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Thread: Your first ride - and how to survive it

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    The Land of The Edentulites

    Your first ride - and how to survive it

    You may be thinking about buying a bike.

    Motorcycles are pretty cheap - and really easy on gas. The piggiest of them get better mileage than almost any economy car. A really fast one (10 second quarter miles, 170-plus on the top) costs about as much as a used economy car.

    So, it's easy to get why two wheels are more appealing than four - especially if you're young and even more so if you only have used Corolla money to spend.

    Still, there are some things you really ought to think about before you dive into the deep end before learning how to swim. Things that might not even occur to you unless someone who's already been there/done that lays it out for you.

    So, here goes:

    * First, take the MSF class -

    The Motorcycle Safety Foundation ( is a non-profit, private educational/safety organization supported by the motorcycle OEMS (the companies that make bikes, like Kawasaki and Honda and Harley-Davdison, etc.).

    MSF conducts rider training and safety programs all around the country, for both new and experienced riders, civilians and the military - including a recently-launched SportBike Rider Course for Armed Forces personnel.

    MSF also offers specialized dirt bike and Scooter schools.

    The basic MSF RiderCourse consists of five hours of classroom instruction and 10 hours of actual rider training, usually in a secure parking lot. (The web site has all the details.) You'll be taught basic operation, balance and maneuvering - including accident avoidance.

    MSF provides the bikes - typically, 250 cc dual sports, which are very light and easy to manage. Helmets are provided, too.

    The first nice thing about the MSF class is you don't have to commit to buying a bike in order to learn how to ride a bike. If you decide the whole thing's not for you, and you just might, you've only invested about $150-$300 (MSF course costs vary by state; check the web site) vs. a couple thousand (at the least) for a bike, bike insurance and gear.

    Two, successful passage of the RiderCourse will earn you your "M" license endorsement in most states - often without the probationary learner's permit.

    Even more important, though, you will be taught by experienced instructors who know a lot more about bikes - and the art of riding - than how to twist open a throttle. The skills and wisdom they impart could save you a lot of grief once you're out on your own.

    * Next, don't overreach -

    Because bikes - even very high-performance sport bikes - are pretty cheap, it is tempting to buy something "serious" the first time out. That can be a mistake - like trying to learn how to shoot using a Desert Eagle or .44 Magnum. Yeah, it can be done. But the learning curve can be vicious.

    A first bike should be three things: light, cheap - and forgiving of rider error.

    A light weight bike (ideally less than 400 pounds) is a bike you can pick up yourself when you drop it - and much more importantly, is a bike you are less likely to drop in the first place because the weight's less likely to get away from you, either stopped at a light or when negotiating a fast curve.

    Light bikes are also much easier to steer - and on a single-track vehicle, you steer by a combination of leaning and push-pulling on the handlebars. Learning how to do this smoothly - without over or under-compensating, leaning too much (or too little) and ending up over the double yellow in a curve (or off the road completely) is much easier on a light bike than a heavy bike.

    Next, you want an inexpensive bike - no more than about $5,000; ideally $3,000 or so. This way, you're not too heavily invested if it turns out you're not as into it as you though you were going to be. And because lower cost bikes don't have that far to depreciate. And if you do wreck the thing - or just scuff it up - it's not going to hurt as much. Insurance will also be much cheaper - a huge deal if you are a new/first-time rider in your 20s.

    But most important of all, your first bike should be one that's forgiving of new rider mistakes. That means a bike that doesn't have the power curve of a chain saw, won't wheelie if you snap open the throttle a bit too fast - but still has enough juice to keep pace with traffic. No repli-racer sport bikes or 800 pound cruisers the first time out. There will be time enough for that once you know what you're doing - and you'll be ready and better when you do move up the two-wheeled food chain.

    Dual-sport bikes like the Kawasaki KLR250 (and the bigger, more highway-oriented) KLR650) make great first bikes. They are inexpensive, easy to ride, have docile, beginner-friendly engines and suspensions - and they are cheap. About $4-$6k brand new and much less than that slightly used. You can tackle grass and backwoods trails on these kinds of bikes, too - which is both fun and educational. You'll learn how to drop the bike with the only consequences being some Charley Horses, some mud to clean up and maybe a few easy to buff out scratches on the plastic.

    Another option would be a smaller cc street bike (sport, naked or cruiser) such as the Honda Rebel (cruiser-type), Kawasaki Ninja 250 (sport) or Suzuki SV650 (naked/standard). Bikes such as these are also great first-time bikes, but I prefer dual sports like the Kaw KLR250/650 and its equivalents because you don't grow out of them. You might get another bike down the road, but you'll probably still want to hang on to your dual-sport.

    The key point, though, is to pick a bike that's in line with your skill/experience level - just as you'd advise someone who's trying to learn how to shoot to start with a .22 and not a Desert Eagle.

