Starting the endeavor of becoming a motorcycle rider comes with a lot of research, knowledge, training and practice. While the fundamentals of operating a motorcycle are simple, there are a few tips you need to know to become a licensed and safe rider. After you complete the correct course, find the ideal motorcycle and adhere to the proper safety regulations, you’re free to take that summer joyride you’ve been dying for.
Peterson’s Harley Davidson® knows that riding a motorcycle is a lifestyle that’s all about creating different experiences. In this guide, we'll discuss everything you need to know as a new motorcycle rider.
Complete a Motorcycle Safety Course
The first step as a beginner is to attend a motorcycle riding class that’s designed for riders of all ages who can legally drive a vehicle.
The class is intended for newbies who want to learn about operating a motorcycle and the best safety procedures. It’s a thorough course that guides you to excellence through formal class lessons, assignments, a written exam and best of all — hands-on riding.
To start, you’re given a handbook that helps you familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of a motorcycle. The course instructors will teach you about safety and the rules of the road. Once you pass the written exam, it’s time for the fun part.
You’ll be given a motorcycle, as well as safety gear like a helmet. The instructors will teach you how to ride a motorcycle, which is completed in an open and controlled environment — often an empty parking lot.
In a motorcycle safety course, you'll learn a range of techniques, including:
- Abrupt stopping
- Crossing obstacles
- Tight turning
After you advance your practical riding skills, the final step of the course ends with a skills exam. You’re tested on different riding components and receive a final score. If you pass, you become certified to operate a motorcycle on the open road.
But passing this basic level doesn’t mean you have to stop there. Continue to build your skills by taking an experienced, navigation or racing class. There is always more to learn and experience with the range of motorcycles available.
Invest in a Motorcycle That "Fits"
Next, you'll want to choose a motorcycle that “fits” — and we don’t just mean by size. There are many factors to consider before purchasing your first motorcycle, like:
- The purpose of the motorcycle
- Your price range
- How much power you need
- Additional features
Conducting the right research is crucial to finding the ideal motorcycle. Are you looking to commute with your two-wheeler or take it on cross-country adventures? What about extra features, like performance tires or a navigation system? Choosing the right insurance is another significant decision to make before buying. Many plans exist to help you in the case of motorcycle theft, damage or personal injury.
When you have an idea of the necessary basics, you can dive into what type of motorcycle best fits your lifestyle. Specific motorcycle considerations include:
- Engine size
- Fuel economy
- Luggage options
- Motorcycle weight
- Seat height and position
- Wind protection
Try to avoid motorcycles at the extreme ends of size. For example, a massive motorcycle that’s too heavy for you is more likely to tip over. However, choosing one that's too light because you’re unsure of a more powerful one may slow you down. You likely need one in the middle.
Take your time with deciding and don’t be afraid to get a feel for the motorcycle. Sit on it to get an understanding of its balance, height, weight and placement. You'll want to make sure your feet are flat on the ground after mounting, and that the handlebars aren’t out of reach. Look for a motorcycle that’s comfortable and sturdy with adequate performance levels.
New versus pre-owned is another factor to consider. Both offer the same excitement but at different price ranges. Make sure to partner with a reputable dealer who can provide the motorcycle’s maintenance and repair history of a used machine.
Wear Safety Gear
Although riding a motorcycle is a fun lifestyle, whether you take long journeys in the summer or rev from place to place in the fall, safety should be at the forefront of each ride.
To stay safe while riding, remember the acronym ATGATT — it means, “all the gear, all the time.” It’s a term you will learn in your training course that encourages you never to skimp on wearing the correct gear. Even if you’re taking a short drive or if it’s hot outside, riding requires full-body protection.
Essential safety gear, no matter your level of experience, includes a helmet, gloves, boots, a jacket and pants.
A full-coverage helmet is the most important piece of safety gear you need. It’s smart to invest in one that’s DOT certified because it complies with the highest safety standards determined by the law.
In 2018,71 percent of helmets were DOT compliant, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, helmets canreduce the risk of head injuryby almost 70 percent. Make sure to choose one that offers ventilation and comfort and is lightweight and made of a sturdy material like carbon fiber.
Your hands are your body’s first defense to protect yourself when falling or skidding. Look into reinforced gloves with an adjustable wrist strap. The closures keep your gloves on during accidents, while the gloves give you additional grip. Your palms and fingers should have grips to help you keep ahold of the handles. Perforated options can also help keep your hands from sweating.
Full-coverage, close-toed boots that have heel and ankle protection are also essential parts of your safety equipment. You need the right protection when shifting for precise movements and in the case of an accident. Some people even opt for shoes with steel toes.
