Over the years I have helped quite a few buddies get into motorcycle riding. This has taught me a few things about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to teaching the basics of how to ride a motorcycle. That’s why I wrote this, to pass on some of the things I learned along the way.
To ride a motorcycle for the first time you are going to need to start off with learning how to use the clutch, throttle, brakes and how to steer a motorcycle. You are also going to need to learn how to do a pre-ride check of your motorcycle as well and what gear you should wear.
That is just a basic overview of the process and what you need to learn. If you are actually serious about learning how to ride a motorcycle, then you are going to want to read the rest of the article to learn everything you have to do.
How to ride a motorcycle for the first time
This article is going to walk you step by step, about what needs to be done in order to ride a motorcycle. It’s meant as a “how to” for completely new riders. By the end of this article you will be fully prepared to hop on a motorcycle, get it started and start the learning process.
Step 1. The pre-ride check of your motorcycle.
As a new rider it is important you get into the habit of doing this each and every time you are about to jump on your motorcycle for a ride. It’s your responsibility to make sure your motorcycle is in proper mechanical order and is safe to ride.
There are much more thorough checks that you can do at home with a center stand, but this pre-ride check is going to be more focused on checking the motorcycle, when you are out and about and away from home or if you are in a hurry.
Start by putting the key in and turning it to engage the electronics but not start the engine. You don’t want to start the engine until you have checked that your motorcycle is good to go, and that starting it won’t damage the engine.
Next you are going to check the following things on your motorcycle:
Tires & wheels.
Check to see if there are any cuts, bulges or foreign objects stuck in either tire. This also a good time to take a quick look at the amount of tread left on each tire. Check the tire pressure and make sure it is at the proper level. Check your rims for any cracks, damage or loose spokes.
The rim should also look good and true (not warped). Make sure you also check the bearing seals for leaks and that they are intact, your wheels should spin without any problems.
Take a look at your brake pads and calipers, check to see if the pads are worn past the “groove indicator”. If they are, it is time to replace them. Follow the brake lines all the way to the reservoir and check for any cuts, kinks or leaks.
Grab the front brake lever and check that the brakes are working and release properly. Do the same with the rear brake.
Make sure the throttle is working properly and not sticking. Just give the throttle a good twist and let it go. It should snap back to the fully closed position.
If it sticks or returns slowly, you are going to need to get it serviced.
Check to make sure the clutch is working and the lever snaps back when you let go. To check this, pull in the clutch all the way.
It should offer a reasonable amount of resistance and when released the lever should pop back to the starting position.
You need to check that the handlebars turn freely and that none of the cables bind up or hinder turning of the bars. To check this, just turn the handlebars full lock left and then full lock to the right.
It should move easily and smoothly, none of the cables should snag or cause any sort of issue with turning.
Check that your horn works. Just give it a quick beep.
Your headlights need to work. Hold your hand in front of the headlight and check to see if the running lights are working. Then switch on the high beams and do the same.
Your lights should be bright and there should not be any condensation inside the lens. If you notice them dimming or flickering, it might be a sign your battery is low and might not be charging properly.
Check to make sure all your indicators are working. Turn on the left indicator and walk to the front and the back to make sure they are working. Repeat this with the right indicator.
Next you need to check your brake lights are working. Pull in the front brake and see if the rear brake lights are on. Do the same with the rear brake.
If you are having trouble seeing the light, try to use the reflection from a store window or parked car. If you are tall enough, you can reach your hand and hold it in front of the rear brake light and check for a reflection on the palm of your hand.
Sit on the motorcycle and hold the front brake then shift the weight forward, check to see that suspension is working and that it returns to starting position quickly.
Bounce the rear suspension and do the same. Check to make sure they don’t bottom out. Get off the motorcycle and check the front fork seals and rear shocks for leaks.
Most motorcycles will have a sight glass to check the state of the engine oil and its level. Check the oil for level and consistency. Make sure the oil level is above the minimum but not above the max level.
The oil should be a nice amber color, if you notice it is really dark or black, then it’s time to change your oil. Check your brake fluid level using the reservoir on the handlebars.
Look for any leaks around the transmission, clutch house and around the engine itself. Just give the whole engine a good once over.
If your motorcycle is liquid cooled, you are also going to want to check the coolant level and check the radiator for any leaks or holes.
Take a look at your chain, check for tight spots, kinks, rust and excess “play”. To do this you are going to try to pull the chain away from the rear sprocket at the 3 o’clock position.
Grab one of the links and try to pull it away from the sprocket, if you can do this and you see daylight between the sprocket and chain then your chain is probably going to need to be replaced.
Next you are going to give your whole chain a once over and look for any rust, tight spots or kinks.
Check to make sure it is secure correctly and not covered or obscured with anything. You don’t want to get pulled over and given a ticket for something stupid like an “incorrectly displayed or secured license plate“.
Last once over.
Last step before starting the motorcycle is to take one last look over. Check for things like loose bolts, cables that are starting to fray or look damaged.
Give the frame a quick look over, check the weld spots and look for any chipping or cracking paint that might indicate something is wrong with the frame itself.
