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Guide to Motorcycling
Section Five: Routes and Lessons - Learning to Ride
This section will help you out, just relax and read on...
Routes and Lessons - Learning to Ride
If you have any questions, just write me.
If you have not yet (or do not intend to right now) taken a MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) course. My advice, reconsider, I've read that you improve your odds of not getting into an accident by more than double based on the Hurt Report. Also taking an MSF course adds much more to motorcycle enjoyment and riding than just safety issues.
OK, still no go? Well then it is actually better to teach yourself than have a friend teach you (unless they are a certified motorcycling instructor). The Hurt Report finds that those taught by a friend to ride a bike their chance of getting into an accident increases over that of teaching yourself!
First, get a really good book (like the ones suggested at this site) on how to ride a motorcycle (your local library should have something as well). Read the book cover to cover first. No matter how hard the urge is to just jump on the bike and go. Now, take the book out with you to a large empty parking lot with nothing hard (vehicles, posts, walls, etc) to hit within sight or at least keep those deadly objects far away.
Practice first without the engine on learning where and what all the controls are and what they do. Learn to use them, reaching for them etc. Have a friend push you around a course so you can get the hang of steering the motorcycle, stopping the bike, leaning with it, using the horn, turn signals, engine kill switch, front and rear brakes etc. Practice as long as you need to (at least a few hours). Then try it with the engine on and practice using the clutch and the front brake. See where the friction zone is and get used to using the brake, do not yet change into a higher gear, practice at low speeds and have your friend watching you.
Make sure you keep following the instructions in the book on how to ride you brought with you (you did remember to bring it right?!). If all goes well, at the end of the day (yes, all day practice in the lot) then you will at least have enough skills not to kill yourself when you practice the road part of learning to ride your motorcycle. For some good tips on learning to ride on the road, just keep reading that book you bought/took out of the library on how to ride and bike and the helpful tips below:
Congratulations on wanting to hit the road with your motorcycle (as in riding on the road, not dropping your bike on it! haha). You will find riding on the road is even more fun than riding in a local parking lot! Before you hit the road make sure you have all your safety equipment on (helmet, boots, gloves, jacket and pants) in case something goes not as you would like it to. Also make sure you bike is safe (check the tires, brakes, horn, engine kill switch, lights, turn signals etc).
Next, make sure your motorcycle displays the proper licensing information and that you have insurance and that it is with you.
If you can, have a friend there, either in a car (preferred) or able to keep up with you by some other means. The idea is they can block any traffic from behind you in their car and also assist you in case you need it. Believe me, having someone behind to you serve as a "shield" makes you feel better.
OK, have all that eh? Off we go then with how I learned to ride on the road.
Step One: You made it this far, no turning back now.
Get out a good street map of the area you live in. What you want do to is look for (and memorize) a good small route around your neighborhood. For your first ride, it is important to stay away from busy intersections, major roads, traffic, stop lights and even stop signs! All that is coming up soon enough, right now, try speed control, braking, turning, hills, and throttle control.
Your starting location is important and it will most likely be off your driveway, alley way or in front/behind your house. Try, if you can, to pick a place that you can just sit on the bike for a while without bothering anyone or disrupting traffic (which you should NOT be in right now, if you are, kick yourself and go to a different start location). Also pick a time that does not have a lot of traffic or cars driving around (during working hours on a residential street, late a night on a well lit street, industrial area on a weekend, parking lot etc). The idea behind that is you are not pressured by other vehicles and that you can take your own time, make your own mistakes, think about what you are doing and enjoy yourself underneath all that stress you are feeling.
OK, so you have picked out a great start location, and the time is just right with no traffic in sight and there isn't anyone around to bother you. If you started in a Parking Lot then practice the things you learned in your Motorcycle Safety Course, just to get you up to speed and remembering it all. You will know when you've practiced enough and you are ready to hit the road, trust me.
Route Number One: No Stop Signs
Start off with a residential street (one lane each way) route on your local street map that is small and doesn't contain any of the following: busy intersections, major roads, traffic, stop lights and even stop signs. School zones are OK to include, in fact, IDEAL since you don't want to go that fast and other traffic to go that fast around you.
Practice that circle route (maybe 2.5km/1 mile) over and over again tying to make the trip smoother each time. When I did my first route it was 2.1km (there and back! Haha). Hey, I know this is boring but you got to start somewhere and before you know it you WILL be on the main multi-lane highway surrounded by 18 wheelers on all sides. OK, scary thought right now eh? Well, then let's do it right from the start by doing these really easy steps.
