How To Teach A New Rider The Ropes

How To -


How To Teach A New Rider The Ropes

Start With The Clutch

This is going to be the hardest thing to learn, regardless of stickshift experience. What I did was stick Lara in a corner of my yard, show her how the clutch worked, then had her practice finding its friction zone until she was able to pull away smoothly. Basically, I pointed out the parts, told her what she needed to do, then walked away until she’d figured it out. It took about half an hour. And, after that, everything else was pretty easy, it’s literally like riding a bicycle.

Learn to use the motorcycle clutch
Lara using the clutch

Set Achievable Goals, Then Exceed Them

During Lara’s first lesson, I told her we’d just be riding around my yard. We ended up circumnavigating the Chik-Fil-A parking lot, then letting her ride home on her own. How much of a sense of accomplishment do you think that gave her? Keeping your learner motivated is the most important thing you can do.

Sharing her accomplishment via social media, along with the encouraging comments by friends the multitude of likes also validated her experience. Adey — the fast guy — didn’t make fun of her, he called her a natural. Don’t devalue that stuff, it adds up.

Motorcycle countersteer

Photo by Bok Choy

Compare Things To Bicycles

You know what’s an awful lot like riding a motorcycle? Riding a bicycle. The comparison not only makes motorized bicycles appear more accessible, but it works too. Separate brakes, balance, countersteering, your trainee likely already knows about all that stuff from riding his/her Huffy. While yeah, motorcycle brakes are vastly different, the comparison makes them seem simple and helps explain why the front brake is to be treated with respect.

Use The System

Lara’s next step is to go get her permit from the DMV. After that, I’m going to book her time at Honda’s Rider Education Center in Colton, California. They’ll teach her how to ride dirt bikes. After that, it’s the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course and her license, then we’ll spend time working on her skills on quiet roads. As soon as she’s ready, it’s off to SoCal Supermoto.

You don’t have to be the be-all and end-all of training; you just have to help the new rider navigate the maze that is being new to motorcycling. You may not have the same organizations in your area, but the theme here is progressive learning taught by professionals in safe environments.

At the end of Lara’s training, I’ll have had very little first person input on her actual training, but by sowing the seeds, getting her off the ground and guiding her along the way, my girlfriend’s going to be faster than you by year’s end. Who wouldn’t want that?

Have you ever got anyone into riding? How did you convince them to give it a go?

  • Andy Yun

    Nice. I’m getting my wife, her mom, and my brother to join MSF classes to get their licenses. The more riders there are, the better.

  • Michael Howard

    “Convincing people they want to ride” does not compute. I was “convinced” the first time I saw a motorcycle.

    • Lee Scuppers

      I wouldn’t want anybody I care about to be on a bike in traffic if they didn’t really want to be there, doing that, for its own sake.

      Not everybody wants to engage to that degree with the process of controlling a vehicle. And that’s fine. People differ.

      • HoldenL

        Oh, how I wish I could take your zen approach. I get judgmental about people who don’t want to engage mentally and physically with operating a vehicle, and with people who don’t want to develop their driving (or riding) skills. I wish I were like you and I could just live and let live.

        • Lee Scuppers

          Well, I’m no fan of anybody doing anything they aren’t going to do adequately well. To put it mildly.

          My girlfriend got a good laugh out of your “zen” remark. I’m not notably patient with bad drivers.

    • East-West Brothers Garage

      Exactly. People who do not naturally gravitate to riding a motorcycle should not be “convinced” to ride. I went through a period where I really wanted to get my wife into riding, but have since some to the realization that if she is genuinely not interested, then my pressuring her into it would not be good for either of us. Those who gravitate naturally towards it would, hopefully, be more likely to invest the time and money to learn the skills and be properly equipped.

      • ridehappy

        People could be convinced though they shouldn’t be pressured into riding a motorcycle by their partner or significant other. Some people, like me, just need to see past stereotypes of motorcyclists. I used to think motorcycle culture was stupid, dangerous, reckless macho s*** (sorry, guys!), tried a scooter once and really hated it. Then one day I was complaining about how bored I was, a co-worker of mine suggested taking MSF course to learn how to ride. Not quite convinced but intrigued by what he said, plus I was really, really bored, I geared up enough courage and signed up. The training was terrifying to me. But it started to make sense why some people want to ride either for recreational or practical reasons and most people do want to ride safely and responsibly. I bought a slow and small beginner bike after getting the endorsement card and found it also made me a better driver. It wasn’t until I got my 2nd bike a year later that I fell head over heel over this sports and find what is in it for me. It’s the new found personal freedom that really draws me in.

