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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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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Guest Writer: Rider As Passenger

Jeannine has been a passenger since she was very young.
Jeannine has been a passenger since she was very young.

Finally! My daughter, Jeannine has submitted her first post. She has so much to contribute, being a longtime rider, recent MSF RiderCoach, track day control rider, industry professional, and of course my daughter.
Let’s see what Jeannine has to say about those times when she finds herself on the back of a bike, instead of in control behind the handlebars.


Being on the back stirs thoughts and feelings when you're a rider yourself.
Being on the back stirs unique thoughts and feelings when you’re a rider yourself.

Ever since I became a licensed motorcyclist, riding on the back has been a challenge because I’m not in control, eek! I also wonder what being on the back says about me as a rider to the general public. Although these are generally taken as negatives, I’ve learned that there are benefits to spending time as a passenger.

Control

Riding on the back of a motorcycle, especially as an educated rider, means giving up a lot of control. For starters every motorcyclist knows the risk of swinging a leg over, so what about accepting the risks when someone else is controlling the handlebars?
When you get on the back,  you better be willing to trust them to make decisions that will protect both of you. When you look at the helmet (hopefully) in front of you, can you say you trust them with your life? If not then get off.
Especially as a rider, giving the control to someone else is the ultimate display of trust, something many people aren’t willing to do. It seems the more educated about riding you are, the more trust is required to get on the back. Ever see a girl jump on the back with some guy she just met? She probably has no real understanding of the consequences. There are only a handful of people I am willing to ride with and each has thoroughly proven their abilities, both through raw skill and the risk-evading decisions they consistently make.

Ken follows Jeannine on the track early in her riding career.
Ken follows Jeannine on the track early in her riding career.

What does it say about me as a rider?

The stereotype is that women and kids ride on the back. As a female rider, something tells me I don’t want to succumb to those expectations. If we pull up to a gas station and people see me on the back what will they think? It doesn’t likely cross their mind that I too am a competent rider. Imagine the look we get when passenger and rider switch!
Even as a rider I am often mistaken for a guy and I DO enjoy proving them wrong. Just the other day someone told Dad “That’s a really nice bike your buddy has”, imagine his surprise when the response was “That’s actually my daughter”. Although I have learned to care less about the opinions of the public, it’s always an itch in the back of my mind.

Is the passenger missing out?

My short answer is no, you are simply experiencing the ride differently. Imagine all those phenomenal views that you can’t fully absorb while you’re also paying attention to the road. On the back you can actually look around without having to worry about the oncoming car or the upcoming hairpin turn.

Being a passenger can be a terrific learning experience. photo: OnTrackMedia. http://otmpix.com

Learning

While sitting behind another rider, pay attention to how they handle traffic, negotiate curves and anticipate hazards. Use your time on the back to improve your own riding. It doesn’t mean you have to, or even should, handle a situation in the same way, but take advantage of the learning opportunity. Ask yourself if you would do something differently and then analyze why and how your strategy might turn out better.
Have you been a passenger lately? How does it feel?


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If you liked this article and the many other articles on this site, please toss a buck or five into the hat. It’s greatly appreciated!

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Schooling the Public

This what people see that prompts them to ask "Aren't you hot?"
This is what people see that prompts them to ask “Aren’t you hot?”

I thought it might be fun to share a sampling of statements I hear often from Mr. and Mrs. Non-riding Public, along with my usual response. Perhaps these statements are familiar to you, too. And maybe your responses are similar to mine. Whatever.

#1: “Aren’t You Hot?”

This is directed toward the fact that I’m wearing a jacket, riding pants, gloves, etc. This question often makes me scratch my head, because I assume that people understand the concept of wind chill factor and can imagine that the gear I have on is perfect, not only for comfort, but also for protection.
Yeah, they don’t seem to understand that riding gear is a compromise. Even the best vented gear can be hot even at speed, but I won’t ride without protection. Grasping that concept seems a bit too difficult for Mr. and Ms. Public without some patient education.
My response: “Not once I’m rolling over 30mph.” “Besides, I need the protection, just in case”.

Loud pipes are the result of riders who want to be loud.
Loud pipes are the result of riders who want to be loud.