Route Number Two: Stop Signs
OK, so you are the Master of your little route, able to do it all without much stalling, rough gear shifts, bad stops and the lot. (I personally had to work on not stalling the bike and felt great going from a dozen times an hour to zero over the weeks).
Again, get out your local area map and if you can incorporate one or two stop signs in it then that will be Route Number Two for you. Remember, do not include any of the following: busy intersections, major roads, traffic and stop lights.
This route should be just a little bigger (up to 5km/2 miles) and practice using the clutch and gas at those stop signs. Try not to stall (I know you can't really help it yet, that's why you are practicing) all the time, learn your bike's friction zone (that is where you let out the clutch and the bike wants to go forward as the engine slows down). You will learn where the friction zone is and how much gas to use and went to apply it, maybe not perfectly yet, but you will be getting better!
Keep going on this route till you are tired of it and its easy. Then on to the next Route!
Route Number Three: Combo Number Two
Hey, you are doing great! Gaining a lot more confidence to since you started Route One I'll bet!
OK, now is the time for Route Three. You already know it, it is your exact same Route Two, but this time, you want to go out with light traffic around you. You probably already encountered light traffic so far, but now you want to ask for it! Remember, do not include any of the following: busy intersections, and stop lights.
You have to ride in traffic, it is a fact of life. You might as well learn it with a route you are already comfortable with, that only has 1 or 2 stop signs and is residential traffic.
OK, so you want to do this route when there ARE cars, trucks, buses around, that is the point. So pick the best time for that and try it. Do not get frustrated, angry or mad at other things around you or yourself for doing something wrong (like stalling the bike). I'll tell you right now, you will stall in front of another vehicle so this is the time to practice not freaking out and getting mad at them (honking at you) or yourself (for holding everyone up).
Try that Route until you are bored with it. Wow, learning fast!
Route Number Four: Main Street
OK, time to kick it up a notch? Think you are ready to try riding on a nonresidential road, maybe with traffic on top? If not yet, keep practicing Route Number Three and you will be ready!
Get your local area road map out yet again, what you are looking for is either a new route (exactly like Route Number Three) or if there is a way to add a short trip down a main road (two lanes each side) to your existing Route Number Three. If you can incorporate this route with Route Number Four than you will not only feel more comfortable but also be more familiar with your surroundings as well. You do not want to go onto a main road by traffic lights (a stop sign is fine) yet and you want to be off that main road before you get to any traffic lights as well. What you are looking for is just to ride down that road in the curb lane and exit off from that lane onto a residential street. Remember, do not include any of the following: busy intersections, and stop lights.
The idea of this route is to not only get used to riding in a 2 lane road, but also a main one with some traffic.
OK, picked out a route, well then, what are you waiting for, go have fun!! Again, do it until you are bored. Feel free to cruise a main road longer than you started out doing, just don't hit any traffic lights yet, that is coming in the next step.
Route Number Five: Main Streets, Traffic and Traffic Lights
Hey, if you are ready for this one, then pat yourself on the back, I'm proud of you! If you are not yet comfortable with this one, just keep practicing Route Number Four until you are.
What you ideally want to do is create a new route (ideally with the section of main road you used in Route number four in there) only including a "square" of main roads so you will be just turning right so you are not crossing any lanes of traffic or waiting for any turn lights (no Left turns at intersections yet please). So, if you have marked out a big square of main roads, then go for it!
Watch out for cars turning Left into your lane at intersections. Intersections make up for 50% of all city related motorcycle accidents and 50% of those are from Left Turning cars. If there is a car wanting to turn Left and you are stopped make sure they see you by fully coming to a stop as you are about to turn and looking at you. You can tell a car doesn't see you or know you are there because they are not paying attention and looking at something other than you, are distracted, the car doesn't come to a complete stop or the wheels are not straight. You can tell a car is about to make a Left turn by its wheels are turning (or turned), the hood is dropping into the turn, or by seeing if the top of the front wheel is moving. Don't get paranoid, just be AWARE of things around you.
Have fun and keep practicing until you are bored and ready for the next Route. (Left turns at intersections! Argh!)
Remember, do not include any of the following: busy intersections.
Route Number Six: Main Streets, Left Turns, Traffic and Traffic Lights Super sized.
You're motorcycle skills are growing up fast! Soon you will be on your own in the big unexplored world, ready for you and your motorcycle. Keep with these Route lesions, don't rush them, and practice, practice, practice.
