How To Ride A Motorcycle
If you can walk and chew gum at the same time, you can probably learn how to ride a motorcycle. Of course there will be challenges—when to shift, how to avoid being target practice for an ignorant driver, etc.—but the rewards of motorcycling are unmatched! Freedom on the open road, the feel of the air on your skin—it’s even better than cruising in a convertible. Here are a few tips for learning how to ride a motorcycle.
- Understanding gears. Imagine tapping your foot downward repeatedly. Each time you tap down with the gear selector on a motorcycle, you are moving down in the gears. If you’re in third gear, tapping down once will put you in second gear. Tapping down again will put you in neutral, and tapping down again will place you in first gear. Gear positions, from top-down, are: sixth gear (if applicable), fifth gear, fourth gear, third gear, second gear, neutral, and first gear. You can’t learn how to ride a motorcycle without understanding gear positions.
- Shifting. The handle near your left fingertips is the clutch. Depress this handle fully while selecting gears with your foot on the gear selector (located just in front of your left foot rest). All shifting must be completed while depressing the clutch; otherwise, you’ll hear an unpleasant gear-crunching sound that’s sure to make the entire gang regret inviting you on their ride. It’s also—gasp!—an obvious sign that you just learned how to ride a motorcycle.
- Accelerating. Always start from first gear. Depress your clutch and tap your foot downward until you’re in first gear. With your right hand, release your brake. Increase your throttle with your right hand while slowly releasing the clutch with your left hand. Accelerate until you hear the engine reach a higher pitch that indicates the need for an upward gear shift. To shift up, release the throttle while depressing the clutch, and use your toes to lift the gear selector up to second gear. Slowly release the clutch while increasing the throttle, and continue accelerating. To shift up again into third, repeat the process. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for when to shift on every motorcycle; you’ll learn this by listening to the engine and by the forward motion of the bike. (Note: if the motorcycle jerks and slows down quickly upon throttle release, it is likely that you want to move into a higher gear.)
- Turning. Since the roadways are not all straight—thankfully, or it wouldn’t be as much fun—turning properly is an integral element learning how to ride a motorcycle. To turn, lean your body slightly into the turning direction while putting slight downward pressure on the handlebar on the turning side. To straighten your course, release the downward pressure and lean back into an upright position.
- Braking. The handle in front of the throttle is your rear brake. And down near your right toes, in front of your foot rest, is the front brake. (Some motorcycles offer combined braking with the foot brake; consult your owner’s manual to confirm.) Using both brakes simultaneously is the best method for braking. Your front brake offers the most braking power, and you should be comfortable using it at all times. Always brake slowly and carefully, and depress your clutch to avoid stalling out.
- Riding in groups. Learning how to ride a motorcycle wouldn’t be complete without knowing how to ride in groups. With motorcycles, there’s safety in numbers, especially at night when parallel motorcycle headlights can appear like a car’s headlights. When traveling with your Harley friends, be sure to keep a safe distance apart and avoid riding directly behind the motorcycle in front. This will give you ample time to stop in case they slow suddenly or stop due to an unplanned bikini sighting.
This brief guide is only the beginning of how to ride a motorcycle; for more information, enroll in a local motorcycle certification class, and don’t forget to check out your state’s DMV website for motorcycle handbooks and licensing guidelines. Some of their information falls in the common-sense category, but most of it is invaluable to motorcyclists.