How to Ride a Motorcycle
You’ve finally plucked up the courage to begin your foray into the world of two wheeled fun and for that we salute you. The next step of your journey is a whole lot harder; learning how to physically ride a motorcycle.
Unlike riding a pedal bike or driving a car, riding a motorcycle is a lot more involved and requires a greater level of hand eye coordination.
If you reside in the US, and depending on which State you’re in, you may well be able to jump onto a motorcycle without any sort of formal training or at best a permit obtained after riding around a car park for one hour.
This is both a blessing and a curse as whilst it provides freedom with few restrictions, riding on the public highway as a complete beginner is never a good idea.
Successfully riding a motorcycle is about a lot more than just knowing what each hand or foot control does as I found out to my detriment when I taught myself how to ride over in Thailand. With no prior experience of riding a clutch operated motorcycle, I promptly pulled a stationary wheelie on my brand new bike whilst less than a mile away from the dealership.
To avoid you going through the same experience, here in this article we’re going to provide you with an overview of exactly what you need to know to give you the best chances of success.
Ok, let’s start with the basics. We’re going to run through the use of each lever and foot pedal just in case you’re completely new to motorcycling.
- Clutch Lever: Located on your left handlebar. This lever is responsible for engaging and disengaging the clutch just as the far left foot pedal works in a manual car.
- Brake Lever: Located on your right handlebar. This lever is responsible for applying the front brake and the front brake only unless you’re riding a motorcycle with a combined braking system.
- The Throttle: Located on your right handlebar. The throttle forms part of your right grip – the section of handlebar you place your hand on. Unlike the left grip, the right one twists in a counter clockwise motion to apply throttle as required. Your throttle will either be cable or electronically actuated depending on your bike.
- Gear Selector: You will find your gear selector located on your left foot control. In conjunction with your clutch lever, the gear selector will allow you to change gear.
- Rear Brake: On the opposite side of the bike is the rear brake pedal which is a foot pedal you will need to operate with your right foot. Just as in a car, the rear brake isn’t quite as strong as the front but is still necessary in riding a bike well.
The gearbox on a manual bike works a little differently than any other vehicle you will likely have come across before. On your average bike, the gearbox will be laid out in a stacked arrangement meaning that rather than moving the gear selector into a specific position, it’s simply moved up and down.
Most bikes will have 6 forward gears, no reserve and a neutral position.
The gearbox is arranged as follows:
0 – Neutral
What this means is that you need to push the gear lever downwards from neutral to engage 1st gear. When changing into second, you then push upwards with your foot, bypassing neutral and selecting second. Some gear selectors take quite a bit of work to engage so we recommend always wearing high quality motorcycle boots to prevent damage to your foot.
It sounds complicated in theory but in practise it’s really simple. To continue changing upwards, you simply push up on the lever until you reach 6th gear and then reverse the process by pushing down until you’re back into neutral or first gear.
To assist, some bikes will be fitted with an electronic gear indicator on the dashboard which will tell you which gear you’re in at any given time.
If you’re familiar with a manual clutch, you will know its imply a device that disengages the engine from the transmission, allowing you to select another gear. It works exactly the same way in a manual car, except with a bike, you have a lever rather than pedal.
1. Sit on your bike, makes sure it’s in neutral and then start it.
2. Pull in the clutch lever with your left hand.
3. Whilst pulled in, engage 1st gear by pushing down on the gear selector. You should hear it clunk into place.
4. Slowly open out the clutch lever and you will hear and feel the engine engage against the transmission, moving you forward slowly.
5. If you open or let out the clutch too fast, the engine may stall so be prepared and try not to fall off.
Complete this exercise over and over again until you’re comfortable and you’ve got the mechanics down. We’re now going to add a little throttle.
Using the Throttle Properly
The throttle on any modern bike is a precision tool which needs to be handled precisely. Too gentle and you’ll struggled to propel the bike forward and change gear properly, too harsh and you’ll probably pull a wheelie or spin the rear tire up (we suggest always making sure your tires are up to the job with good motorcycle tires).
