Beginner Motorcycling

Information on Motorcycling for Beginners

Month: October 2017

How to Ride a Motorcycle – Basic Motorcycle Controls Explained

motorcycle controls drawing

Basic Motorcycle Controls

In a previous article we talked about the best way to learn to ride a motorcycle. In this article, we will give a basic overview of how to ride a motorcycle. We’ll cover some items in more detail later, but even so this is not intended to be a replacement for a motorcycle riding course.

Riding a conventional motorcycle requires the use of both hands and both feet (and your eyes, ears and brain as well!), while riding a scooter or automatic transmission motorcycle will eliminate the clutch and shifter (and sometimes only have one control for both brakes). For most modern motorcycles, here are what the motorcycle controls are:

Left hand motorcycle controls — on most manual transmission motorcycles the left hand is used to control the clutch lever. There are also other motorcycle controls near the left handlebar grip, including the high and low headlight switch, the turn switch (Harleys have one on each side of the handlebars) and the horn button.

Left foot motorcycle controls — on most modern motorcycles the shift lever is moved by the left foot. We will cover how to shift a motorcycle in more detail in a later article, but the usual configuration is 1st gear is all the way down, then shift up for Neutral, then shift up sequentially for each of the other motorcycle gears (usually 5 or 6).

Right hand motorcycle controls — the right hand lever on the motorcycle controls the front brake, while the right hand grip on the motorcycle controls the throttle (or gas) and rolling the grip towards you rolls on the throttle (gives it more gas) and rolling the grip away from you is called rolling off of the throttle and lessens the gas that the engine gets. Other right hand controls on most modern motorcycles include the starter button and the motorcycle kill switch which shuts off the engine (and if this switch has been flipped the motorcycle engine will not start). On Harleys, there is also a right turn signal button near the right grip.

Right foot motorcycle controls — on most manual transmission motorcycles in the U.S., the right foot controls the rear brake. On some older bikes and some European bikes the shifting is done with the right foot.

So there you have it, those are the basic motorcycle controls that are used to operate most modern motorcycles. As I said, we will cover some of those in more detail in later articles.

What to Bring and Wear to the MSF Motorcycle Class

In our last article we told you that the best way to learn to ride a motorcycle is by taking an MSF motorcycle riding course and the different types of MSF Motorcycle Classes.  In this post we’ll discuss what to bring to the MSF basic rider motorcycle course.  As a preliminary matter, it depends on whether you are taking the initial and longer  MSF Basic RiderCourse or if you have some experience and your own motorcycle and are therefore taking the MSF Basic RiderCourse 2.  So, we’ll cover both below.

MSF Basic RiderCourse — BRC or RiderCourse 1

For the 15 hour MSF Basic RiderCourse 1 all locations should have smaller motorcycles that are good to learn on (and this is included in the price of the MSF class) and most locations will have some helmets to lend out also (definitely confirm this with the site hosting the MSF course).  If, like me, you are not sure that you are going to actually get a motorcycle after the MSF class, then using a loaner helmet can save some money (most motorcycle helmets aren’t cheap).  However, if you know that you will keep riding a motorcycle after the class, I’d suggest bringing your own helmet.  Also, the MSF instructors will require you to have eye protection, so if the helmet you are using doesn’t have a face shield, you will have to bring safety/sun glasses or goggles (if you’re using the MSF site’s helmets, be sure to ask about whether they have shields or if you should bring glasses/goggles).

Other items that you are required to wear at any MSF class are gloves, long pants, long sleeves and over-the-ankle footwear.  For the long pants and long sleeves, sturdy materials are recommended.  If you don’t have motorcycle pants, jeans should be fine for the MSF course.  For long sleeves the temperature may influence you, but if it is not too hot I’d suggest something thicker than a tee shirt — perhaps a sweatshirt.  These should keep you from getting too scraped up if you should go down during the class (the riding in the course is lower speeds in a big parking lot).

The long pants and over-the-ankle boots can also protect you from getting burned by the engine or exhaust if you should fall down.  For my MSF class, I wore some old hiking boots, but any kind of boots (or high top leather sneakers) should work — though it should have a rubber sole with good grip rather than a smooth leather sole common on cowboy boots.

Gloves are also important as they can help you keep a good grip even if your hands get sweaty and gloves can also provide protection if you fall — as it is normal to try to reach out with your hands to break your fall.  For my MSF class I bought some cheap rubber armored work gloves that I bought from a hardware store — and they did protect my hands the one time I dropped the bike.  You can also get motorcycle gloves at reasonable prices from stores that sell motorcycling gear.  While usually still more expensive than work gloves, they will usually have extra protection and are much more reasonably priced than motorcycle boots, motorcycle jackets or motorcycle pants — all of which are usually pretty expensive.

You should also bring a writing pen, your regular driver’s license (or other identification if you don’t have a license) and in states that require a motorcycle learner’s permit you should bring that too (check with your MSF site and your state DMV).  Other things I suggest bringing are bottled water and sunscreen (for what is exposed under a helmet, and also you will stand around outside and the backs of your hands, neck and ears may get burned).

Please note that most MSF courses go on rain or shine, so if it is raining you will want to be prepared with waterproof pants and jacket (and gloves too).

MSF Basic RiderCourse 2 and Advanced RiderCourse

For the MSF Basic RiderCourse 2 and the MSF Advanced RiderCourse, everything said above applies and you will also need to bring your own motorcycle (unless your site rents them for these courses) your motorcycle license, and proof of motorcycle ownership and insurance.

I hope this is helpful in knowing what to bring to your MSF motorcycle course.  Above all, come prepared to learn (even if you’ve been riding a while) and have fun!

