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Common Tread

Three common misconceptions among beginner motorcycle riders

Sep 08, 2020

Nobody starts out as an expert. One challenge for beginners — in motorcycling or anything else — is identifying things that you think you know that aren't really true.

Editor's note: For more riding advice, including more than 200 videos on riding techniques, see the MotoJitsu YouTube channel or visit MotoJitsu.com.

Here are the three most common misconceptions I've seen among riders who are just starting their journey.

I passed the beginner course to get my license, so that means I’m ready for the road

Not necessarily. Passing the beginner course means you have the rudimentary skills to turn, shift, stop and perform various maneuvers at slower speeds in a controlled environment. That's not the same as being ready to jump on the highway in heavy, high-speed traffic.

Take it easy after you purchase your first motorcycle. Start by exploring your neighborhood and community. Get used to other traffic, distracted drivers, changing levels of traction, the power and weight of your bike, stopping and turning at lights and stop signs, riding next to other vehicles, using and remembering to turn off your turn signals, etc. Once you’re comfortable riding around the surface streets, travel onto the highway for one or two exits until that’s comfortable.

Taking the time to build this foundation is the smart path to take as a new rider. When the skills you were taught in your beginner course are easy to perform on your own motorcycle and you have a few thousand miles of experience, you’ll be ready to sign up for the next level course.

beginning motorcycle riding course
This should be the beginning of your motorcycle education, not the end. Photo by Lance Oliver.

If the beginner course is like an eighth-grade education, getting into a high school equivalent course will be next. There are bachelor, master and even Ph.D.-level courses available out there. In the seven years I have been riding, I have attended 21 different motorcycle courses so far, some of them up to eight times, and the main thing I have realized, is how much more I still need to learn. You can find links to all the courses I recommend on my web site.

Jeans, jacket, gloves and any helmet are good enough to start with

A motorcycle crash can be devastating. The only protection you have is what you put on. The pavement doesn't care if you're on a short ride or a long one, if you're a beginner or experienced. It's unforgiving just the same and the damage will be far worse if you strike another vehicle or fixed object, like a guardrail or tree. No matter the cost of full gear, hospital bills will be far greater, and that's not considering the mental and emotional cost of whatever injuries you sustain.

You can see the specific gear I wear on the street and the track on my web site, starting with my 6D ATS-1R helmet, due to its innovative technology and safety features. I encourage all riders to wear a motorcycle jacket and pants with incorporated armor in the elbows, shoulders, back, hips and knees. I recommend CE-approved armor and I personally have D3O armor in all of my riding gear. Motorcycle-specific boots are also a must for grip, protection and reliability, along with motorcycle gloves that are protective and abrasion-resistant.

I will quickly grow bored with a smaller displacement motorcycle

Think back to your beginner course and the bike you used. Now imagine repeating the course with a motorcycle 300 pounds heavier with twice the power. Would the course be easier or more challenging to pass? Too many riders purchase a first motorcycle that's too big. I recommend 500 cc or less for at least your first year. Learning to ride a smaller, less powerful motorcycle provides the best way to practice and master the skills needed for safe riding without the added stress and challenge of something larger. If you decide to upgrade to a bigger bike later down the road, you’ll be glad you took the time to hone your skills on the lighter bike first.

Just remember, focus on upgrading the software (your skills) before the hardware (your bike) during that first year. The limiting factor is always the rider, not the bike.