OK, Route Number Six is the same idea as Route Number Five, EXCEPT with one really big difference. Instead of making right turns, you will be making Left turns!
When I started learning to make Left turns I was scared because I didn't want to stall in the middle of an intersection. Seems concentrating on what not to do makes you do exactly that! I stalled, the light went red and I was so embarrassed I pushed my bike off to the side of the road! Argh, horrible failure I felt, but after I got over it, I passed with flying colours. I want you to do better!!!
Remember the warnings about LEFT TURNING CARS; don't be paranoid, be aware.
Remember, do not include any of the following: busy intersections.
So the idea is to make another big square route only with main streets use the same Route as Number Five but just go in the opposite direction making Left turns rather than right turns. That way you know the route already and are just doing it backwards.
Keep practicing it until you are board and ready to move on!
Route Number Seven: Busy Intersections, Main Streets, Left Turns, Traffic and Traffic Lights.
These Route titles just keep getting longer eh! Well, so does the list of your skills as well! I bet you are just raring to go eh? OK then, on with Route Seven. Lucky Number Seven.
At this point in time, you should be relatively comfortable with traffic, main streets, Left turns and traffic lights so this isn't as big of a step as you might think it is. All you are doing is Route Number Six, but with the added stress (if any) of busy intersections.
If you can add on to Route Number Six to include a busy intersection or do Route Number Six during rush hour that would be the idea. If not, try to reproduce a new route using this idea.
Busy intersections combine lots of vehicles doing lots of stuff in the same amount of time. That even sounds busy!
The idea is to learn to get in and out of an intersection right away. To not hold up traffic or disrupt the flow of traffic. You should by now be comfortable with the friction zone, acceleration and turning of your bike. You skill at not stalling the bike is important as well. If you are not comfortable doing this Route yet, not to worry, just keep practicing the previous route until you are. If you do stall in the middle of a busy intersection (and the light turns red), don't panic, pull the clutch in and start the bike up then smoothly accelerate though the intersection until you are clear, and don't worry everyone will wait for you.
Route Number Eight: RUSH HOUR
All that busy intersection, main road, traffic, Left/right turns are about to pay off! Welcome to the busiest hour (sometimes more or less than an hour) of riding you will encounter. I'm not sure why they call it rush hour since traffic never moves fast, but it is and there is lots of it!
Rush hour will vary where you live, what Route Number Eight's goal is, is to expose you riding in heavy traffic and to get your awareness and use the SPIDE system (Scan, Predict, Interpret, Decide, Execute). Rush hour is usually the time when other vehicles use the WORST judgment, and it seems NO ONE sees you (even if they do) and everyone is out to kill you! Nice eh? Ya, it is like learning to swim with the sharks. You're a big biker now, in the big world, now, go make some waves!!
Using your map (and knowledge) you want to get yourself (or find yourself) in the heaviest, dense part of rush hour in your city/town/place. I guarantee you will be the ONLY person there in rush hour who is enjoying themselves and there to learn for fun!
When you are in rush hour, if you feel too stressed, or something happens that makes you upset, just pull over into a nice quite alley or parking lot and relax, then get back out there and attack!
Keep doing it until you are "comfortable" riding in dense traffic. A lot of people get nervous, scared or even road rage in these conditions (you not excluded) so you have to be a little aggressive to get your way. Remember, you can out accelerate, brake, maneuver and fit into smaller spots than ANY car, use it to your advantage. Keep in mind though that a motorcycle looses to any car or truck so be careful and aware as well.
Done? OK, movin' on to Route Number Nine.
Route Number Nine: The Highway (AKA Superslab, Freeway)
It is as if no matter where you live or are on this world there is a highway nearby. Huge expanses of asphalt and concrete stretching from horizon to horizon ready to take you anywhere you want to go and get there fast.
Ok, again, get out your local area road map and check out where the highway(s) are. You want one that isn't the most major or biggest of them all, a Secondary Highway/Freeway will work just fine. Anything with fast speeds, average amount of traffic and more than 2 lanes each side will do.
The goal of Route Number Nine is to get you used to higher speeds and traveling with others on a large multi-lane road (or highway). No matter where you go with your motorcycle you will probably be taking a highway sometime in your travels. Might as well get used to it now.
