I’d been a motorcyclist for one full week when a trip around the corner to get gas resulted in a downed Honda Shadow and $16,000 new right foot. I had taken the MSF course, and done countless laps around a parking lot. Surely I was ready to make a trip around the corner.
The lack of practice making right turns from a stop and poor footwear choices lead me to garage the bike for seven months before I had the stones to pull the Christmas decorations pile off of it and fire her up. My buddy Dave refused to let me sell the bike before I gave it one last shot. He went all Herb Brooks on me, forcing parking lot drills down my throat until I got them right, and coaching the things I neglected doing on my own. He may or may not have said “if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a car.”
Dave’s also the reason I’ve come to eat, sleep, and breathe motorcycles. He’s the reason that I want to write about them when I can’t be outside riding them. I’d never have been able to enjoy the thing that brings me so much freedom and sheer joy if I hadn’t had Dave as a coach.
After putting on my suit and fedora and channeling my inner Tom Landry, here’s a few things I’ve learned now that I’ve had the privilege of being in Dave’s shoes a few times.
Help Them Pick Out A Bike That Doesn’t Suck
New riders often don’t have much to compare potential new purchases to. They may have ridden the beaten-down mules used for MSF courses, the smokey two-stroke dirt bike they rode as a kid, or possibly their buddy’s “Sweet Gixxer brah” that they took around the corner and dumped on their foot, like my buddy Octavi... ahem, I mean some random guy I heard about once.
In short, they don’t know what they SHOULD want. They don’t know what’s practical for their situation and use of the bike. You’re there to be their guide, and not let them get a bike that will get them in over their head.
The guys I’ve helped usually have an idea of what kind of bike they want, but that’s about it. This usually falls into two categories: cruiser or sportbike. I tend to be the guide that helps them go bike shopping. A good first bike is should be like a faithful golden retriever. Steady, stable, and always willing to play fetch.
Power should be adequate, but not overwhelming. Seat height should be fairly low, as the ability to put both feet down is one of the biggest factors in new rider confidence. Weight is the other nemesis of a good starter bikes. Their mass only gets multiplied at parking lot speeds, and the feeling of that extra weight starting to tip makes these bikes we love scary thing. Some of the best bikes for a beginner are any of the 300s, Honda 500s, the Sv650, Ninja 650 or it’s unfaired sibling the ER6-N.
I also do test rides to make sure nothing falls off. One time I was riding an old Kawasaki Concours, and I was baffled (puns!) that the bike suddenly sounded like a stock car for no reason. I pulled over and saw that I now had 50 percent fewer mufflers than I began my ride with. After dodging traffic and some creative swearing, I retrieved said muffler from the far left lane of Preston Road in Dallas, and had to carry it in my riding jacket. We didn’t buy the bike.
Help Them Cover Their Arse, Literally
There’s been several famous psychology studies about modeling, which show that whole “monkey see, monkey do” thing is real. Or in this case, “new bike rider see, new bike rider do.”
If all your friends see are Harley guys protected by kevlar bandanas, tats, and an air of offensive body odor, they are likely to think they can skip the gear too. The same thing applies if the Sweet Gixxer squid-brahs are prevalent in your area. A tank top, cargo shorts, sunglasses and running shoes does not provide effective protection.
If you’re helping a new guy or girl get riding, they very likely will take after what you wear. I personally wear a full-face helmet, jacket, gloves, and boots every time I’m on the bike.
Now, I do usually wear regular jeans. This is an admittedly questionable decision, similar to listening to Nickelback or marrying a Kardashian. But changing pants once I get somewhere is a lot harder than taking off a jacket, and I’ve just decided this is what works for me.
The guys I’ve taken gear shopping? Guess what they all own? Full-face helmets, jackets, gloves, and moto boots.
I’d personally feel like total garbage if I didn’t tell them as best I could about what I’ve been though. When I had close calls, or my two wrecks to date, I was very thankful for every piece of gear I was wearing and my life experiences have taught me it’s well worth the financial and sweat investment. But, to each his own.
New riders often have a little sticker shock when they learn how much you spent on that new Arai or Roland Sands jacket, but brands like ICON and Scorpion make great gear at reasonable prices.
Drill Sargent? Sir! Yessir!
Do new riders, whose only riding experience is the MSF class, know how to do a right hand turn from a stop? This seemingly simple move, done many times a day in riding, is often neglected by the MSF course. Everyone I’ve coached has struggled with it, dropping their bikes in the process. I’d add a picture here of Joe dropping his SV650, but I already give him a hard enough time about the flaming dumpster fire that is his beloved Kansas City Chiefs.
The guys I’ve coached start off with more parking lot drills on their own bikes. We practice the right-hand turns from a stop until it’s a smooth process, left hand turns from a stop, and u-turns to the left. If you drive on the right hand side of the road, 90% of the u-turns you make in real life will be to the left.
We then move up to side street riding. This gets them used to being in light traffic and real situations in a progressive manner. They also get the confidence of having an experienced rider with them in case they drop the bike or get flustered. You’ll be their safety blanky.
The MSF course is good for a quick run-through to get new riders acquainted with where things are on the bike and basic riding skills. I’m of the opinion that the MSF doesn’t go far enough, or long enough, to get new riders ready for the road. In many cases, including mine, more guidance once real city situation are involved can go a long way to keeping your buds safe and making sure they come to love riding like you do.
What’s an Apex?
To the unschooled, an apex may be a European mountain goat. Taking new riders along for fun rides on the weekends is a great way to further their skills and get them introduced to other folks who ride. In most areas there are enough canyon runs and back road meet ups to keep them busy and learning. This is where they really learn that you can take the marked 40 mph corner at 60 and live to tell the tale. They’ll also learn that hitting a dead possum at speed smells pretty bad, tar snakes are the devil, and what the proper apex in a corner is.
For those of you who still don’t quite know what an apex is, it’s the innermost point of a line taken through a curve - where your tires come the closest to the inside of the turn.
Explaining apexes, and then watching as riders learn how to use them to their advantage, is one of the most rewarding things about motorcycling.
Pay It Forward
Chances are, that if you’re reading this, someone has given you some pointers or helped you out on your journey to become an experienced motorcycle rider. I’m often amazed by how truly communal, friendly, and helping the motorcycle community is. Helping new riders get into the thing that gives us so much freedom and joy is a small price to pay.
Sure you’ll sacrifice a few hours making sure they get it right, but you’ll likely gain a good friend from the deal. Also, the motorcycle community gains one less total jackwagon likely to throw their new Gixxer down the road while leaving the dealer lot. That’s what I call a true win-win situation.
If you’re thinking about getting into motorcycles, but don’t know where to start, ask that acquaintance you see riding all the time or leave a comment below. We’ll be glad you asked.
Jason Channell is Lanesplitter’s most Texan contributor. He likes long rides in search of Texas brisket, playing Led Zeppelin at absurd volumes, and creating graphs that go up. You can follow his hijinks on Twitter and Instagram.