Friday, 8 June 2012

How to Ride a Motorcycle - a Step by Step Tutorial on How to Ride a Motorcycle

The Basics: Preparing for your Two-Wheeled Adventure.
2011 Honda CBR250R Review
So you've always wanted to know how to ride a motorcycle? Welcome to our step-by-step tutorial for street riding! While motorcycling is a great deal of fun, it's important to approach learning how to ride with the respect and caution it deserves; taking that attitude not only will ensure that you're entering this high risk activity with thoughtfulness and self-preservation, but it will make the whole process even more enjoyable.

Perhaps you know what kind of motorcycle type you're interested in, regardless of where you are in the process, think of this tutorial as an outline of the basics on how to operate a motorcycle, and remember that there's no substitute for a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course. Whether you're learning to ride or you're a seasoned pro, remember to always wear your safety gear.

Before trusting your life to your motorcycle, you'll want to make sure it's roadworthy and safe to ride. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has established a checklist they call T-CLOCS:
  • T - Tires, wheels
  • C - Controls (levers and pedal, cables, hoses, throttle)
  • L - Light (battery, headlights, turn signals, mirrors, etc.)
  • O - Oil (fluid levels)
  • C - Chassis (frame, suspension, chain, etc.)
  • S - Stands (center stand and/or kickstand)
    1. Get in Gear... Safety Gear, That Is.
    How to Ride a Motorcycle
    Make sure your gear is secure: buckle that helmet and tighten those glove straps.
    Photo © Basem Wasef

    Going down on a motorcycle hurts like heck, and even at parking lot speeds it's easy to seriously scrape yourself up. Make sure you're protected by wearing as much safety gear as possible, including gloves, armored clothing, boots, and a helmet (which is required by law in most states, anyway.)

    2. Throw a Leg Over and Get Acquainted.
    How to Ride a Motorcycle
    Getting on a bike can be a great test of flexibility, but don't let this stage intimidate you. This is the most you'll have to bend your body during the riding process.

    Depending on your height and the motorcycle's height, throwing a leg over a bike can be an awkward maneuver.

    Starting at the left side of the motorcycle, stabilize your balance by leaning gently against the tank and/or the handlebars. With all your weight on your left leg, lift your right leg up and over the bike-- be careful to lift your leg high, or it might get caught before reaching the other side of the bike.

    Once you're straddling the bike, you can rest on the seat and get a sense of the motorcycle's ergonomics. This is a good time to make sure mirrors are adjusted. Acquaint yourself with footpeg position and the location of turn signals, horn, and lights. Every bike is different, and spending a moment to become familiar at this stage is far safer than moving fast and riding off too soon.

    The next few steps outline the basic controls of a motorcycle; familiarizing yourself with key controls like throttle, brakes, clutch, and shift pedal first will enable you to learn easily and focus more on your technique.

    Once you're dressed for the part, you're ready to get on the bike
    3. Know Your Controls: Throttle/Brakes
    How to Ride a Motorcycle - a Step by Step Tutorial on How to Ride a Motorcycle
    Above: Twisting the grip adds throttle, "gassing" the engine. The lever operates the front brake. Bottom: The right foot pedal operates the rear brake.

    The right hand is responsible for two crucial functions in motorcycling: acceleration and braking. By twisting the grip towards you (so your wrist moves down), you apply throttle (or "gas" the engine.) A little twist goes a long way, so be delicate with this control since sudden engine revs can lead to instability, or even accidental wheelies.
    The right hand also controls the front brakes (as seen in the top half of the photo.) Pulling the lever applies the front brakes, and smoothness is crucial here: yank the lever too hard, and the front brakes can lockup, causing the bike to skid, potentially tuck the front end, and crash. Though most bikes are able to stop using a two-fingered technique (as seen in the photo above), some require the entire hand to wrap around the lever. Use whatever technique works best with your bike.
    The right foot operates the rear brake (pictured in the lower half of the split-screen photo), but be aware that when the front brakes are in use, the rear becomes less effective (since weight transfers to the front during braking.) Rear brake application is more useful during reduced traction situations and low speed maneuvering, and though rear braking is sometimes more effective on cruisers (because they carry much of their weight over the rear wheel), front brakes are usually the most effective way to stop a motorcycle.
    4. Know Your Controls: Clutch
    How to Ride a Motorcycle - a Step by Step Tutorial on How to Ride a Motorcycle
    The top half of the image shows a two-fingered clutch technique (which is common with sportbikes), while the lower half shows a four-fingered technique that is usually employed with other types of bikes.

    The clutch is the lever just ahead of the left hand grip. Most sportbikes requires only two-fingered operation (pictured above), while touring, cruising, and other types of bikes often require the whole hand to grab the lever (pictured below.)

    Think of the clutch as a way to connect and disconnect the engine from the transmission. When you squeeze the clutch lever, you're effectively putting the bike in neutral (even if the shifter is in a gear.) When you let go, you're enabling the engine to turn the transmission and, if the bike is in gear, the rear wheel.

    Practice pulling the clutch with your left hand, and do so slowly and gradually; imagine it's a dimmer switch, rather than an "On-Off" switch, and you'll be able to engage gears much more smoothly.

    5. Know Your Controls: Shifting
    How to Ride a Motorcycle - a Step by Step Tutorial on How to Ride a MotorcycleThe top half of the image reveals how to upshift, using your boot to nudge the shifter upwards. The bottom half of the image depicts a downshift, in which the shifter is pushed towards the pavement.

    Motorcycles shift differently than cars. While they operate on the same principle, motorcycles shifts are executed by moving a lever up or down with the left foot.