Even if the weather is warm, you still require protection for your upper body. Choose a jacket with armor that’s high-quality. Check the garment’s stitching and seams and look for one that has sturdy cuffs and back panels. Some jackets even have spine protection. Ventilated options to keep you cool are available while other versions have layers to keep you warm during colder months.
Pants are the final component of your safety collection. Never wear shorts no matter the weather. Long pants offer protection against the hot exhaust or if you skid across the pavement. Some options include leather pants, jeans and riding-specific pants that have added padding.
Always consider comfort and functionality when picking the right set of motorcycle safety gear.
Know Yourself and Your Limitations
Along with finding the right motorcycle and picking up all the necessary safety equipment, you'll also need to practice. If you find you’re not comfortable riding on the road yet, continue to train in an empty parking lot. Do it whenever possible, so you feel more comfortable and learn the different features of your motorcycle.
Practice will help your muscles learn how to control the machine and assist your body with getting accustomed to riding, turning and braking. Unlike driving a car, operating a motorcycle is much more physically demanding.
The more you know about your bike, the more comfortable you will be riding it. It also helps you become aware of improper running that can indicate the machine needs maintenance. Once you have a complete understanding of your motorcycle, you can focus on modifying it to your liking.
After additional practice, you can start moving to more challenging scenarios. For example, move from the parking lot to a back road, then a busier street in town. Work your way up to a highway level of riding once you feel confident and comfortable. The more you ride, the better you’ll be able to navigate through traffic and boost your riding vision.
Don’t think you have to be perfect as a beginner or even an experienced motorcyclist. Everyone has bad moments, whether you’ve tipped the motorcycle or had another challenging experience. The key is to keep at it and learn your limits.
For example, new riders need to work their way up to taking on long trips. You need to know what you’re capable of beforehand. Going on a cross-country adventure right off the bat sounds awesome until you’re a quarter of the way in and completely stuffed. Start by taking short trips, then work your way up.
Know your limits, as well as your motorcycle’s.
Be a Smart Rider
Being a smart motorcyclist means knowing how to ride defensively. Motorcycles offer little to no protection while driving at high speeds. For your safety, it’s vital to be aware of your surroundings at all times, especially other drivers. Too often, people driving in cars, SUVs and trucks are unaware of motorcyclists. They aren’t cautious when switching lanes and don’t double-check their blind spots.
As a result, motorcycle riders need to keep their head on a swivel. Avoid blind spots, and always maintain proper spacing. Look both ways, then again before crossing intersections. Make sure to use your turn signals and hand gestures if necessary.
Another smart move is to not multi-task, which goes for all motor vehicle drivers. You need both hands to steer, shift and hold the motorcycle. Attempting to look at your phone or grab something in your luggage can unbalance your ride.
Being a smart motorcyclist also means not driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or prescribed medications. These substances can alter your ability to maneuver and affect your perceived motions. Even driving after an emotional situation can put you at risk through aggressive driving and making poor decisions. With too much on your mind, it can distract your attention from the road.
Finally, don’t drive recklessly. Control your urge to rev up and down the highway and don’t pop a wheelie in the middle of the street. Avoid swerving in and out of cars and reaching tops speeds like you see on a racetrack. If you want to go fast and do a few exciting tricks, make your way to the track and test out your skills — but the public roadway is not the place.
Conduct Regular Maintenance
Your new motorcycle may be smaller than your car, but that doesn’t mean you can skimp on its upkeep. Motorcycles demand preventative and regular maintenance to improve the machine’s lifespan and to help you avoid more significant and expensive breakdowns in the future.
A pre-ride inspection is essential before long and short drives. Check the motorcycle for leaks, faulty components, cracks or severe damage. You should also stick to a regular maintenance schedule. Inspect different areas of the motorcycle, such as:
- Tire pressure
- Tire treads
If you can’t maintain the motorcycle on your own, you can rely on the support of a local mechanic.
Upkeep also requires proper short and long-term storage. Make sure to keep your motorcycle out of the elements to avoid corrosion and rust. A climate-controlled indoor space that’s dry is the perfect place. If you can’t store the vehicle inside, invest in a form-fitting cover.
In the case you’re storing your motorcycle for several months, like over the winter, there are other precautions you can take to keep it in mint condition. For example, use jack stands to lift the motorcycle and protect the tires, while also removing the battery and placing it on a trickle charger.
If you want your motorcycle to last from season to season, proper maintenance and storage are necessary.
Start Your Motorcycle Training Course
We know you’re ready to start training, sosignup for our Learn to Ride program. Peterson’s Harley Davidson® is here to help you enjoy life and feel excited about taking on a new hobby or lifestyle.
Browse our line of 2020 inventory to see which motorcycle best fits your style, application and budget. We have plenty to choose from that will get you feeling pumped. If you’re interested in learning more about our training program or motorcycles, you can contact us online or message our support team via the Live Chat option.