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Learning to Ride a Motorcycle

Learning how to ride a motorcycle can be daunting at first. But with a little practice and a lot of patience, you can master the basics of your bike and safely roam the wide open roads. So what are you waiting for? Let's get started!

First Steps to Motorcycle Riding

Before you learn how to ride a motorcycle, you'll need to first take a few basic steps to ensure your safety.

  • Grab a copy of your state's motorcycle handbook.
    • In addition to a general driver handbook, many states offer a separate guide specifically directed toward motorcyclists—both online and in print.
    • This manual will get you familiar with the rules of the road and targeted safety tips while on your bike.
  • Earn your motorcycle learner's permit.
    • Many states have a minimum age requirement and require you to possess a motorcycle permit before you are eligible to test for your full motorcycle license.
    • Check out your state's specific requirements in our Motorcycle License section.
  • Buy the proper equipment.
    • Other than having a motorcycle in good working order, you'll need to purchase other equipment to protect yourself as much as possible. This includes:
      • Helmet.
      • Eye and face protection.
      • Leather jacket and pants.
      • Sturdy, thick boots.
      • Gloves.
      • Hearing protection.

Learn Your Motorcycle's Controls

Once you've earned your motorcycle learner's permit and purchased all of your protective gear, you'll need to get familiar with all of the controls on your bike before you can begin practicing.

While the exact operation and location of your controls can vary slightly from motorcycle to motorcycle, below are some of the things you'll need to become familiar with:

  • Clutch lever:
    • Engages power to the rear wheel when released.
    • Disengages power to the rear when when pressed.
    • Typically found on the left side of the handlebar.
  • Gearshift lever:
    • Needed to shift up or down one gear at a time.
    • Usually a pedal on the left side in front of the foot rest.
  • Choke:
    • May be needed to start the motorcycle if it hasn't been started for a prolonged period of time.
    • Usually found near the left handlebar grip.
  • High/low beams:
    • Used to shift settings on your headlights.
  • Turn signals:
    • Right and left signals are usually found near the left handlebar grip.
  • Front brake lever:
    • Usually located on the right side of the handlebar.
  • Rear brake:
    • Usually a foot pedal on the right side.
  • Throttle:
    • Similar to the accelerator on a car, and mostly commonly controlled by using the right handlebar grip.
  • Ignition switch:
    • Often located in the center of the bike below the speedometer.
  • Kill switch:
    • Usually located near the right handlebar grip.
    • May be useful in emergency situations.
  • Kick start:
    • A foot pedal used to start the bike, typically located on the right side. Not all motorcycles feature a kick starter.
  • Horn:
    • Located near one of the handlebar grips, usually on the left side.

Practice Riding Your Motorcycle

Whether you decide to sign up for a motorcycle licensing course or learn on your own, you'll need plenty of practice before you'll be ready for the road.

Below are a few tips to help you with basic control and operation of your motorcycle:

  • Position:
    • Make sure you're comfortable on the bike and can reach all of the controls easily. This includes your:
      • Seat position.
      • Handlebar reach.
      • Knee position.
      • Reach to foot pedals.
  • Shifting:
    • To upshift:
      • Roll off the throttle.
      • Squeeze the clutch lever.
      • Place your foot under the gear lever and lift to shift up.
      • Slowly release the clutch and ease into the throttle.
      • Release the gear lever.
    • To downshift:
      • Come off the throttle.
      • Squeeze the clutch lever.
      • Place your foot on top of the gear lever and press down.
      • Release the clutch slowly and roll on the throttle.
      • Take your foot away from the gear lever.
  • Braking:
    • Use the front and back brakes each time you slow.
    • Try to reduce your speed before entering a corner.
    • Braking traction will be reduced the more you lean the bike.
    • When you do brake in a corner, do so slowly and gradually. Don't use as much force as you would normally.
  • Turning:
    • As you head into a turn, make sure you:
      • Slow down first.
      • Look through the turn toward your exit.
      • Lean the bike slightly by pressing the handgrips.
      • As you begin to exit the turn, roll the throttle.
        • This will help you increase your speed, gain balance, and return the bike to its upright position.
  • Distance:
    • Always keep as much distance as possible between yourself and other vehicles.
    • This will give you more time to respond to obstacles and provide space should you need room to maneuver.

In the beginning, it's always best to practice in an area where you won't have to worry about other vehicles. Parking lots or lightly trafficked neighborhoods are ideal.

Remember, too, to practice in as many different conditions as possible, such as starting out on hills from first gear and shifting during turns. If you know an experienced motorcyclist, have him or her give you tips as you practice.

Once you feel comfortable with basic operation, head to your local motor vehicle agency office and schedule a road motorcycle test. After you pass the test and each of the additional requirements, you will receive your motorcycle license and can continue practicing in normal traffic conditions.

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