800GS or F800R may work. 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, I’d steer you to, you guessed it…an SV650.
 


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5 Tips from an Aging Sport Bike Rider

Graham and Dan. I'm not saying their old, but where is their hair?
Graham and Dan. I’m not saying they’re old, but where is their hair?

Note: This article pertains to all types of riders. So, please read on.
What happens to sport bike riders when they get old? Most people think of sport bike riders as young men in their 20’s or 30’s. A lot of people don’t consider that sport bike motorcycle riders are often in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, or even 70’s.
It’s  assumed that those crazy riders on their rice rockets are young, testosterone laden young men. And this stereotype has some truth to it, since the attitude and ergonomics of sporting machinery suggests a fast and young lifestyle. But, many older riders do keep a sportbike in the garage if their body can handle the demands on aging bones, muscles and soft tissue.
A lot of sport bike riders move gradually to more upright machines with less demanding ergonomics and softer power delivery. But, if you look around at any sport riding gathering, track day, or even club race event, you’ll see that the median age is what is often considered over the hill. You’ll also see that these elders are often some of the most skilled riders on the road and the fastest on the track.
While the hair beneath the helmet may be gray, the desire to express mastery at the handlebars is as strong as ever. I’m not speaking for all sport bike elders, just the ones I know who keep at least one high-performance bike in their stable for those days when the back is feeling okay and the passion for a rip requires a razor-sharp tool.
Ken-smile
I’ve got a few more years behind the handlebars.

At 57 years old, I’m now qualified to speak from the perspective of a once young road racer and sporting street rider. Thankfully, I happen to have a slim physique, which makes me able to climb onto a sport bike with relative ease. I am also of average height so high rearsets don’t bother me. This makes riding a sport bike possible.

Pull up a Chair, Son

There are a lot of things I could share about aging. But, there are a few notable observations I think are worth mentioning.

1. Ride Smarter

Tony, Ken and Graham. Older than many, not as old as some.
Tony, Ken and Graham. Older than many, not as old as some. Yes, this is the photo “borrowed” by whoever made that video that went viral.

When I’m on a motorcycle, I can step back and evaluate whether the speed I choose to ride matches my mood and personal limits, as well as the limits of the road or track, the weather, etc. While there are times when my inner squid emerges, I am much less prone to riding beyond the limits. I am closer to the edge of the risk:reward ratio than when I was young and felt invincible. Now, I ask myself whether riding a certain way is worth the possible aggravation.
Top photos © Ken Condon
Bottom photo © Annalisa Boucher

2. Ride more Efficiently

How is it that I can get through a two day track day event riding multiple groups and still get up the next day and go to work? I see a lot of track day riders many years my junior pack up halfway through the afternoon because they are too tired to go on anymore. How am I able to do this? It’s not because I’m in great shape.
It’s because I’ve learned to ride efficiently. This means hanging off the bike only as much as necessary to achieve the goals of keeping the pegs off the pavement and the tires in their sweet spot and perfectly loaded for maximum traction. It also means being relaxed as much as possible. Not only does this help my stamina, it also allows me to feel the tires and chassis so I can “listen” to the bike as it tells me how much traction I have.

3. Change Behavior

Getting old forces changes in behavior. At some point you have to recognize the fact that the mind, eyes, muscles and stamina are not what they used to be. Everyone is different, but from my experience, the rate of decline seems to accelerate once you pass 50 or so. This means I have to pace myself. I am more aware of the need to warm up my body for a few laps just like I do my tires.
The possibility of getting hurt is present no matter what age, but what may be a simple injury, quickly healed, can turn into a long, drawn out healing process if you are older. Riding smart and wearing really good personal protection is important for minimizing those injuries.

4. Stay in Shape

I’m not in bad shape, but I’m not in great shape, either. I walk almost every day, but I used to run. I lightly stretch when I need to, but not as often as I should. I have never smoked and my vitals are good. I guess I can say I’m in pretty good shape for my age.
Even so, I suffered a freak health issue a while ago that I’m lucky to have survived. Thankfully, I can still manage a full day of street riding and both days of a two day track day event without much trouble. Staying in shape is harder as you get older. Weight gain is a real problem for many. Weight can creep up on you slowly. Five pounds may not seem like much, but if that happens every year for 10 years, you’re looking at a whopping 50 pound weight gain that will be tough to get rid of.

Being an instructor gives the opportunity to pass on what you've learned.
Being an instructor provides an opportunity to pass on what you’ve learned.
photo: © Annalisa Boucher

5. Keep Your Skills Sharp

There is a real danger in complacency. It’s easy for veteran riders to assume they don’t need to maintain their mental and physical skills. After all, they’ve survived this far. This perception leads to diminished skills, which can lead to a crash.
Motorcycle riding skills are perishable. So, keep those skills sharp! Practice in a parking lot, attend a safety course periodically, and ride a track day or three. It’s also good to read about riding technique. Even if you already “know” the material, reading about a technique brings it into your consciousness.
And for you older folks returning to riding, GET TRAINING! I know you may know how to “operate” a motorcycle, but that’s not enough to ride safe and smart. You need to update your mental software and learn things you may not have known before that can literally save your wrinkled ass. I recommend taking the Basic MSF course, followed by an advanced training course.