#2: “I Don’t Like Motorcycles…They’re too Loud”

This usually comes up in conversation at parties when I disclose that I am a motorcycle rider. I can fully understand the non-motorcyclists’ reaction to obnoxiously loud pipes. Even as a career rider, I am annoyed and barely tolerant of loud motorcycles. Imagine the lack of tolerance Mr. and Ms. Public has for riders who invade their peace and quiet.
My response: “I don’t like loud motorcycles either.” “Do you know that motorcycles aren’t loud when they are ridden out of the showroom?”
Stunned silence usually follows as they try to comprehend that someone would take a perfectly good (quiet) motorcycle and make it obnoxious…on purpose.
I get it. A motorcycle that makes no sound seems to lack a visceral depth that most riders value. But, personally, I’ve come to value not invading others’ auditory space with my exhaust, so I keep my street bike exhausts stock.
I recently rode an electric “Zero” motorcycle and I can tell you that the total lack of engine sound did not take away from the awesome performance and  unique experience of this torquey, fun machine. I contend that excessive noise detracts from riding enjoyment, rather than enhances it.
And then there is the “Loud Pipes Save Lives” theory. While I understand that loud pipes can get attention, making a bunch of racket is NOT a reliable way to get people to avoid you. Lane position and other strategies that allow you to be SEEN are much more effective ways to avoid a mishap.
Besides, sound is directional, so exhausts pointed rearward are of little benefit when the most likely collision scenario involves an approaching vehicle turning left across your lane at an intersection.

Yes, motorcycling exposes us to risk, which is why we wear protection.
Yes, motorcycling exposes us to risk, which is why we wear protection.

#3: “Aren’t Motorcycles Dangerous?”

This question needs no explanation, except that people who ask are implying that because it is risky to ride a motorcycle, that I must be a person who exercises poor judgment. These are often people who value safety and therefore distance themselves from risk…at least things they deem risky, which is most likely things they don’t understand.
Not everyone who asks this question is afraid of risk. Sometimes they are just responding to a preconceived notion of how dangerous motorcycles are. This deduction comes from horror stories heard from acquaintances and from sensational news reports. We all have prejudices based on indirect knowledge and assumptions. These people are simply reacting to what they think is the truth.
Unfortunately, it is true that riding a motorcycle is dangerous. So, how do I respond?
My response: “Yes, riding a motorcycle isn’t for everybody. If you’re not a person who is committed to being as skillful and conscientious as possible, then you probably don’t belong on a bike.”

I guess I'm not a real biker...I have no tattoos.
I guess I’m not a real biker…I have no tattoos.

#4: “Where are Your Tattoos?”

Really? Yep. This silly question usually comes from the mouths of people who make assumptions about what motorcycle riders “look like” and probably don’t personally know a motorcycle rider, or don’t know a motorcycle rider who does not have tattoos.
The “biker types” get the attention of the general public because they make a lot of noise and go out of their way to look tough with their ink and leather “costumes”. These bikers get Mr and Ms. Public’s attention so that their perception is that motorcycle riders dress the way the loud riders dress.
I challenge the ignorance of stereotypes by looking “normal”. Sure, I have my own costume, but it is that of a rider who embraces a motorcycling lifestyle as a sport, daily transportation, and a way to see faraway places.
My response: “Shut the Hell Up.” Just Kidding. I might joke about having ink in places I can’t show in public and say it in a way that makes them question their assumptions of what some riders look like. And then I walk away.

Three people, three motorcycles.
Yes, women ride their own motorcycles.

#5: “How Do You Get Three People on one Motorcycle or do you have a sidecar?”

This question was directed toward my wife when she, our then 10 year old daughter, and I walked into a restaurant on a family motorcycle trip several years ago with all of our riding gear in hand. Caroline hesitated for a moment in disbelief as she finally realized that the person assumed that women do not ride their own motorcycles, therefore the only explanation must be that we all somehow fit on one motorcycle or that a sidecar was the answer. A woman on her own bike never crossed their mind.
Her response: “I ride my own motorcycle, and have been for over ten years.”


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"Riding in the Zone" Personal Training

AMA Charter Certificate
AMA Charter Certificate

The Riding in the Zone Motorcyclist Training Program is kicking off it’s third season with the support of the American Motorcyclist Association and the Massachusetts Rider Education Program (MREP).
I’m excited to see the RITZ street riding program grow. Students are signing up now for the summer. If you’re interested in participating, please visit the Personal Training Tours Page.

Scholarship Possibilities

One of this year’s students was able to receive the Paul B. Memorial Scholarship from the BMW/MOA Foundation for rider education. Here is an article about another rider who received a BMW/MOA scholarship to attend Lee Park’s Total Control course.
I understand that the cost can be prohibitive for many, which is why I will be reaching out to other organizations and put together a list of available scholarships. If you know of such a program, please drop me a line. My goal is to make this program available to as many motorcycle riders as possible.