    Motorcycle shift patterns are as follows:

    • 6th gear (if applicable)
    • 5th gear
    • 4th gear
    • 3rd gear
    • 2nd gear
    • 1st gear
    A vast majority of motorcycles incorporate this pattern, which is referred to as "1 down, 5 up." Finding neutral with your left foot will take some getting used to, and while clicking the shifter back and forth, you'll be looking for the green "N" to light up on the gauges. While some motorcycles can be shifted without using the clutch, make it a habit of using the clutch every time you shift.

    Shifting should be done in the following order:
    1. Disengage clutch (using left hand)
    2. Shift (using left foot)
    3. Engage clutch
    Feathering the throttle with the clutch will add smoothness to the shifting process. Be sure not to over-rev in each gear, and shift before the engine starts to work too hard; unless you're on a track, there's no reason to "race" your engine.

    If all this seems complicated, don't worry; it's easier than it sounds!
    6. Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Motorcycles!
    How to Ride a Motorcycle - a Step by Step Tutorial on How to Ride a Motorcycle
    Make sure the kill switch is in the "on" position, turn the key, and press the "start" button, which is usually situated below the kill switch.

    Now that you're familiar with your motorcycle's functions, it's time to start it up. Unlike bikes of yore, virtually all modern motorcycles start electrically, without the need to "kick start" the engine to life.

    The bike won't start unless the kill switch is in the "on" position, so flip it down before you turn the key (the kill switch is usually a red rocker switch operated by the right thumb, as seen in the top half of the photo.) Now, turn the key to the "ignition" position, which is typically to the right (as seen in the lower half of the photo.) Most bikes will perform a self-check to make sure the gauges are operational, and might involve every warning light going off like a Christmas tree. If you see the speedometer and/or tachometer (which measures engine speed) pin itself and return back to zero, don't worry-- it's normal. When the self-check is complete, make sure you're in neutral (by double-checking that the green "N" is lit.)

    Then, use your right thumb to push the start button, which is typically located below the kill switch and marked by a logo of a circular arrow surrounding a lightning bolt. Many bikes will require you to disengage the clutch while you start the engine; this is simply a precaution to prevent the bike from accidentally lurching forward because it's in gear.

    As you hold the start button the engine will turn over and, as long as everything's working correctly and there's fuel in the tank, start to run. Carbureted bikes might need a slight twist of throttle as the engine turns over in order to get fuel into the cylinders; fuel injected bikes are usually designed so that throttle is not needed at startup.

    Once your bike comes to life and the engine turns over, prepare to enjoy one of the age old rituals of motorcycling...

    7. The Waiting Game
    How to Ride a MotorcycleAn age old motorcycling ritual: waiting for the engine to warm up.Photo © Basem Wasef

    Any internal combustion engine will reach its optimum performance when it's warmed up, but the practice of warming up car engines has largely become obsolete. Riding a motorcycle, however, requires the rider to trust that the engine will produce predictable power when needed, so warming a motorcycle engine is still a crucial part of the riding ritual-- particularly when a bike is carbureted, as opposed to fuel-injected.

    Once the engine has turned over, allow it to idle for anywhere between 45 seconds to several minutes, and avoid revving the engine during this crucial time, since oil might not be properly distributed across moving parts. The actual time required for engine warmup will vary on a number of factors, including ambient temperature, engine displacement, and engine oil capacity, to name a few. Use the temperature gauge as a general guide, and only proceed when you're confident your engine won't sputter or fail because it's not properly warmed up. 
    8. Your Kickstand: Don't Forget to Flip it Up!
    How to Ride a Motorcycle - a Step by Step Tutorial on How to Ride a MotorcycleMost modern bikes will automatically shut off if the kickstand is still down when the bike is put into gear. If your bike isn't equipped with this feature, make sure you retract the kickstand by literally kicking it up with your left foot and allowing it to tuck underneath the underbody of the bike; not doing so can produce a serious safety hazard.

    Centerstands operate a little differently, and require the bike to be rocked forward while the rider is on tip-toe in order to retract the stand.

    Once you're on your feet, you're ready to ride! 
    9. And Finally, How to Ride!
    How to Ride a Motorcycle The moment you've been waiting for. Once you've completed steps 1-9, all systems are go and you're ready to ride!

    This is the time when you'll need to recall the functions of throttle, brakes, clutch, and shifting, and develop a fluid relationship between them. Pull the clutch lever, press the shifter down to first gear, release the clutch slowly, and start to feel the motorcycle move forward. Twisting the throttle slightly might be needed to keep it from stalling; as the bike gains forward momentum, put both feet up on the pegs.
    Once you're moving, congratulations; you're riding a motorcycle! Most beginners get tripped up with the turning process. Just like a bicycle, a motorcycle is turned by countersteering above roughly 10 mph, not by "turning" the handlebars from left to right. Countersteering involves pushing the handgrip on the side you want to turn, and though it doesn't seem to make sense, it actually works. If you want to turn right, you'll need to lean slightly to the right while pushing the right handgrip away from you; once you try it, you'll see that it actually works!
    Turning is actually easier to do than to describe, so when you get out on a bike try to trust your instincts, feel what the bike is doing, and don't overthink it.
    Shifting, as described in Step 6, takes practice. Braking and throttle, described in Step 4, also take some practice, but the key rule is to maneuver your motorcycle with a smooth touch and gradual input. Doing so will not only make you a safer rider, it will make you more graceful and effortless.

    Don't let all of this information daunt you; motorcycling is easy, but it takes conscientiousness to do it safely and correctly.

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