Bonus Tip: Share Your Knowledge

I’m grateful that I can share knowledge that I have accumulated over the years to help people like you ride better and smarter. But, another benefit to writing and teaching is that it makes me a better rider. I constantly think about my riding, which keeps my skills sharp.
A lot of really fast, experienced riders can’t explain how they do what they do…they just do it. That’s fine, but thinking about the physiology and psychology of riding a motorcycle well makes a rider’s knowledge and skill indelibly deeper and accessible when you need it.
Oh, and don’t assume you know what you are talking about, even if you are “fast”. Learn the physics and language of communicating the complex concepts of motorcycle riding before you claim expert status.

How Much Longer?

At some point, we all must hang up our helmet for the last time. In my case, that appears to be several years away. I can still do things I did when I was younger, it just takes more effort. What are your experiences with aging behind the handlebars?
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And Yet Another Video Lesson: Surviving the Unexpected

In this installment of Video Lessons, we see this guy on an R6 cruising down the highway when suddenly he finds himself facing a big yellow foam tube that fell off the back of a boat. The rider is okay (see interview video below), so watch with that in mind.
Take a look at the video and I’ll catch up with you on the other end. I’ll wait.

Nasty, right?
So, what can we learn from this video?
Be Wary of Shit Strapped to Vehicles. Whether the cargo is lashed to a boat, trailer, car roof, or back of a truck, you must be alert to the fact that a lot of drivers do the bare minimum to secure their load. Most use the “good enough” measuring device to determine acceptable compliance. Be extra wary if rope is used and if the load is moving in any way.
Be Ready! This bit of advice applies to all sorts of motorcycle mishaps. If you’re alert to the possibility of something bad happening you are essentially pre-loading the mental software required to respond fast and effectively. Daydreaming or failing to predict this possibility means you will not be ready when the poop hits the fan.
Don’t Just Sit There. OK, so you see the potential problem; what’s your plan to deal with it? Sure, maybe the cargo won’t come flying off, but you’re setting yourself up for trouble if you aren’t getting yourself away from the danger. This is the time to consider a change of lane or lane position and identify an escape plan if things do go pear-shaped.
Resist Target Fixation. Listen, it’s incredibly difficult to not put a laser focus directly on a real hazard like a big yellow foam tube bouncing in front of you. But, resist you must! The trick is to find an escape route and focus on that.
Act Fast! Let’s say the big yellow foam thing is now hitting the pavement ahead of you. Humans taken by surprise can’t help but freeze for a moment before acting. In the case of the R6 rider, he waited over half a second to move in his lane and waited almost 3 seconds to get on the brakes. As far as swerving right; situational awareness should have told him that the right lane was clear for him to make the maneuver, but I suspect he was not aware of his surroundings.
Have Skills! When he did move in his lane it was mostly ineffective…more of a drift, rather than a real swerve. And his braking attempt was equally weak. This is a common reaction from riders who have not developed these evasive skills and those who don’t keep those skills sharp.
Now to be fair, anyone would have freaked in this situation. But, there are things he coulda done. His first mistake was riding too close behind the boat. He should have predicted the possibility of a problem and maintained more following distance. When in these situations, we need to be ready to respond fast.
Unfortunately, he was taken by surprise and then froze, which used up precious moments that would have allowed him to respond more effectively. This freeze-up response is what humans tend to do, but is especially noticeable with unaware and untrained riders.

The takeaway: Be alert for the possibility of things like this and be ready, both mentally and physically.
You still may end up on your ass because we can’t control everything thrown at us. But, it’s your responsibility to do what you can to survive calamities like this. That includes being well trained and wearing full protection. Glad he is okay.
UPDATE: The local news station interviewed the 20 year old rider in THIS REPORT. It’s great that he had a helmet and motorcycle jacket, but wearing protection in itself does not prevent crashes…it’s keen situational awareness and having smart strategies that does that. I stand by my statements above.


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5 Ways to Avoid Being a Dumbass

Because I’m considered a motorcycle skills and safety “expert”, some people think I’m immune to doing dumb things. Well, I got news…I am just as susceptible as the next guy at being a dumbass.

The results of ignoring my inner voice.
The results of ignoring my inner voice.

I will concede that I am probably above average in the “ride smart” category. I should be…after years of coaching, writing and lecturing about how to ride “right”. But, it turns out training and knowledge can only go so far in mitigating the influence of the dumb-dumb gene. See the Crashing Sucks article for proof.
In the end, we all must realize that we are fallible. Thankfully, there are a few things we can do about it.

1. Get Smart

There are riders out there who learn to “operate” a motorcycle without ever really knowing how to “ride” their machine. The difference between these two things is more than semantics.

