It’s been one year since purchasing my first motorcycle and boy have I learned a lot over the past 12 months! When I first got my motorcycle in the fall of 2009, I had never ridden a motorcycle before, had never driven a manual car (and thus, I didn’t know how to change gears), and I was unable to even turn my motorcycle on without instantly stalling it.
Since then, however, I have learned to stop and go without even thinking what it is I am doing, I can drive in heavy traffic, ride on the freeway, and I even conducted my first motorcycle tour to Dinosaur National Monument just a few months ago. Since getting my first motorcycle in late 2009, I’ve added a few thousands miles to my bike and I’ve had a lot of fun learning how to ride and stay safe.
Thinking back on it now, there are 9 main lessons I learned during my first year with a motorcycle:Practice Stopping and Starting Until It Becomes Second Nature
When I first got my motorcycle, I wanted to go out and ride on the streets right away. The problem with this was that I still didn’t have the basics down. Unable to quickly decelerate or accelerate on my new motorcycle, I would freak out whenever I had to stop at a stop sign or signal controlled intersection. And because I was nervous, I wouldn’t think straight and I’d end up stalling the bike.
After stalling the bike at two or three different intersections, I realized that I shouldn’t even be out on the streets yet. I needed to practice my starts and my stops. And that’s exactly what I did. I spent my first month or two driving my motorcycle around in a small parking lot. Over and over again I would simply drive the bike around in a figure eight pattern, stopping and starting the motorcycle over and over again. After several weeks of practice, I had learned how to properly slow down and accelerate on my motorcycle. And when it came time for me to hit the open road, all that practice made my riding so much more enjoyable.
Relax, Relax, Relax
The second big lesson I learned this year was that when it comes to riding a motorcycle, you need to stay relaxed. If you are tense and uptight about what it is you are doing, you aren’t in the right state of mind to make smart decisions or react as quickly as you should. I already mentioned how I was so nervous when first driving my bike that I would occasionally stall the motorcycle at intersections. I was doing this in part because I had yet to master my starts and stops, but also because I was mentally psyching myself out. When driving your motorcycle, it is super important that you learn to relax. This is a skill that is useful for beginners, but becomes even more important as you progress as a rider and push yourself to higher speeds, sharper turns, and more dangerous maneuvers.
So relax!Take It Slow – Increase Speed Gradually
Another mistake I made during my first several months of motorcycle riding is that I occasionally pushed myself beyond my limits. I wanted to get out there and ride all over the place right away, but I wasn’t yet ready to ride on larger roads.
If you are just starting out on a motorcycle, take it super slow. Stick to small, low-speed roads at first and if necessary, plan out your route in advance so you can stick to these slow, non-crowded streets. When I first started riding, I tried to stick to roads with a speed limit no higher than 35 miles per hour. Then, once I felt comfortable steering my bike at 35 miles per hour, I began looking for roads in the 40-45 MPH range. And once I became comfortable there, I began traveling on roads with a speed limit of 50-55 miles per hour. This continued until I was traveling with my bike at 65, 70 and 75 miles per hour.
Don’t Trust Anyone – Be Aware Of Your Surroundings
I’ve come to the conclusion that most motorcycle owners are some of the safest drivers out there on the streets. When you drive a motorcycle, you are super exposed. Just one small run in with another vehicle and you could be finished. That’s why it’s so imperative that you pay attention to your surroundings and watch the cars around you. And that’s why most motorcycle owners are such safe drivers. They pay attention to everything around them.
Cars and trucks aren’t the only thing you need watch out for though. When driving your bike, be sure to keep an eye out for animals crossing the road, insects that might fly into your face or body, and rocks or debris that might be kicked up by the vehicles in front of you. Even small cracks or bumps in the road can be detrimental to your safety. So be aware of it all! The more attention you give to the space surrounding your bike, the safer you will be.