Get used to twisting the throttle and seeing the revs rise on the tachometer. Get a feel for how your throttle input translates into engine acceleration.
Once you become more confident, handling the throttle forcefully (where required) but precisely will become second nature.
Using Your Brakes
As mentioned, when coming to a stop from speed, you’re always going to want to rely heavily on the front brake. You will feel the bike pitch forward as your weight transfers, loading the front type up and allowing your discs (rotors) and pads to do their job.
The front brake is not an on and off switch and needs to be modulated very carefully, especially when riding a bike without ABS.
Never snatch or grab the front brake – always apply pressure smoothly but forcefully where required. Grabbing the front brake may result in the front tyre losing traction and you immediately falling off the bike.
The rear brake is great for keeping the bike stable and under control when performing an emergency stop in conjunction with your front brake. Both the front and rear brake should be used together to brake as efficiently as possible.
Riding Your Motorcycle
You should now be set to have a go at riding slowly around your car park or other similar large open space. Recap on all that you’ve learnt as you’ll need to put it into practice.
1. Pull your clutch lever in and engage first gear.
2. Twist the throttle and hold it steady at around 2000rpm.
3. Open the clutch slowly until you feel the engine start to bite and the bike begins to move forward.
4. Fully release the clutch slowly whilst maintaining a constant throttle.
5. You should now be moving at around 5-10mph so pick your feet up and place them on the pedals. Cover a distance of 20 metres or so if possible.
6. To stop. Simple reduce your throttle input, brake and then pull the clutch in before you come to a stop to prevent the engine from stalling.
Once you’ve mastered this, you can begin changing gear once on the move and experiment with different braking techniques.
At low speeds, steering a motorcycle is just like steering a pedal bike. You turn the handlebars in the desired direction of travel. What you will soon learn is that this will only work up until around 15-20 mph where you will then have to use a different steering technique.
Counter steering is often a misunderstood term as it doesn’t work the same way the term suggests it would. A poor counter steering explanation is responsible for many new riders really struggling with their cornering until they really nail down how this works.
The reason you can no longer simply turn your handlebars at high speed is because of the gyroscopic effect of your bikes wheels and tyres. When in motion, the energy they contain changes the way in which they turn – specifically, your front tyre leans rather than turns.
1. To turn right, you need to push the right handlebar forward
2. To turn left, you need to push the left handlebar forward
Read those two lines over and over again until they sink in. To turn or steer, you don’t turn the bars at all. You use either your left or right hand to push the bar its holding which is what causes the front tyre to lean over and change direction.
There is no pulling, and no turning. Simply pushing.
This can be demonstrated when riding in a straight line at speed. Remove your left hand from the bar. With your right hand, push the right handlebar out away from you. You will then steer to the right.
It’s as simple as that. No other confusing explanation required.
Getting Better at Riding
Once you’ve mastered the basics of the controls and how they directly affect what your bike does, you can begin to push yourself and the bike further to learn even more. You will find that the bike is capable of far more than you ever thought possible. Just watch a MotoGP race for proof.
Practice stopping quickly and safely from high speed. Practise accelerating quickly from a standing start. Practice cornering more quickly than you’re used to – if you keep the principals of counter steering in mind, you will amaze yourself at just how readily your bike will go wherever you want it to.
Motorcycle Training Courses
Even if you’re a natural, we would always recommend some kind of formal tuition or training such as an MSF Course where an instructor evaluates your technique and can tell you exactly where you’re going wrong. You will learn a lot and pick up loads of tips to help make you a better rider.
The journey to becoming the best rider you can possibly be is paved with near misses, close calls and sometimes nasty accidents so learning from your mistakes and seeking feedback is always the smart choice.
Motorcycle Safety Gear
And of course, we at Motorcyclesecure always recommend that you wear protective equipment at all times which includes the minimum of a helmet, boots and gloves. We’ve reviewed several motorcycle accessories as well as a ton of safety gear throughout this site so have a read through to see what would best suit you. We recommend starting here by choosing a suitable motorcycle helmet and learning why it is so important to wear motorcycle safety gear.
You can also learn more about effectivive torso protection by reading our guide to motorcycle jackets.