  • “Operating” a motorcycle means you can get it to go, stop and turn with enough competence to get around. That is a very loose definition of riding.
  • “Riding” means being able to not only operate the bike proficiently, it also means you can predict problems, strategize to prevent conflict, and then control the machine when shit goes wrong.

Too many riders think that having the ability to clutch, shift, brake and turn well enough to get to the local hangout without injury is sufficient. In reality, the basic skills needed to truly minimize the likelihood of an expensive and painful ride to the nearest medical center are simply not enough.

Non_Sport_Track
Doing a track day will increase your riding smarts…a lot.

This is the risk posed by giving new riders a motorcycle endorsement after only a weekend of basic training, which essentially gives the newb a false sense that they are proficient riders when in fact they are not even close.
I know what some of you are saying…”I never had no stinkin’ training (or no further training beyond the BRC) and I’m doing just fine.” The question is, How do you measure “fine”?
Remember that what skills and habits you have are the only tools available (besides dumb luck) when a catastrophic event unfolds in front of you. In this case, most riders’ definition of  “fine” is nowhere near good enough.
So, the first thing to do to avoid being a dumbass is to get smart. Read, take parking lot courses, on-street training, track days, or simply practice on your own or with friends to keep your “safety/skills” muscle active and to combat complacency.
Swerve-brake
Taking a breath will help prevent close calls like this.

2. Take a Breath

Sharing the road with idiots is infuriating. Many drivers are mindlessly “operating” their vehicles, putting little value in courtesy or your safety. But, don’t make a bad situation worse by succumbing to road rage. There are a bunch of YouTube vids showing riders being total asses to a driver who made a mistake. Keep in mind that those drivers are NOT out to kill you. They are humans who make mistakes.
And if you reflect on your last driver-versus-rider situation, you will likely see that YOU contributed to the driver making a bad decision.
When it comes to tailgaters, it takes all kinds of willpower not to react in frustration and anger. But don’t. Read this article about tailgaters before your next ride.

3. Listen to Your Inner Voice

At the risk of sounding all new-agey, I must point out the importance of developing a relationship with your inner voice. Yes, you have an inner voice. Some people call it a gut feeling, but for me I actually hear a voice. This voice isn’t the product of some mental condition, rather it is a trait of very sane people who pay attention.
Example 1 (Good): I’m approaching an intersection at or slightly above the speed limit. Everything looks to be in order with cars stopped at the traffic light and pedestrians waiting patiently. But a faint voice tells me to slow down. I roll off the gas just in time for a dog to run out from the brush. Whether a part of me actually saw movement in my periphery, I cannot say. All I know is that my gut said to slow, so I did.
Example 2 (Bad): I see a particularly beautiful vista that I want to photograph, so I stop on the edge of the remote road. The front of my bike is pointed down a rather steep hill, but instead of shutting down the motor and leaving it in gear, I click the transmission into neutral and keep the bike running. I dismount and check that the sidestand is fully lowered and tug on the handlebars to make sure the bike won’t roll forward.
But, as I start to walk uphill to snap the photo, my inner voice says “are you sure leaving the bike in neutral is wise?”. I remember looking back one more time to make sure the bike was okay and ignored the voice. I took a photo, then started walking a bit further up the hill when I heard the sound of plastic on asphalt (see opening photo). Dumbass.

Collarbone-XRay4. Remember that Crashing Sucks

Believe it or not, a lot of people never think about what it would really be like to crash. This is why so many riders choose to stunt and race in public and why people choose not to wear full protective gear. It’s really common for someone to suddenly “see the light” and start wearing a helmet, or armored gear, or real riding pants, or a back or chest protector, only after he, she, or a friend suffered an injury that would have been prevented by any one of these pieces of protection.
Same applies to behavior…people ride like idiots until someone gets really hurt, or until they get in legal trouble. Only after they’ve paid some crazy fine and lost their license do they figure out that there are ways to have just as much fun without so much risk, and at less cost. Cough…track days.
So, remind yourself that riding a motorcycle exposes you to risk of serious injury. This truth doesn’t have to kill your riding buzz; rather having a healthy sense of self-preservation helps you make better decisions and opens your mind to options that are just as much fun but with less risk.

Personal bests, competition, camaraderie... photo: otmpix.com
Track Days and Racing is a smarter and safer way to scratch that adrenaline itch. photo: otmpix.com

5. Wake Up!

If the thrill of high-stakes risk is your thing, but your riding smarts don’t match your risk-taking, then the likelihood of you being a dumbass is higher than most.
Unfortunately, I probably will not be able to change your mind. Like an addict, you can only help yourself and that usually only happens after you’ve reached your own personal rock bottom.
I just hope your rock bottom doesn’t include taking out a family in a mini-van or one of your buddies. Wake up before it’s too late. Seriously. Cough…Track days…. Cough…Racing.


What am I missing? Add your comments below.
Remember that I moderate comments and it may take a few days to approve yours. But, rest assured, your voice will be heard.


