The Joys of Learning to Ride - The Easiest Mistakes to Make

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Joys of Learning to Ride - The Easiest Mistakes to Make

So you passed the riders class, proudly walked out of the DMV with your motorcycle license and bought a bike. Congrats! And finding the right motorcycle insurance might have been a pain but now you feel covered "just in case." Still, no one ever thinks that the "just in case" will actually happen to them. Sure, we all are aware of the possibility but it's never really expected. And learning how to safely ride a motorcycle doesn't stop after you have your motorcycle license in hand. There's actually a few very important things that you can practice and keep in mind while doing exactly what you wanted to do when you signed up for that safety class: riding.

Always be aware of your limits. Sometimes it's hard not to let the speed get to our heads and feel like we're invincible. But all too often riders find out how much that isn't the case when they push just a little too far. Especially as new riders, there are a lot of skills to still be learned and then refined. Before every ride, think about the route you're about to take and how difficult the turns, speed, traffic and other factors are. Ask yourself if you've ridden in similar situations before. Do you feel prepared? And never be ashamed to admit if that answer is a "no." New motorcyclists often are encouraged to push the limits but finding out what your limit really is by crashing isn't fun.

The most important area of riding where limits play a huge part in crashes is during turns. Knowing how to judge a corner or turn properly in order to enter it at the right speed and gear takes an educated eye. If you're not sure about a turn, it's better to overestimate it and go into the turn slower than necessary. If you find that you need a little more speed, rolling on the throttle slowly and steadily will be no problem. But if you go into a turn at a higher speed and a higher gear, you'll find yourself screaming inside your helmet and hoping that you don't fly off of the road or lay your bike down. Slowing down in a turn without locking up your breaks or throwing yourself off the road is a heck of a lot harder than speeding up in it. Until you're comfortable with your corner judging capabilities, take them slowly and open up the throttle more if you feel comfortable in the turn.

A lot of us heard our parents say the whole, "It's not your driving that we worry about, it's the other drivers on the road." At one point or another we all find out how true that statement is when we're rear ended or sideswiped by one of those drivers. But a good portion of those incidents don't have too terrible outcomes. Why? Being surrounded by a suit of metal stuffed with safety features probably helps. But the second that you get on a motorcycle, you forego all of those safety features and take on the road head on (hopefully not literally). Those other drivers are still out there though and, to make matters worse, you've just made yourself a heck of a lot harder to see. Get the point?

After you've passed the safety classes and DMV tests, you'll be thrusting yourself out into the unknown and will need to keep an even sharper eye out for obstacles. This goes beyond just reckless drivers. On a bike, obstacles that were mere speed bumps in your car can become a crash. Some sand or water on the road, a slick painted surface such as a turning lane arrow and cracks or bumps can take you down in an instant. Know how to read the road and the obstacles around you that might become problems such as cars, pedestrians and surfaces. If you see an obstacle ahead of time, do your best to avoid it. If you can't, try to keep a steady application of the throttle in order to keep your bike rolling as smoothly as possible. And always keep your grip of the bars firm but relaxed in order to give you a better and smoother reaction time.

Whether your bike is new (lucky you) or old, motorcycle maintenance is a way of life. But that doesn't just apply to shade tree mechanics that spend their Saturdays in the garage tuning and tweaking. Plus motorcycles tend to wear down a lot faster than cars. But ignoring or neglecting their maintenance won't mean just a puff of steam from under the hood and a slow roll to the side of the road. Something breaking on a motorcycle can cause you and your bike go down resulting in injury. So get close and comfortable with your service manual and learn about all the chains, cables and gaskets that need to be paid attention to. Sites like make it easy with cheap OEM and Aftermarket parts as well as tools and guides to keep your bike safely running.

Know your tank and keep it full. Running out of gas while on your motorcycle is not only embarrassing, it can be dangerous too. Running out of gas in a car may be equally as damaging to your ego but you're still able to lock yourself in while you wait for help to arrive with some juice if you happen to get stranded in a shady area (and we don't mean shady as in there's a lot of trees). Being stuck in a not so pleasant area without any protection and not a drop of gas can get you into a bad situation. If you plan on taking a long trip, check out the gas stations on a map before you hit the road. You don't want to think that you'll have enough gas to reach the next turn off and find out the hard way that it was farther than you expected it to be.

Fatigue is also a major problem that new riders tend to underestimate. We're used to being able to lounge in a car while sipping our soda and listening to some tunes with the air conditioning blasting. But riding a motorcycle takes a whole lot more out of a person. Sitting in the same position with the wind whipping in your face and no third hand to lift up your visor and help you drink fluids makes for necessary pit stops. Fatigue is very often a factor in motorcycle accidents. If you're sweating even the slightest, dehydration can wreak havoc on your ability to function up to par. A good trick to help you keep hydrated on long rides is to stop every two hours to drink an entire bottle of water. But if it's particularly hot or you have a tendency to sweat a bit more, stop whenever you feel thirsty to drink more. And if you feel tired at any point, stop. Taking even a five minute break can really help to rejuvenate you. You'll find that you get tired a lot faster on a motorcycle than in a car so start your trips out a lot shorter and work your way up to the long ones.

Don't dress to impress. If anyone who ever rides a motorcycle tells you that there is no small part of them that decided to ride because of how flat out awesome it makes a person look, they're either lying or totally brain dead. How riding a motorcycle makes a person look has always been a huge part of the motorcycle culture. But as accidents became a regularity and studies began to find out why, one major flaw was found: people associate the "looking cool" part of riding a motorcycle with under-protection. No helmet while wearing jeans and a white t-shirt might get you noticed by the opposite gender but it won't matter much when you're covered in road rash and crying for your mama. Fight the temptation to put looking cool ahead of proper protection and educate yourself on the proper gear. sells plenty of great stuff that will not only keep your limbs attached if you get in a fight with the road, but that looks great too. You'll probably find that you can use the many different types and looks of protective gear to give yourself a unique and noticeably good looking biker style that says, "Not only do I care that I keep my body protected, I look ridiculously good as well." Check out these boot, jacket, pants, gloves and helmet guides to help you find the right stuff for you.

But the one thing to remember as you ride day in and day out, is that you will never stop being challenged and never stop learning. Even a rider of 30 years will come across obstacles and situations that they've never been in before. Don't ever think that your skills are perfected and that you're done learning lessons. But if you keep an eye out for those obstacles and lessons, they'll be less likely to catch you by surprise. Happy riding!

Motorcycle Necessities:

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