    • katesy

      I never wanted to ride a motorcycle, I had been riding scooters for years and thought I had no use for them since I was already on two wheels. That changed when I actually rode on the back of one, after that ride and a subsequent overnight trip I knew I had to have one. Experiencing it was what I needed to be convinced.

  • A P

    My only quibble is in the “Gear” section…

    “motorcycles are dangerous”.

    This is the Mom, safetycrat. legislator, insurance company and cop excuse for whatever anti-motorcycle attitude they wish to use to push us down.

    As a moto-journalist, this tag-line should be put on the “do not use” list. While we all appreciate your straight-shooting style, shooting ourselves in the foot is not at all helpful. Giving those who oppose us ammunition can’t be good.

    More like… “to reduce risk of injury” or “we know the accident stats on motorcycles mean we need to protect ourselves”. Or “a responsible rider wears appropriate gear…”

    Spin is a fact of life, might as well use it to our advantage than not.

    • Wes Siler

      Nope. Motorcycles are actually dangerous. Pretending they aren’t doesn’t change that and may fail to arm a new rider with a suitable appreciation of the risk involved.

      • A P

        Nope. Riding motorcycles presents significantly higher risk than other forms of motorized transportation. The individual who chooses to ride should be fully aware of the risks, accepts those risks and do what is prudent to minimize those risks. Beginning riders need to be made VERY aware of the above.

        Nothing sugar coated there, but no need to be alarmist either. Just trying to be “positive” in an industry/sport that 75% of the US non-riding public has negative or neutral (as in don’t care about) attitudes towards motorcycles. (MIC figures, 2008 I think, IIRC new survey should be out 2015)

        I have been riding 30+ years, mostly sportbike, about 5,000 km/year average, near zero
        multi-lane highway riding (if here’s no corners, what’s the point?), nearly a
        decade track riding. VERY minor street get-offs, two, in the first 5 years
        riding. No track crashes.

        It’s your e-zine, you make your choices. Just tryna help.

        • Wes Siler

          Guns don’t kill people, rappers do.

          I’d argue that the negative perception comes from a) the morons who represent the majority of motorcycle customers and b) loud pipes. Not the factual presence of danger.

          As evidence, please examine exhibit A thoroughly:

        • Lee Scuppers

          “Riding motorcycles presents significantly higher risk than other forms of motorized transportation”

          Yes. It’s “dangerous”, is how we say that.

  • CanadianBiker

    I like a lot of the suggestions in this article; it’s more of a hands-off approach and just gently steering people in the right direction. That said, there are a lot of people out there who simply shouldn’t ride. They’re attracted to the IDEA of riding, be it the thrill of super fast sportbikes or the laid back cool of cruisers but they should definitely stick to four wheels. Or in some cases, the bus. So apply some judgment on who you encourage.

    • katesy

      So true. There was a lady in my MSF class, who still hadn’t learned how to ride a bicycle since failing the class the first time. She dumped her motorcycle a few times within a few hours and failed the class again. Then as she was driving out of parking lot to leave she hit a road sign. For her safety as well as that of others, I wish she would stick to the bus.

      • artist_formally_known_as_cWj

        When I took my MSF, there was a lady there who to learn because she wanted to ride her Hayabusa.


        Well, she was trying to be responsible, right?

        She ended up being the most reluctant with the bike, and I don’t think she ever broke 15mph while on a Rebel. She was too anxious too take instruction. The anxiety turned increasingly to bitterness and complaint. If there was someone there who shouldn’t have passed it was her – and there were others who dropped bikes. At the time I had the exact thought that she shouldn’t be on any motorcycle, ever.

        I hope that lady was eventually able to get it (though I hope she either sold or stored that Hayabusa until much later).

        I don’t think anyone with an able body is a complete write-off, but I also think some people need therapy first.

    • Send Margaritas

      Sounds harsh, but I’ve saw an example of this in my MSF class. There was a big athletic-looking polish immigrant, very nice guy. No sense of balance though. He dropped his bike a few times, and just didn’t get steering. It was painful rooting for him on the box. He had already bought riding gear and a new V-Rod as his first bike.After the tests, where the poor guy failed, one of his friends told me it was the second MSF BRC class he washed out of.

  • Adan Ova

    I had a strange feeling of sexism reading this. I found it very useful though. Thanks.
    I will be teaching a friend how to ride a bike. She wants to know if she’s got the guts to use a motorcycle for commuting in a kind of dangerous city for riders.
    I think I will follow your advice and start with the clutch. How many revs while performing this exercise? 3K? 2K? None?

