The No-B.S. Beginner’s Guide to Learning How to Ride A Motorcycle – Part 1

by on March 9, 2007
in Beginning Riders

biker reflected in mirrorI’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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?”

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2 Responses to “The No-B.S. Beginner’s Guide to Learning How to Ride A Motorcycle – Part 1”
  1. Jayne says:

    I really appreciate this site. I am 32 and at the point in my life where kids are not so dependant and I am trying to bring the “me” back into my life. My husband just bought a bike and I have been around them all my life, always as a passanger. I want to learn but I am so scared of the turning part. My husband tells me to turn one way to go in the opposite direction, that makes absolutly no sence to me. I did ride a Honda 250 down the road and back and the gears came naturally to me just like a 5 speed truck, the road was fortuanatly straight. I have been looking at a 2008 Nightster for $8000.00 and really don’t want to lay that much money on the pavement. Any tips on curves???????????????? Thank you Chicks!

  2. Corn Dog says:

    Jayne, what your husband is talking about is something called counter-steering. You do NOT counter-steer when traveling at slow traffic speeds. In fact, you don’t consciously counter-steer at all- it happens naturally because of the physics of going around curves at highway speeds. A couple of tips:

    First, you can take a safety course to learn the proper technique for curves and tight turns but basically, the important thing is to “look where you want to go.” (The bike will travel where you look. If you are staring at an oncoming car, or at the opposite curb, you’ll ride right into them. Look where you want to go – out at the end of the curve on your side of the road.) Your lane position in the curve also affects your stability in the curve – a safety course will teach you that too. (In those big sweeping highway curves, assuming you aren’t taking them too slow, your bike is naturally counter-steering. If you try to consciously push the handlebars in the direction of the curve, it will straighten the bike up; if you push them in the opposite direction of the curve, it will tighten your line of curve.)

    There are other, similar techniques for making tight turns right or left coming off of a stop sign – again, look where you want to go and don’t be afraid to goose the throttle a little to stabilize the bike as you take off.

    Finally, DO NOT lay out the money for a brand new bike just to learn. Read my post called “Best Beginner Bikes – Start Small & Move Up” to learn why. It’s at

    Thanks for reading, hope you have the opportunity to learn to ride your own, it’s a wonderful feeling!

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