Beginner Motorcycling

Information on Motorcycling for Beginners

Category: Motorcycle Riding Basics

Why You Need Motorcycle Hearing Protection

motorcycle hearing protectionEven the best and most expensive motorcycle helmets available do not protect your hearing.  That’s right, even if you’re wearing a good quality full-face motorcycle helmet (which you should) studies have shown that your hearing is still likely to be damaged by wind noise if you don’t use motorcycle hearing protection.

Studies show that even 15 minutes of riding a motorcycle at highway speeds without ear protection can cause hearing damage.  And a U.S. Department of Transportation study shows that at 70 miles per hour even the most expensive motorcycle helmets do not prevent 100 decibels of wind noise.  And the type of motorcycle and type of motorcycle windscreen do not significantly change this (even though you may not feel as much wind).  In some cases, a single ride can lead to permanent hearing loss.

So, every motorcycle rider who will be riding at highway speeds should wear motorcycle ear protection.  The good news is that cheap foam earplugs can be just as effective (or sometimes more effective) than more expensive hearing protection.  So, I bought a big pack of cheap foam ear plugs to make sure I have enough for me, my passenger (pillion), and I put some extras in jacket pockets and luggage to be sure that I’m not caught without hearing protection on my motorcycle.  With the foam earplugs, just be sure to compress them and insert them deeply into the ear and hold them in place for about ten seconds to be sure they stay in place.

Riding a motorcycle is a lot of fun, but don’t forget to take the steps necessary to protect your hearing.  Make inserting hearing protection a part of your pre-ride routine, so that you don’t put your helmet on until after your plugs are in.  Ride safe, and have fun!

More on motorcycle hearing loss: Hearing Loss in Motorcyclists

How to Shift a Motorcycle

motorcycle shift paternIn this post we’ll continue our articles on the basics of riding a motorcycle and discuss shifting a motorcycle.  If you missed our recent articles on basic motorcycle controls and how to start a motorcycle you may want to read those before reading this article.

So, you’ve know where the motorcycle controls are and you’ve gotten the motorcycle started.  As stated in our last article, if you’re new to motorcycling or riding a motorcycle that you’re not familiar with, you should do this exercise to feel how the bike throttle and friction zone of the clutch work: (1) sitting on the motorcycle with your gear on, pull the clutch lever all the way in and shift to first gear by pushing the shifter down as many times as it takes to get where it won’t go down any further — this is 1st gear; (2) keeping your feet on the ground, feel the friction zone of the clutch by slowly letting out the clutch a bit (without giving throttle) and then pulling it back in before stalling (if you stall, put in Neutral and re-start); (3) again keep your feet on the ground, and feel the throttle response by doing the same exercise with a small bit of throttle; (4) put the bike back in Neutral (Neutral light should illuminate) with both feet on the ground and start to push forward and check that the front brake will stop the motorcycle, and do a quick check on front and back brakes separately in the first 20 yards or so after starting out on your motorcycle.

O.k., you’re off and running in 1st gear and have tested your brakes a little, so what next?  Once your RPMs go up where you need to shift, then squeeze in the clutch lever while rolling off of the throttle, firmly shift up into 2nd gear with your shifter foot (left foot for most modern motorcycles) and roll back on the throttle.  Doing a firm and full shift is especially important in shifting into 2nd gear, otherwise you might wind up in Neutral by accident (if so, simply quickly repeat the above: clutch, throttle down, shift up, throttle on).

Once you are riding about, you’ll often need to dowshift in traffic, before stopping, before cornering, etc.  The motorcycle downshifing process is similar: squeeze the clutch, blip the throttle, shift down and throttle on.  By “blip the throttle” I mean for a split-second roll on the throttle more (to get RPMs up a bit) then close the throttle before pressing down on the gear change lever with your shifting foot.  When going down from 2nd to 1st, be extra sure to firmly and fully push down on the motorcycle gear change, so that you don’t end up in Neutral.  Again, if you do end up in Neutral don’t panic, just repeat the process above.

So there you have it, basic motorcycle shifting instructions.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments section below.  Happy riding!

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How to Start a Motorcycle

motorcycle controls drawing

Basic Motorcycle Controls

In one of our recent articles we explained the basic motorcycle controls for modern motorcycles.  Now, we’ll go over the basics of how to start a motorcycle.

First, you will need to insert the ignition key and turn it clockwise to the ignition position.  Next, you will need to make sure the motorcycle transmission is in Neutral (most modern bikes won’t let you start the bike in gear with the kickstand down).  If you don’t know how to find Neutral, we will cover that in our next article on shifting a motorcycle.

Next, make sure the engine cut-off switch (or “kill switch)  is in the “run” setting, not in the engine “kill” setting.  At this point, if your motorcycle is fuel injected you can start it by pressing the start button.

For motorcycles with carburetors, before you press start you will need to make sure (1) that your fuel supply valve (if you have one) is turned to the on position; and (2) that you adjust your choke/enricher (usually either near the clutch lever, or somewhat near the fuel supply valve) to get extra fuel in the mix to start (many bikes need half-way or none on warm days, full way on cold days, but each one is different).  Once you’ve done all that you can start it by pressing the start button or using the kick starter if you have one.