You don't have to go hundreds of miles/kilometers in this trip, a short 50km (20 mile) trip is fine, if you feel comfortable going further than do so. Just remember your to fill your tank up with gas and your bike's range! You do not want to run out of gas on the highway. You can practice riding along with other cars, changing lanes, merging into traffic, exiting on and off the highway and passing cars as you like. In fact, highways are SAFER than city streets! Only 12% or less of all accidents happen here since there are no intersections and traffic flows more smoothly in the same direction.
So, get out there and have fun. Don't forget to fill up on gas/petrol, check the air in your tires and everything is mechanically fine on your bike. Go for a trip outside your city/town and/or visit another city/town close by! Hey, that's part of the fun and that's what they call "touring".
Route Number Ten: Happy trails to you!
Well, if you "mastered" the highway then you really should be ecstatic with your motorcycling skills! In fact, you could now go almost anywhere you so desire, slowly extending your range all the time and visiting different cities, towns, and places along the way! Get excited, because these are going to be exciting times for you!
So on to Route Number Ten. Sooner or later you are going to want to go off of (or will run out of) paved road. There is more unpaved road in the world than there is paved, so it is best to be prepared for it before you have to do it without this practice.
Off-roading on anything but a Dual-Sport, Dirt-Bike, Motocross or motorcycle with dirt tires on is going to be challenging, but is very rewarding as well. Pavement has a high traction percentage but that doesn't mean dirt/rock/wood/gravel roads do not. It is a different type of traction and your riding needs to be adjusted for that. Even experienced bikers practice once a year off-roading on their street bikes to get better at it. Your bike will feel a lot "looser" and will want to "wander" around a lot more than on the road. This is just the front tire finding improved traction on loose rocks/gravel/dirt and as long as your front tire is moving in the direction you want to go, no worries, you won't fall down.
There are a few tricks to make off-road riding easier such as standing up on the front pegs to keep your center of gravity high up than the bikes and it will be easier to keep the bike under control. Shifting up a gear so the rear wheel has less power to slide and spin around, if you do find your rear sliding, you can "rooster" the back wheel (give it gas so it digs in and rocks fly) to regain traction. Going fast enough so that your bike not only has better traction than going snail slow but also better balance. Sometimes going 30km/h (20mph) is better than going 5km/h (2mph). Do not TENSE up, lock your arms or panic, as long as the bike is moving in the direction you want it to go, you are fine. It is best to remain loose, calm and focused on the situation.
The off-road levels of difficulty you can practice are: (each one get a little more challenging to do)
Level 1: Dry broken pavement (very old paved road)
Level 2: Dry wood and cobblestone road
Level 3: Dry smooth dirt alleyway/road
Level 4: Dirt/Rain**
Level 5: Hard packed small gravel
Level 6: Loose dirt
Level 7: Loose packed small gravel
Level 8: Hard packed (semi-dry) mud
Level 9: Loose packed normal gravel
Level 10: Sand
Level 11: Loose packed large sized gravel
Level 12: Loose wet mud/Standing Water*
Level 13: Wet wood and cobblestone road/wet manhole covers/wet metal
Level 14: Snow on road*
Level 15: Ice on road*
You may find some harder/easier than others, everyone is different and I put them in order I myself found.
· *Water/Snow/Ice can be quite dangerous to ride in because
not only is it a lubricant and does not offer but it also can hide hazards
(holes, grates, rocks, metal, etc). Crunchy snow offers better traction than
other types. It is best not to ride in snow/ice or flood conditions for any
· **Rain is not that bad to ride in compared to dry pavement. The trick is not to ride in the first 30minutes because all the gas/diesel/oil is being washed off the road surface (slippery stuff). Wait 30 minutes and you have nice clean (but wet) pavement that offers about 80% of the traction dry pavement does. Apply your brakes slower and allow more stopping time. It is best NOT to use your front brake as heavily and rely on your rear since your front tire can lock and loose traction in the rain, a 20%F/80%R is a good mix. Do all things slower (acceleration, turning, braking) and you will enjoy riding in the rain; just do not forget rain gear!
· Adding water to the road on an already bad surface usually makes it even worse. (e.g.: Level 2: Dry wood and cobblestone road versus Level 13: Wet wood and cobblestone road)
· Adding frozen water (snow/ice) is even worse than adding water to an already bad surface.
Remember: Do not TENSE up, lock your arms or panic, as long as the
bike is moving in the direction you want it to go, you are fine. It is best
to remain loose, calm and focused on the situation. This is a challenging
exercise an the only way to get better is to practice it over and over again
in your own time rather than panicking when faced with an unexpected off-road
detour and having vehicles behind you.