Available Dates

I am scheduling training tour dates during the week when possible, but a weekend day is not out of the question.

Ken teaching an MSF course.
Ken teaching an MSF course.

Group Training Tours

Personal Training Tours are designed for one or two riders, which allows individualized training.
However, group days can be arranged. Last season, we conducted a two-day tour with the Women’s Motorcyclist Foundation Road to the Cures Program. If your group of friends or a club wants to talk about a training day (or weekend), Give me a shout.
Read more HERE.
Also, read the Personal Instruction web page to learn all about the Program. If you have any questions, Contact Me.

Please Read the Payment and Cancellation Policy Page.


 

Rider Behavior and Peer Pressure

Same, Same
There is comfort in conformity.

It may seem that peer pressure is something that we outgrow once we reach adulthood. But, even as grownups we continue to be influenced by people we associate and identify with.
As motorcycle riders, peer pressure can affect our behavior and influence our attitude toward risk. This can be very beneficial, or it can be detrimental, depending on the attitude and values of the group you ride or identify with.
I’ve seen otherwise really smart people do really stupid things on a bike because they do not think for themselves, and instead conform with the norms of the group. On the other hand, I’ve also seen reckless rookies become really smart and skilled riders through association with riders who value skill development and risk management.

Positive Behavior Change

The group mentality drives behavior.
Group mentality drives behavior, both good and bad.

Peer pressure and positive comparisons are one of the most effective ways to change behavior. A smoker who wants to quit is more successful if he or she doesn’t hang out with other smokers. The same goes for alcoholics.
A motorcycle rider who wants to increase the chances of surviving is smart to identify with riders who value risk management. This doesn’t mean riding without taking risks, but it does mean carefully considering the consequences of how you ride (and the protection you wear). Associating with risk-conscious riders is one on the best ways to manage risk.
The attitude of a group does not have to be overt. It can be sensed by how they act. For instance, riding with a group that values excellent control skill will challenge the others in the group to ride better. Good judgement is another skill that thoughtful riding groups value. By associating with these riders, your knowledge and skills will improve.

Style or Protection?

Is your choice of protective gear driven by your level of risk acceptance?
Is your choice of protective gear driven by your level of risk acceptance or someone else’s?

Protective gear is often dictated by style. This means that one rider will choose to wear a high-viz Aerostitch suit and full faced helmet, while another rider will choose a beanie helmet and black leather vest depending on the type of bike and riding he or she identifies with.
Style will inevitably influence riding gear choices, but should style really be the deciding factor in protection?
I’m reminded of a woman in a beginner motorcycle class I was teaching about ten years ago. We had just finished the segment on the importance of protective gear. This woman came up to me during the break looking upset. She preceded to tell me that what she had just learned scared her. It turns out her husband did not wear good protective gear and that she was sure she would be pressured into wearing a beanie helmet, jeans and t-shirt.
I’m not a therapist specializing in marital problems, but I did offer her a strategy that I thought may have helped her with an obviously overbearing biker husband. I suggested that she tell him that what she learned made her realize the importance of a good helmet and that she insist on wearing a helmet that helped reduce the risk of injury. I figured he couldn’t argue with that.

Fun at the Expense of Survival

If you choose to ride in groups, ride with people who respect the risks.
If you choose to ride in groups, ride with people who respect the risks.

The type of riding gear people choose is influenced by identity. But, even more concerning is how peer pressure and group identity can lead to some really ugly outcomes. This is often caused by group behavior that values “fun” at the expense of basic safety.
I’m the first to admit that riding fast is fun. But, I resist the pressure to ride fast on the street. Squidly sport bike riders who race and stunt on the street are highly represented in death statistics.
When it comes to the “biker” crowd, alcohol is a deadly combination that has been around for decades. Even though statistics suggest that there is less going on, drinking and riding it are still prevalent.
Pack mentality is tough to resist when you’re riding in a group. The most common result for sport riders is a steady increase in speed during group rides. For the cruiser riders, it seems to be an increase in raucous behavior.
Even when you ride alone, you are influenced by peers.
Even when you ride alone, you are influenced by peers.

