New riders often experience fear and apprehension surrounded by the sometimes overwhelming, sheer magnitude of the task of learning to ride. You’ve, no doubt, been told horror stories of riders who have lost their lives, been chastised by family and friends for the sheer stupidity of their decision to ride, and may have had doubts or second thoughts about embarking on this new adventure. For those of us who seek the thrill of the road, the wind in our hair, and the camaraderie and freedom that beckons, resolve the fears and apprehensions and trade the risks for the benefits.
You’ll quickly learn that if you study hard, read everything they can, listen to experienced riders and practice their new skills, you can decrease or even mitigate many of the risks associated with riding. You should learn risk assessment and risk management, and be comfortable with the steps you’ve taken to be as safe as possible. Here are some tips that I’ve learned along the way for those of you that are new to motorcycles, or have only been riding a short amount of time.
- If you’re going to learn to ride for the first time, learn from an expert, not your spouse or friend (unless they are a motorcycle instructor)
- Consider taking a beginner rider safety course such as those offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and plan to take an advanced course after you’ve been riding regularly for a few months.
- Always wear your safety gear, even for short rides. This gear includes full fingered gloves, long sleeves or a jacket with armor, boots, long pants and possibly chaps, bright clothing in the daytime, reflective clothing at night, and of course a DOT or Snell approved helmet.
- Make sure your motorcycle is in top mechanical condition and inspect it using the TCLOCS system each time before your ride.
- Adjust your mirrors after you get on the motorcycle, and before you start riding.
- Always start the bike in neutral and hold the clutch in, just in case it unexpectedly comes out of gear sending you forward when you’re not yet ready.
- Practice before riding in traffic, first in an empty parking lot, then on straight, less traveled roads, graduating to curvy roads, light traffic, and finally heavy traffic.
- Don’t lock up the brakes; practice braking skills and other riding drills in an empty parking lot.
- Ride with the mentality that you are invisible; often motorists who collide with a motorcycle say “I didn’t see them”. Maintain awareness of your surroundings. Read this article about the SEE System.
- Look where you are going (not where you are at). The motorcycle will tend to travel in the direction you are looking.
- When you are doing circles or a U-turn, look over your shoulder to assist the bike in following the correct path (again, always look where you want to be going).
- Keep your motorcycle in first gear with the clutch lever in at stops and check your rear view mirror regularly – accidents can happen at stop lights or signs when a vehicle rear ends a motorcycle. Be ready to move, and have an escape route.
- Never ride when you are tired, ill, or intoxicated.
- Always leave extra space between you and other vehicles; all riders should leave at least a 2 second spacing when riding up to 35 mph. When riding at speeds higher than 35 mph, leave at least 4 seconds. This will increase your reaction time if you need to avert a collision, or stop suddenly.
- Practice, practice, practice! Get a lot of time in the seat, riding. Experience is the best teacher.
Once you are a confident rider, share your experiences with other new riders and enjoy the road together. Best of luck in your new adventure!