Saturday, September 04, 2010

Notes to a Newbie

So you think you want to start riding. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Sign up for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Beginning Rider's Course. NOW. Wait lists can be long, and classes aren't always offered year-round. A Friday evening, a Saturday and a Sunday, then Wa-fricking-la, you've got your license.

If you're already riding, then sign up for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Beginning Rider's Course. Once you've passed that (should be simple, right?) then take the MSF's Experienced Rider Course.

2. Don't kid yourself about the size bike you're going to start out on. A 250 may not be 'big enough to get you into trouble,' but it sure as hell isn't big enough to get you out of trouble—and that's a much more likely scenario. Think 650cc minimum to start.

3. Allocate a grand ($1,000.00) beyond the purchase price of your bike for gear: helmet, boots, gloves, riding suit, rain gear and incidentals. If you're lucky and smart, you'll come in under that amount. Check online sources like You can certainly get by with boots, gloves and jackets you already own, but sooner or later you will want motorcycle-specific gear to address the unique challenges riding presents.

4. The first 6 months/600 miles on a new bike are the most dangerous. This learning-curve counter resets with each new bike.

5. Three simple rules: (A) You are invisible (B) Everyone is out to kill you (C) The worst thing will happen in the worst place at the worst time—be ready for it. Always operate with these rules in mind and you'll have a fighting chance.

6. You're the one who decided to undertake the risky activity—don't expect anyone else to look out for you and don't whine when they don't.

7. Riding is like any other kind of outdoor activity, except more so. You are subject to sunburn, windburn, dehydration, fatigue, hyperthermia and hypothermia—sometimes all in the same ride (BTDT). Dress appropriately and plan for the weather to change. Odds are any given ride will be colder than you expected, and cold (especially the early stages of hypothermia) affects your judgement insidiously. Carry thin, light extra layers you can take off and put on easily. In an emergency, plastic trash bags and newspapers make great raingear and insulation.

8. ATGATT: "All The Gear, All The Time." No excuses. Lots of riders have died from stupid, simple 'just-going-to-the-corner-to-get-milk' incidents while wearing flip-flops, tank tops and sunglasses. At a bare minimum, the MSF course requirements: Long sleeves, long pants, helmet, full-fingered gloves, sturdy shoes.

9. Know your limits. Have that conversation with yourself everytime you get on the bike. If you're not 100%, find some other way to get there. Always ride 'your own ride,' as they say. Don't ride a pace you aren't comfortable with, regardless of your riding company.

10. Don't be an ass—Just being on a bike doesn't give you any special rights or privileges.

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