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Learn to Ride a Motorcycle with an MSF Class

Motorcycles in MSF Basic RiderCourse (BRC)

The best way for any new rider to learn how to ride a motorcycle is by starting out with an MSF Course.  MSF stands for Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and they provide motorcycle safety courses across the country in most mid-size or larger cities.  In many states these courses are provided in conjunction with the state Department of Transportation (or Highway Department), such that the in-class written test and the practical motorcycle riding test given during the course will also count for getting your motorcycle license — so when you pass the class you just take your class certificate to the DMV and pay the fee to get your M-endorsement added to your license.

While the MSF actually provides many different types and levels of motorcycle riding classes (including trike, military, and dirt riding courses), in this article I’ll just go over the three most popular MSF motorcycle driving classes they offer.

 

MSF Basic RiderCourse

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic RiderCourse (BRC) is the traditional “new to motorcycle riding” class that most people (especially those with no riding experience) should take. For this class, the school provides beginner motorcycles for you to learn on, so all you need is a helmet, gloves and boots..  The MSF Basic Rider Course is a fifteen hour class that involves five hours of classroom time and ten hours of training on motorcycles.  This course is designed to take someone like I was, with absolutely no experience riding a motorcycle whatsoever, and starting from the very basics (like where the throttle is, where the clutch is, etc.) give you the education and training to get your license and know the basics of how to ride a motorcycle safely and mitigate risks.  The classroom time will teach you what you need to know for the written test — such as common dangers for motorcycle riders and how to avoid them, and the ten hours on the motorcycles will teach you from the start:  how to gear up for motorcycle riding, how to mount a motorcycle the right way, how to start a motorcycle,etc. and you will progress to how to stop a motorcycle, how to stop a motorcycle on a curve, how to ride curves, avoiding road obstacles on a motorcycle, etc. until you know enough basics that you are ready for the motorcycle riding test that will let you get your motorcycle license endorsement.  This includes learning how to do a figure 8 inside of a box to demonstrate low speed turning skills.  Again, this is the motorcycle class that most new riders should take if they have little or no riding experience.  It is a great way to learn how to safely ride a motorcycle, and most insurance companies give a discount for folks who have completed this motorcycle safety class.

 

The MSF Basic RiderCourse 2

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic RiderCourse 2 is a one-day motorcycle riding class that is designed for students with some motorcycle riding experience to get the knowledge and written and riding testing needed in order to get their motorcycle license endorsement.  Students must bring their own motorcycle (some sites will rent motorcycles) along with helmet, gloves, and long sleeves and long pants.  This class is not suitable for those with no motorcycle riding experience.  This class is good for riders with some experience riding — whether it be folks who have dirt bike riding experience or folks who used to ride or who have been practicing on their own and now want to get their motorcycle riding license.  You can also take this class if you already have your motorcycle endorsement and want to get some extra training on your own motorcycle.  I did that and I highly recommend that — it really helped me gain confidence on my own motorcycle — which was bigger and taller than the motorcycles I practiced with in the first BRC course that I took.

 

The MSF Advanced RiderCourse

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation Advanced RiderCourse is designed for experienced motorcycle riders who already have their motorcycle license endorsement and their own bike.  This is only a skills-building motorcycle class and does not count toward licensing — your insurance company may give additional discounts for taking this class (but you will need to confirm with them).  This class teaches additional techniques to avoid motorcycle accidents, swerving around obstacles, motorcycle trail braking techniques, additional cornering techniques and more in order to help you to be a safer motorcycle rider and avoid accidents.

 

So, I highly recommend that every new motorcycle rider take an MSF motorcycle riding course to get licensed, and also that you take the Advanced RiderCourse to increase your safety on a motorcycle.  You can find the locations of classes near you by visiting the Motorcycle Safety Foundation website.

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Why Learn to Ride a Motorcycle?

What motivates someone who is new to motorcycling to want to learn to ride?  Well, different people have different reasons.  I can’t speak for all new motorcycle riders, but I can tell you what motivated me.

I had actually never thrown a leg over a motorcycle until I was 45 years old.  I was a total motorcycle newbie, having never ridden dirt bikes, mopeds, scooters.  I hadn’t even done any 2-up motorcycle riding (riding as a passenger on a motorcycle).  However, a few things finally got me to want to learn motorcycle riding:

  1.  Bicycle Riding — After going many years without riding a bike, I got back into bike riding in my late 30’s.  It was great being out in the air enjoying the fun of riding on two wheels.  However, there were times when I started thinking it would be nice to be on a motorcycle riding with the speed of traffic, rather then pedaling on the side of the road on tires less than an inch wide while wearing a foam hat.  Don’t get me wrong, I still think riding bicycles is fun and great exercise, but it is nice to have the speed of a motorcycle to ride with traffic and go longer distances.
  2. Travels Abroad — My wife and I like to travel to different countries, and one thing I noticed in many of the countries that we have visited is that in many countries people use motorcycles as their primary source of transportation.  In some countries motorcycles seem to outnumber cars, and I thought it would be a good idea to know how to drive a motorcycle — if for no other reason than it would be good to know in an emergency.
  3. Personal Development — In addition to the reasons to start motorcycling listed above, I also viewed learning to ride a motorbike as an exercise in personal development.  I think it is important to keep doing different things, adding skills, and getting out of my comfort zone a bit.  Learning how to ride a motorcycle checked all of those boxes for me.

So there you have it, my reasons for learning to ride a motorcycle later in life.  As I said above, everyone has different reasons for wanting to learn to ride a bike.  However, let’s not forget one of the best reasons: learning how to drive a motorcycle is a lot of fun!

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