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Tailgaters Suck

Photo: Julia LaPalme
Photo: Julia LaPalme

Motorcyclist Online recently posted my article “6 Riding Tips for Dealing with Tailgaters“. This particular piece garnered a ton of comments from readers and Facebook followers of several riding groups. While most people agreed that it’s best to pull over if possible, an alarming number of people suggested flipping the bird or tossing pebbles, nuts, or ball bearings to get the driver to back off.
I know some people were trying to be funny, but I am afraid a lot of commenters were serious. That kind or reaction is what leads to deadly road rage.
Yes, some drivers are habitual tailgaters and total inconsiderate asses. But just as many offenders aren’t even aware they are driving dangerously. Hard to believe, I know.
I once was in the car of a good friend who was tailgating each and every car we followed, no matter the speed. When I asked him about it, he truly didn’t think what he was doing was bad…not because is is stupid or inconsiderate, he simply had a different perception of what was okay.
Listen, I get that tailgaters are infuriating and can rank near the top of most despised people. And it can seem as if their transgression is a personal affront, but trying to teach tailgaters a lesson is a bad idea. Tailgaters, be tailgatin’. They won’t change.
You may be able to wake up a driver by tapping your brake light, but be careful gesturing, even if it is a “friendly” one.
One thing is for sure; addressing aggression with aggression escalates the situation and is very risky. A flip of the bird only adds fuel to the fire. And if you get caught tossing hard objects at a tailgater, you will get into a heap of trouble.
Instead, take the high road. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Easier said than done, I know.
It’s better to disengage and separate yourself from the tailgater. If you can’t do that, then follow the other tips in the article so that you’re less likely to get creamed by a clueless tailgater.

Read the full article HERE.

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Truths About Riding Gear

Crash4_02-smProtection is a good thing, right? Of course it is. After all, nobody wants to get hurt if they can help it. Besides that, the right riding gear makes being out on the open road more comfortable and enjoyable. The gear you choose also completes your “look” and style. What’s not to like?

Freedom Lost

Most people ride motorcycles for fun…Nobody I ever met said they ride to be safe. The focus on fun over safety leads a lot of people to adopt a lackadaisical attitude toward the real risks of riding and a distaste for wearing protection.
I get that. Before I knew better I would hop on my CB160 in whatever I had on. Shorts? Sure. Sneakers? Absolutely. No Helmet? Why not?…It’s a short ride to the market, after all.
Well, that ill-informed and clueless kid turned into an adult who has seen what happens when skin contacts asphalt at speed and what a top-quality helmet looks like after an impact (see photo). You can say my innocence has been forever ruined. But, I’m okay with wearing protective gear if it means an increased chance of living a long life on two wheels.

Cost

That sense of security doesn’t come for free. First, there is the monetary cost of outfitting your body with decent-quality protective gear. You’ll want gear that works in hot, cold, and wet weather. It’s out there and is really not as costly as many people assume. Shop around.

Photo2_Readiness-nogear-smHassle

Then there is the inconvenience of putting on and taking off all that gear. Sometimes I just want to jump on the bike without taking 15 minutes to put on all the “proper” gear. But, if I don’t zip on my gear I feel a bit guilty for not managing the risk, imagining how much it would suck if I were to fall and slide wearing only my bluejeans instead of my armored MotoPort Kevlar pants.
A lot of you would think that’s a bit over the top as many of you have no problems wearing  jeans to protect your legs, with a few of you even choosing to ride lid-less, for Crys-sakes! For me, there’s never a question about wearing a riding jacket, boots, helmet and gloves…I always do.
As much as riding gear can be a PIA, once I’m on the road, I’m happier, more comfortable and less likely to need the services of Nurse Roadrash if something bad happens. I can live with that, and I hope you will too.
Think about this: Imagine how foolish and remorseful you’d be if you crashed in your t-shirt and jeans while all your best protective gear is hanging in the closet. Even if you don’t think you’d beat yourself up too bad about it, your mother, spouse or (smart) riding friends will probably raise an eyebrow about your lapse of judgment as you wince in pain with the slightest movement. Dumbass.

Photo3-Gear_Harley-smImage

Gear also completes your style, announcing to the public and your peers what “tribe” you belong to.
The type of gear your peeps wear (or not) is likely to be what you will wear. Showing up at a gathering looking “over protected” could mark you as less of a man or a Nervous Nellie. This matters because we’re all just kids living in overgrown bodies who want to fit in, after all.
The solution? I suggest you be brave and wear what makes the most sense to your values of risk management. You don’t have to diverge too far from the norm. Take a closer look at what’s available and you’ll discover that there are ways to protect yourself fairly well while still achieving the “Look” you’re aiming for.

Imagine this rider's skull if he wasn't wearing a helmet.
Imagine this rider’s skull if he wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Does Protective Gear Make Us “Safer”?

