Taking a certified motorcycle safety course is an important first step when learning to ride, but then what? Our 10 tips are things the MO staff has learned from our years of riding.
Motorcycling is a fun and exciting endeavor, but it has its dangers. From inattentive drivers to a little dirt in the road, there are countless scenarios that can present hazards, especially to less-experienced riders. As a new rider, possibly fresh out of the MSF course with a fresh motorcycle endorsement on your license, you should know the real world poses challenges you simply don’t experience in an empty parking lot.
The Motorcycle.com staff is full of highly experienced riders, but we were all beginners at some point. Over the years we have learned many tips and tricks that have helped us stay safe when we’re riding a motorcycle, so we decided to put together a list of things to keep in mind when you’re out riding. Most any rider will find kernels of wisdom here, but we’re focusing in on the “noob” segment to teach tactics that will help short-cut the learning process.
Notice the phrase “riding tips.” We’ll focus on things you can try while actually riding your motorcycle and assume you’re already wearing the best helmet and gear you can afford. Now, here are 10 riding tips we wish we knew when we were starting out.
The most important riding tip we can give you is to never, ever ride faster than your comfort limits, especially on public roads. Far too often we hear stories of lesser-experienced riders crashing while trying to keep pace with their faster buddies.
If you want to be able to ride faster, just creep up on your limits and pay attention to what your bike is telling you. Most likely it will say “I can go faster,” but you’ll want to avoid the surprise of when it says it can’t.
Know where to place yourself on the road. On wet or damp roads like this, look for the lighter colored pavement as there’s generally less moisture, which means more grip.
The most common cause of car/motorcycle collisions is a car turning left in front of a motorcycle, typically with the car driver later explaining that he/she didn’t see the bike. So be extra careful to notice autos that are preparing to make a left turn, whether at an intersection or entering via a side street. Assume they might not be noticing that you’re on an intersecting path. Cars with the front wheels already turned left present extra danger.
Your lane choice can be critical to being seen. Choose the left lane when traveling on a main conduit that has many side-street entrances, or, at least, the left-side wheel track if you don’t have another lane option – that gives a rider an extra few feet of visibility. If you’re in the left lane when approaching intersections with cars waiting to turn, choose the right-side wheel track so you have less chance of getting lost in a busy background. Be ready with a “Plan B” whenever you ride.
Consider high-visibility apparel when deciding which riding gear to purchase.
Select brightly colored riding gear that will help you stand out in traffic, especially a helmet and jacket. Sometimes we’ll use our bike’s high beam headlight during the day in the hope we’re slightly more visible.
Make yourself conspicuous on the highway or any multi-lane road. Don’t lock yourself into one lane. Instead, move around within your lane, and change lanes often. It keeps you aware and awake. And more importantly, just because a driver in your field of vision saw you a minute or two ago doesn’t mean he sees you now.
Keeping your head and eyes up allows you to better scan the road ahead. You can more accurately judge speed or avoid dangers in the road as well.
When riding, you should be looking up, not directly in front of you. The world will come at you much slower, allowing you to process speed more accurately. It also lets you keep an eye out for potentially dangerous drivers or other obstacles up ahead. Lead your way around corners by ensuring your chin is pointing its way through the turn.
While scanning the road, look at the mirrors of vehicles around you. If you can’t see the driver’s eyes, they can’t see you. Also pay attention for front wheels of parked cars pointed towards the street. If the driver is intending to merge with traffic, they might not see you as they quickly scan the road and pull out.
Despite what the MSF might say, we’re of the strong belief that covering the brake lever with at least one finger is a good practice and could be a potential life saver.
Get in the habit of covering the brake lever with at least one finger. The MSF doesn’t approve of this technique, but the fraction of a second saved by not having to reach for the lever could be the difference between stopping short of an obstacle or plowing into a bumper.
And in tight, slow-speed maneuvers, use the rear brake to help settle the bike by allowing stability-inducing throttle input without increasing the bike’s velocity. Honing the balance between power and brakes at low speeds is a key element in confidently making tight turns at low speeds.
And while we’re on the subject of brakes…
Worried the front end will wash out from under you when braking hard? Don’t be. When done correctly, a modern motorcycle will stop very quickly, even in the wet, as shown here.
