"What's the best bike for a beginner?" It's perhaps the most frequently asked question in motorcycle showrooms and in online forums. It's a necessary question, and one we've tried to answer here from time to time. But it got us thinking, what about experienced riders? What's the best bike for those who have crossed the invisible threshold between newbie and veteran? And what does it mean to be an experienced rider, anyway?
An experienced rider can handle and have fun on just about any bike (except a Katana), so finding the one that suits him or her, is a whole 'nother discussion. But the second question merits further investigation, and the answer comes in two parts: traits, and actions. Here are some tips on becoming a better motorcycle rider.
Traits To Make You A More Experienced Rider
Expert riders of any discipline become so because they embody a certain set of personality traits, at least while they're on the bike. These traits frame their attitude and approach to the sport, and allow them to take in the lessons that every ride can provide.
- Calm - Experienced riders don't get excited about much. Sure, off the bike they may be the most outgoing, gregarious people you'll ever meet, but once they throw a leg over a few hundred pounds of metal and rubber, they're all business. Even some of the best stunt riders in the world are utterly serene while performing. They have to be, because if you allow yourself to get upset or overly worked up, you start making mistakes. And mistakes aren't something you can allow, when you're cranked over at triple digit speeds on the track or balancing a slow, high chair wheelie.
READ MORE: 5 Bikes for Experienced Riders
- Quick Thinking - An experienced rider is always ahead of the situation. His eyes are up, scanning the road and the approaching intersections, monitoring the behavior of other traffic and looking for apexes before a newer rider even knows they exist. A veteran rider knows how to take in and mentally sort through thousands of pieces of information at once, creating a constantly-updated situational awareness that keeps him out of trouble before it has a chance to happen. He'll avoid getting sideswiped by that SUV, because he's been watching him cheat out of his lane for the last half mile.
- Instinctual - On the occasion that something unanticipated does occur, the experienced rider knows how to handle it. He has the feel of his machine, and sufficient command of the controls to execute evasive maneuvers or make sudden corrections without having to think. When that mahogany coffee table fell off the open truck bed ahead of him, he'll have braked, swerved, downshifted and accelerated past the truck before the thought of imminent death could even go through his mind.
- Patient - Mistakes happen most often when riders get in a hurry. They rush a corner, try to pass a car at an inappropriate time, or try to beat a red light. They blast through an unfamiliar stretch of road trying to keep up with a buddy. Sometimes, they'll get away with it, but experienced riders know that it's usually not worth the risk. They'll lay back in traffic, open their following distances, and wait for opportunities to clear out of traffic. Having patience gives them time to make good decisions on the road, track or trail.
- Humble - Experienced riders know that they are human, fallible, and mortal. They know the limits of their machine, and of their skill set, and work hard not to put themselves in situations where either may be exceeded. They know that the old proverb "pride goeth before a fall" translates, in the motorcycle world, to "pride goeth before the crumpling of your machine against a guardrail and a visit to the hospital for a broken collarbone and a ruptured spleen."
Becoming an experienced rider doesn't happen automatically, or by accident. It's more than a simple accrual of years or miles. It's a conscious and continual process, one that is carefully nurtured to maturity, and then maintained.
- Variety - In the flying community, they say that there's a difference between flying for a thousand hours, and flying one hour a thousand times. The lesson contained there is that if you only do the same thing over and over again, it's unlikely you've learned much of anything. Plodding along on your bike for your daily commute is a fine thing, but it won't make you an expert, if that's all you do. Experienced riders seek out all sorts of different riding challenges, from twisty mountain roads, to long open stretches, to drag strips and road courses, to city traffic. They expose themselves to different bikes, riding styles and disciplines, to round out their skill set. Disciplines like riding on dirt can greatly improve bike control and let you know what it feels like to slide a tire.
- Practice - This goes back to being humble. Veteran riders know that skills can get rusty, so you'll find them practicing, periodically. They'll be out in a big parking lot doing max braking drills, slow, tight figure eights and the like. All the things they taught you in your MSF course (which you have taken, right?) need to be revisited from time to time. We're not just talking about the beginner course either, MSF offers well over a dozen courses for varying skill levels. Better still, go to a local track day, and practice everything at once.
- Study - Experienced riders study everything relevant to their sport. From their bikes, to their gear, to riding technique, you'll find them devouring everything they can find. They'll read tire spec sheets and reviews until their eyes bleed before deciding on a set. They've probably got a whole shelf in their office library devoted to books on riders, riding, and motorcycle technology. They know every single inch of their bike, and have put a wrench on more than half of it.
- Currency - No, not dollars, but how recently they've been riding. This may seem obvious, but riders ride. One of the great travesties of the way motorcycle endorsements are handled in the United States is that once you've earned it, you keep it, regardless of whether you've thrown a leg over a bike in the current decade. Experienced riders can become newbies again when they step away from riding for years at a time. While their previous expertise may make their return to form shorter and easier, they'd do well to exercise caution when getting back into it.
- Mileage - I left this until last on purpose, but there is no substitute for seat time. The human learning process requires repetition, and to ingrain all of those skills you need to be a proficient rider, you've got to spend a big amount of time doing the thing.
Becoming an experienced rider is a different process for everybody. It might take you longer than it took your buddy, for some or all of the reasons listed above. Don't get discouraged by that, and don't get in a hurry and end up riding over your head. Ride as well as you know how to ride, work at getting better, and keep at it, and you may find yourself being the one offering sage advice at a bike night.
What aspects make for an experienced rider in your book? Tell us what we missed in the comments below!