When you finally sit on the motorcycle and put the kickstand up, make sure it’s not loose and not going to drop down when riding.
It might seem like a lot of steps, but after a couple of times you should be able to do it in around 2-3 minutes. Those are the steps needed to quickly check your motorcycle over before you hop on and ride.
Step 2. Starting a motorcycle.
Now that you have completed your pre-ride check, it’s time to actually start the motorcycle and get the engine warmed up a bit. Here’s an easy step by step guide to getting your motorcycle started:
- Put the motorcycle in neutral. Neutral is found halfway in between first and second gear.
- If your motorcycle has a fuel tap, make sure it is open.
- If your motorcycle has a choke, make sure you pull it out all all the way. This might not always be necessary, so it will depend on a few things (engine temp, air temperature, the motorcycle itself).
- Put the key in the ignition and turn it all the way to the right and in the on position.
- Check that the kill switch is not on.
- Pull in the clutch all the way and hold it.
- Press the start button once to get the engine started.
- If you used a choke, let the engine warm for a minute or so then close the choke.
- Let the clutch out and make sure your gear is on.
If this doesn’t work, this is usually due to a few common mistakes some riders make. First check to make sure the kill switch is not on. If you skipped the step about pulling in the clutch, then your motorcycle might be in gear.
When a motorcycle is in gear and the kickstand is down, the engine will not start. The kickstand has a safety kill switch built into it, it cuts the engines out if it is lowered.
One more thing, if you are on a hill, you are probably going to want to sit on the motorcycle and hold the brake when you start.
You don’t want your motorcycle to roll down a hill or into a parked car accidentally when you pop it into neutral.
Step 3. Getting on and off a motorcycle.
Believe it or not, there is a proper way and a wrong way to get on and off a motorcycle. Many riders overlook this or are just not taught how to do it. Let’s go over which way you should do it.
- To get on a motorcycle, you are going to first grab the handlebars, squeeze the front brake and straighten the bars out. This gets the handlebars out of your way making it easier to get on the bike.
- While still holding the front brake, swing your leg over and sit on the motorcycle.
- Tilt the motorcycle off the kickstand and put the kickstand up. If you have trouble getting the weight of the motorcycle off the kickstand, you can turn handlebars full lock away from the kickstand. This will make it a lot easier.
To get off a motorcycle is the same process, but in reverse.
- Straighten the handlebars and squeeze the front brake.
- Lower the kickstand and tilt the motorcycle on to the stand.
- Get off the motorcycle and tilt the handlebars towards the kickstand. This puts the weight of the motorcycle on the kickstand and makes it more stable.
Step 4. Where are all the controls and what do they do?
In order to ride a motorcycle, you are going to need to know where all the controls are and what they are used for. I’ve broken them down and given a quick explanation what each is used for.
Turn indicator. On most motorcycles you are going to find both the right and left turn indicators are controlled by a single switch. You slide it over to the left for the left indicators and to the right for the right indicators.
After you have completed your maneuver, you are going to need to cancel them. To cancel, you are going to use the same switch. Just press it again and the indicator will turn off.
Clutch Lever. This is used whenever you need to change gears or want to regulate the amount of power being delivered to the rear wheel.
High beam/low beam light switch. This is used to select either high beams or low beams. One thing to note, on most modern motorcycles daylights are automatically turned on when you start the engine. This is for safety reasons. To switch to high beams, just select them.
Horn. Beep Beep. This is used to warn or alert others on the road.
Choke. This is only for motorcycles with a carburettor. This is used to control the air/fuel mixture. You are usually going to open this when starting the motorcycle.
Engine cut off or kill switch. This is a bright red button that is used to quickly cut off the electrical circuits and kill the engine in case of an emergency or a crash. If you ever come to the aid of a crashed rider, make sure you hit the kill switch when you get on scene!
Front brake lever. This is used to control the front brakes. Motorcycles have a separate control for front and rear brakes.
Turn indicator. Only on some motorcycles, the right turn indicator will be on this side with the left on the left side.
Start Button. This is used to start the engine.
Throttle Control.This is used to control the amount of throttle. When you turn or twist the control towards you, you increase the amount of fuel going to the engine. When you turn or twist away from you, you decrease this amount. This is what increases and decreases the amount of RPMs.
Left foot. Shift lever. This along with the clutch lever is used to change or select gears. A motorcycle gearbox shift pattern is 1, N, 2, 3, 4, 5. Some will have a sixth gear and in special cases a reverse gear. But the pattern listed is the most common.
Right foot. Rear brake pedal. This is used to control and operate the rear brake.
Step 5. Wearing the proper gear.
If you are going to ride a motorcycle, it is important that you wear a full set of gear. This means a helmet, jacket, gloves, pants and boots. Each piece of gear should be specifically geared towards riding a motorcycle and not just some run of the mill fashion type garment.
You should look for gear which provides as much protection as possible. This means when you are looking at jackets and pants, they should offer a good amount of slide protection as well as armor wherever possible.
For helmets you want a full face helmet. Not some half ass quarter helmet or “do rag”. Get something that is going to keep your face, chin and head fully protected in the event of a crash.