Statistics and common sense suggest that wearing protective gear has had a positive affect on injury rates. However, the decrease in injury and fatality rates are not as dramatic as you might expect. In fact, the rate of injury has remained more-or-less constant even when more people are protected. Why?
One possible reason is when humans utilize risk-reducing “interventions”, such as safety belts, bicycle helmets or motorcycle safety gear, they tend to feel safer and therefore unconsciously increase their level of risk. This effect is called “Risk Compensation”.
The prevalence of this behavior varies from person to person, but we are all susceptible.
What this suggests is that the benefit of protective gear may not be fully realized until you understand the human tendency to compensate for a sense of protection. It’s smart to wear protective gear, but be sure to recalibrate your mind to avoid the trap of risk compensation.

J9_CrashRisk Homeostasis

Risk perception and acceptance varies from person to person and is based partly on personal beliefs and past experiences. Risk acceptance is determined by the individual’s need for a thrill. Some people thrive on adrenaline and living on the edge. Others, not so much.
The amount of risk a person takes is also determined by “risk homeostasis”. Gerald J.S. Wilde, a professor of psychology at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada wrote a controversial book titled “Target Risk 2: A New Psychology of Safety and Health” where he describes how each individual will compensate for changes in risk exposure. His hypothesis is that if risk is reduced in one area, the individual will increase risk in another area to maintain his or her level of acceptable risk.
Whether you believe this or not, it is an interesting theory that I think has at least a thread of truth and further points to the importance of self-awareness when it comes to risk perception and awareness.

No Panacea

Crashed helmet-sm

We’d all love to think we can prevent death or serious injury simply by zipping on a sturdy jacket and strapping on the most expensive helmet we can afford. But, the reality is that many deaths occur despite the rider wearing all the best gear. After all, elbow, knee, back and shoulder armor is no match for a truck or tree. And no helmet made can withstand the impact of more than 300 G, which is a problem when a direct impact at normal speeds can easily exceed 500 G.
BCordura-Damage02-smy all means, increase your protection. But, don’t be fooled into thinking that simply wearing protection will save you from poor decisions. You need to be careful not to adopt a false sense of confidence because you feel less vulnerable.
PLEASE do not think for one minute that wearing good riding gear doesn’t reduce or prevent injury and death…it does. Just remember that protective gear is intended to prevent injury, not give permission to ride recklessly.
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5 Reasons Why Roadracers Give Up Street Riding

Personal bests, competition, camaraderie... photo: otmpix.com
Personal bests, competition, camaraderie… photo: otmpix.com

Most roadracers start out as street riders. But a lot of roadracers (and some track day riders) stop riding on the street after they begin riding on racetracks. Why is this?

  1. Riding on the street is dangerous. At first blush, you’d think racing motorcycles is way more risky than street riding. Even though roadracers ride at triple-digit speeds within inches of each other, everyone is going in the same direction and is alert, sober and competent. That can’t be said for the deaf, dumb and blind drivers that street riders must dodge on every ride. Add in poorly maintained roads, surface debris and other deadly hazards and the street rider is at a serious disadvantage compared to someone who rides only on closed courses. And if you’re into riding aggressively, doing so on the street is just asking for trouble. There are way too many variables that are beyond your control and if you go down, the chances of severe injury is higher than crashing in the controlled racetrack environment . The only place you should consider trying to achieve knee-dragging speeds is in the controlled environment of a racetrack. Besides being unsafe, you could end up in jail.
  2. photo: owenstrackdayphotos.com
    photo: owenstrackdayphotos.com

    Racers are Athletes. Racers treat motorcycling as a sport with all of the rewards that come with dedicating energy and resources to the goal of improving skills. Personal bests and measured improvement keep the racer coming back for more. Few activities match the satisfaction of trimming a tenth of a second from an already fast lap time. While riding a motorcycle on the street can be an athletic endeavor, it’s not the same.
  3. The thrill of competition trumps the freedom of the open road. The reason many people are drawn to motorcycling is the sense of freedom when gliding through the landscape at speed. Those who venture beyond their immediate surroundings discover the thrill of motorcycle travel and adventure. While those motivators are still relevant to the rider-turned-racer, they take a pillion seat to the challenge of pushing their motorcycle (and themselves) to the performance limit.
  4. Racing camaraderie runs deep. There is no doubt that many street riders find satisfying relationships with like-minded road-goers. Meet-ups at diners before a weekend ride or running into familiar faces at a rally can be the catalyst for new and long-lasting friendships. But, there is something very special about the relationships between people who share the ups and downs of an extreme sport like roadracing (or track day riding). One of the things that always brought me back to the track is the desire to re-connect with my track family. Those who are part of a race team enjoy a familial level of support that will last a lifetime. Awards banquets, garage parties and BBQs, as well as communal efforts to aid fallen riders help cement these relationships.
  5. Racers like mechanical challenges. Street riders check their tire pressures often (hopefully), but racers check them several times a day. Performance mods on street bikes are done mostly for fashion, but racebike mods are purposeful. Suspension and power delivery must be as precise as possible, which requires a deep knowledge of these systems (or the money to get help). Racers tweak, replace and adjust and then measure whether the modifications worked with the help of a lap timer.