But, I ride Alone

Riding solo is one way to “ride your own ride”. But, the fact is that group identity influences your behavior even if you strictly ride solo. For example, the type of bike you ride will likely define your choice of riding gear. Look around and you will be hard-pressed to find many cruiser riders wearing a full-faced helmet. You’ll also find it tough to spot a racerboy sportbike rider sporting a high-viz vest.
Yes, these are stereotypes, but am I wrong? Sure, there are those people who challenge norms by combining different styles of riding gear and bikes, but they are the exception.
It doesn’t matter if you ride alone. You are part of a larger group whether you like it or not. Your choice of riding style is an identification with the biker crowd, the touring crowd, the sportbike crowd, adventure crowd, or some other group. Accept it, but be sure you make decisions that are in line with your beliefs, not the beliefs of others.
I challenge you to look at your personal values and make choices based on your level of risk acceptance and go against the perceived norms of your riding genre if they don’t match.
Share your thoughts below.


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Personal Instruction Now Available

This post is different than others you’ll find in the RITZ blog. It’s an announcement about a new personal training program I am starting for the 2014 season.

The students of the 2013 on-street training program.
The students of the 2013 on-street training program.

Last season, I facilitated an on-street training program with the Women’s Motorcyclist Foundation. Nine women and one man met in my neck of the woods in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts where we learned, rode and laughed for two days. It was a great time and everyone learned more than a few things about cornering, slow speed maneuvers, and just how much fun the roads are where I live.
While this was a great experience, it required a lot of effort and energy. So, instead of continuing with a program that involves large groups, I decided to offer individual training, with the possibility of up to 3 people in a group.
Read the Personal Instruction web page to learn all about the Program.
Ready for some personal training.
Ready for some personal training.

For Street Riders

Three years ago, I started an on-track personal training program with Tony’s Track Days, which is a satisfying and effective way to share my knowledge with others while riding on the racetrack. I hired some of TTD’s most experienced staff to join me in offering this instruction.
The new on-street program carries much of what I have learned as a track day instructor and applies it to the street. This will not be a lesson on how to ride fast on the street. Instead, it will be about developing and refining skills that may be lacking.
What you do with your newly learned abilities on your own time is your business. But, I will be insisting that my students always ride within the limits of the street.
If you want to ride fast with me, sign up for Personal Instruction during a TTD track day.

What’s the Benefit?

I’ve become pretty good at identifying areas where people can become more proficient at riding a motorcycle. It’s one thing to sit in a classroom and it’s quite another to have an experienced instructor give immediate feedback about your specific riding strengths and weaknesses.
We will work together to refine existing skills and to help you master areas that may cause anxiety. I will custom tailor the day to focus on those specific needs.
I’ll be using two-way Bluetooth communicators to give real-time feedback. It’s a great way to apply concepts and make them habits. These are the same units we use on the racetrack.
I expect most riders will want to take advantage of beautiful and challenging twisty roads to help master cornering techniques and confidence. Braking, accurate steering, throttle control and advanced visual acuity are all things we will work on to make you a better and safer rider.
If riding in traffic is your concern, then we will head to the land of cars and trucks where I will share with you my strategies for surviving in traffic.
Read the Personal Instruction web page to learn all about the Program. If you have any questions, Contact Me.


The Plight of Women Motorcyclists

My daughter, Jeannine recently started a conversation about the plight of women riders that inspired me to write this post.

Daughter and Father
Daughter and Father

FamilyWomen riders are a significant part of motorcycling’s future, but the motorcycle industry doesn’t seem to recognize this. With relatively few young males entering the 2 wheel world, bike manufacturers would be wise to wake up to the fact that it is worth offering greater selection, as well as more R&D and marketing resources for women riders.

What Do You Know? You’re Not a Woman

No, I’m not a female motorcyclist, but I am the husband and father of two accomplished female riders and I consider myself as strong an advocate of women riders as they come.
Jeannine has been on two wheels since she could reach the passenger footpegs and was twisting her own throttle at age 8. Jeannine is now a control rider for Tony’s Track Days and has worked in the motorcycle industry.
My wife, Caroline learned to ride after we were married and eventually became a certified MSF instructor and track day rider.
With this background, hopefully you can cut me some slack for penning this post. Sure, it might be best written by a woman but Jeannine is busy with nursing school. So when I asked her to write it she gave me a look that said “Really? Another thing?”


There are a couple of topics that came from this conversation that got me thinking. One was the often-heard complaint of an inadequate selection of riding gear. The other more compelling topic was the plight of being in the constant shadow of male riders.
First, let’s talk about the riding gear problem.

What Do You Mean I Can’t Get the Same Boots as my Husband?