New or inexperienced riders can have a hard time grasping the braking power of modern motorcycles. To fully understand how powerful your brakes are, we recommend practicing maximum braking drills.
Find a safe, empty lot clear of any sand or gravel and gradually experiment squeezing (not grabbing!) the brake lever until you come to a stop. Try this at different speeds to see how the bike reacts. You’ll soon realize the front tire has more grip than you think. Being aware of how the bike reacts when aggressively using the brakes can be a huge benefit when you’re unexpectedly thrust into panic mode.
It’s important to distinguish between squeezing and grabbing the lever. A squeeze is deliberate, controlled and powerful, whereas grabbing involves a sudden, erratic, forceful yank at the lever. The former keeps the motorcycle composed while gradually loading the front tire, while the latter can overwhelm the grip of the front tire. For those with ABS-equipped motorcycles the same rules apply, with much less risk involved if you grab or stab at either lever.
Dirt and gravel can be slippery substances to put your foot down when coming to a stop. If you must stop in dirt, look for hard-packed areas.
Be conscious of the road surface where you’re stopping your bike, whether at a traffic light or on the shoulder of a road. Many a bike has been dropped after its rider placed a foot on a slippery surface.
Sand and gravel are the most obvious dangers, but also be mindful that the areas around traffic lights are often spattered with oil and coolant from ill-maintained cars that can lead to a loss of footing and a dropped bike. Stopping in a clean section of road also reduces the possibility of tire punctures from nails or other sharp objects. Also, avoid riding in the center of any lane, as oil and debris tend to build there.
Not only does placing the balls of your feet on the pegs reduce the chances of dragging toes while cornering, it also allows you to transfer power from your legs to the motorcycle more efficiently.
We often see new (and even experienced) riders with their heels on the pegs. This is one of the most common rookie mistakes we see, and correcting it has a big impact on handling dynamics. Your legs can produce a lot of force, but how efficiently this force is applied to the bike is key.
Try standing with the majority of your weight on your heels. Now jump as high as you can. Then try the same thing again, only with your weight on the balls of your feet. Big difference.
With your feet correctly placed on the pegs, you can place much more weight on the inside peg while cornering. Side benefit: you’ll scrape your toes a lot less, too. Being on the balls of your feet allows your legs to take load off the seat, with the benefit being the ability to smoothly alter body position and to reduce the shock of hitting a big bump.
This technique is effective on all motorcycles, though cruisers with floorboards instead of pegs won’t notice as much of a difference.
It’s best to thoroughly communicate with your passenger what they should do when they’re back there. Especially if you’re going to pull something like this.
If you plan on taking a passenger along for a ride, make sure to give them a prep talk, especially if they’re inexperienced pillions. Some noob passengers get spooked by the sensation of a motorcycle leaning into corners and try to counter that effect by leaning in the opposite direction, which can cause the bike to behave unpredictably. The best advice for a passenger is to direct them to simply look over your shoulder as the bike is turning.
Adding the weight of a passenger high and rearward drastically alters the balance of a motorcycle, so be prepared to accommodate this. This is especially true at low speeds when the bike is less stable. If they want to wiggle around, tell them to do it only at higher speeds or while at a stop, not while you’re lane-splitting between a line of delivery vans. Assuming, of course, lane splitting is legal where you live.
More than just black and round, mega bucks go into the research and development of tires. Treat them well and they’ll return the favor.
A motorcycle in decrepit shape is not only dangerous for you, but also for those around you. At the very least, regularly check the tire pressures and keep them within the manufacturer’s suggested levels. Handling characteristics could be negatively affected if they are too low or too high.
Beyond tires, simple maintenance items include checking oil and fluid levels, and making sure they’re within spec. For those motorcycles with chain or belt drives, check the condition of each and ensure the chain’s slack is within tolerance and the belt isn’t starting to crack or fray.
Make sure nothing’s leaking, either on the ground or on the motorcycle. If any of the above items seem wrong, and you’re not sure how to fix them, it’s best to take your bike to a reputable shop. Sure, this section isn’t a riding tip, per se, but proper maintenance is important enough that we’re including it here. And it provides an opportunity to become better acquainted with your machine.