I still enjoy street riding. A lot.
I still enjoy street riding. A lot.

It’s important to note that a large number of racers and even more track day riders still choose to ride on the street. I fall solidly under that category. I find that street riding (done well) is equally as challenging as riding fast on a racetrack.
Since most of this blog’s readers are street riders you may ask what the point is of this article? Well, I thought it would be of interest to regular street riders to get a glimpse of what makes racers and track day riders tick. It should also put into perspective just how risky street riding can be and prompt you to learn all you can about how to survive on the street. Maybe it will also stimulate some curiosity about taking a track day.
What am I missing? Add your comments below.
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Crashing Sucks: Ask Me How I Know

Collarbone-XRay
Broken Clavicle

I crashed. In the scheme of things, the mishap wasn’t a huge affair. I was only traveling about 15 mph when I tucked the front tire of a brand new Ducati Multistrada, but the vertical force was enough to pop my collarbone.
Dirt bike riding and road racing aside, it’s been quite a while since I last found myself on the ground next to or underneath a motorcycle.
My last road mishap was in 1978 when I fell victim to a dreaded left-hand turner at an intersection. I took a ride in the blinky bus (aka ambulance) but was promptly treated and released. My 1973 Yamaha TX650 didn’t fare as well and was sold for parts.
This most recent crash involved a street bike, but didn’t happen on the street, rather it occurred during a joint Bosch/Ducati press event in Detroit Michigan on the gravel test track at the Bosch proving grounds. You see, I was invited to test the most-awesome safety electronics found on the newest Ducati Multistrada. FYI, the cornering ABS is truly amazing.

Racing Crashes Don’t Count, Do They?

Racetrack crashes have also been relatively rare but do occur a bit more frequently, which is the result of pushing the limits or vying for a podium finish.
My previous track crash happened about 3 years ago when I pushed the front tire of the Twisted Throttle BMW S1000RR a bit too hard (I sense a theme) into a cold and slightly damp turn 11 at Loudon trying to get a good knee down photo. No injury, but a truckload of embarrassment.
A few years earlier I fell in turn 5 at New Jersey’s Thunderbolt Raceway when an old and cold front tire finally gave up and lowsided me onto the pavement. No injury to me, but the bike flipped and stuff broke. Despite the bike looking bad, both the ZX6R and I were back on track within two hours time.
A few racing crashes between those two mishaps round out my thankfully brief crashing resume. That’s really not too bad considering I have ridden a lot of street and track miles over almost 40 years with many of those miles dragging knee on the racetrack.

Crashed_Multi
Not too bad, really. Photo: Steve Kamrad

Crashing the “Uncrashable” Bike

Like I said, the crash that involved the new Ducati Multistrada, and resultant fractured clavicle, wasn’t a particularly big one.
I simply countersteered the bike a bit too hard while entering a turn on the gravel test track and lost grip at the front tire. I fared worse than the bike with the Multi suffering some cosmetic rash and a broken hand guard.

Before anyone blames the technology, this crash was not the bike’s fault! The Bosch electronics are designed to prevent braking and accelerating miscues, not manage the effects of pushing a front tire too hard into a turn. And since I was not on the brakes when I tucked the front tire, the bike is not to blame. These systems only manage available traction (when braking and accelerating); they do not create more traction! Read More about the Truths About Electronic Stability Control.

Why?

You may be asking why I would do such a silly thing. Surely I know enough not to push a 500+ pound street bike with quasi-dual sport tires on gravel, right? Yes, normally I would have never pushed the bike this hard, but what caused me to do this admittedly dumb thing stems from four factors:

  1. I was fooled into a false confidence: I had just performed mind-blowing feats of daring on wet pavement that warped my basic understanding of physics. This was possible because of the absolutely awesome Bosch electronics package that is integrated into the Multi. Traction control that allows hamfisted throttle inputs while dragging footpegs in the rain! Maximum braking on wet pavement while leaned at 37 degrees! Unbelievable.
  2. I was tired: Testing the TC and Corner ABS for like 20 minutes made me a bit woozy and I had barely recovered when I took to the gravel track. “Just one more run” was one run too many.
  3. A photographer was pointing his evil lens at me: This isn’t the first time I’ve pushed harder knowing that a camera is pointed my way. Most times, I simply drop a little deeper into a corner and turn my head a little farther to ensure my body position and general awesomeness is captured. This time, I was trying for the best action shot that would accompany the magazine article.
  4. I have just enough off-road confidence to get myself in trouble: I had already done 5 runs on the gravel course and was impressed with the way the Pirelli Trail II tires worked as I drifted the bike out of the corners using the limited traction control setting in “enduro” mode. But, when push came to shove, I wasn’t in quite the right position and was too slow on the throttle to keep the front tire from plowing through the gravel.
  5. I didn’t heed warnings coming from my inner voice: In hindsight, my inner voice told me to call it a day. I had acknowledged to myself that I was tired. But, just before I fell I made a few mistakes that indicated that I was pushing beyond my ability at that particular moment. My voice of warning was speaking, but did I listen? No.

