Part 2 of this series leaves you, the first-time rider, in a precarious situation. You’ve narrowed down your search to one or two models – good. You’ve found a few examples of each that fit your criteria – good. You’ve picked the best option and want to place an offer but don’t know how you’ll get it home – not so good, but at least you’re thinking ahead. In this chapter of the learner’s saga we’ll discuss what you should do to make your first ride in the real world a pleasant experience.
How many miles of riding do you have under your belt by this point? If your experience consists solely of the motorcycle safety course you probably have not ridden more than 100 km. On top of that, the cocoon in which you practised had no cars, pedestrians, or other random objects (except maybe for the occasional stalled bike). The roads outside of the artificial environment that was created for a bunch of uninitiated riders are very different. I did my best to align all the variables which would make my first ride as easy and stress-free as possible. Even so, I vividly remember how exhilarating and nerve-wracking those 10 minutes were.
Your First Motorcycle
I want to tackle this subject before any other is because the following considerations may limit where you do your shopping for a motorcycle. After all, your first ride may be the one you take right after handing over a cheque and getting a set of keys in return. There is no definitive right method because people will have different preferences and be in different situations, however, I do believe there are some things you can get wrong.
Do you want to attempt this on your own or with a friend that is experienced? Many riders will gladly volunteer to help by showing up on their own bike and being available for pointers and questions. The matter then boils down to personal preference: are you confident in your ability to venture out on your own; would someone else’s presence be a source of added pressure?
Ideally you want to be able to ride for just a short while before arriving at your destination or at the very least take a break after approximately 30 minutes. It’s very easy to get caught up in the wonderful feeling but I believe it’s equally important to assess your own riding. When you stop you should objectively think about the experience. Did you stay in the correct part of the lane? Was starting, stopping, or general controls an issue? If you ride for too long you might become complacent and solidify incorrect or bad habits.
Follow a route that you already know and, preferably, have driven before. I mention driving in particular because you will know where the potholes and bumps are. Also keep in mind any restrictions your license has (such as riding on highways).
You definitely do not want to be figuring things out for the first time while sitting in rush hour traffic. Be sensible and choose a weekend or an early morning. As with the previous point be cognisant of licensing rules that may prevent you from riding at night.
I highly advise against choosing a day that has rain or high winds in the forecast. There is no need to introduce any more risk into this journey. Sunny skies equate to smiles!
Narrowing the Search
Knowing what we now know about setting ourselves up for a successful first ride, are all the bikes you’ve shortlisted ‘accessible’ to you? If a bike is more than a 30 minute ride away perhaps the seller can deliver it. If not, maybe obtaining a trailer and transporting it that way is in the cards. Or you can ask a friend with experience to come check out the bike with you and ride it back.
I was fortunate enough to have two friends drive with me to a neighbouring city over an hour away to help deliver my first bike home. My nerves were acting up but they coaxed me into taking her for a short spin in the area surrounding the dealership. The route was simple enough but there was dinner-time traffic which meant I quickly learned how invisible motorcycles are to drivers. After 10 minutes we pulled over and I received some great feedback from the guys in the chase vehicle. Then, one of my friends geared up and rode my new-to-me Ninja 400 home on the highway. I have no reservations in admitting that I really lucked out with my two buddies who devoted their entire evening to helping me out. If not for them I would have had to eliminate that bike and settle for a costlier example in my area, or get something completely different.
Finally… Time to Ride
One way or another you’ll eventually find yourself sitting on your very own motorcycle, about to shift down into first gear and pull away! Hopefully you manage to find a time and place that fulfill the aforementioned criteria. In my case the weather was compliant and I woke up slightly earlier than usual to embark on my commute to work. Although I briefly rode the previous day, this morning was my first time going at it alone. My heart rate was beating quicker than usual making even the elevator ride down to the garage seem exciting, but it’s important to stay calm out there – remember, it’s just a typical day for everyone else.
I gingerly pulled out onto the road, trying to correctly use my blinkers. Traffic was light and I stopped behind a car at a red light. Almost instantly I realized why bikers refer to cars as ‘cages’. With no roof over your head, no doors to your sides, and nothing in front of your face, the motorcycle really feels free. This is more pronounced on the road where you zip around alongside other vehicles and have a chance to get up close to the action. I rapidly accrued 5 km of real-world riding experience by the time I arrived at work. It was fun! I knew that I fumbled a few times with properly indicating turns and in general I was timid with taking corners at any speed quicker than what I now define as a snail’s pace. I took the ‘scenic route’ on the way home to extend the ride by a little bit. All in all it was a successful journey which helped take some of the edge off, and I was excited for the next day.
Practice Makes You Better, But Not Perfect
It’s important to keep pushing yourself to go on longer rides to become a better rider. After one week I felt comfortable with my short riding stints and upped the ante by going on a near hour-long trek to my parent’s house. Usually this trip takes 40 minutes or less but my learner’s licence kept me from venturing onto the freeway. Eventually that restriction expired and I found myself getting more and more acclimated with higher speeds. For the next few months I was blasting around everywhere on my motorcycle, relegating my car to a backup position reserved only for rainy days. Soon the temperature began to drop and the season was over. I parked my bike, content with the 3 months I had spent learning new skills. I gave myself solid marks for progressing to the point I was at. I’d have to wait another 5 months, until the start of the next season, to be brought back down to reality when I finally met and rode with experienced riders who showed me I had a long way to go.
There is only so much you can learn on your own. In the same way a teacher can help you improve your knowledge of calculus, an experienced rider can help you hone your riding skills. Unfortunately, when I searched for ‘motorcycle tutor’ I received no results – what’s a rider to do?
Reading & Viewing Material
It may be kinda oldschool but there are many good books and films about riding. A cult classic is Keith Code’s ‘A Twist of the Wrist’ series. These are great references for those looking to become faster, overall better, riders and can be found in both print and movie formats. You will also find print magazines in stores.
There exist many good channels for obtaining motorcycle news online. Established publications such as Motorcycle, Cycle World, Bike and many, many more are available online 24/7 to inundate your mind with reviews, tips n’ tricks, how-to’s, and other click-bait articles. Of course, if you’ve forgotten how to read then YouTube is here to save the day. Many of the aforementioned sites publish videos as well but you will also find great tutorials pushed out by expert or amateur racers alongside thousands of moto vloggers.
If you prefer to learn in-person the school with which you did you initial motorcycle safety course will likely offer advanced courses to help progress your riding. Specialized schools may also exist in your area but those are typically for race development.
Going on a group ride is cost-effective way to meet new people and learn a thing or two about motorcycles. I found a few local groups on Meetup.com and you’ll undoubtedly come across more on social media sites. A group ride can be somewhat intimidating if you’re still relatively new because there are certain rules to follow and you’ll need to put up a certain semblance of I-know-what-I’m-doing. However, you will generally find welcoming people who want to assist with your learning. Make sure to observe the other riders. On my first group ride I realized that I was downshifting without rev-matching, and on my second outing I saw what it means to lean while cornering.
Even if you are able to dedicate all your time to riding before you know it the season will be over, or you’ll have celebrated your one-year anniversary of owning a motorcycle. By now you should have a good idea of your riding style, whether or not you want to upgrade your bike, and generally if this hobby is primed to greatly influence your life. Maybe you use your bike just for commuting, or perhaps you’re a weekend warrior. You might prefer cruising the countryside on your own, or travelling with a group in search of beautiful twisty roads. There’s a chance you become a track rat, or go off the beaten path on a dirt bike. Whatever you decide remember to look cool and ride safe!
This concludes the ‘My First Motorcycle’ trilogy. I hope you found it a worthwhile read!