Looking for info for absolute beginners? You’ve come to the right place! In addition to reading our “No B.S. Guide” for women (or “biker chicks in training”), I’ve collected a few links and resources that will help you realize that YES: You’ve made the right choice in learning to ride! Enjoy –
AMA’s “Five Things Every New Rider Should Know” – (best tip: Your best friend is probably not your best teacher)
From DMV.org, here’s “Learning to Ride A Motorcycle.” Read this first. And then make yourself a T-shirt with this statement: “a motorcycle rider has the right to the same space as a car.” Wear this to a variety of work and social functions as a ‘conversation starter’ with those around you. Come to think of it, this is a good idea for experienced riders too!
Check out the entire Novice Tips section at BCRider.com.
Download this handy safety reminder sheet from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.
And for even more woman-centered reading, visit the following:
One day during my “learning season” of riding, my husband led us on a ride through a campground that we knew had some lakefront real estate on the far side. What we didn’t know was that the access to the river was done a steep, gravel hill – and not firm-packed dirt, but good loose rocks. Not wanting to appear to be a chicken, I loosened my grip on the bars (so I wouldn’t over-steer) and rode down the hill without complaint. It was an unexpected opportunity to address a particular circumstance, and I passed the test with flying colors.Beginning riders usually have a lot of questions about how to handle specific riding situations, so here are a few tips for those times when a new experience is unavoidable ;)
- Night-time riding – become extra aware of the road ahead. You should always be looking about 12 seconds down the road, even in daylight, but at night seeing farther ahead becomes critical so you spot any animals or anything like that along the highway. Additional lighting on your bike (such as a light bar) might also help you see and be seen. Finally, pack a pair of clear goggles or glasses in your for or saddle bag so you don’t get stuck wearing sun glasses at night. It worked for Corey Hart in the 80’s – it doesn’t work for you on the bike!
- Windy conditions – Moving through the wind is always going to be a factor on the bike, but when gusts are strong or steady above 15 mph, it really gets noticable. Adding a windshield to the bike can prevent headwinds from hitting you hard in the chest and face, but what’s really critical is dealing with crosswind. When crosswinds are strong, it’s important to understand how passing traffic will affect the degree to which you are buffeted (moved around by) the wind. It can be pushing you hard to one side of the lane, but the moment a car or truck goes past you it takes away that force and you will get “tossed” quickly back to the other side of the lane. Experience is really the only way to learn how your bike responds and how much to compensate.
- Tired butt – Most folks will complain that their butt hurts if they’ve been riding all day. But some bikes have really crappy stock seats that make even shorter rides uncomfortable. The problem could certainly be your riding position, so make sure the bike fits you in terms of handlebar reach and seat height. But also consider a new seat with a backrest or firmer foam. If that’s not practical, you may find yourself stopping more frequently just to get off the bike to walk around a bit. That’s okay too, you just have to figure the stops into your time schedule.
- Rain – It’s gonna happen. Sooner or later you’re going to get caught in the rain, be it a light shower or an all-out downpour. If it gets to the point where visibility is limited, you should try to find a safe place to pull over. Try to pick a place where the bike will not be parked at an odd angle (like on the downward-sloped shoulder of a highway, or in mud). A rain suit is a smart bit of gear to keep with you; these days a quality suit can be very lightweight and can fold up to the size of a small clutch purse. And, if you don’t have a full-face helmet, you can fold and tie a bandana around your nose and chin, outlaw-style, to keep the “truck wash” off and the rain drops from stinging. Finally, remember that the first few minutes of a rainstorm are the most dangerous because the rain is getting the oil and road-gunk all wet, and making it even more slippery than the wet road might be after it all washes off.
Can I Really Do This? YES, you have my permission to try! (like you needed that! LOL) The hard truth is, riding motorcycles isn’t for everyone. Here are some things to consider to see if it might be for you.
- Healthy body: Are you physically capable? You don’t have to be able to bench press 300 pounds, by any means. But you can’t really be physically frail and have confidence that you’ll be able to hold the bike up. Try visiting a dealership and sitting on their smallest street bike. Can you raise it off the kickstand? Can you walk it forward, and walk it backward, while straddling the seat? (Try these things only with the help and permission of a sales rep.) If you can’t, but you still want to be in the wind, you might consider trying a trike.
- Healthy attitude: Can you keep a promise to ride safely and responsibly? Remember, it’s not just your own life at stake. Hot-dogging on a bike (or worse, riding under the influence) can ruin many lives with one bad move. Also, can you accept the level of risk involved with riding, and are you prepared for the worst with up to date life insurance, a living will, etc.?