Let the engine run a bit to warm up. On a carbureted motorcycle, after you’ve let it run with the choke out a bit you’ll want to push it back in before you start riding.  If you start pushing the choke in and the engine sounds like it might die, pull the choke back out and let the engine warm up a little more.  Most fuel injected motorcycles will start out automatically with a richer fuel mix, and will automatically go to a normal mix after warming up — you’ll be able to hear a change in the sound of the idling motorcycle engine.

Now the engine is on and warmed up.  I recommend that on any motorcycle you are not used to that after you sit on the bike you should do this exercise to feel how the bike throttle and friction zone of the clutch work: (1) sitting on the motorcycle with your gear on, pull the clutch lever all the way in and shift to first gear; (2) keeping your feet on the ground, feel the friction zone of the clutch by slowly letting out the clutch a bit (without giving throttle) and then pulling it back in before stalling; (3) again keep your feet on the ground, and feel the throttle response by doing the same exercise with a small bit of throttle; (4) put the bike back in Neutral (Neutral light should illuminate) with both feet on the ground and start to push forward and check that the front brake will stop the motorcycle, and do a quick check on front and back brakes separately in the first 20 yards or so after starting out on your motorcycle.

Hope you find this helpful.  In our next article about how to ride a motorcycle, we’ll cover shifting in more detail.

8 Tips for Buying your First Motorcycle

Beginner Motorcycle

Kawasaki Vulcan 500

So, after you’ve decided to learn how to ride a motorcycle and taken the MSF class, what’s next?  If you’re like me you’ll start to look around and think about buying your first motorcycle.  Here are my tips for buying a beginner motorcycle:

1. Start Small — First, remember that most experts will say that your first motorcycle should be a smaller, less powerful bike. This is wise advice.  Starting on a smaller, less powerful bike lets you gain experience the right way.  Hopefully, life is a marathon, not a sprint, so enjoy the learning process and don’t rush into a large, powerful bike.  As many people say: it’s more fun to ride a less powerful bike fast than it is to ride a powerful bike slowly.  You can always trade up later, but don’t be tempted to cut corners and buy a bike that is to powerful and/or heavy for beginners.

2. Engine Size —  In many countries new riders have to start on 125cc bikes or smaller.  While that seems a bit extreme, it is important to not get too powerful an engine in your first motorcycle.  For riders interested in a sport bike, a 250cc or 300cc bike is usually the best size to start on — big enough engine to run on the highways, but not so fast as to be hard to control smoothly.  For riders who like cruiser bikes, many of them have engines that are not tuned the same as sport bikes, so for many riders a 500cc, 650cc or even a 883cc cruiser is manageable as a first bike (as long as the other factors, especially weight, work for you).

3.  Seat Height — For beginners, seat height can really be a big thing.  It is really a reassuring feeling to be able to “flat foot” a motorcycle with both feet when you come to a stop. I know there were a couple of times when I was just starting out that I would have dropped the motorcycle if I couldn’t get both feet down quickly — and this coupled with a light weight first motorcycle really made a difference.  Cruiser motorcycles usually have the lowest seat heights, followed in this general order: sport bikes, sport touring bikes, dual sport bikes.  While seat height becomes less of an issue as you gain experience, it really is a big deal at first.

4.  Bike Weight — As mentioned above, bike weight and seat height are two of the biggest issues when it comes to new riders dropping their bikes (especially at lower speeds in driveways and parking lots).  Some really light beginner motorcycles with smaller engines can weigh less than 300 pounds.  Compare this to some big baggers (cruiser motorcycles with luggage attached) can weigh over 900 pounds.  Do yourself a favor and start out with a lighter motorcycle — the lightness can be a lot of fun to flick around curves, and is much easier not to drop.

5.  Seating Position — Seating position is a matter of personal preference.  Most cruiser motorcycles have “forward controls” meaning you sit back and your legs are stretched forward.  Many people find this quite comfortable, but I feel more in control with a more upright seating position such as found on sport-touring motorcycles.  Again, this comes down to personal preference, so you should really try out a few bikes for yourself to see which motorcycle seating position you prefer.

6.  Overall Comfort — Besides seat height and seating position, you want to make sure that you are comfortable riding any beginner motorcycle that you buy.  With some sports bikes, you end up putting a decent bit of weight on your hands and wrists, while with many cruiser bikes you feel every bump in your bottom.  So again, be sure to try out the bike first to make sure you are comfortable.

7.  New versus used — There are many good deals to be had on used motorcycles out there.  Lots of folks buy a motorcycle and then mostly have it sit in their garage for a few years before deciding to sell.  You can save thousands of dollars by buying a used motorcycle, but as with any used vehicle you can sometimes end up getting into maintenance issues that you would not have to deal with in a new motorcycle.  However, my general advice is to buy a bike less than 10 years old with less than 10,000 miles on it.  There are a few things to consider, which I will address in a future article, but generally going used is the way to go for a first motorcycle.

8.  Price — Finally, money is always an item to consider.  There are plenty of decent used beginner-level motorcycles out there for between $2,000 and $4,000.  I’d suggest staying in this price range for your first motorcycle.  Then, if you end up dropping it you won’t feel quite so bad.  Also, most used $2,000 motorcycles can be sold six months or a year later for around the same price — so you really can go wrong on that kind of deal.

I hope you found these tips helpful.  If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comment box below and I’ll respond as soon as possible.

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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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