Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: Silicon Valley
1st Bike, Good Bike, Bad Bike,
Found this thread on an old site were I was a regular, thought it was worth posting as this subject comes up over and over again. Thought it worth sticking.
I want to have some sort of FAQ or info guidelines for new riders so we can point them here when they post the usual "is the 600 a good first bike" stuff. Some people have no clue about riding, so why don't we 'begin at the beginning'..with the very basics. The keen observer will note about 90% of what follows is focused on keeping the new rider SAFE.
I'll start this off with my own thoughts on the subject*. I'd consider myself an intermediate street rider at this point, with 3 1/2 years and about 30,000 miles (no drops or downs). I've done a lot of things wrong but a few key things right. There's a lot to cover so I'll try to get it down and then re-organize later. *I'd like for the more experienced street riders - well anyone with experience to share - to add to this however they see fit.
Riding a motorcycle on the street is one of the most dangerous activities you'll likely ever undertake. The whole exercise of learning to ride needs to be approached methodically with a mindset of awareness and risk mitigation, otherwise you're very, very likely to wind up a "statistic", and have a very unsatisfying, short and embarrassing riding career -- or worse, end up six feet under.
This post (and thread) will be long, because the art and science of riding on the street encompasses many issues, some you've thought about and some you may not have even considered yet. I'd like to do justice to this subject and not gloss over important details. Those little details could save someone's life.
Pre-requisites. Well, in most places you have to be at least 16, in some countries you can only start on a 125cc bike, and so on. Stateside they'll sell you a Hayabusa in most dealerships without even asking to see your license. IMHO you should at least have some manual gearbox driving experience before even getting on a motorcycle. You should have some experience driving cars in city traffic, highway conditions, suburbs, etc. The more, the better. If it were my son, I'd buy him a decent car and BEG him to stay on four wheels for the first 4-5 years before he gets a bike, but everyone's different. Motocross experience counts for a lot as far as basic mastery and control, but it DOESN'T give you any situational awareness in fast / heavy traffic. Driving does; it teaches you to predict the moronic moves of other drivers; it teaches you about margin of error, road conditions, and many other factors.
Reading. There's a wealth of great information to help you ride safely and skillfully. Check your local library for books like Proficient Motorcycling (David Hough), Sport Riding Techniques (Nick Ienatsch) and others. Try and understand motorcycle dynamics - what'll happen if you panic in that corner and hit your brakes...and why. It's a lot less painful than finding out "by experience" on the road. Hang out on websites where people talk shop, you'll learn an enormous amount. Absorb every bit of good info you can find, including crash reports. Avoid websites where the guys have more skillz than brains.
Training. Sign up for the MSF training if you live in the US - it's free in some states but you need to get your name on a list. Other countries have an equivalent rider training. You'll need a helmet and gloves at minimum to take the course. It's typically one Friday evening and then all day Sat and Sun on the bike. TAKE THE COURSE, you'll learn something no matter how much you think you know. It's humbling, and it will also pay off immediately in lower insurance rates.
Getting the right gear. This is as important as what bike to buy. Get the best gear you can afford, period. Helmet, gloves, boots, jacket and pants. Common reco is to set aside $1000-1500 for your gear. You don't need the best leathers available, but get yourself covered. Never buy a used helmet! (dropped helmets are considered to be potentially compromised structurally, even if you can't see the damage on the shiny side) If your clothing/shoe sizes are pretty normal you can save some dough buying online rather than at a dealer, but trying on the apparel and helmets before you buy is obviously recommended.
Choosing a good first bike. If you're reading this you are interested in sport(y) bikes. The normal recommendation for new riders of smaller stature is to start on a Ninja 250, preferably a used one so you don't take a big hit on resale - you will outgrow the bike in a year or so, maybe less. If you're bigger you could look at the EX500 or GS500. Some people recommend the SV650, I think with 70bhp that bike is on the borderline. Maybe ok if you're mature enough, but it could get you in a alot of trouble if you're not. It is an easy bike to ride but then again so is the CBR1000RR. Btw, if you're concerned about bike weight or power, and live in Canada, Australia or Europe, check out the CBR125RR...interesting package. As to whether a 600cc bike makes a good first bike -- the consensus among us is NO. I'll let others add comments to that if they want to. My own feeling on this is that at least 50% of us buy the "wrong" first bike (I did too), so I'd rather address the attitude or approach to riding more than the machinery itself. (I do have more thoughts on that subject that I'll post later on)
Will I drop the bike? Most people say YES; ...personally I like to say NO -- don't drop it. That's what an experienced rider told me when I started, and it has worked for me - in the sense that, I became determined not to just be resigned to dropping the bike at the first sign of trouble, just because that's "the thing to do". But statistically speaking, YES you will most likely drop your first bike. And your second. Think about this when choosing your first bike....a good used Ninja 250 or 500 is a lot less painful and WAY less expensive to fix up, and a small light bike gives you a much better shot at beating these odds also.