    * Third, ride paranoid -

    There is one thing about riding a bike that is totally out of your control and always will be, no matter how good you get - and that is the environment you're riding in. Other motorists. Kids - and animals - suddenly appearing directly in front of you. Gravel in a blind curve. Oil on the road. Deer. A car backing out of a hidden driveway in a blind curve. The guy on his cell phone who is about to blow right through that red light - or turn left in front of you without any warning. Never forget that right and wrong ultimately doesn't matter. If you get slammed by a drunk in a Hummer, yeah, he'll get the ticket - and probably go to jail. But you will be going to the morgue.

    There is only one way to reduce this threat - and that is by assuming everything and everyone out there is trying to kill you. Long-time riders develop an ingrained mental habit of constantly surveilling their environment and trying to anticipate what could happen - just in case it does. Because, eventually, if you ride long enough, it will. If you already have a plan, you won't have to think one up on the spot - which on a bike at 60 mph means life-saving fractions of a second.

    Pilots call this "situational awareness" - I just call it paranoia motivated by a strong desire to make it home in one piece.

    Bottom line: People in cars can afford to zone out, listen to the radio or watch the pretty scenery go by. Do this on a bike and you'll be meat. Maybe not today, maybe not ten years from now. But one day, you will be distracted just long enough to get hurt. Or worse. Never think it can't happen to you. It can. And if you don't think so, the odds are much better that it probably will.

    * And finally: Don't be a dumb ass -

    I've been riding sport bikes - including very fast sport bikes - for many years and I admit I've done some highly illegal and occasionally very stupid things in my time, including street races and running more than triple the double nickel on public roads.

    When you're on a bike that can hit 170 in less than a quarter mile, this is both easy and very tempting. A modern sport bike can outrun virtually anything on four wheels, effortlessly. This kind of speed is Big Fun - and hugely intoxicating. It's the closest most of us will ever get to the performance level of an F-16 or a Porsche 911 turbo.

    I was lucky several times. Just lucky. I could have died or been crippled - or gone to the clink for a long time. Don't count on luck. You might not be. I know guys who weren't. Two are gone now. One was 26 years old.

    Trust me, death sucks - even when it's not you who's on the slab.

    Would my 22 year old self listen to my older, wiser self? Probably not. Will you?

    I hope so.
    Last edited by Eric; 02-09-2009 at 08:40 AM.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Kwozzie1's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Sunshine Coast, QLD, Australia
    A smart parent shouldn't expect his teenage kid to not drink the occasional beer. Hopefully, he'll have explained to the kid that if he drinks, he should drink within reason - and encourage him or her to think about what they're doing.

    Apply that same logic to bikes and you ought to be ok, too.

    NO DRINKING when RIDING should be encouraged by parents
    Last edited by Kwozzie1; 02-06-2009 at 10:37 PM. Reason: change of wording
    On the Sunshine Coast, in the Sunshine State Queensland (QLD), Australia

  3. #3
    Senior Member Piney's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Ocean County, New Jersey
    I thought the post was "Your first ride - and how you survived it"
    I guess that was my eyes and my mind playing tricks on me.

    Back when I first started riding bikes (late 60's - early 70's) I don't think there were any motorcycle safety courses. My state - New Jersey - did require a separate endorsement for motorcycle, as did Florida. But I don't ever recall hearing about safety courses. You just got the bike and rode it! Many never did get the "M" endorsement - and many still don't apparently, if you can believe some of the accident statistics being reported.

    My first exposure to a formal motorcycle safety course was after I joined the Army. In order to register your bike on post you had to first complete the safety course. And it had to be repeated every time you changed duty stations. But, there was a reduction on motorcycle insurance for taking the course(s).

    While the course(s) will give you great information, there's really no substitute for seat time. BTW - great points there in the Don't Overreach, Ride Paranoid, and Don't Be a Dumb Ass sections. And the bit about drinking and riding...(don't ask me how I know about that!)

  4. #4
    Senior Member Ken's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Lincolnshire, United Kingdom.
    Quote Originally Posted by Kwozzie1 View Post
    A smart parent shouldn't expect his teenage kid to not drink the occasional beer. Hopefully, he'll have explained to the kid that if he drinks, he should drink within reason - and encourage him or her to think about what they're doing.

    Apply that same logic to bikes and you ought to be ok, too.

    NO DRINKING when RIDING should be encouraged by parents
    Interesting point Rex. I had quite a different take on that comment. I read it as 'Don't expect your kids never to see 'Just how fast it will go' or not to race their buddies, but encourage them to think good and hard before they do so that possible problems are assessed before they occur.

    I am in total agreement with you by the way - zero blood alcohol level is the only way. It is a growing culture here and, on club nights, it no longer seems strange to see a group of seventy of eighty leather clad bikers clutching their pints of Coke, J2O, Pepsi, OJ or cups of coffee..

    Die dulci fruimini!
    Wolds Bikers, Lincolnshire, England.

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