New riders have an idea of what motorcycling will be like. They are usually very wrong.
Just about everyone who gets into motorcycling for sport or transport learns a few basic things early on. But lucky you, I’ve got the inside line. I wish I’d known a few things before I got into biking regularly, you can learn it here for free.
Dress Warmer (Or Colder) Than You Think You Need To
Motorbikes don’t have climate control. You’re often stuck sweating like an asthmatic horse or freezing like a meat popsicle. I’ve learned the hard way to dress warmer, or, colder than I think you need to. If outside is a blast furnace, (Texas in summer) dress as cool as you can. This is where mesh and vented gear comes in handy. One of my favorite moves is wearing a mesh polo shirt under a vented mesh moto jacket. The wind goes through both layers at speed and cools you. And wearing a polo shirt is acceptable adult attire in most parts of the world.
The same principle goes for cold weather. I assure you, there is no cold like freezing your butt off on a bike. It’s piercing.
Wear thicker gloves or use glove liners. Wear those stupid-looking moto pants to keep warm. Even if your friends ask why you’re wearing baseball catcher’s gear and if you’re starting for the Yankees today. Yes, this has actually happened to me.
I have a pair of Fieldsheer black moto pants that look pretty ridiculous, but they are mighty warm. I even wear them sometimes.
At Low Speeds, The Front Brake Is Not Your Friend
Everyone has done this at least once, some of us are dumb enough to have done it several times: Pull into a parking space, or make a slow speed turn, grab a bit too much front brake, and over goes the bike.
At low speeds, use the rear brake as your main brake. This isn’t taught well or much at the MSF course. The front brake should be your main brake at anything above walking speeds. In a parking lot, Mr. Rear Brake comes up huge.
Got Plastic Fairings? Get Frame Sliders
You will drop your bike. I don’t care how good you are, or how long you’ve been riding. No one is immune to dropping their machine, even if it’s as dumb a mistake as leaning over before lowing the side-stand. Like a lot of common mistakes, everyone has done it, but no one likes to talk about it.
If your machine is a heavily-cladded sport bike, a minor drop can quickly turn into a major repair bill as those bits of body plastic are worth more than you might think. Frame sliders, little protrusions stunt or track riders use to protect their bikes, can be hugely helpful here even if you’re not planning on starting your own sideshow.
My green Triumph Sprint ST has frame sliders that helped with a couple small drops as I was learning to ride it. My previous bike was a Honda Shadow 750, which is a much smaller and shorter bike. My blue Sprint ST does not have frame sliders. Of course, I dropped it in the parking lot while trying to move it while the ignition barrel was broken. I wound up with dinged up fairings and a broken side case. Sad panda.
Spend the $150 or so for frame sliders and install them on your bike, even if you don’t hit the track. It will help protect your bike when you hit a small patch of gravel or have a brain fart in the garage.
Buy Good Tires And Replace Them On Time
The amount of tire a bike has on the ground is about the size of two credit cards. That’s it. It still amazes me bikes stick as well as they do with such a small contact patch.
Way too many people run their tires down beyond what’s safe before replacing them, or run the wrong kind of tires entirely. Underestimating the value of tires is dangerous to do with your Metallic Dune Toyota Camry, but borderline suicidal with your new Yamaha R1.
I currently run a Michelin Pilot Road 4 rear on my Sprint ST, which is a great all-weather tire. I tend to be progressive on the throttle and commute a lot, so this fits my needs really well. Up front, I currently run Dunlop Q3, which is a sport bike tire. Why the difference? I like a lot of feedback and grip from the front tire, more so than the rear. You can lose the rear a bit and be OK. If you lose the front, you’re in Big Trouble In Little China.
Riding Is Addictive And There Is No Substitute
Anyone who rides a lot gets this. There’s just something about bikes that isn’t quantifiable. You can’t stick the motorcycle feeling in a test tube and have a verifiable experiment. There’s no substitute I’ve found yet for a nice ride in good weather on a fast motorbike. I don’t need your rollercoaster. Mine’s parked out front.
It May Take Several Bikes Before You Find Your Thing
Your first bike should be a training bike. Guaranteed, you will learn a ton of things about what you want or don’t want in a bike. Want to do longer trips? Want a fuel-sipping commuter bike to head to work? Want a bike for dragging knees on the weekends? Motorcycles are inherently more focus-built than cars, and while we live in an era of daily-drivable supercars, it’s tough to ride a bike outside the environment it’s optimized for.
Will you know at the outset what you want or really need? I’d wager most really don’t.
Make your second bike the one you really want, or something to fill a hole. Want to do some dirt, to compliment your commuter bike? Grab a used YZ250 and go to town. Want a great all-around bike? A VFR, Ninja 1000, or Ducati Supersport are all good options. A recent ad campaign had the slogan: “Find your own road.” Do the same thing with a bike or bikes to suit you.
Earplugs are cheap and protect your hearing. But perhaps more importantly from a practical standpoint: they help reduce fatigue from long rides. Don’t worry about not being able to hear horns and other noises, important things will come through. That’s all I have to say about that.
Buy Good Gear Before You Need It
The time to buy any kind of insurance is before you need it. The same goes for good gear. You can buy cheap gear, but you’ll wish you hadn’t the first time it gets tested. Pony up for quality safety equipment and cry once. Skimp and cry twice: when you go down, and when you buy the stuff you should have bought in the first place. And maybe a third time at the hospital. Good gear that fits well, is comfortable, and will last more than one mistake is worth the high price of admission.
Pictured above are the Alpinestars leathers I got myself for Christmas. I’m glad I have them, as they have served me well for about 10 track days now. My favorite jacket I own is my Triumph logo’d leather moto jacket. I’ve had a get-off in it, and the jacket still is in great shape, minus some scrapes. As a nice bonus, I dare say I look damn good in it.
Good gear is usually versatile, providing comfort in a great range of situations. Yes, it’s an expense. It’s more of an investment, really. What’s the ROI on freedom and enjoyment?
Ever wonder how some people progress through something really quickly? Very often they have coaches. This is one of the items that separates the amateur from the professional. The serious folks have mentors. They have someone that’s been a few steps further down the road and can guide them. You progress much faster with a coach.
I’ve been to several track days with RideSmart & Sport Rider Coaching and each time I’ve improved in some area of my riding. I’m still slow, but I’ve gotten faster due to video feedback, and patient coaches like Jim Dugger to show me where I can improve.
Now get riding! What are some of the things you wish you knew when you started riding?