June’s almost over, and riding season is in full swing. This year I know many women who have gone out and bought a bike. Or have owned one for a while, but are finally ready to get out there and ride. Seriously, I know at least 6 new women riders, who are finally ready to ride, and they’ve all been asking to go on a ride with me. I’ve been thinking about doing a beginner’s ride with all of them, but in the meantime, I thought I could do a blog with beginner’s some tips. It’s likely the same tips you’ve heard before, but hopefully I’ll give you some insight, or confidence that it’s OK to be where you are in your riding.
Take the Course/Learn to Ride
This may sound silly, of course you’re going to learn to ride. But actually learn. Don’t just have your neighbor give you the basics: throttle, clutch, shifter, brakes. Find someone who is going to walk you through how the bike handles, the best way to corner, stop and U-turn. Better yet take a course! Both MSF and Harley offer courses nationwide, they are only a few hundred dollars, and are completely worth having a licensed instructor walk you through riding from the very start (even before you get on!) In both courses you learn the skills required to ride, then at the end you take the practical part of the licensing test, meaning when you finish you have your learners permit!
Ride your own ride/ Ride within your abilities
This is probably the most important thing to remember. Ever. For your entire riding life, remember this. We spend most of our lives trying to fit in, and wanting to keep up with our friends, riding is an individual activity (even in a group). It is up to you to keep yourself (and others if you are riding in a group) safe. Pushing the limits can be helpful at gaining skills but taking risks or pushing yourself too hard can have dire consequences on two wheels.
Ride when and where you feel safe. Don’t let anyone (especially yourself) pressure you into riding outside your skill level. Quite frankly this is how many riders die, or get seriously injured. If you are not comfortable taking a turn at a certain speed, slow down. If another rider or car is making you nervous, let them pass, or back off. Trust your instincts. I know it’s hard to pull back or ride slower than your friends, but remember every single rider has been in your shoes, and most, MOST will be happy that you put yourself first and stayed safe. If they are in fact your friends they will slow down and take it at your pace. The longer you ride the better you’ll become and the more confident you’ll feel.
Confidence ≠ Skill (but it helps A LOT)
I’m sure that you’ve heard the phrase “fake it ’til you make it” and it applies to motorcycles as well. You have to believe that you can until you actually do. While there is something to be said about trusting the butterflies in your stomach, it is in your best interest to quiet your nerves. If you are riding and envisioning yourself biffing it on the turn in front of you, it will likely happen. Riding should feel natural and is easier if you’re relaxed and loose, not stiff and tense. Focus on the road in front of you and know that you possess the skills to make it around an S-curve, or to ride on the freeway, or even change lanes. When you’re feeling nervous, take a deep breath, relax, and remind yourself that riding a motorcycle is well within your capabilities. That having been said, don’t force yourself to ride if you have a bad feeling. Don’t forget, ride your own ride.
Know Simple Maintenance
Sure you can pay someone to maintain your bike, or work on it when something goes wrong, but there is a value in knowing how to fix some things yourself. That way if you’re ever stuck on the side of the road, it’s nice to know how to troubleshoot, so you know if the issue is fixable or you’re going to need a trailer. Learn how to change your oil, if even so you know where to check if you have a leak. Know how to access your battery, in case you need a jump. Learn how to check your tire pressure, ideally you should do this before every ride. Even knowing what to look for when checking tire wear, or how to check your brake pads. Of course, unless your up to it leave the advanced work to the pros, or friends who know what they’re doing. But be somewhat engaged with the maintenance since motorcycles are so much more unforgiving of small problems.
As a new rider you are probably wearing full (or almost full gear) but as you gain experience, you will be tempted to shed some layers and ride slightly less encumbered. Gear choices are different for everyone and as one of my friends so eloquently put it, anyone wearing less gear than you is an idiot. It’s true, riders are never more judgey about other riders than when it comes to gear. We’ve all heard people gripe about the guy on the sport bike ripping up the freeway in shorts, flip-flop and a baseball cap, and while that is certainly not advisable riding attire, what you wear on a motorcycle is solely up to you. However, at the very least I recommend close toed shoes, pants (ideally actually denim not that stretchy thin crap), gloves and if not a helmet, eye protection. I’ll elaborate on these below even though some or all of that gear seem obvious to you.
Close-toed shoes are crucial to being able to operate your motorcycle correctly, which you may know if you ever rode a bicycle in a pair and had them get folded up between you and the road, or got the pedal stuck in between your foot and the flop. Similar problems can arrive on a motorcycle, but your foot isn’t protected from debris, or the road if you fall, not to mention having to shift without a shoe! Pants not only protect your from painful pipe burns, but thick material like denim will protect your leg better from road rash in the event of a crash. You could go all out and buy nylon protective gear like they wear on racetracks, but there is a wide variety of protective pants between those and your everyday jean. Gloves are ideal for protecting your hands from debris and of course if you were to slide. They are also helpful if you need to adjust something on your bike. We’ve all heard the benefits of wearing a helmet, but if you choose not to, at least cover your eyes. Get some shatterproof sunglasses and clears for night riding to keep some wind, debris and other potential hazards from damaging your eyes.
To be even safer a long sleeve jacket of leather or textile to keep your skin if you slide. There are plenty out there designed to keep you safe in the event of a crash with vents and other innovations to keep you cool. I personally don’t fully gear up on warm days, partially because I fear overheating, and because I love feeling the air on my skin especially on cool summer nights. At the end of the day though, what you wear is up to you. Wear what makes you feel comfortable, and allows to operate your bike the best you can. Gear’s entire purpose is to keep you safe and help you stay whole in the event of an accident, but you are the first line of defense. The best protection is avoiding an accident all together, so stay aware.
As Peter Fonda once said (in a moto-safety video) pretend every driver on the road is “asleep, blind, or drunk.” It sounds funny but it’s true, be aware that you are essentially invisible to any four-wheeled vehicle. Watch out for other drivers merging into your lane, pulling up behind you at a light, and most importantly scan the whole scene when approaching an intersection.
And while 2/3 of motorcycle accidents are caused by another vehicle, 1/3 were the fault of the rider. I can’t stress this enough (…obviously) you are responsible for your own safety. Keep a safe following distance and while it seems obvious, pay attention. Get familiar with how the bike handles. Travel at a speed that you can keep the bike under control if you have to stop suddenly or swerve around a hazard. Remember this: “Motorcycling is not, of itself, inherently dangerous. It is, however, extremely unforgiving of inattention, ignorance, incompetence, or stupidity.”
I mean I know this is super cliché and fairly obvious, but have fun. You wanted to ride because it’s a fun thing to do, so make sure that among everything else you’re having fun. Plus if you’re having fun you’ll relax and have a better ride anyway. And remember, we all started somewhere….