Being “that guy”

As I got to my feet and shut off the engine I was in utter disbelief. Had I really just dropped a brand new Ducati? With shock wearing off, my inner voice began tormenting me with doubts about my professionalism, competence and judgment. Not surprisingly, the Ducati and Bosch folks were gracious about the whole thing (apparently this happens more than people think).
I ride motorcycles, and I ride them hard. So, I should expect an occasional mishap. However, part of me actually thought I had somehow trained myself out of being human, insulating myself from simple mistakes. While I have worked hard to be the best rider I can be, I am not (yet) perfect.

Getting Over It

My collarbone is healed after 8 weeks and I’m back on the racetrack and street. As expected, part of me is a bit spooked about gravel surfaces, but not enough to matter. I’m back to riding hard and feeling good again. A big reason why I bounced back quickly is because I know why the crash happened and how to avoid it in the future. It’s a lot tougher when you don’t know what happened and don’t know how to avoid a future crash…that can get into your head and under your skin.
To avoid a similar crash in the future I’ll be more mindful about my limits at any given moment.


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Living the Life of a Moto-Journalist

MotorcycleMagazine-coverEarly last February, I got a text from my newest best friend Steve Lita, editor of Motorcycle Magazine-Rides and Culture asking me if I was available in March to attend a new bike launch. Um, sure. Tell me more.
It turns out that Steve and all of his go-to editors were previously engaged and he needed someone who can both ride and write. I can do that. A few more texts later, I learned that the press launch was for the 2015 BMW S1000RR uber-sportbike and was being held at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) world-class racetrack in Austin, Texas! Be still, my heart!
Since I write the monthly Street Savvy column for Motorcyclist Magazine, I wasn’t sure that Editor-in-Chief, Marc Cook would give his blessings. It took a tense 5 minutes for Marc to return my text giving me the okay! It looked like I was going to finally live my dream of being a motorcycle journalist who gets to ride other peoples’ bikes in cool parts of the world…and get paid to do it!

Living the Life

I’ve been writing safety/skills articles for 15 years for Motorcycle Consumer News as a freelancer, but this job never included riding new bikes in cool places. Like many of you, I always wondered what it was like to live the life of a jet-set moto-journalist. I was about to find out.

Pre-Event Nerves

Even though I have total confidence in my ability to ride, there was a part of me that couldn’t help thinking how much it would suck to either be the slowest guy on the track and/or crash a $20,000 motorcycle in front of the most well-known journalists in the industry.
As a track day instructor, I am often asked to give the newest model a few laps to see what I think, so I have a lot of experience riding other peoples’ bikes. I adapt quickly to new machines and have never had an issue with control. Except one time. I was riding Twisted Throttle’s brand new 2010 S1000 when I tucked the front tire on a cold and slightly damp turn 11 at Loudon. It took me months to shake off that embarrassment and I wasn’t about to let it happen again.
AGVIn the coming weeks, I read up on the S1000 and watched on-bike videos of COTA and waited for brand new leathers, boots and gloves from Alpinestars and an AGV Corsa helmet to arrive. Understandably, gear manufacturers are eager to have their riding gear on the cover and in the inside pages of national magazines whenever possible. Dainese sent me boots and gloves for the event, but didn’t have leathers available, so we went with the full A-Stars setup. Product reviews of the riding gear will appear with the S1000RR review.

The Junket

Apparently, not all press junkets are created equal with some little more than a basic track day or a street ride that includes lunch. The BMW S1000RR junket was going to eclipse these austere events in a big way. Arrangements were made for flight, hotel, meals, and airport drop off and pick up. No, I did not get first-class seats, but I did stay in the posh 4-Seasons hotel in Austin and ate very well.
COTA-ScheduleArriving in Austin, I was greeted by Matthew, my limo driver who handled my luggage. Thankfully, my Ogio gear bag appeared on the conveyor in no time and Matthew drove me to the hotel while I sat dutifully in the back seat where all self-important people sit. A porter carried my bags through the lobby and up to my room. He refused my tip, saying that BMW was taking care of everything. OK, I’m starting to get it.
Often, the marketing people from the bike manufacturer give out nice SWAG bags…not this time, but I did enjoy the gift basket. Yum…beef jerky. Seriously, not having sweet SWAG was fine with me. I was more than happy just to be treated to the venue and first-class treatment. Thanks, BMW!
I wandered around the hotel and then got ready for the welcome cocktail party. I nervously descended the stairs to find about 30 people sitting and standing around an outdoor patio open bar, chatting about this and that. Since many of these men and women are regulars on the bike launch circuit, they know each other well enough to ask about their spouses and kids and get caught up on recently discussed professional matters. At first I feared being the proverbial wallflower, not having much previous contact with these folks. But, a quick glance told me I would fit in just fine, being acquainted with maybe 6 or so others in attendance.