- Healthy desire: Do you want to ride? Really want to ride? You’ve got to want it. If you’re learning because someone else wants you to, or for some reason you’re half-hearted about it, you won’t practice. You’ll get lazy. And you’ll end up with a very expensive boat anchor languishing in your garage.
What Bike Should I Get? – This question has a zillion possible correct answers, depending on your comfort-level with riding at the time you’re ready to shop, the type of bike you want to own (sport bike? cruiser?), your budget, your personal tastes, brand appeal, etc. For simplicity’s sake, though, I’ll take a stab and answer the question directly assuming you want a cruiser that’s similar to what you used in your MSF course. The three major manufacturer bikes I would recommend for absolute beginners are:
- The Yamaha Virago 250 – a great-looking, easy to handle V-twin.
- The Honda Rebel 250 – classic-styled, chain-driven 250
- The Kawasaki 125 – single-cylinder five-speed, air-cooled commuter bike
If you’re confident in your abilities but not ready for the heavyweight cruisers, there are a few more choices. These are my favorites, in no particular order:
- The Yamaha VStar 650 – Classic, custom, or Silverado styling; an awesome middleweight cruiser you may never outgrow.
- The Honda VLX or VLX Deluxe – Low to the ground, four-speed 600.
- The Honda 750’s: Aero & Spirit – five-speed bikes with forward controls
- Harley Davidson Sportster 883, Standard or Low – If your heart’s set on Harley, the 883 has the HD looks, sound and agility. Of the majors, only the Honda Aero has a lower seat height.
- Kawasaki Vulcan – sizes range from 500 to the 900 Classic.
- Suzuki Boulevard C50 and S50 bikes – five speeds, forward controls, higher seat height
For a more thorough comparison of these and other bikes, try the BikerChickNews Short Rider Spreadsheet. Although it was intended to be a round-up of cruiser models for shorter riders, it also serves well as a guide to mid-weight bikes from various manufacturers. It’s by no means complete, but it might be a good place to start.
I’ve said it before: women learn differently than men. My personal feeling is that we’re more cautious, more studious, and less “just do it.” We’re also pretty supportive of each other in general, but when serious questions arise about how, exactly, one gets started riding motorcycles, that can lead to inadvertant sugar-coating and very vague answers given in such a round-about way as to be completely meaningless. So here is an attempt to bust through all the nicey-nice… you can still get that elsewhere… and just answer some questions directly. We’ll take it in small chunks because, well, it’s just easier to write it that way. The first question for a new rider always comes from that place in the woman’s heart that wants to be practical, yet take a risk, yet not have any nasty surprises as she’s getting started down a new road. The question is, “What do I need to get started?”
It’s tempting to try to pass this question off with something really vague and diplomatic like, “That’s different for every person.” But since this isn’t the nicey-nice Beginner’s Guide, I’ll take a stand and say you can actually boil it down to a short list of five things you need to get started riding. Here they are:
- You need a practice bike. Borrow or buy a small-cc brike from someone who can show you the proper start-up procedure for that bike. (They’re not going to teach you to ride, but it would be helpful if they could show you how to start the bike.) Don’t forget insurance.
- You need some safety gear. A DOT-approved helmet, leather or armored textile jacket, and sturdy riding boots that cover your ankles and have solid gripping soles are necessities. Some type of gloves, at least the fingerless style that cover your palms, are also a good idea.
- You need instruction. You can learn from a trusted, experienced friend or spouse, but you run the risk of picking up bad riding habits. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) offers courses at venues across the country, and some insurance companies offer a discount if you train with MSF.
- You need a practice area. Just because you pass your MSF doesn’t mean you’ll feel comfortable enough to cruise out on the highway immediately. A large parking lot, preferably empty, is ideal.
- Finally, you need support, or at least encouragement, preferably from an experienced rider. Tackling a new skill is always easier if you have someone to cheer you on or even help you learn and practice. At a minimum, you need a person who will speak encouraging words and who won’t constantly berate you for trying or blather on about the horrible accident their friend’s cousin was in.
So that’s it, the bare necessities if you want to learn to ride. Don’t skimp on ’em, they’re important. Experienced riders, anything you want to add? Just send me an email!Part Two of the No-B.S. Beginner’s Guide will cover the most burning question new riders face: “What Bike Should I Get?”