When picking gloves, get a pair with full fingers and some sort of padding for the back of the hand or knuckles. You have lots of little bones in your hands that can easily be broken in a crash or fall.
Boots need to be sturdy and slip resistant. With protection for your heel, toes and ankle. There should not be any lateral flex in the sole. Make sure you get good boots, your feet can take a beating in a crash.
Other than that just use your common sense. If it feels like a chintzy piece of crap, then it’s probably not going to perform too well when you need it most.
You should always follow the “All The Gear All The Time” rule or simply ATGATT. To read more about this. Check out the link below.
Step 6. Finding a place to practice.
This is a pretty important step, but for the sake of the length of this article. I’m going to recommend you read my article “Ultimate Motorcycle Parking Lot Practice Guide”.
In the article I go in detail how to find the best place to safely practice riding a motorcycle and some things you need to watch out for. Check it out, it’s worth a read.
Step 7. Getting the motorcycle moving
Once you have found a suitable place to practice, it’s time to actually get the motorcycle moving. As I said I have helped a few friends get into riding, so I’m going to share exactly how I help them learn to ride a motorcycle for the first time.
When I’m starting with someone who is completely new to riding, I like to start with the basics and build up and work from there.
This usually means breaking it down to 4 easy steps. As far as how much time is needed, a single afternoon is usually enough time to get the basics down well enough and give you a good starting foundation to build on.
Then it’s just a matter of running a few more drills and practising to get to a point where you can safely and confidently ride a motorcycle. With that out of the way, let’s go over each step:
1. Learning about the clutch and throttle.
If you cannot properly use the clutch and throttle, then you will never be able to properly ride a motorcycle. This is the base foundation to all riding, so take your time and learn it properly.
Here’s my preferred way to teach someone how to do this.
Start off at one end of your practice area. Put the motorcycle in first gear and hold in the clutch all the way. Then slowly increase the throttle to about ¼ open, you need just enough power that the engine won’t stall when you start to let the clutch out.
So, get the revs up and try to hold it at a constant level. Try not to increase or decrease it.
Then slowly start to let the clutch out until the motorcycle just starts to move. When the motorcycle starts to move, stop letting the clutch out and hold it at this point.
This point is the “friction zone”. The friction zone is the point at which the engine starts to grab when you let the clutch out. It’s important you know where and what this is.
While holding the clutch at this point, let the motorcycle move and just “duck” walk it. Practice letting the clutch out a little bit to increase the speed and pulling it in to decrease the speed.
You shouldn’t let the motorcycle go faster than a brisk walking pace. You should also be working on keeping the throttle at the same point, don’t let it increase or decrease.
If you notice the engine is lugging or about to stall when you let out the clutch, then you can slightly increase the amount of throttle to prevent this.
Do this until you are comfortable with the friction zone and holding the throttle at a constant RPM.
3. Starting from a stop.
Now it’s time to actually get the motorcycle moving a bit faster and get both your feet up and on the pegs. Actually ride a motorcycle.
Start at one end of your practice area and put the motorcycle in first gear. Start to increase the amount of throttle and hold it around ¼ open, keep the RPMs constant.
Start to let the clutch out to the friction zone, but this time instead of stopping, let the clutch out slowly all the way and get both your feet up on the pegs.
Ride for 20ft or so then pull in the clutch and apply the brakes and come to a stop. Repeat this until you can easily start from a stop without stalling.
If you feel the motorcycle engine is lugging try to increase the throttle a little bit more. If you are always stalling, don’t worry. Try to increase the amount of throttle and slow down how fast you are letting out the clutch.
The key is to slowly release the clutch, do not just dump it or release it. This can cause you to lose control of the motorcycle and crash
Repeat this exercise until you can consistently get the motorcycle moving from a standstill without stalling.
2. Changing gears and stopping.
After you can easily get the motorcycle moving from a stand still. It’s time to work on changing gears.
Start by getting the motorcycle moving with both your feet on the pegs. Next you are going to pull in the clutch and roll off the throttle. Then with your left foot, apply upward pressure to the shift lever and change it into second gear.
Now slowly let out the clutch and get back on the throttle. Ride for around 10 ft or so, then you are going to downshift and come to a stop.
To do this, you are going to pull in the clutch and roll off the throttle. Then with your left foot, you are going to press down on the shift lever and pop it into first gear. Now slowly let out the clutch and roll back on the throttle.
Ride for a few feet, then pull in the clutch and apply both the brakes and come to a complete stop. Don’t grab the front brake, be smooth with it. Think of it like slowly squeezing a stress relief ball.
You need to repeat this exercise until you can easily change gears up and down without looking at your feet or controls.
4. Turning and weaving
Now that you can ride in a straight line and stop when needed. It’s time to learn how to steer. Start by setting up some markers as shown below.
Then work your way through the markers as shown below.
You should be going around 10-15mph. Your goal is not to go fast, but to get used to turning and weaving around an obstacle. Keep your head and eyes up, use your peripheral vision to watch for the markers.
That’s all there is to it, after to do this you should have a good basic set of skills you can build on.
I hope you enjoyed this article, if there was anything you were not sure about or have any questions, feel free to drop me a line using this contact form.
Until next time, happy riding!