In an empty parking lot, late last night, my girlfriend and I had a little fun. Using my XR100, I taught her how to ride a motorcycle. We all know motorcycles are fun, but ride them for years and you just might forget how truly awesome they can be. The feeling of total control and freedom of movement doesn't go away, we just get used to it. Watching someone, who's never done it before, use all their power of concentration to slowly let out the clutch on a minibike and jerkily take off on their first wobbly 7mph ride through a deserted parking lot is pretty special.
Ashlee has been bike-curious for a long time. Ever since buying a second suit and taking her for a few knee-dragging two-up rides, she's been hooked on speed. When I told her that for less than $500 bucks we could put my old Ninja 250 back together, she was determined to learn to ride. Also there was our friend David who's been itching to learn for months. It's the XR100's combination of light weight and no power that makes for a care-free racing machine, and the same qualities make a great platform for first time riders. This bike is utterly un-intimidating.
The actual technical aspects of riding aren't hard to teach, especially if you are familiar with them yourself. Clutch, shifter, throttle, brakes and steering. Really the only intimidating thing is learning how a clutch works. If you've taken an MSF course, great. Copy what they teach. Start by explaining where all the controls are, their functions and how to operate them. Explain, as clearly as you can, to pull in the clutch, click down into gear, look where you want to go, and slowly let the clutch out. I've taught a few people to ride and telling someone to add a little throttle while they're letting out the clutch can end badly. Add that in later after your new rider is more familiar with throttle response. If the bike you're teaching on needs a little gas to avoid stalling, temporarily turn the idle up. A finicky herky-jerky bike is no good to learn on.
After you cover how to make it go, tell them how to make it stop. This should be a no brainer for anyone that's ridden a bicycle. Squeeze the lever and the bike slows down. Explain where the back brake is, but advise against using it, at least for now. You want them to be able to put both feet down. It's also a good idea to explain how the clutch works again and remind them to pull in the lever to avoid stalling the bike. Once they feel comfortable, let them start the bike, put it in gear, and play with the clutch. Have them get a feel for where the engagement point is and if they get it, let them idle the bike forward in a straight line. Assuming that goes well, tell them to ride around a bit in first gear. A quick talk about looking where you want to go and not making any sudden control inputs is usually all it takes to avoid a crash. Top speed on my XR in first gear is something like 9 mph. Once they demonstrate competence putting around in first gear, teach them how to shift. I tell new riders to close the throttle while they click up on the shifter and as soon as they feel it shift, to get back on the gas. I've never been a fan of using the clutch for up-shifts and I think it's easier to teach this way. When they eventually come back, explain the more complicated process of downshifting. They probably won't get it and their first attempts at downshifting will be awkward at best, but with a little practice most people figure out the clutch, rev, downshift dance. At this point, they'll be grinning ear to ear. If you're in a big enough space, let them ride around a bit and have fun. After all, that's what motorcycles are all about. I talked to our friend David today and he told me that he's useless at work because all he can think about is riding motorcycles.
New riders are what we need. Want to see bikes designed and marketed to young people? Wish the general public's perception of a motorcyclist was less pirate and more cool? Do your part as a motorcyclist and teach someone to ride. Cheap underpowered bikes are easy to get your hands on. Your friend with the YSR, XR or other hard to kill mini-bike would have no problem loaning it to you for a few hours to teach someone the basics. There are a lot of people that want to ride and understand the benefits of gas mileage, reduced stress and easy parking anywhere, but the idea of spending $250 on an MSF course where they will possibly embarrass themselves in front of a group of strangers isn't so appealing.
Teach a person how to ride a motorcycle and you'll forever be a hero in their eyes. A new rider won't be able to wipe the mile-wide grin off their face for days, and it's a pretty safe bet that they'll go out and buy a bike as soon as possible.