Starting out on your own. You got the bike home, now what? Speaking for myself, I started on side streets in the suburbs - all around my neighborhood with stop signs, no traffic lights. Practice and learn basic control of your machine. Most drops happen at low speed. Work on becoming smooth at starting off and at stopping. Develop a good feel for the clutch engagement, and when you think you've got it down, practice on incline starts. Become an expert at all the little things -- use of the sidestand, gear shifting, throttle control, mirror checks, controlled hard stopping (practice in a parking lot), these all will pay big dividends at some point down the road. After a few hours of this over 3-4 days I headed out into town, dealing with traffic lights, 40mph-limit traffic, and so on. Next up I got on some rural roads with 50-55mph limits; I have to be honest, crosswinds and buffeting scared the **** out of me at first! I just wasn't expecting it. Same for the wind blast from oncoming semis. It's all part of the learning progression, and this is why it made sense to me to take it slowly at the beginning. It was a good 2 months or so before I got on the freeway, where average speed is 70-80mph. You might be ready to deal with it sooner, you might not. Just respect your own inner voice, that's the guy looking out for your rear end.
Riding buddy. Sure, find someone to ride with, but make sure they can ride well, and that they're willing to ride with your interests in mind, and at your comfort level. A friend that sucks you in to riding twice as hard as you're comfortable is no friend. A friend that gets impatient with you is a bad riding partner.
Group rides. I would say just flat out avoid them for a while. Groups introduce a whole other set of dynamics and variables, most of them out of your control. Groups will tend to have a mix of experienced and less skilled riders, which is not usually a great thing. The other big aspect in group riding is the testosterone or ego level, again it just introduces a whole set of **** to deal with on top of the set you're already trying to master. Wait a few months. When you're ready, be sure to read Ienatsch's "The Pace", it's very worthwhile. And only ride with sane people.
Trips. Again all dependent on your comfort level. Good to start out small (overnighter) and learn how to do it right, what to pack and what to leave home, etc. How to pace yourself to conserve energy.
In this next section I want to deal with specific risks - what are they, when can you expect them to arise, how can you avoid or mitigate them. I'm not sure how to organize all this but I'll give it a shot.
Risks you face in the very earliest stages.
Wanting to ride all the time. This is completely natural, I think everyone faces it. You just got the bike and you can't stand not being on it. Learn to sense when you're up for a ride and when to keep it parked. If you're tired, upset, irritable, anxious, need to eat, etc., don't go out! You need to be 100% mentally strong to ride, that goes for every ride. Also, life goes on for the people around you, so try not to blow off all your responsibilities - otherwise they'll start to resent the whole motorcycle thing, and it'll become a source of tension (for you as well).
Wanting to ride really well. Well, sure. But this takes seat time and it can't be rushed. If you're obsessing about technique as a new rider, you're gonna push things faster than what you're ready for. And you'll be in trouble way sooner than you're able to handle it. Just take the mindset that you're going to be riding for many, many years. The gratification will be there, you don't need to have it instantly like we've become so accustomed to nowadays.
Distractions. In the first month or two you have to be totally focused on safety, period. If you're riding and start to stare at a pretty girl walking on the sidewalk, or sneak a look at yourself in the storefront window to see if you're "cool", then you are distracted. Don't worry about impressions. Everyone knows you're a newb anyway. Just concentrate on survival. There are other distractions too - a fly in your helmet, being hot and sweaty, some debris on the road, whatever. Learn to anticipate them and deal with them, without losing any control over your motorcycle. Distractions also include wandering thoughts, worrying about a bill you forgot to pay, what your boss said to you before lunch, etc. Sometimes I'll actually drift off into thinking about crashing the bike, and 5 minutes later I'm still thinking about the eulogies people are giving at my funeral.... WTF!! Concentrate on the road, idiot. 8)
All the other "usual" hazards. They apply to everyone, all the time. See the lists below......
Risks you face after the first 2000-3000 miles.