    • SniperSmitty

      Depends A Lot on the type of bike. 3k on a 600cc SuperSport will put you into a wall if you’re not careful.
      Try this first. With the clutch pulled in and in first gear, have them extend their legs straight out with only heel touching the ground. Now, have them slowly release the clutch until their foot rolls forward back to flat on the ground. During this practice, have them put their right hand in their pocket!! No touching the throttle at all. Safety first.
      When that feels good. Step up to power walking the bike around a parking lot. If the clutch is let out slowly enough, no throttle is required. The bike will simply start rolling forward. Practice this by duck walking the bike around slowly.
      Now it’s time to get their feet up on the pegs.
      For new riders I would suggest a racers start. This will keep them from stalling.
      Start out applying enough throttle to get between 3 and 4 thousand rpm. Then let the clutch out VERY slowly. This works well by giving a good feel for the friction point, and if done correctly, they will pull out easily with no chance of stalling.
      Good Luck and Keep the dirty side down!!

      • Adan Ova

        Thank you. I’ll follow your advice. I’ll do my best to be a good teacher.
        Edit: The motorbike is a 150 cc so, the only thing she can hit is the floor.

    • Wes Siler

      Really, sexism? Because I talk about my girlfriend?

      • HoldenL

        Maybe the “strange feeling” is an attraction to your tall, cute girlfriend.

      • Adan Ova

        Oh, I didn’t mean to offend you. I just got that feeling of MEN, teaching WOMEN how to ride. Just that.

        • Rick O

          Out of the many riders I know, a very small fraction are female. I know plenty who ride on the back, and have no real desire to ride themselves. This happens to be a male dominated sport for whatever reason. By shear odds alone regardless of your gender you are likely to be taught by a man. Wes happens to most recently have started teaching his girlfriend. There’s nothing sexist about it :/

    • Justin McClintock

      None. I’d get them started by feeling for the friction zone without the bike even turned on, just pushing it back and forth with their feet (or with you pushing from behind). Clutch out, bike will stop. Kinda counterintuitive to normal operation, but it’ll still give them a good idea of where the clutch engages. Once they’re good with that, let them do it in gear with the engine at idle. It’ll still move just fine if they do it right. Just kinda rock forward with the engine, disengage the clutch, rock back with the feet, repeat. That’s how they taught us in my MSF course I took forever ago.

      • Adan Ova

        Wow, thanks, I will start with that.

    • Piglet2010

      4,000 rpm on a Kawasaki ZX-14R is a good starting point for launching the bike.

  • William Connor

    Nice work on the progression. I have planted the seeds or riding motorcycles in quite a few people and it is always fun to watch them progress.

  • Ayabe

    “If they’re riding a small bike in a safe environment (like your yard or field) a helmet, an armored jacket, riding gloves, a pair of jeans and a set of hiking boots will be enough. After all, they’re going to be going what, 15 mph on grass?”

    I agree with this in theory but grass can still cut you up pretty good even at low speeds. I have a 1.5 inch scar on my left hand from going down in the grass on a dirtbike when I was 11 at about that speed.

    Split the palm of my hand right down the middle.

  • moppedfahren

    Before I got a license to ride bikes with more than 125cc (I’m in Europe, as you might have guessed from that), I’d been talking a friend’s ear off about whether or not to spend the money for the lessons and the bike, and which bike to get if I do. After a mere hour of listening to my ramblings, he said something along the lines of ‘Damn you, now you got me hooked. Again.’ Turns out he had a motorcycle license, but had never ridden a motorcycle, except during the lessons. He bought a Guzzi about two weeks later (before I even had my license), took some safety courses, and now loves to ride. He also turned out to be a pretty decent riding buddy.

  • ThruTheDunes

    +1 and a big chuckle for the insight on cabs – I have found it is not unique to the Windy City.

  • Send Margaritas

    Some good suggestions in this. I dunno about: “If you live in one of those backwards states which still doesn’t allow lane splitting”I’ve got a license and experience, and doubt I’d lane split, unless slowly by stopped traffic. The ‘cagers’ are carnivorous in this part of the country…

  • Rosenfeld8

    I convinced a friend to get a license, but he still hasn’t bought himself a bike… that was a couple of years ago btw

  • Kimberly

    GREAT article Wes! I’ll be continuing to brush up my skills this weekend – thanks for taking the intimidation level down a few notches for us newbs. I’ll def be sharing this with friends who are hesitant to give riding a try.

  • sanjuro

    I agree with your whole article, particularly setting achievable goals then surpassing them.

    I always advice new riders to ride a bicycle. As a long time bicycle rider, I had no problems in traffic on a moto because of my experience. While it may take time to buy a moto and get a license, you can be bicycle commuting on the street the same day.