Heavy Winds Are Frightening
Even after a year of practice I still hate the wind. Driving a motorcycle in the wind is really, really scary. Small winds aren’t much to worry about and after a while you will get used to driving your bike in the breeze. But big wind storms and heavy gusts that come out of nowhere are dangerous and can cause you to crash if you aren’t careful. Most experienced riders that I speak with say they eventually learn to handle even the most heavy wind storms. But for a beginner like me, there were several times over the past year where the wind became so bad that I had to pull over and stop my bike as I waited for the wind to pass. If you are riding in the wind, be careful and don’t be afraid to pull over if the wind gets so bad that you can no longer control your bike.
Be Prepared For Cold Weather
You would think that with all those clothes on (gloves, jacket, helmet, etc.) riding a motorcycle in the hot summer sun would be like riding a bicycle with a toaster on top of your head. But as it turns out, the self-generated wind you create when riding a motorcycle does a lot to cool you down most of the time.
In colder temperatures, however, you may need to wear even more clothes than you normally would. There were several times this past year where I went out for a long ride during the day and felt perfectly comfortable riding my bike, and then returned home later in the evening, while freezing my butt off in the cold night air. Even a small temperature change, combined with the self-created wind that your motorcycle creates at high speeds, can cause your body temperature to drop… and you need to be prepared for these temperature changes (especially on longer rides). Pack an extra jacket if necessary, wear warmer gloves, and ride with thick wind-resistant pants.
Find Some Friends Who Also Ride
Being a newbie to this whole motorcycle thing, I was at first very much afraid of riding my motorcycle with other motorcycle riders. I was afraid the other riders might laugh at me for being so new to the activity, or that I would be so slow on the bike that I’d be a constant hindrance to the more experienced riders. That said, I made an effort to go on a few riders with other motorcycle riders in my area and these rides really paid off.
Besides making some new friends, riding with more experienced motorcycle riders taught me a lot. By riding with other cyclists, I saw where these more experienced riders positioned themselves in the road, how they took sharp turns, which gears they used to tackle various obstacles, and a whole lot more.
There were a few times when I was left behind by the more experienced riders, but each time I got dropped from the group I would eventually find the riders stopped on the road up ahead, waiting for me to catch up. Everyone I rode with this year was super nice and totally understanding about the fact that I was a beginner and not yet ready to push myself to the levels they were currently riding at.
You Learn The Most On Long Rides
For the most part, I use my motorcycle to get around town and explore my local area. But there were a few times when I went on long 100+ miles rides… and when I think back on it now, it was these long rides that taught me the most.
The most obvious example of a long motorcycle ride that taught me a lot was my three-day adventure out to Dinosaur National Monument. This small national park is a little over 200 miles from my home, but going out there was the furthest I had ever driven on my new bike. To get to Dinosaur, I had to ride over a windy mountain pass, cross through a vast desert, and ride on a crowded freeway with semi-trucks coming directly at me from the opposing lane. It was scary at times, but I certainly learned a lot from that short trip.
My recommendation to you is that once you learn the basics of driving your new motorcycle and get comfortable driving in traffic and scooting around your home town, go on a short trip to a nearby National Park or other such area you’ve always wanted to visit. You’ll learn a lot in the process and you’ll have a whole lot of fun.
It’s Good To Know How Your Bike Works
Finally, knowing how to make adjustments and repairs to your motorcycle or snocross helmet is a nice skill to possess. This is one area where I certainly fell short this year, but I did learn a few little things about my motorcycle over the past 12 months. In the future, I want to spend more time learning the ins and outs of my motorcycle. I want to learn how it works, which parts do what, and how to repair the bike if necessary. Luckily, my bike never broke down during my first year with it. The worst thing that happened was that I lost my speedometer cable and I let the battery drain by accidentally leaving the bike on overnight. In the future, I want to learn how to make larger repairs to my motorcycle… and I encourage you to learn a little bit about repairing your bike as well.
So, there it is! Those are the 9 big things I learned during my first year with a motorcycle.When you look back on your first year driving a motorcycle, what are the things you remember learning. And if you had just one piece of advice for someone who was totally new to motorcycle riding, what would it be? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!