COTA-cocktail
Kevin Wing Photo

An hour or so later, we were escorted to another room where we sat for a presentation highlighting the notable new features for the 2015 RR. Some introductions were made, including the attendance of special guests; Keith and Dylan Code (California Superbike School), Roland Sands (ex-250GP star and custom bike builder), Jesse James (West Coast Choppers), and singer Lyle Lovett who would join us the next day.  Nate Kern, BMW’s S1000RR ambassador-extraordinaire, gave some insight into the significance of certain features that he wanted to make sure we paid attention to.
Dinner was then served in a private dining room. Ari Henning (Motorcyclist) and I had the absolutely delicious Salmon. Unfortunately, Ari had a rough night as his system struggled with the fish.
COTA-present-1
Kevin Wing Photo

After the presentation, the bar was re-opened, but I know better than to consume much alcohol before riding on the track so I went off to bed. I, thankfully, slept remarkably well.

Launch Day

We were instructed to be in the breakfast room early to grab some chow before getting on the bus to the racetrack. The bus driver was stuck in traffic, so we got a late start. After a 30 minute drive we were deposited in the paddock where our gear was moved to a changing area in the garages. The journalists were escorted to a classroom for the marketing/press briefings on the new line of BMW riding gear and another presentation on factory accessories available for the S1000. A fully-kitted RR was on display with over $11,000 worth of goodies.

COTA-present-2
Kevin Wing Photo

We were divided into two groups. Looking around, I could see that I was put in the “slow” group. That was fine with me…and understandable. As a first-time freelancer I’m an unknown quantity to BMW and it meant that I would be one of the faster riders on the track. Besides, it ended up that the guys in the other group were ripping faster than I was willing to go.

Suiting Up

LyleAfter the presentations, we got suited up. This is when things got a bit bizarre. Here I am wrestling to put on a set of brand-spanking new Alpinestars leathers when I glance over to see Lyle Lovett wriggling into his custom “Lone star of Texas” Vanson leathers. “Hey, I know you.” Lyle is world famous and one of my favorite all-time musicians, but today we were just two guys getting ready to ride.
Go-Pro was there loaning out cameras and attaching mounts to the bikes. There was also a drone hovering around with a camera as the first group set out for a session of follow-the-leader behind Nate Kern. All but two journalists had ridden COTA before, so we were mostly in the same boat.

COTA and the S1000RR

This is getting mighty long (for the Internet), so I am splitting this into two parts. Read Part 2 where I will reveal my thoughts on COTA and riding the 199hp 2015 S1000RR.

Final Thoughts

In the end, this was a fairy tale experience. But like most things, there are ups and downs. Listening to the seasoned journos talk about their struggles with travel and time spent away from home, I realized that apparently it’s not all fun and games.
Watch this video interview of my new acquaintance, Jeff Buchanan, talking about what it’s like to ride for a living.

After all was said and done, I had a great time meeting new industry peeps, getting reacquainted with not so new acquaintances and living the life of a real moto-journalist for a couple of days. I hope people enjoy the article (look for it in a mid-summer issue of Motorcycle Magazine-Rides and Culture). I also hope more offers to test bikes happen in the near future. It sure was fun. I’ll be awaiting your next text, Steve.


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Step by Step Guide to Becoming a Motorcyclist

SmileOkay, so you’ve read the previous article in this New Rider series and determined that motorcycling is indeed something you’d like to pursue.
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?

Stages

In the previous post, you’ll recall the 6 stages of becoming a motorcyclist:

  1. Contemplation
  2. Preparation/Determination
  3. Action
  4. Learning to Survive
  5. Advanced Training
  6. Skills Maintenance

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.
Below is a step by step list of what you need to do. Note that your state or province may require slightly different procedure, so do some research. Here is a resource to learn about your state’s requirements.


Steps

This a common sequence:

  1. get your permit (depending on your state, this may come after rider training)
  2. take the beginner course (required in some states)
  3. get licensed (some states allow instructors to test, others require DMV testing)
  4. buy a cheap, but reliable used motorcycle (an article on the best bikes for newbies is coming soon-Subscribe)
  5. practice (for the rest of your career)
  6. ride often

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.
MA-MC-ManualYou’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 website 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

MSF_HAndbook

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.
Note that the many states use the Motorcycle Safety Foundation curriculum, but some do not.

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).
See the line of motorcycle helmets, jackets, pants, boots and gloves available from Twisted Throttle where you can buy while supporting this website.

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Buy a Motorcycle

Since you have a permit, you can legally ride on the street. If you are required to test with the DMV, you’ll need your own bike. So, now’s the time to buy a bike so you can practice.
The best bikes for beginners is the topic of another article that has yet to be written. Stay tuned and Subscribe so you know when it is available. I’ll go into more detail later, but I will tell you now that it should have modest power, and be lightweight, inexpensive and reliable.


Get Your License

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.

Practice, dammit! You'll thank me someday for insisting that you do.
Practice in a parking lot!

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.
Practice doing the drills you used in your basic course and consider trying the more advanced drills found in the Riding in the Zone book. Also take a look at the video clips.
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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