We all know that “practice makes perfect”, but how/where does one know how to SAFELY ride a motorcycle? Well, let’s start with some basic safety measures.
I’m not going to lie – when I first got on a motorcycle, I was terrified. But after I calmed down and learned about the ins and outs of how to be safe on a motorcycle, I became less intimidated, and I got on that cycle and haven’t looked back.
Found the “right” motorcycle for you? CHECK.
Purchased your safety gear and have ready through the owner’s manual? CHECK
Ready to ride? WAIT!!!
One thing you’ll want to make sure that you do before you hop on that saddle is make sure you go through a safety checklist. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has established a checklist they call T-CLOCS:
- T – Tires, wheels
- C – Controls (levers and pedal, cables, hoses, throttle)
- L – Light (battery, headlights, turn signals, mirrors, etc.)
- O – Oil (fluid levels)
- C – Chassis (frame, suspension, chain, etc.)
- S – Stands (center stand and/or kickstand)
Now that you’ve taken care of the basics, it’s time to learn how to ride a motorcycle. The following checklist will help you get going.
SAFETY GEAR –
One small move the wrong way and you’ll easily get scraped up being on a motorcycle. One way to help eliminate this is to have the proper safety gear. Gloves, Armored clothing and boots. Not all states require you to wear a helmet, but I HIGHLY recommend you always wear one when riding.
MOUNTING the MOTORCYCLE –
Just like riding a bicycle, getting on a motorcycle is the same basic principal. Stand on the left side of your bike and center your weight over your standing leg. Place your left hand on the handle and “balance” yourself while you hoist your right leg over. Be sure to clear the saddle. Once you’re straddling the bike, sit down and adjust your feet. Now your right hand should be on the other handle bar. While you’re in this sitting position, take the time to acquaint yourself with the motorcycle’s controls. Check out the turn signals, horn, speedometer, brake, and lights. Don’t forget to adjust your mirrors!
THROTTLE and BRAKES –
Left Handed folks, be aware…..driving a motorcycle is like a car, most everything occurs on the right side. Your right hand is responsible for 2 critical functions: acceleration and braking. By twisting the right grip towards you, you apply the throttle. BE CAREFUL, a dab will do you. Try this very slowly so as not to lose control of the bike. It is not advised to rev up the engine as that could lead to instability in the front wheel.
Your right hand also controls the front brakes (just like a bicycle). So, test out how hard you need to apply pressure to your grip. By stopping too quickly you run the risk of flying over the handlebars.
Your right foot, meanwhile, controls the rear break.
Which one is safer to use? Should you use one and not the other? Should you use them both at the same time? Safety experts say that in most situations, GENTLY apply the rear brake first, then ease off and slowly apply the front brake. It also depends on what type of bike you’re on. Sports bikes could get away with using the front brake, but if you’re on a heavy cruiser, you’ll rely more on your rear brake.
Now the left hand gets to help….the clutch is the lever just ahead of the left hand grip. The clutch on a motorcycle does the same thing that a car’s clutch does; it engages and disengages the transmission and engine. When you squeeze the clutch lever, you’re effectively putting the bike in neutral. When you let go, you’re engaging the engine and transmission. PRACTICE pulling the clutch with your left hand SLOWLY for a smoother transition.
Motorcycles shift differently than cars. Although they share the same principals, motorcycles shifts are executed by moving a lever up or down with the left foot. A typical shift pattern, called “1 down, 5 up,” looks like this:
- 6th gear (if applicable)
- 5th gear
- 4th gear
- 3rd gear
- 2nd gear
- 1st gear
One thing to caution you on – Finding neutral with your left foot will take some getting used to. Practice by clicking the shifter back and forth; look for a green “N” to light up on the gauges. While some motorcycles can be shifted without using the clutch, make it a habit of using the clutch every time you shift.
As with the manual transmission on a car, begin by disengaging the clutch, then shift gears and slowly re-engage the clutch. Feathering the throttle with the clutch will add smoothness to the shifting process. Be sure not to over-rev in each gear and to shift before the engine starts to work too hard.
STARTING the MOTORCYCLE –
99% of bikes have an electronic ignition which makes it easy to start. However, your bike will not start unless the “kill” switch is in the “on” position, so flip it down before you turn the key (the kill switch is usually a red switch on the right handle area). Next turn the key to the “ignition” position, which is TYPICALLY to the right.
MAKE SURE that you are in neutral, then use your right thumb to push the start button. Many bikes will require you to make sure the clutch is disengaged while you start the engine (just like a car, you don’t want the bike to lurch forward).
WARMING UP the ENGINE –
As we all know, the practice of warming up car engines has largely become obsolete. However, warming up a motorcycle engine is still a crucial part of the riding ritual, particularly when a bike is carbureted. Why do you need to do this? It will ensure that the engine will provide smooth, consistent power as you begin your ride. Please note that you should idle for anywhere from 45 seconds to several minutes, depending on factors such as ambient temperature, engine displacement, and oil capacity. Use the temperature gauge as a general guide and avoid revving the engine.
THE KICKSTAND or CENTERSTAND –
Cool thing about most modern bikes is that they will automatically shut off if the kickstand is still down when you put the bike into gear. And like a bicycle, you must make sure that this kickstand comes UP before you move the bike. Without doing this, it could cause a major safety hazard.
Centerstands, mounted beneath the motorcycle, require the bike to be rocked forward. Make sure that the bike’s handle is perpendicular to the ground and your weight is evenly distributed over your feet to balance the bike before you disengage the centerstand.
RIDING and STEERING –
Alright – we have all of the basics covered – ready to get moving? Pull the clutch lever, press the shifter DOWN to first gear, release the clutch SLOWLY and start to feel the motorcycle move forward. Gently twist on the throttle; as the bike gains forward momentum, place your feet up on the foot pegs.
Just like a bicycle, you control the steering by the handlebars. You will need a little speed (10 mph+) to be able to steer and balance easier.
Just like everything, I will remind you, SLOW and STEADY wins the race. Just be prepared for the road and take all of the safety measures and most of all…..HAVE A FUN and SAFE ride!