There are a few things that it will take you a few months to learn once you finally get your motorcycle and you start riding regularly. If you are lucky you will have a riding mentor with some experience help guide you and tell you some of these tips, but if you don’t then feel free to study this guide. This is a lot to remember at first so when I started riding I would only concentrate on doing one thing really well for the whole ride, like looking through the turn for example. Eventually this becomes automatic and you can concentrate on building other good habits.
1 - Keep heels in
- If you ride a sportsbike then you will notice that right next to the pegs where you put your feet are little diamond shaped metal plates separating your foot from the inside of the bike. They aren’t just there for show, you should use them, and it’s easy to do. All you have to do is move your foot closer to the bike until your heel is pressed against the plate. I find that when I ride this makes me feel much more stable and in control. It’s a little thing to do, but it really does make a big difference. If you doubt me then try it for a week or so, and then the next week try putting your feet in their old positions not touching the plate, it will feel like your feet are hanging out in midair!
I know some riders might think that tip is too obvious, but I am a great example since I did not do this for my first 3 months of riding until my mentor pointed it out to me one day.
2 - Loose on top, Tight on bottom
– The best position for your body when riding a motorcycle is to make sure your bottom is tight, and you’re loose on top. What does that mean? It means that you squeeze your thighs together enough so you are gripping the tank, and that you are pressing into the bike with your ankles as well. This will keep you very stable and attached to the bike should you happen to roll over a large bump at 60+ mph. While being strong and stable on the lower half of your body is ideal, on the top half you really want to be as loose as possible. My test is if you can’t wiggled your elbows like a chicken while riding then you aren’t loose enough. Many a new rider has crashed from getting a death grip on the handlebars to the point of not being able to control the bike well in a turn. If you are tight on bottom and loose on top you will really feel a difference in the twisties.
3 - Take turns outside-inside-outside
– Turning in a car is cake compared to turning on a motorcycle, you don’t have to worry about lean angle, entry speed, or not being able to brake in the middle of the turn. The general rule of thumb for taking turns on a motorcycle is to line it up so you enter the turn on the outside, traverse the turn through the inside, and then exit on the outside. This lets you look farther through the turn for possible danger and lessens your lean angle so you can take the corner faster. I practice taking almost every turn this way, even when I am on surface streets.
4 - Don’t brake in a turn / Accelerate through turn
– Braking during a turn is a big no no. If you are leaned over in a corner the first thing that is going to happen is the bike will start to straighten up immediately. If you are past the apex of the turn then you might be able to save it if the road happens to straighten up pretty quick, but if you hit the brakes before the apex…. Bad news. I remember two times specifically when I was taking a corner in the hills and I got spooked because I came in too fast (too fast for me at the time was actually BELOW the posted speed limit for that turn, so I wasn’t breaking any land speed records), I hit the brakes in the middle of the turn and the bike straightened up and I ended up on the side of the road in the dirt. Thankfully, both times I managed to keep the bike upright and slow down before I hit a fence or the canyon wall. Those two incidents forever etched into my mind the importance of never braking in a turn. The ideal way to take a turn is to brake BEFORE you even get there at all, then once you are leaned over you roll on the throttle and accelerate through the turn.
5 - Look through turns
– Another big lesson is to look through a turn. They really grind this into your head when you take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course (MSF) as they have you almost over exaggerate the amount you turn your head while looking through the corner. If you have already formed the bad habit of only looking in front of you, or just a little bit ahead while turning then by looking as far as you can ahead you will open up a whole new world. Roads will seem to get really wide and a whole lot less scary, and you will be able to take turns faster because of it.
6 - Keep visor closed
– I think it might be the law in California (anyone want to look that up?), but even if it isn’t you should wear eye protection when riding a motorcycle. Bugs, dirt, rocks, phonebooks, chairs, etc… all have a tendency to fly right towards my eyeballs when I’m riding my motorcycle. The only time I usually have my visor lifted is at a stop light, and if I really need to get some extra airflow while riding I will open it maybe an inch or so, but that’s all. I have had prehistoric sized bugs hit my face shield multiple times while riding, so much so that I had to wipe it off with my glove in order to see properly. I would hate to see what happens if I happened to have my face shield up when a hornet was making a kamikaze run for my retinas.
7 -Assume you are invisible
– You’ve probably heard this before, but just in case you haven’t, when you are riding a motorcycle just assume you are invisible. I have had people look right at me, make eye contact, and then continue to drive right for me like I wasn’t even there. Use the quickness and namelessness of your vehicle to your advantage and throttle your way out of situations like that. The best advice though is to try to avoid them as much as possible by pretending you and your motorcycle are made of the stuff predator wears.
8 - Assume everyone is out to get you / Escape plans
– After a few close calls with people on cell phones and inattentive drivers I have made it a habit to always have an escape plan when riding. If I am in the far left lane going faster than the lane directly to my right, I ALWAYS assume that there is some asshole just waiting for me to ride by so he can shove into my lane and me into a guardrail. Most people won’t do things like that on purpose, but through negligence they will happen. It is the best to pretend you are the running man and everyone in the world is out to get you (+10 points for two Arnold Schwarzenegger movie references in one article!). If you always have an escape plan then you will be much less likely to get in an accident.