False confidence!! Congrats, you made it ok this far. Now go back to the basics again, re-read everything, refocus. This is the time when you suddenly cop a dumb grin in your helmet and go, "hey, this is easy." Yep, riding down a country lane in perfect conditions IS easy. It doesn't mean you have any skills though. At this point your emergency maneovering skills are probably completely untested. Have you ever made a controlled panic stop, and executed it well? Probably not. Have you faced more than 1 or 2 of the "usual" risks listed below? Doubt it. You can shift smoothly and you aren't as wobbly through corners, but YOU ARE STILL INEXPERIENCED, so stay on the program!!
The "usual" risks -- these apply to all of us, all the time.
Drivers. They are all out to kill you. Well, most of them anyway. The average driver doesn't see you and isn't even remotely aware of you, no matter how loud your pipes are. He's checking his voice mail, reading, shaving, drinking coffee, possible all at once. He'll cut you off, swerve into your lane, tailgate you, and generally make your life miserable. If you commute on a bike, you know why the term "streetfighter" is apropos. It's flat-out urban combat out there all the time, every day. edit: Be especially alert for Taxi drivers, they tend to be sociopaths!
Riders. Yeah, other mc riders....I've had nearly as many close calls with them as I've had with cages. Sometimes my own fault - riding with a friend and not paying enough attention, etc. But I've had strangers try to overtake me in my lane, and weird stuff like that. Not good but it's more common than you might think. Not just aggression but also there are a lot of riders out there who really don't know what they're doing.
Trucks and buses. Just stay the hell away from them, as far away as possible.
Pedestrians and cyclists. They've screwed me up a few times. Usually you can predict their actions but sometimes not. Just remember, if you ever hit/injure a pedestrian or cyclist, it will be YOUR fault, no matter what happened. And (assuming you survive) it'll hang on your conscience the rest of your life.
Road hazards. Oil spills, fallen construction pylons, huge potholes, fresh horse paddies, rusted exhausts shearing off the back of old Civics, 15-lb brake calipers flying off truck wheels, you name it and some poor guy on two wheels has faced it head on. Luck of the gods be with you... some of these things are just totally out of your control, but you still have to make the effort to anticipate and react wherever possible.
Rush hour. Commuting on the bike is extra risky, I think. In the morning the roads may be cold...you have extra-inattentive (sleepy) drivers, and lots of people running late for work. In the afternoon, pretty much the same thing....lot of ppl yakking on cell phones, stressed out rushing to day care to pick up their kids and whatnot. Be sure you're mentally prepared....I've often left the bike at home and took the car when I was too tired to deal with all of it.
Cold tires. I read that something like 60% of bike accidents happen within 5 minutes of your house. Watch for cold pavement and/or cold tires. Increase your stopping margin, and decrease your lean angle on turns accordingly.
Bad weather. Rain, snow, hail...none of it good for us. I took my time getting used to riding in the rain, I'm pretty comfortable now but if it's pouring I usually wait it out. They say in rain you still have 80% of your limits. Everyone has their own comfort level. Extreme heat and cold are also major risks.
Critters. Squirrels, rabbits, dogs, deer. Moose if you live up in the north. All of them have dirt for brains and will run right at you when they're scared. Watch for them all the time! See a deer? Slow down, there are more in the area....especially in mating season (Sep-Oct-Nov depending on were you live).
Mechanical failure. None of us like to think about this one. It could be a tire puncture, a rod shooting through the clutch basket (happened to me), or anything. What we all can do is keep our bikes well maintained, check tire pressure every few days, check tire condition / look for nails etc before every ride, test your lights before each ride, the basic stuff like that.
Night riding. Plus dawn and dusk; prime time for deer. Lots of dangers in low-light conditions... animals, drunks, debris you can't see until it's too late. Just last week I was on I-75 northbound in KY after dark and nearly lost control when I hit some broken / uneven pavement. Night rider beware!
and last but NOT least......
The "obvious" becomes much more critical. On a bike, avoidable circumstances are more likely to kill or maim you, so ALWAYS watch for them. Always leave an escape route. Always watch for vehicles turning into your path, especially near high-turn areas like gas stations, donut shops etc. (way too many bikers have "Officer I didn't see him!" for an epitaph on their gravestone). When you overtake a vehicle, spend as little time as possible in their blind spot. Always "block" your lane like they teach you in MSF - especially when you don't have a shoulder available as a backup escape. Never follow open-bed trucks and pickup trucks - what flies off the back will kill you fast. Always slow down approaching blind curves and blind hill crests. Slow down in forested areas where heavy shadows can play havoc with your visibility of the road. Always watch the road for gravel, but keep your head UP, not looking down at the pavement. Slow down in bad weather, construction zones, or any bad road conditions. Respect the community you're riding in -- slow down near schools and school buses.
Last edited by Triple Threat; 06-02-2011 at 12:17 PM.