Jeannine rocks her men's Macna Night Eye riding gear.
Jeannine rocks her men’s Macna Night Eye riding gear.

Caroline wears a men's jacket and pant combo, because they offered the best features.
Caroline wears a men’s jacket and pant combo, because they offered the best features.

Even though selection is getting better, serious women motorcyclists must often settle for riding gear that is a compromise between style and protection. And, from what I hear, women riders aren’t wanting to wear gear that says “isn’t she cute in that pink outfit?”.
Because a lot of women-specific gear has become a bit over the top in the styling department, many female riders choose to wear gear designed for men, which often doesn’t fit right and may even lack the best venting or adjustability. I can’t help but think that the gear that manufacturers offer to women are designed by men who are hunting for what women really want. To be fair, it could very well be that women don’t quite know what they want in riding gear, since their identity as motorcyclists is constantly evolving.
Style is one thing, but a more significant issue is protection. Most women-specific riding gear provides inferior protection compared to gear that is routinely offered to men. Riding jackets and pants may not have the best armor or the most rugged materials.
One of many examples is the selection of Sidi race boots. The most advanced women’s boot offered by Sidi is the Vertigo Lei, which in comparison is middle-of-the-road Sidi boot for men. If you want a boot with all the protection and features of the top of the line boot, you’re plum outta luck, girls.
Here is a great post from GearChic about how to design motorcycle gear for women without being sexist.

Get Out of the Shadows

The second point Jeannine made in our conversation was quite intriguing… and that was the fact that women riders cannot often detach from their significant other who also rides. In the beginning of Jeannine’s riding career, she learned from me and rode exclusively with me (and often with her Mom).
Only recently has she realized that being in my shadow has held her back from gaining a deep level of confidence and being fully immersed in motorcycling. Her trip to Alaska with MotoQuest afforded her the opportunity to ride with a group of male riders, none of whom were her Dad.
This made her more dependent on her skills, knowing that I wasn’t there to take care of her (not that she needs me to take care of her anymore… although she will always be my little girl). With this freedom, Jeannine experienced riding at a deeper level of self-competence.

I’m Going Riding with The Boys, Have Dinner Ready, Okay?

It wouldn’t be inconceivable to think of a man saying that to his wife (or girlfirend), but can you imagine a woman saying that to her husband? Since most women riders probably have a male partner that is a motorcyclist himself, it is not bloody likely that the woman would think she could ride with another male rider who wasn’t her boyfriend or husband.
What does this mean? It means that a serious woman rider can’t ride with other male riders, lest she be scrutinized as a sort of loose harlot who would rather ride with someone else rather than her husband. To avoid this situation, she must either ride with other female riders (it’s easy to imagine her saying, “I’m going riding with Sheila”), or be stuck riding with her significant other (S.O.).

Yeah, But My S.O. Sucks at Riding

Imagine the conflict that a female rider would have to deal with who is more accomplished than her S.O? I can tell you that the male ego doesn’t tolerate being told that he is not as good as he thinks he is. This is a problem for anyone in this situation, whether male or female, but it rarely goes well when coming from a woman. Just ask Jeannine who is a track day control rider to mostly male riders.

Time to step aside so your shadow casts away from your partner.
Time to step aside so your shadow casts away from your partner.

What to Do?

So, what’s the secret to the harmonious motorcycling relationship? First, if your wife or girlfriend wants to ride without you, ask her why and then listen carefully. If she mentions feeling stifled, encourage her to arrange a ride without you. She shouldn’t need your permission, but she needs your support.
If she says something that suggests that she doesn’t like how you ride, then listen carefully without your hairy ego getting in the way. Be a man of the 21st century and believe that it is possible that a woman can know more and ride better than a male.
The fact is that men weren’t born as proficient riders. If you accept that you don’t know all there is to know, then you’ll be a better S.O.
I can see where this topic could upset some riding couples’ status quo, but I think it’s worth a discussion, with the hope that both partners can reach their full potential as motorcycle riders. There is a lot more to consider around this subject, including the pressure women have from overbearing male partners, the intimidation that goes along with branching out, and the evolution of a self-identity that is more than being the second half of a riding couple. Stay tuned for more. In the meantime, give me your thoughts.
And check out this interesting post from Ride Apart about marketing to women.


Please Donate to Keep the Articles Coming

If you liked this article and the many other articles on this site, please toss a buck or five into the hat. It’s greatly appreciated!

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Thank You!





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