Learning to Ride a Motorcycle

Riding a motorcycle may sound difficult or even dangerous to many motorists, but ask any rider and he or she will tell you there is nothing else like it.

Motorcycle riding, touring, and even running around town can be safe on a motorcycle, while also offering better fuel efficiency and, riders argue, more fun.

Safe Start

There are basic skills required for good, safe riding. Too often motorcycle riders fail to remain safe and in control, and rely on other motorists when they should be focused on safety precautions, including:

  • Wearing a helmet.
  • Gaining experience and confidence in riding.
  • Maintaining adequate space behind other vehicles.
  • Remaining within speed limits and the flow of traffic.
  • Checking and maintaining your motorcycle.

Before You Motor

The first step to learning to drive a motorcycle centers on familiarizing yourself with two things: your motorcycle, or the one you plan to drive, and its operation on streets and highways.

Most states require a motorcycle permit, which is obtained by passing a written test. After obtaining a temporary motorcycle license or learner's permit (and some road time), you will be able to take a riding test and obtain your regular motorcycle license.

You can usually obtain your state's motorcycle driver's manual by visiting a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office, or accessing your state's website. You should study both the motorcycle manual, as well as the motorcycle you plan to ride itself.

Get familiar with the laws, requirements, and rights of motorcycle riders in your state. Is a helmet required? Even if it is not a legal requirement, a helmet is a necessity for safe riding, and particularly when you are learning.

Read the Manual

Other items to research and become familiar with include the following:

  • Insurance requirements for motorcyclists.
  • Rules on passengers.
  • Speed limits and seasonal restrictions on riding.
  • Express lane rules, which sometimes allow motorcycles.
  • Noise limits, which may pertain to some mufflers and baffles.

Make sure you understand the laws and requirements for motorcycles and riding in your state. This will not only make for a safer and smoother ride, but it will also help you pass the written and road tests that come with getting your motorcycle license.

Know Your Bike

Once you're familiar with the rules of the road, you are ready to get to know your wheels. Even if you do not own the bike you are learning to ride on, you should get access to it before driving it so you can get a sense of its workings and weight.

Motorcycles typically consist of the following basic components and controls:

  • Right side handlebar accelerator control
  • Right side handlebar brake control
  • Left side handlebar clutch
  • Foot-pedal gear shifter
  • Speed and fuel gages

Before even running and riding the motorcycle, you should have someone who is knowledgeable about cycling walk you through how to start, accelerate, decelerate, shift, brake, stop, park, and start again. This is where some professional training can be a good idea, but odds are if you are into motorcycle riding, you know of someone who will be willing to help you.

You should definitely have someone present to help you when you first start learning on an actual bike. Before even starting the engine, with someone else present to help you if necessary, you should get comfortable sitting and standing with the bike.

You will have to hold the bike up when stopped, so you should be comfortable doing so. If not, see if there are any foot-peg or other adjustments that help. You may also discover that you need a smaller motorcycle.

Once you are comfortable supporting the motorcycle, you are ready to practice. You should pick an isolated street, open parking lot, or similar location for some initial test driving. Again, you should have someone familiar with motorcycles nearby, and take the opportunity to practice starting, accelerating, braking, turning, and parking the bike.

Ready to Ride

Now you are ready to ride on real streets and then highways, but make sure you keep your speed within the limits and the flow of traffic. Motorcycles are not meant for darting in between cars and lanes. By doing this, a motorcycle rider is trusting that another motorist will see them, when this is not necessarily the case.

As a legal vehicle, a motorcycle rider has the right to the same space as a car. Certainly a motorcycle may be more nimble than a traditional, four-wheel vehicle, but smart riders save the turns and takeoffs for scenic, open roads.

When riding in traffic, you must always remain focused on the road. A distraction for a car driver may mean a fender bender, but for a motorcycle rider the result can be serious injury or even death. You should account for the fact that you do not have a cage around you on a motorcycle.

Keep a good distance back from the vehicles in front of you, be aware of the other vehicles around you, and don't forget to have fun. That's what motorcycle riding is really all about.

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