Beginner Motorcycling

Information on Motorcycling for Beginners

Tag: learn to ride a motorcycle

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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